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New Zealand - December 2006/January 2007

Ben and Christy sailing in Paihia, New Zealand

Our second honeymoon couldn't come fast enough for us, as we headed around the world just months after the wedding! We left from Cleveland and flew into LA on Thursday, December 22nd. After about a five hour layover, we then flew nonstop to Auckland. The flight lasted about twelve and a half hours, but thanks to video on demand in the back of each passenger's seat, the trip was quite comfortable. After landing in Auckland on the North Island, we took a domestic flight to Christchurch on the South island. All-in-all the travel time from door-to-door was about 32 hours. Crossing the International Dateline, with an 18 hour time difference, took a a surprisingly minimal toll on our bodies. So, as soon as we were settled in our hotel room in Christchurch, we explored for the day, taking the Tram all around town, with stops at the Arts Centre, Cathedral, Botanical Gardens and Canterbury Museum.

Next it was off to Greymouth via the TransAlpine Express train through the Southern Alps. This was our first views of the mountains, waterfalls and glaciers. Wow! There, we picked up our (small... ok, very small) rental car and drove (on the left side of the road) to Wapiti Park in Hari Hari -- the homestead where we spent Christmas Eve. Our hosts, Grant and Bev, directed us to an amazing rainforest hike before preparing a five course home-cooked Christmas Eve dinner! After dinner we had a spot of tea and Grant took us on a private tour, back to the forest, to see the famous New Zealand glow worms. It was like constellations of stars in the forest. After a big Christmas morning breakfast, we toured the elk farm and fed newly born Wapiti (elk) fawns.

A short drive later, we arrived at Franz Joseph Glacier. The Retreat, snuggled against the mountain backdrop, is less than a year old and the rooms are terrific -- we got the honeymoon suite, which was an octagonal room with six foot windows on all sides, offering a panaramic view of the countryside. The weather was sunny and warm, and we hiked the entire river walk to the Glacier... we even got to lay our hands on the icy face (despite warning signs not to... and Christy's better judgment!) The Retreat hosted Christmas dinner for the neighboring village, serving a beautiful spread for about 50 guests. With the time change creeping up on us, we had a little trouble staying up to celebrate with everyone... so we turned in early.

We tried to get an early start for our day of driving to Te Anau. Eight hours in the car might seem a bit long, but when the country side offers breathtaking views of temperate rain forests, waterfalls, flowers, lakes, mountains and more with every turn, it goes quite fast! (With the exception of the many stops for short hikes and photo opportunities.) After a quick lunch in Wanaka, a lake resort town, we arrived in Te Anau before sunset. (We were there during the height of summer, with more than 12 hours of sunlight everyday.)

The next day we started with a coach tour to Milford Sound (which really isn't a Sound at all... it's a fijord... we wish they would correct the name!). If we thought we had beautiful views the last few days, we were stunned with every sweeping vista the drive offered. Once there, a cruise ship took us on a tour of Milford Sound (fijord) - going right up into the waterfalls and buzzing the seals, relaxing on the rocky shore. When we arrived back in Te Anau, we grabbed some dinner before taking off on another boat cruise to the Glow Worm Caves. We've never seen caves like this -- 250 meters of underground rushing waterfalls and a boat tour, all beneath Murchison Mountains.

Having seen the sight of Te Anaun and Milford Sound, we left for Queenstown. What a cool place! It was like a ski resort in Denver mixed with the lakeside life of Put-in-Bay and the feel of a quaint European mountain village. We spent some time touring the wineries of the region. They produce award-winning Pinot Noir there. For those who wish to know - we recommend Peregrine and Gibson Valley Pinot Noir. :) (As Ben where he drank the bottle of Peregine we bought!) We then toured the countryside viewing a multitude of filming locations for the Lord of the Rings. We got shots of all the famous spots, including the Pillars of Argonath and the Misty Mountains. On New Year's Eve morning we climbed to the top of the ski fields and launched ourselves more than 3000 feet on a tandem paraglide across the countryside of Queenstown. What an amazing way to see this beautiful country! Yet we weren't done. It hadn't yet rang 10 o'clock before we were off to lunch and a beer before climbing into a whitewater river raft and plunging through the rapids of the Kawarau river. We actually paddled right past the same pillers of Argonath (as previously stated) that Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Gimli, Legolas and company did in the Fellowship. We then rang in the New Year some 18 hours prior to everyone in Eastern Standard time! We won some money at the Casino and thought of all our friends back home as we fell asleep about the same time as most of them were just waking!

Queenstown was amazing but after four nights it was on to the North island. We flew into Rotorua, the volcanically active heart of New Zealand. There we grew accustomed to the smell of sulphur, took in a the native New Zealand Maori Hangi feast and ventured out to The Shire. The Shire is the only remaining set from Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. We visited Bag End (Bilbo and Frodo's house in the Shire) and took plenty of photos. Such beautiful countryside, it was easy to see why they chose this location for The Shire. Our trip back dropped us for lunch at the Pig and Whistle where we watched USC thoroughly dominate Michigan - all-in-all you could say it made for a pleaseant afternoon. :) We then spent some time hiking the redwood forests and visiting the Polynesian hot springs. Next day we visited the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park and bubbling mud pools.

We then departed for Auckland - easily New Zealand's largest city with a population greater than all of the South island! We saw the famous Sky Tower and had lunch at the America's Cup Town and Viaduct before heading North to Paihia.

This coastal town was our last stop on our tour of the country and was host to some of the most enjoyable events we had yet to experience. Our first day had us sailing the Bay of Islands on a fully rigged tall ship. Piloted by an all female crew, we sailed out to Paradise Bay. On the way we climbed to the top of the rigging, out onto the bowsprit and swung off the mast into the blue waters of the bay (you've got to see the video of this :). We then enjoyed a lunch and some cocktails before sailing our way home.

The next morning we woke up early (7:00 AM) and headed down to the Paihia dive shop for a dive of the Deep Water Cove. Unfortunately we were stymied by a dysfunctional prop (we've known a few of those in our day). Nevertheless, we postponded until afternoon, had us some lunch and then left from the wharf. Under the guide of dive instructer Tim, we saw a myriad of sea life including, John Dory, Daisy Anemone, Eels, Blue Maomao, Brittle and Feather starfish to name but a few. It was Ben's first ocean water dive and it was amazing! The highlight was seeing our divemaster catch three "crawfish". These rock lobsters were a good pound a half and looked just like lobsters without the big claws. Since we were on our honeymoon, Tim gave us one and we took it back with us to our hotel where the resident chef prepared and served it to us in the hotel restaurant with a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Gris. It was exquisite! We celebrated our last night there and got a late checkout to help with our drive back to Auckland before we flew out.

New Zealand was easily the most amazing trip of our lives! We hope you enjoy the photos and videos that go along with our account. If you have a comment, visit the Guestbook and let us know what you ahve to say, or visit the contact page and email us. Good on ya!