Part 1

The North Island

We were supposed to start on the 23rd, and my birthday (the 24th) would have been in the air. Eric set up a little birthday cake, complete with glowstick "candles", because he figured he wouldn't be allowed to bring matches on board. How thoughtful! Since we had to delay the trip because I got sick, I had my birthday cake at home.Just before we left, some wacko tried to set off a bomb carried in his shoe. So at the airport, they checked our shoes very carefully, because we fit their profile - one way ticket, bought the ticket within three days, and it was an international flight. The inspector was super friendly, though.

Poor guy--had to handle Eric's sneakers! Luckily he had gloves on!In New Zealand! Holy cow - Eric's driving on the wrong side of the road! The first couple hours were stressful, but he got used to it soon and did a great job driving.

New Zealand is such an incredibly scenic country. This is from just south of Auckland. Apparently they filmed the Hobbit town part of the Lord of the Rings here.Everyone speaks English, of course, and many things are the same as here. But shopping carts are "trundlers".

This visitor center was in the form of a sheep.We camped for the night at a "motor camp" next to Lake Taupo. There was a huge volcanic explosion in the late 1800's, and from that lots of pumice laying around. This is a pumice rock floating in the lake - the only rock that floats!

A nice healthy breakfast of oatmeal, apricots and kiwis (cheap!), and yogurt.We saw this plant everywhere along the side of the road - it's New Zealand Flax. To our eyes it was very beautiful and exotic looking, but it appears to grow everywhere there.

Pampas grass was the same - we saw it everywhere.This is the Whakapapanui Stream, in Tongariro National Park. Very beautiful little stream, running through what looked like a volcanic basin.

Plants in Tongariro National Park - this is the native mistletoe, which is a favorite of the introduced possums. They put metal sleeves around the trees it grows on, so the possums can't climb up.

This is a fern - it starts out all curled up, then the leaves expand.

The landscape from a little hill at Tongariro. Unfortunately it was clouding up.There's an area at Tongariro that has these weird mounds. Scientists didn't know what caused them, but now they think that they're part of a debris avalanche from a volcano. This is based on the fact that there are similar formations in Mt. St. Helens in Washington State.

We took the desert road south, on the east side of Tongariro National Park. The mountains never cleared up, unfortunately.I drove too! Driving on the left sure is disconcerting.

We stopped for tea at this DC 3 airplane, turned into a cafe. It's advertising a cookie company.Really neat clouds on the way south.

In the town of Paekakariki, just north of Wellington.

An interesting puffy grass along the beach.

In the evening, we got to Wellington.Some sculptures close to the waterfront.

The Lord of the Rings was playing in all the theaters, of course, since it was filmed in New Zealand. This prop looked pretty authentic, even though it wasn't used in the movie.In the campground close to Wellington, we needed to dump our graywater. We were told to dump in the stream right next to the campground!

This is also called the New Zealand Christmas Tree, or Pohutokawa, because it blooms bright red around Christmas.

A lot of olders cars are still being used in New Zealand.In Wellington, one of the office buildings was the "Microsoft House"

We took this cable car up to the top of the hill.Wellington is a very scenic city, on the water and with lots of hills.

Eric became part of a timepiece here - this is a sundial. It was accurate, too.There's a botanical garden at the top of the hill. This tree is very common all around New Zealand. It's called the cabbage tree.

Can't remember what this one was called.Moreton Bay Pine.

The famous tree ferns of New Zealand.This is the New Zealand Christmas Tree again. It has a very beautiful form.

There's an old colonial cemetery right in the middle of town. As a matter of fact, an expressway goes through it.

This reminded us of Grace and Gary's daughter, Hannah! It's a shoe store, though.Later on we went to Te Papa, the national museum. This is Eric in the museum cafe, where we had lunch.

Our main impression was that it was overwhelming "politically correct", to the point of not being very interesting. Captions are presented first in Maori, then in English.Taking the ferry to the South Island. Looks like a cruise ship.

The coastline of the South Island is beautiful.