North Island Nirvana

Hello everyone and Happy New Year!
It is 9:11 a.m. on January 1, 2008 and we celebrated by watching the fireworks off Sky Tower in Auckland (the largest structure in the Southern Hemisphere).  It was great.

We are leaving in just a few hours for Sydney, then the flight home tomorrow (January 2)...but we wanted to give you this catch up on the North Island of New Zealand first. First, everyone says the scenery in the South Island is more spectacular and that Queenstown is a tourist's paradise.  Well, we loved the South Island but we also loved the North Island.  Again, it was one sight after the other of extraordinary scenery.  We started off (on Dec 26--Boxing Day) with our flight into Wellington (the capital) and a visit to Te Papa, an amazing cultural, geophysical museum.  It's oriented for kids but quite wonderful for big kids as well.  A friend recommended we visit and he was right on the money. We only had an hour to spend there but we strongly suggest it for others. We followed that up with a 2 hour drive on a winding mountain passage-way and a gravel road to our next destination Wharekauhau (pronounce it Far-a Ko-Ho).  This was a beautiful farm estate on a hill overlooking Palisser Bay.  We had two attached cottages here that were incredibly appointed... you would never know we were out in never-never land... just exquisite.  The meals there were unbelievable; we ate with the other guests.  For dinner the first evening, we had: crayfish filled squid-ink ravioli, asparagus soup, salmon wrapped in corn husks, and apple turnover.  We walked back to our cottages to find white-chocolate sheep on our pillows... and prepared for our farm tour the next morning.  This was no ordinary farm tour...the grounds are huge, thousands of hectares... with amazing views.  And not only did we see the sheep, sheep shearing, dog herding,  and a "friendly" eel eating a raw rabbit (ughhh), we saw spectacular scenery. We returned to the estate for a beautifully served lunch, massages, then dinner.  This time, they served venison carpaccio, gazpacho, crayfish lasagna, and white chocolate/raspberry meringues (preceded by 10 appetizers in the lounge).

The next morning, we left for the wine country (Hawkes Bay)... including (yes another meal) at the Sileni Winery. It was (are you surprised, I told you I didn't bring enough elastic pants) amazing...and the views, once again, were wonderful.  We ended up in Napier, an art-deco city completely restored after the 1931 earthquake.  We stayed in a vintage hotel and couldn't see anything because of the rain but woke up on Saturday morning to beautiful sunshine and the opportunity to walk along the shore. We headed to Taupo and Rotorua.  Taupo is the sight of Lake Taupo and several large volcanoes--at least one erupted within the last 50 years.

We had been under the impression that Rotorua was the farming capital and not more...but we couldn't have been farther off.  This was where the truly unbelievable scenery came into play.  Think thermal geysers, big lakes, volcanic craters, mud pots, steaming multi-colored sulfur pools.  We were escorted by Ben, a member of a huge Maori family (I think they all have thousands of cousins).  Ben is a gentle man who chauffeured us around for a memorable, fantastic 9 hour day--not only to the eco sites but also to his Maori village and the local museum.  So we not only soaked in the scenery but also the culture.  An incredible day.

In Rotorua, we stayed at the best B&B (The Springs) where our hostess (Colleen) makes the world's greatest blueberry pancakes.  She said that Bon Appetit had contacted her for the recipe... so watch for it!  We will. Anyway, we headed for Auckland through dairy country so of course had to stop for burgers and milkshakes before we arrived.  (Dairy farming is MUCH more profitable than sheep farming.)  Once we arrived in Auckland, we took a wonderful walk and headed for the Sky Tower where we checked out the sights.  We had an amazing dinner at Cin Cin on the Quay (and we have the pics to prove it!) continued our Scrabble tournament and brought in the new year.

Regarding the weather here on the North Island.  It started out stormy and windy (Chicago has nothing on Wellington, the true windy city... and our sleep on the estate was interrupted by terrific winds). Napier was also rainy when we arrived.  But, by the time we got to Rotorua, the weather turned absolutely perfect.  We got loads of sun (and a mild sunburn) and we finally look like we spent 3 weeks in the summer!

Well, running out of time on this computer, so gotta go.  Off to Sydney (again)!

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