Traveling to New Zealand has been on my bucket list ever since I was 21 years old in the MTC visiting with a fellow sister missionary from New Zealand. The way she described it was enchanting. 14 years later I would finally get to mark New Zealand off my bucket list. I went with some of my Salt Lake friends Jessica Myler and Kelly Brown. One of my Phoenix friends Piper Davis also joined us. Jessica and Kelly are huge Lord of the Rings fans and invited us to join their trip. Little did they know they would be answering our naive LOTR questions the whole trip: "Mordor, is that the hot brunette guy?"
Piper and I arrived at LAX airport and met up with Jessica and Kelly. Poor piper had broken her leg 5 weeks previous so she was on crutches. One advantage was that we got airport workers to push her around and we got to skip the security lines. With that, came the disadvantage of Piper not being able to walk through the metal detector unassisted so she had to get pat down. While getting patted down at LAX, the airport worker said something to Piper which I briefly heard. I said, "Did she just ask if I was your mother??!!" Piper nodded and laughed. She was worried because she needed to get permission from the parent to do a pat down and she thought I was the parent. Ego quickly deflating but we decided to have fun with it so from that time forward in the trip Piper would be known as "my little pumpkin."
First stop in New Zealand was Hot Water Beach. When the tide is low, you can go and shovel your own little hot spring to sit in. It's basically like your own little jacuzzi. The hot water is from the volcano's hot water springs under the sand. The beach was very deserving of it's name. It was HOT! some water that came up was scalding. Kelly learned that the hard way when she was walking toward a sign that said, "Danger. Very Hot Water." and walked right into a scalding hot water hole. She backed away quickly and we all laughed at the irony....after checking to see if she was ok, of course.
While sitting there we would do the mud drizzle where you get a handful of mud and let it drizzle out of your fist and makes a drizzle statue. I have no idea how to better explain this but hopefully you get the picture. Trying to impress Jessica and Kelly with our LOTR knowledge, we started naming all of our drizzle statues the different LORT characters. Mordor is not a hot brunette guy. It's a volcano. Who knew?!
After Hot Water Beach, we drove to Hamilton to go to the Hamilton New Zealand temple. It was built in the 1950's and had some unique features inside. Still beautiful. The celestial room is up a flight of stairs, so they put Piper in a wheelchair and several men carried her up. They told us to walk up first. Jessica and Kelly headed up. I stayed behind. I wasn't about to miss this. They carried her up and the look of fear on her face was priceless. Poor Piper was such a trooper the whole trip.
Our first night we stayed in Hamilton and woke up early the next day to drive to the Waitamo Glow Worm caves. We were a smidge late for our tour so we were left behind. We say to the worker, "sorry we're late....she's on crutches," while looking at them with a look of sympathy and defeat. It worked. The worker took us on a private tour with just our small group. We would continue to use that phrase anytime we were late, wanted to skip a line, wanted to get out of a ticket (this didn't happen but we were prepared if it did), or just felt like pulling out the sympathy card..."she's on crutches."
The glow worm caves were so cool! They are basically caves with worms that hang on the wall and drop down a slimy pee string with a light at the end. Bugs are attracted to the light and go to it, similar to a spider's web. This is how the worms catch their food. Pictures don't do the caves justice so I wasn't able to snap a picture of how cool it was all glowing inside the cave, but we were able to get pictures of the strings.
Next, we would drive to Rotorua and spend the night there. This town had such a horrid stench from the sulfur in the air and all the hot springs. I could hardly handle it. I kept saying, "I can't handle this smell. I'm going to throw up." It was so bad!! Our hotel was setup so our car was literally parked within inches of our kitchen window. Jessica was out there parking it and grabbing something from the trunk. Kelly and I were in the kitchen when I looked over and saw Jessica and saw how close she was. I started saying from the kitchen, "can you see me? can you see me? hey? can you see me" Jessica didn't seem to hear me but Piper was in the bathroom next to the kitchen and said with a very concerned tone, "can you see ME?" It was hilarious!!
That night we went to the Tomakai Maori Village. I was so excited to get away from the smell of the town since the village was up in the mountains a little bit. The village was fun. They greeted us with their entrance ceremony which was traditionally used to intimidate and scare off anyone not coming in peace. One warrior immediately drew our attention. He would make funny faces and flirty eyes at different people in the crowd. It was extra funny cuz he was a little older and a little flamboyant. Not one of the hot guys that you would want making eyes at you. He would later tell Piper she had a nice butt as she crutched from site to site. It was super inappropriate but kind of funny.
While there they did different activities with us. They did the Haka, swung around Pom Pom balls, they fed us dinner, and also taught us about the origins of the word "tattoo." Apparently when the English first came to New Zealand, there was a language barrier and New Zealand culture had tattoos on their face. When Maori people would apply the ink of the tattoo to the face, they would only give two small taps. One was not enough and three would go too deep into the skin. It would make a "tap, tap" sound. That eventually evolved into the word "tattoo" by the English.
We had taken a shuttle to and from the Maori village. On the drive back to the hotel, the bus driver was talking to everyone and trying to be entertaining. He asked where everyone was from. Some groups were from France, Canada, China, etc. He had each group go around and sing a song from their country that everyone would know. The French sang Frere Jacques, the Canadians sang their national anthem, and the Chinese sang a song I didn't recognize. The whole bus would join in singing the songs they knew. When it came to us, I started belting, "And I'm proud to be an American..." Jessica and Kelly reluctantly joined in, "where at least I know I'm free..." Realizing that no one else on the bus was singing, I say, "no one? no one knows that one?" The bus driver looks at us awkwardly in his rear view mirror and after a couple long seconds of silence says, "what about this one? Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd...." Everyone on the bus starts singing along. #fail
The next morning we went to church in Rotorua. People were very nice and friendly. After church we went to the Redwood Forest. This is similar to the Redwood Forest in California. They actually transported trees from California and planted them here. Apparently the trees grow faster here because of the climate. These Redwoods were not nearly as tall or wide as California's trees because they are much younger, but they were still large and towering.
Next up was Hobbiton. Kelly and Jessica paid extra for an extended night time tour with a feast in the Green Dragon. I almost called it the Green Lantern, which shows how little I know about LOTR. I was an embarrassment with my knowledge. Since they did an extended tour at a different time, Piper and I joined the less fancy tour. We had a blast! We quickly fell behind the tour group so we missed most of the commentary...."she's on crutches".....but we took so many pictures and created our own fun! Hobbiton was absolutely gorgeous. Rolling hills, green grass, the perfect country feel.
For those who didn't know, similar to myself, Hobbiton is where the Hobbits live. haha The director kept the sets up and turned it into a tourist attraction.
Be prepared for A LOT of pictures. Like I said, we had a blast!
I wish I could say this was the only time at Hobbiton that she fell.... "she's on crutches...." Had a little too much ale from this ale wagon. The other incident happened at the teeter totter in the great field when she sat down on it not realizing that there was no one sitting on the other side yet to hold her weight. I look over and see two feet in the air and Piper on her back...
Off to the Green Dragon (not the Green Lantern) for our complimentary butter beer...no, that's not right. That's Harry Potter. They gave us some complimentary drink from the movie. Hmmm....
Kelly and Jessica's tour was a couple more hours, so Piper and I drove to a neighboring town for dinner. This was my first time driving on the left side of the road. Kelly and Jessica had been doing all the driving up to this point. It felt very weird. I was very aware of every turn I made and every car that passed, but I got used to it. I gladly turned the keys back over to Kelly when we picked them up from their tour.
The next day Kelly and Jessica were supposed to hike to Mordor...not the hot brunette guy but the volcano, but the rainy weather changed those plans. Instead, we went to a bunch of nearby waterfalls. First we went to Huka falls. Next we went to Tawhai falls, which is known as Gollum's pool for those LOTR fans. This is where Gollum is playing in the waterfall during one of the movies. They were all beautiful!
Poor Piper had to crutch everywhere, even on some of the longer walks/hikes to some of these attractions. I finally convinced her to let us carry her part of the distance. Jessica and I pulled out our Girl Scouts Four-handed seat carry (I had to google the name). Our hands and arms were very wet from the rain so it was very slippery. Otherwise we could've carried a lot longer than we did.
The next day we spent in Wellington, which is on the very south tip of the northern island. Jessica and Kelly had scheduled yet another LOTR tour, so Piper and I went out to find some adventures. She really wanted to ride a horse on the beach, so we made some calls and didn't have any luck scheduling anything day of. We decided to try our luck driving to one of the locations and seeing if they could fit us in. Luckily, we found Mack. Because it was later in the morning, he had said that he wasn't doing any rides today. I continued to talk with him and be friendly and he agreed to take us out. This was unlike any trail ride I had done in America. In America, you sign a waiver and just sit on the horse as it walks in a straight line behind the other horses. Mack was very different. He spent awhile at the beginning teaching us to stand up in the stirrups and lean forward to control our balance. He focused on it so much that I was starting to think it was unnecessary. Again, I had American, walking in a straight line horse riding on my mind. I very quickly learned that this was no ordinary horse ride when within minutes of our ride Mack yells back, "Stand up and lean forward," which the horses knew was their queue to gallop! It was such a thrill. Every time I heard him say, "Stand up and lean forward," I would brace myself for the adventure. Piper and I were constantly humming the Man From Snowy River theme music. At one point, he took us down a super steep hill. The horses were sliding at different parts. Mack thought it was so funny at how scared we would get. He would take my phone and record us while laughing. It really was such a good time!
Piper and I edited one of our videos and added the Man From Snowy River theme music. We thought we were so funny. Sorry if the quality is poor.
The next morning we woke up hopeful that the fog had lifted and our flight would take off. Sadly, it had not. We went to the airport to see what our options were. Unfortunately there weren't many. No planes had landed for over a day, which meant that there were not planes to take off. We had decided that our best option was to rent a car and ferry across the ocean to the South Island. This would mean we would have to drive 12 hours to Queenstown and essentially lose 3 whole days of vacation (2 stuck at the airport and 1 day driving all day). We weren't happy that we were missing out on so many travel days but we didn't have any other choices. Plus, at this point we were ready to get out of Wellington. Our mantra became "escape Wellington." That's all we wanted to do! This change of plans meant more phone calls and rearranging plans and ultimately cancelling some of the plans. We had to cancel going to the Fiordlands and also seeing the penguins and potentially seeing the Southern Lights. The Southern Lights was what I was most excited for, so I was especially bummed and angry at Wellington and the fog. #EscapeWellington
We made the most out of the ferry ride. Jessica and I decided to re-enact Jack and Rose from the Titanic. "never let go, Jack." Jessica's face cracks me up.
We made it to the Southern Island very late and stayed in a hotel. The next morning started our long drive, which turned out to be 16 hours instead of 12.
The coast line was absolutely beautiful! White cap waves crashing into rocks and perfect sand beach shores. It definitely made the drive more doable.
At one point we stopped at a sand beach and walked down to explore and take pictures. Piper stayed at the car since the walk down to the beach was very uneven and rocky. Kelly and Jessica were walking down the shore a ways and I had to pee. I look over at them and see that there's plenty of space between me and them, so I find some rocks and pull down my pants to pee. I come back from the rocks and see them running away from the ocean screaming. A big wave was coming in. I start laughing at them but then look in front of me and see that I am not immune from the wave myself. I start to run back to the rocks where I had peed. I made it the rocks but this wave was so big that it consumed them too. I was not unsafe but the water swept my feet out form under me and I fell down and got soaked. The ocean was paying me back for peeing on it's beach. I changed my clothes and we were back on the road.
A couple hours later we had to stop for a bathroom break and saw a rest stop with a bunch of cars. Little did we know that it was a tourist attraction of a blow hole called Pancake Rock. It was the biggest blow hole I've ever seen. Every time it would blow water, I would give an audible, "Wow" or "It's so cool."
After 16 hours, we finally made it down to Queenstown. Due to all the lost vacation days, we only had 1 day to spend there before we flew back to America. We decided to go to the Milford sound. We did a cruise up and down the sound and got very close to some of the waterfalls. It was beautiful. Our guide was kind of cheesy and kept saying that all the waterfalls were forming because the rain is just trying to find it's way back to the ocean.
Our boat captain was adorable. He let us pretend to drive the boat.
We also went kayaking in the Milford Sound. That was fun but it was a very windy day so those waves were quite the challenge to compete with.
I don't know if you can see the little Gandalf on the kayak but Jessica took this everywhere and would pose him for pictures. The hashtag was #GandalfGoesHome. It was so funny how many unique pictures she got of Gandalf.
This pictures shows all of the waterfalls that would form coming down the mountain face. It was beautiful.
We finished our day at the Milford Sound and went to Queenstown to eat burgers at the famous Fergburger. It was a delicious burger. We then hit up a couple souvenir shops and then headed back to our airbnb. The next morning we would all fly back to America.
New Zealand truly was magical. It is fully of green rolling hills, sheep and cows everywhere, and such a small town country feel. Such a beautiful land....except Wellington. We hate Wellington. Ok, not really, but kinda.
Gandalf Goes Home Edition:
New Zealand Happy List:
-Kelly kept turning on the windshield wiper when she was trying to turn on the blinker. "We are going to have the cleanest windshield."
-Piper getting patted down twice at LAX and the worker thinking I was her mother.
-Piper teaching me how to drink out of a bottle...I kept spilling on myself so she thought I needed some lessons.
-Saying to Jessica, "can you see me?" piper in the bathroom in the next room replies with concern, "can you see ME?"
-"Is Mordor the hot brunette guy?" Jessica replies, "I'm going to kill you."
-Piper getting carried up the temple stairs in a wheelchair
-Our excuse for everything, "she's on crutches."
-"And I'm proud to be an American....no one? no one knows that one?"
-Piper and Kelly eating liver and kidneys when they thought it was mushrooms. "These mushrooms taste like poop."
-Mack yelling, "Stand up and Lean Forward."
-Piper falling backwards onto the couch while trying to dodge a spider falling from the ceiling.
-The ocean attacking me for peeing on its shores.
-Jessica and Kelly both falling into the water at Gollum's pools.
-Piper falling over twice at Hobbiton..."she's on crutches."
-The Maori village guy hitting on Piper and telling her she had a nice butt.