Sunday, April 30, 2023

New Zealand Geotracks

Here's a map of where we went in New Zealand.

I used my iPhone XS and myTracks app.

Zoom in and you can really see some details.


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Los Angeles - Before and After

As we were planning our trip to New Zealand, we worked the dates around Spring Break. Our son-in-law wasn't going to New Zealand due to work commitments but he would be in Los Angeles as we flew outbound.

We took advantage of that and spent the night in Los Angeles. We took Delta and connected in Salt Lake City.

When we picked up our bags in LAX and headed to ground transportation, we encountered LAX-it. Here's the spin their web site puts on it:

LAX-it (pronounced LA Exit) is the new way to get to your Taxi, or ride app services (Uber, Lyft, or Opoli). Walk or catch the free shuttle outside baggage claim on level one to LAX-it. LAX is undergoing a major transformation as we build a people mover train, a multi-modal transit station, new parking structure and upgrade all terminals (click here to learn more) creating better guest experiences and easier access into, out of and around LAX. During construction, lanes in the central terminal area will be reduced, making it necessary to temporarily move taxi and ride app pickups to LAX-it until the people mover is completed in 2023.

Translated: You wait forever on a shuttle to a parking lot where you stand in the sun or rain waiting on a taxi.

Pretty much the most unpleasant experience I'd had at an airport. Until we got to Auckland.

We stayed in the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Turns out that was the weekend before the Oscars. The hotel was crawling with celebrities and film crews. Needless to say, the Four Seasons was top class. We could even see the Hollywood sign from our balcony.

Our departure to Auckland was at 8:55 PM so we had the day free. Or at least we thought so.

I pulled up the Air New Zealand site that morning to check in. I entered all the passport info and submitted. But I got an error that the information was not complete and the boarding passes couldn't be issued.

It turned out that New Zealand requires a Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA). It's not exactly a visa but very similar. New Zealand has required this since 2019 but as one of my New Zealand friends pointed out "no one traveled for a couple of those years."

I called my travel agent in a panic. She wasn't familiar with the NZeTA but jumped right on it reaching out to all her resources. She called back and said to download the NZeTA app and submit the request from there. Each person cost US$32.

That was relatively easy and 3 of the 5 of us got their NZeTAs immediately. The 2 seniors in the group didn't.

This was on a Friday in the US so it was Saturday in New Zealand. There was no way to escalate to the New Zealand Immigration. So I called Air New Zealand to see if they could help. After 2 hours and 20 minutes on hold, the polite representative said there was nothing they could do.

One of my New Zealand friends had formerly worked for Air New Zealand and called in a couple of favors. He was able to contact the Air New Zealand operations manager at LAX. She said "Don't worry about it. Happens all the time. Just come on to the airport."

We took a shuttle to LAX. The Air New Zealand check-in via the kiosk went without incident and we were issued boarding passes. Upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand Immigration was more interested in our breakfast bars than our NZeTAs.

Obviously, much ado about nothing but made for a very unpleasant day.

Monday morning in Auckland, the other 2 of us got their NZeTAs. The friend who helped us explained that the delay was because of our age. New Zealand has socialized medicine so they are responsible for everyone's medical expenses. The risk of the 2 seniors needing healthcare is greater than the others so they wanted to review those applications.

When we arrived at the Auckland airport, we saw some of the damage from the recent flooding.

Then when we went to the car rental desks we encountered a sign telling us that the desks had been temporarily relocated and it was only a 5 minute walk. So off we went.

After a couple of minutes walking, we saw another sign that said that the desks were only a 5-7 minute walk. And the sidewalk surface was temporary, irregular and slippery.

The car rental desks weren't any better. They were in a temporary building with no waiting area. The staffing was minimal, e.g., 1 inexperienced agent for both Hertz and Thrifty. The pickup was similar with only 1 representative for all the rental agencies.

Departing Auckland for our return wasn't any better. Without TSA Pre✔, we had to do all the security things of separating liquids, separating laptops, taking off belts, etc.

Then one of us had "SSSS" on their boarding pass and got pulled aside at the gate for extra security.

We left Auckland on Sunday at 8:15 PM and arrived in Los Angeles Sunday at 12:20 PM. That was quick.

Back in the US, our Global Entry status made Immigration a non-event and there was no sign of Customs.

We took a shuttle to the Beach House Hotel in Hermosa Beach. What a great place! The staff was extraordinary and you could walk directly out onto the beach. There were even "Bay Watch" trucks on the beach.

The 1,140 feet Hermosa Beach pier was right there and a block away was Pier Plaza. which had any kind of restaurant you would want.

The Delta return flight through Salt Lake City was interesting. It turns out that Fred Smith's daughter had gotten married in Park City. The flight back to Memphis was full of attendees with most wearing 10 gallon hats, apparently a party favor.

Overall, our flights were great. They were all on time. And our bags made all the connections. I can't say the same for LAX and AKL airports.

Sunday, April 16, 2023


After playing on the black sand beach at Karioitahi Beach, we headed off to Rotorua.

On my previous trip to New Zealand, our group had stopped in Tirau on our way from Auckland to Rotorua. The town has a population of 804.

On the Main Road of Tirau, there are 2 corrugated iron buildings constructed in the shapes of a sheepdog and sheep.

They are a huge tourist attraction. We stopped and availed ourselves of the public restrooms. While there, traffic on the road was constantly stopping for passersby to lean out the windows and take pictures.

On to Rotorua, known locally as RotoVegas!

Rotorua lies on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua. Rotorua is a major tourist destination. It is known for its geothermal activity and features geysers and hot mud pools. As you drive through town, there are little parks with steam venting up from the ground.

We stayed at the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside. The Novotel Rotorua Lakeside is in a different class than the Hilton Auckland but then Rotorua is in a different class than Auckland.

The Novotel is in a perfect location. Rotorua is a relatively small city and the Novotel is right in the center with a wonderful park between it and Lake Rotorua.

Across the street in the other direction in Eat Streat [not a typo] with a wide choice of restaurants.

Anything you want to do is just a few minutes away.

We started the next day with the girls rolling down Mt. Ngongotaha in ZORB's gigantic balls.

We intended to go to Te Puia, a geothermal park, and the adjoining Whakarewarewa, a Maori village. When we showed up the parking lot was full of tour buses. The earliest we could get in was the afternoon of the next day. A quick call to my friend in Auckland pointed us to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Another serendipitous event.

Unlike the structured and busy environment at Te Puia, Waiotapu was laid back, almost feeling like it was family run. Admission was US$44 per senior.

We started with lunch at the snack bar and then started our walk with the provided map.

The Champagne Pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland.

The Devil's Bath at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. This pool has a strong sulfur smell and contains enough acid to slough your skin.

There is a geyser that goes off daily at 10.15 AM. We missed that.

Our last stop of the day was Skyline.

To get to Skyline, you take a gondola up the hill.

Everybody enjoyed the luge runs down the mountain. Again and again.

Even the return trip after the luge run was fun!

In the background is Mokoia Island in the center of Lake Rotorua. By the way, Lake Rotorua is from a volcano that erupted about 240,000 years ago. Think about how BIG that volcano was!

The next day we took a lazy morning and played in the park by Loke Rotorua.

Cressey - "I’m going to miss this when I get home."

Auckland's airport is about 2 1/2 hours away to the northwest.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Karioitahi Beach

When we thought were weren't going to be able to get to Muriwai Beach, we began searching for an alternative. The devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle wasn't as serious south of Auckland.

We found Karioitahi Beach and began a conversation with Gary Hyde of Castaways Resort. I can't begin to explain how much help Gary was. More on that later.

Karioitahi Beach is about 30 minutes off the route from Auckland to Rotarua. The road literally runs onto the black sand beach. There's even a parking lot there.

While the beach was not as deserted as Muriwai Beach, everybody we saw could fit into one car. And the beach went on for miles.

The beach runs up to beautiful cliffs.

As we explored just north of the parking lot, we discovered a waterfall. And a cow was peeping over the edge of the waterfall.

After more than an hour, we were famished so we drove back up the hill to Gary's Castaways Resort.

The Castaways Restaurant was just what we needed. The chef fixed a special pizza for the girls and a to order burger for our daughter.

And the view was pretty good.

My wife even commented that the decor in the restroom coordinated with the outdoors.

My list of "magical" places in the world is pretty short. I just added one to it.

Sunday, April 02, 2023


We stayed at the Hilton Auckland on Princes Wharf. It is at the end of the wharf and has harbor views from every room. Our room had a large balcony with a pair of chaise lounges which we made good use of. They had valet parking which was right at the door. The bellmen were very attentive and got to know us during our visit.

Princes Wharf is wide enough to have a street down the center and "sheds" on each side. There are a number of restaurants in the sheds and several sets of apartments. One of the American families we bumped into were staying in one of these apartments.

The Hilton's swimming pool was on our floor. It was over the street that went down the wharf with a glass wall at one end overlooking the street. In the other direction was the Sky Tower.

To the west from Princes Wharf is Wynward Quarter. There's a neat pedestrian draw bridge on the way. Beyond the bridge is the Fish Market, a collection of restaurants. A little further is Silo Park which the girls really enjoyed.

To the east from Princes Wharf is the Auckland Ferry Terminal which is where we boarded a ferry to cross the harbor to Devenport. The ferry runs every 30 minutes and cost US$2.50 each way per adult. You have a magnificent view of the Auckland skyline from the ferry.

Devenport is a beautiful little seaside town with a main street full of shops and restaurants. As typical for New Zealand, there's a wonderful park right on the waterfront.

It sprinkled on us as we walked the main street of Devenport so we ducked into Manuka Restaurant. They had a table on the sidewalk but under cover so we stayed dry and had a view of Mt. Victoria.

At 216 ft., Mt. Victoria is the highest volcano on Auckland's North Shore. The views of Auckland's skyline are even better than from the ferry and you have panoramic views in all directions.

After the climb and descent of Mt. Victoria, we stopped at The Vic Devonport for gelato.

That afternoon we visited the Sky Tower, the second tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Our daughter and oldest granddaughter took the Sky Walk on the outside of the 53rd floor.

We had dinner in Orbit on 52nd floor. Orbit dinner includes Sky Tower entry to the observation deck. You can check in at the Orbit desk in the downstairs lobby for a pass.

The Hilton is at the end of the wharf at the far right.

We spent a morning at the Auckland Zoo. Admission was US$15 per senior.  The zoo has heavy vegetation and it was 30 minutes before we saw an animal. The docents were all very helpful. One of our goals was to see kiwis which are unique to New Zealand. But kiwis are nocturnal and the kiwi exhibit had lots of glare.

We grabbed lunch at the zoo. A bit of advice, "Milk shakes" in New Zealand are not what you expect. They are just flavored milk.

We headed out across town to One Tree Hill, another volcano. One Tree Hill is 597 ft. high. We weren't up to the climb. There was an access road with a number to call for accessibility access. I called them and they gave us a code allowing us to drive to the peak.

That evening we met some of our New Zealand friends and intended to go to Commercial Bay. Commercial Bay is a multi-story facility just a short walk from the Hilton. It is 3 stories with the first 2 stories being retail shops and the 3rd housing fast food and sit down restaurants. As we approached, the fire alarms in Commercial Bay went off and the building was evacuated. We rushed to Taco Medic nearby before the rest of the crowd discovered it and had great Mexican food in New Zealand.

We went back to Commercial Bay another day for shopping and lunch.

The next morning we were off to SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium. Admission was US$22.50 per senior. They had a number of great exhibits but two stood out. First, they had a tunnel walkway that was enclosed in a what looked like moving ice. It was very disorienting even for the girls but still fun. The biggest hit was the penguin exhibit. It was HUGE. Additionally, they have a Penguin Passport that allows you to go into penguin enclosure and have the opportunity to get up close. Unfortunately, that wasn't available the day we visited.

And as we visited the gift shop on the way out, the fire alarm went off and we were evacuated.

But our day of excitement wasn't over. As if walking around the Sky Tower on the 53rd floor wasn't enough, the girls took the Auckland Bridge Bungy & Climb. This is run by the same organization that runs Sky Walk. The first leg was walking under the bridge to the far end. Then they climbed up to the arch over the traffic and returned.

At least the fire alarm didn't go off.

One of our bucket list items had been to visit a black sand beach. Both of our granddaughters are horseback riders. We thought it would be memorable for them to get to rid on a black sand beach. Oh, how we underestimated that.

We found Muriwai Beach Horse Treks and booked rides with them.

Then came Cyclone Gabrielle. Everyone told us that the Muriwai Beach area had been devastated. The roads were blocked by police. We even saw news stories of houses sliding down cliffs.

Let's just say that my daughter comes by her tenacity naturally. She persisted in trying to contact Muriwai Beach Horse Treks. They finally responded that they would resume riding and gave us a Google Maps route to get us as close to their facility as possible given the road blocks.

We turned up and parked on the side of the road with the roadblock in view. The guide arrived in a "ute" with a high water intake system. All 3 girls loaded into the ute and disappeared through the roadblock.

The tracks that the guides normally use were impassable due to fallen trees so the guides had to be creative. Still, the girls got to travel through the forest to the black sand beach. Needless to say, they were the only people on the beach. In normal times, that beach would be crowded.

While they were riding, we hung out in the village of Waimauku. That wasn't as exciting as riding horses on the black sand beach.

We only had one item left on our punch list for Auckland. On the next wharf, Queens Wharf, was a interesting structure, The Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is a real nighttime eyecatcher that was visible from our balcony. It is a full-scale model of a 1950s family home. Inside The Lighthouse is a statue of Captain Cook amid a dramatic neon light exhibit by New Zealander Michael Parekowhai.