A Week Away, Part V -- The Rock Day 2 & On the Road Again...

In case you missed the first several posts of our journey north:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Day 5
...Baby G woke up with the sun to try and get some good pictures of a Bay of Islands sunrise...

There were about 5 people who woke up to share the quiet morning, have some coffee and enjoy the view. However, within 45 minutes or so, we spotted dolphins, and our Skipper rang the ship's bell to gather any and all who wanted to get an up close look. -Our cups of steaming coffee came with...

It was wonderful that this was included with the cruise, as a lot of other tours in the Bay of Islands charge upwards of $100 or so, to watch the dolphins from 100 feet or so away. We lucked out.

When we got back aboard The Rock, we had some breakfast, and then geared up for some swimming, snorkeling, and mussel diving. -Yes, we ate, THEN swam, and did not get sick, despite what our mothers told us all these years.

Baby G had some difficulty with the snorkeling, and drank too much saltwater. This worked out well though, since she could capture it all on film.

Diz managed to snag Baby G a shell from the sea floor, and caught a mussel for her too. Awww...

At that point, everyone was ready to hit the beach, so The Rock sped over to a fairly deserted beach for lunch, more kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, cove exploring, and beach combing. We spent a great few hours enjoying the scenery and feeling as though we were on the set from a "Lost" episode.

All too soon it was time to pack up and head back to our boat, and begin the journey back to our port. Diz was able to play some more guitar, and we sat back and enjoyed the sun and new friends we made. We also ate the mussels that were caught. They were...yummy?

We made it back to land safely, and said goodbye to what had been our home. We hope to try and go back to do this overnight cruise again, as we clearly loved our time spent on it.

So, we were back on land and had our next destination in mind: Cape Reinga. We jumped in our sputtering Toyota, and headed North on State Highway 1. We had found online, a campground run by the DOC (New Zealand's Department of Conservation), where we could set up our tent inexpensively, and was 500 meters from Rarawa Beach. Not too far from our destination, it was the perfect, quiet location we needed. We walked down to the beach at sunset and to wade in the Pacific Ocean. The sand felt like finely sifted flour under our feet, and the sand dunes reminded us both of Michigan.

...to be continued...

A Week Away, Part IV -- Introduction to The Rock

Hey Everybody, and thanks once again for checking out the vacation stuff from last week. Click below to see what you've missed. You may want a little background, as this is where it gets even better.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Day 4 -- Introduction to The Rock

...We woke up early to try to get the hell out of the campsite with the little demons from Auckland next to us. We packed our gear and were out by 9:00. Our boat didn't board until 5:00pm, so we essentially had all day to regroup and organize. We spent the day walking along the bay, gathering seashells, wading, and generally avoiding the rain as much as possible. We found another grocery store, and reloaded our supplies, this time adding oranges and breakfast bars to our repertoire.

As the day continued, we decided it would be smart to leave some stuff in the car and only take one bag with us on the boat -- after all, it was only for one night that we'd be there. So we pulled off the road to repack and organize everything we'd want to take with us for the couple days we'd be gone. Also, because it rains when you're sleeping in New Zealand, every day we had to drape the tent, tent cover and tarp over the backseat to dry out. We pulled over at this morbid little spot:

It was on a little creek and we were left mostly alone while we had cheese sandwiches and split an orange.

After lunch, we sat at a picnic table on the beach and did some reading/writing...and then we grabbed a coffee for the home stretch.

We are providing these banal little details because once we started our cruise experience, it went at a high speed, and we're still not really about to wrap our heads around that 24-hour period.

They'd informed us that if we were at the pier at 4:30, a boat called The Climax would come to fetch us and take us to The Rock. While we waited, we met this lovely young woman from the UK who was travelling with some people SHE'D just met as well. By the time 5:00 rolled around, we were wondering if it would just be the 7 of us, as we seemed to be the only people waiting. This gave us an indication of what we were in for, though, as most of them were our age or slightly younger.

As time passed, however, more and more people started showing up. There ended up being 16 in our lot. The Climax was brought over by a guy named Peter, who was very nice and asked us how we'd heard about Overnight Cruises. Then he took us several hundred yards out to the big red boat that we'd seen in the brochures:

The whole day it had been raining, and Baby G had been thinking, "Dude, this is gonna suck," but Pete heard her, and assured us that we'd be out of the rain. Once we got on board, he gathered us all around the bar, and told us some bullet points about the trip we'd be taking. Some of the rules are listed here:
~Coffee and tea are free. Just wash your cup.
~If you would like to play pool, go ahead.
~You'll be twilight fishing before dinner time, and we will cook what you catch. No exceptions.
~If you would like to play guitar/piano, go ahead.
~We're keeping a bar tab open for you, just pay cash when the trip is over.
~Night kayaking is the only extra charge: $6.00.
~Feel free to do pretty much whatever the hell you want to.

The atmosphere was really relaxed, and of the 4-5 crewmembers, 3 were travelling as well, and were only working part time to make a little extra money.

From this point, they showed us to our rooms, which consisted of three bunk beds. We were staying with 2 other couples: one from Ireland, and one from Germany.

Then they invited us to shoot an air rifle off the back of the boat while we were at full-speed, trying to hit an empty Sprite bottle. The first person to do it won a free beer or glass of wine. Neither of us hit it, but we had a blast trying (har!).

When it came time to anchor off and fish, we were having a really relaxing time. We saw some birds diving a few hundred yards away, and so Dizzle stayed on board to fish for dinner, while Baby G went back on The Climax to look at the feeding birds and snap shots of the sunset. Here are a couple pictures of these things for your viewing pleasure:

This is Pete, the guy who owns the cruise line. He was on the trip with us, and we all called him "Skipper". This was a little strange for us, as the only other "Skip" we know is not like this guy at all. :)

...Looking for a "Dizzlefish"...

Alas, Dizzle didn't catch anything, but some of the other guests did, and so those catches went on the dinner table along with bread, pasta salad, fresh veggies, steak, sausages (that looked JUST LIKE bratwurst, but when Diz asked, the BBQ cook had no idea what he was talking about), salad, mussels and potatoes. It was quite a feast!

After dinner, we went night-kayaking near the shore. It was dark, and so they offer this excursion as an add-on because of the effect of the phosphorescence when one puts their oar in the water. It looked like the whole bay was lit from beneath via blacklight, and it was really very beautiful.

Dizzle had been aching to swim since the day we got here, so after our group came back, he made like a guppy:

"The theme from Jaws was going through my head the whole time..."

The day over, Baby G tucked herself in for the night so she could get up and snap pictures of the sunrise at dawn. Dizzle stayed up a little while and practiced some guitar by the fire. To take a look at what this cruise has to offer, check out their website here.

...to be continued...


A Week Away, Part III -- The Road, The City of Sails, and a Toyota

Hi, again, and thanks for joining us for another installment! You all have no idea how many times we said this week, "I can't wait to put this on the blog..." It was a nice way of reminding each other we were thinking of one, many or all of you.
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II


...The next morning, we woke up flawlessly and started the dark, rainy drive to Auckland. We FINALLY spent money at McDonald's on the way, but it was only for a coffee. We swear. Shut up, Ricky. :)
We made it to Auckland with more than enough time to return the car, and started to visit other rental companies for a car we could get for the weekend. The lowest price we could find was NZD$49/day so we decided to sit by the pier to talk things over ... money, itinerary, etc. We'd found a brochure for an overnight cruise that seemed really inexpensive compared to everything else around here, and so we spoke about it a little more and decided that if there was ONE special thing we got to do the two of us, NOT roughing it, this would be it. So we called the number and booked our spot on The Rock, which was leaving the next day from Paihia.

Here's a Dizzle. Relaxing.

Here's a Baby G. Relaxing.

This left us with nothing else to do but wait to rent the car. We went to an Internet cafe and sent off a quick email to our folks to let them know we were, you know, ALIVE and stuff, and we waited with Ricky while he tried to sort out his passport/visa information.
Auckland is a very sprawled out city that you'd normally think is very cool, what with it being so close to the sea and volcanoes and whatnot, but it honestly struck us as a little generic. It is a windy cross between San Fransisco, Chicago, Washington, DC and Houston, without any of the standalone qualities of any of them. We got the feeling that it's Auckland because people live there, as opposed to people living there because it's Auckland. Regardless, we had to come back to return the car in a few days, so we figured we 'd keep an open mind and see what happens.

We took a picture of "The 12th tallest tower in the world":

Sadly, we left Ricky to his own devices at around 2:30, as that's when we had to get what was to be our car for the weekend.

They ended up renting us an early-model Toyota that, though fully automatic, coughed and wheezed it's way uphill so badly we thought maybe there was something wrong with it's design. Turns out, nope, it was just a really crappy rental.

We stopped at a rest stop about 20 minutes out of the city to grab some peanut butter, bread, chips and coke...you know, road trip food. Our goal was to make it to Whangarei (which locals pronounce "FANG-ga-ray", though we have no idea why) before pitching the tent. On the way, we took a couple detours.

One such area was called Warkworth, a tiny little town that's known for it's giant kauri tree, one of the oldest in the country and comparable to the redwoods in California. Please believe us when we tell you, it really is a large tree:

That's a Dizzle at the bottom of that last picture.

A little while off the road from Warkworth (We don't know the actual distance in "A little while..." Judging by exactly how far off the road it FELT, let's just say it seemed like we exited the highway in 1957, and finally arrived tomorrow) we hunted down a little marine reserve called "Goat Island".

It seemed to be a popular little beach for families, and held spectacular views of the bay leading out into the Ocean. We saw a live crab and did a little wading, but it should be noted that Baby G got photographic proof of Dizzle setting foot for the first time in the Pacific Ocean:

Maybe worth going back sometime, but we had to book it to Whangarei before sundown, otherwise we're pitching a tent in the dark. Plus, the last campsite we'd stayed at closed it's office at 9:00, and we didn't have reservations for ANY of the next few nights, with the exception of the one on the boat.
We made it as far as we needed to, and Dizzle was getting a little tired from all the driving. Once there, however, the manager of the campsite copped a little attitude and tried to overcharge us what our flyer had said they charged. We ended up leaving. Baby G asked how much longer Dizzle could hold on behind the wheel, and they agreed to push on a little closer to where the cruise left the next day. Dizzle threw in a CD that was loud, grabbed a coffee, filled the tank, and floored it through Kawakawa, looking for a little tent symbol notifying us of a campsite where we could crash for the night.
There will be a digression here, because the cruise, The Rock, is going to be two posts by itself. There are so many pictures, we're posting this way. Kawakawa is really small, but it is also the resting place of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Supposedly, the reason to visit Kawakawa (and perhaps STAY THE NIGHT THERE) are the public toilets he created before he died. Seriously.
So, we went, before the cruise, and spent our afternoon trying not to laugh and pee at the same time:

So that happened pre-cruise on Day 4, but we wanted to blog it now, because we passed through the town and, trust me, the boat ride is worth at LEAST two posts.
We managed to find a little campground right outside of Paihia that was only $13/person/night and set up our tent there. There was nothing interesting about this campground, except we were set up next to a campervan that housed two of the cutest/most obnoxious children we'd ever encountered. The novelty of a young person with a Kiwi accent fades quickly as he tries to attack your already crappy rental car with a tennis racket. Baby G had to be like, "PLEASE don't do that!" while the kid's parents just watched and laughed. It was pretty surreal. We were glad to leave the next day.
Coming Soon: You wanna ride The Rock? You wanna ride The Great One? You wanna ride THE MOST ELECTRIFYING BOAT IN THE BAY OF ISLANDS TODAY?
...to be continued...

A Week Away, Part II -- Rotorua

Thanks for joining us for the second day of our adventure from last week. Scroll down or click the note below to catch up on what we did on Day 1.
Click here for what you may have missed!

...So, with Ricky's stuff stolen, we went to the front desk to complain. They were, thankfully, very sympathetic and offered him a bunch of clothes and a backpack from the lost-and-found. This, of course, did not take away from Ricky's disappointment, but was able to help him to relax enough to show us around Hell's Gate. Hell's Gate is an area of Rotorua that is so steaming hot with all the geothermal activity, that one day they decided to put up a fence and charge admission to see it! It is pretty much a walking tour of hot waterfalls, steam pools, mineral springs, mud pits and mini-volcanoes.
There's an interesting story about it's name regarding George Bernard Shaw. From the website: The reason why the geothermal reserve is known widely as Hell's Gate is because in the early 1900’s George Bernard Shaw, a famous playwright from England, visited the area for a week and on looking at the geothermal reserve decided that this must be the gateway to Hell, which his theologian colleagues talk about.
He was well known as an Atheist, however after being here a week it is understood that he changed his ways. Our people were so taken by the playwright that from that time on, they allowed the area to be known in English as Hell's Gate.

This is the largest hot water waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. It is called Kakahi Falls. The sulphur in the water here is so good that it acted as a salve for the wounds and scratches of Maori warriors. The first Europeans also used it's waters to ease the discomfort of arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases and muscle disorders.

Because it's done so much good, we got another picture of it, all three of us:

Also at Hell's Gate, there is the Devil's Cauldron; a bubbling mud pool that reaches upwards of 120-degrees C, has three types of mud, keeps making new patterns, and all sorts of other scientific stuff. Mainly, though, it just looks really cool:

This is Baby G showing the world how steamy it gets here at Hell's Gate, as well as doing her best impression of one of the Hags from the beginning of Macbeth. Toil and Trouble sold separately.

See? Steamy.

We call it, "Portrait of a Thirsty Dizzle". He was. When asked how it was, he replied, "Yum! Mineral-ly!"

There was a ton to do and see at Hell's Gate, but we were really hungry. And, it was raining. Plus, we'd promised all of YOU people we'd try something no one had ever heard of. So, without further ado...

There's no way to really describe it, you need a montage.
If you want info, go here.


Baby G:

All we're going to say is that it is awesome, everyone should try it, and yes, it's what a hamster must feel like (except cooler). Really, REALLY fun. And remember, we'd hyped this up HARD. In the end, it was the most fun we'd had in NZ yet. We only needed to wait a few hours to top that, too (or at least come very close).
After becoming certified Zorbonauts (people who've made 3+ rolls downhill), we hopped back in The Glock and headed about 1/2 mile away to Skyline Skyrides, home of the gondola, luge, skyswing, and what must've been a really good restaurant, but we wouldn't know because we were too busy riding the gondola, luge and skyswing.

This is the gondola. We rode it up to the fun stuff, and then back down after the fun stuff.

Dizzle: Okay, I have to take a break from the plural-first-person thing to ask this: Does anyone remember Action Park in Vernon, NJ? Remember that death trap parents used to drop their kids off at for days at a time so the kids could come back with all kinds of injuries? Well, that place (and to anyone who remembers it, it was called The Alpine Slide) had a ride JUST LIKE these luges. The only difference? The reason WHY it's allowed here and not in the states? The ONE THING that makes it SO INFINITELY MUCH SAFER??

Friggin' helmets.
Bring Neosporin. (NOTE: No one got hurt. At least none of us. We can't promise anything about the people we pushed off the carts.) Back to the original narrative.


The next stop on this mountaintop theme park was called the SkySwing. Basically, three people at a time, they strap you into this spherical cage, and then suspend the cage on cables on either side between two poles that are REALLY high up. Then they wind you BACK to third pole and attach you BEHIND the cage, much like when someone is pushing you on a swingset and holds onto you before you swing back DOWN. Then they let one person in the cage pull a cord to detach the thing from the third pole so you all swing, face first, into the sky above the city. We thought for sure we'd die.

BG: Breaking from the tense, here. For those of you who aren't aware, I am terrified of heights. TERRIFIED. I'm talking about knee knocking, blood runs cold, bladder loses ability to control self, terrified. So this little skyswing endeavor was not something I entered into lightly. But I did it. And to my chagrin, out there somewhere, there is a videotape of the whole thing, capturing every little thing that was said and done while we slowly were lifted high into the air, before being released into what I believed was certain death. I saw the tape. And I never quite knew before how well I could swear like a sailor. Thank you, Toledo Lounge, for teaching me such a colorful vocabulary...What else can I say, except, I'd probably do it again. Back to the &^%$ing narrative.

These aren't of us, but here's an idea of the people who went just after we did.

The adrenaline-fused parts of the day end here, but by no means did the fun. After Skyline Skyrides, we were understandably tired, and so we went to a supermarket and grabbed a little lamb, pasta, veggies and tomato sauce and had a great dinner outside back at the campsite. We had a 4:30am wakeup the next day to ensure a prompt return of The Glock in Auckland, and needed to make sure we made it.
In an effort to not leave the cliffhanger TOO high, we returned it in time. :)
...to be continued...