New Zealand Trip 2003


How I Spent My Winter Vacation in Summer

Map of New Zealand

Above is a link that will take you to a map of New Zealand. The map might be helpful in getting some idea where everything is. New Zealand is actually 2 islands, called cleverly, the North Island and the South Island. The distances between points can be a lot further than it seems. The story that follows is about my 5 week trip to this wonderful country. I had been to New Zealand on two previous occasions, but this is the first time that I would be in the country for this amount of time. I had previously spent most of my time on the South Island, doing the normal tourist things of Bundy Jumping, Glacier Helicopter Trips, Jet Boating, etc. This time I was to spend most of the time in places I had not been. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to the trip. Since New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reverse of what they are in the Northern Hemisphere, in other words, I would be leaving the middle of winter in New England and arriving in the middle of summer in New Zealand.

Boston to Nelson

On January 15, 2003 I left Boston Massachusetts and winter behind. It had been very cold on the East Coast of the U.S. with snow for the first 9 days of the New Year. I was headed for a night in Los Angeles before continuing on to New Zealand. When I booked the trip I was concerned that I might get stuck in Boston if we had a bad snow storm. The weather was mostly fine, so there was no need, but it also helped to break up the trip. When I got to LA I rented a car with Thrifty Car Rental. I had just reserved a cheap car, but when I went to pick up the car, they asked me if I wanted to upgrade to a convertible for $8 more. I declined, being the cheap ass that I am. When I went out to the lot to get the car, it was a Sebring convertible! I guess that if I had said “yes” to the upgrade, then I would have had the pleasure of paying for it otherwise, they had nothing else to give me so I got it for free. The weather in LA was wonderful. The next day, my flight wasn’t until late so I took the car to Long Beach to visit the Aquarium and hang out there. The temperature was a nice 80oF, so the convertible was great to have. It was a far cry from what it had been in Boston, so I was off to a good start.

After spending the day on the West Coast of the U.S., it was time for fly to New Zealand. It’s a 12 ˝ hour flight from LAX to Auckland. When I got to the Qantas ticket counter at LAX I asked them to put some priority tags on my bags since I had to make a connection in Auckland and didn’t want to wait a long time for my bags. The ticket agent informed me that he was going to do that anyway because they had upgraded me to business class because they were oversold in coach. What a stroke of luck, so I guess the rental car was just the beginning of my good luck streak, I hoped it would continue.

The Flight to Auckland was uneventful (which is always a good thing when traveling). I was able to sleep plenty on the flight after drinking a few glasses of wine and putting in some ear plugs. After arriving in Auckland, I had to clear customs and find my way to the domestic terminal to continue my journey to meet up with Tony and his sister Katrina on the South Island. The Auckland airport isn’t real big, so it’s not real hard to find the domestic terminal, which is about a mile away. I guess they are planning on it getting much bigger. I opted to take the walk than the bus because I had been sitting way too long in the plane. Finally it was time to board the little plane to Nelson. This plane had about 20 seats in it, which I kind of like. It sort of feels like you are sitting with the pilot. The flight to Nelson was fine, but I had had enough of airplanes and airports. Tony and Katrina were at the airport in Nelson waiting for me. It was great to see them both. Since leaving Boston, I had spent about 22 hours in airplanes, about 6 hours in airports, 1 night and a day in LA, and lost a day crossing the International Date Line. So after leaving home on Wednesday afternoon, it was suddenly Saturday morning. It was great to be on the South Island of New Zealand again.

Nelson, Abel Tasman and Wine

Nelson is a very nice region of the country. The population of the city of Nelson is around 52,000, which makes it the second largest city on the South Island. They boast about having the most sunshine in the entire country. Nelson is located at the very north of the South Island and has several National Parks near it. After arriving in Nelson we drove out to Abel Tasman National Park to see about hiring some kayaks for a few days from a guy that Tony had met on one of his earlier trips. Being the middle of summer, everything was pretty well booked up and also pretty expensive. We decided to skip the kayaks and just do a hike along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which is a great walk. This all sounded very good, except, again being the middle of summer vacation all the huts along the track were already booked solid, so we decided to do a real backpack and carry our own tents. One problem though, I didn’t bring a tent. Tony suggested checking out “The Warehouse”, which is a huge discount store, kind of like Sam‘s Club, BJ’s or Costco, just not as fancy!  Well, everyone does get a bargain at the warehouse. I was able to pick up a small tent that would be fine for backpacking for all of about $15 US. It certainly wouldn’t compare to my North Face tent, but it was a bargain, and worked out just fine. So we were set and looking forward to some sunshine and a nice walk; we got both. For the next 3 days, we hiked along the coast and stayed at spectacular campsites along the beach. It was wonderful and the warehouse tent worked just fine. After 3 days on the trail, we headed back to Nelson for a few days before Katrina had to fly out.

We decided that it was time to do some wine tasting since we were pretty close to the famous Marlborough Wine Region. Most of the New Zealand wines that we can get in the US come from this part of the country. Since Tony is going to school for Viticulture and Enology (growing grapes and making wine), then it was sort of research for school. Besides, I wanted to find some nice wines that we couldn’t get back in the states. So we made the trek to Marlborough, which was about 120km from Nelson. We had a wonderful day sampling as many as we could in a short amount of time (as you do).

The next day (Thursday, January 23), Katrina had a noon flight from Nelson back to Auckland and from there back home. She had been in New Zealand with Tony since the first of the year. It was great spending time with her, something I had not done in a long time. To see her off in good fashion we visited a brewery for a tour, but didn’t have enough time for the tour so just did some beer tasting (notice a theme yet?). After the brewery we saw Katrina off at the airport then started the 6 ˝ hour drive south to Christchurch.

Map of New Zealand

Christchurch and Lincoln University

The city of Christchurch is the largest on the South Island with a population of 331,400. Tony is a student at Lincoln University (or “Uni”) as they call it. They also call it “Last Chance Lincoln” and had several other names for the place, but you can ask Tony about them. The university was very nice, Tony had some things to take care of and we had a couple of days to kill before heading to the North Island. It was cool seeing the school and being able to check email for free. We spent some time with Steve, one of Tony’s flat mates (who is from Western Mass.) and some others folks (British Sara and a couple of Germans, Lars and Carston) that Tony went to school with. Lars is still a student at Lincoln and lives in the flat next to Tony. We had a nice time in Christchurch and Lincoln for a couple of days and I got to hear some pretty good stories, some dealing with sheep, other dealing with things I won’t mention.

North Island - Concert, Wine, Backpack, Wine, Geysers, Wine

On Saturday, January 25, we flew to Auckland to start our adventure on the North Island. We rented a car and put a lot of kilometers on it. That night we drove to Tauranga because we had tickets for the Creedence Clearwater Revival concert. The concert was outside at a race course, which actually worked out great. We were supposed to have seats, but we never made it to them. As we entered the stadium we were supposed to walk across the infield (where the stage and infield seats were setup). They had a small fence blocking off the seating area in the infield, but they didn’t stop anyone from standing on the outside of the fence. So, we stayed there for the entire concert. It was awesome; we were about 30 yards from the stage and had a great view. The stage rotated so no matter where you were you would face the stage.

The next day we drove south east to the city of Napier. The population of Napier is 55,000, and it sits on Hawke Bay. The cool thing about the city is the architecture. They want to be known as the “Art Deco Capital of the World”. Most of the town had to be rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1931, which is why most of the buildings are done in an art deco style. It was pretty cool.

Hawke Bay is also the location for one of the largest wine producing regions, so we sampled some of the wine, of course. One of our goals was to find a place that would be showing the Super Bowl. As you might guess, American Football is not a sport that anyone follows in New Zealand. We did find a bar that had a huge TV and they put the Super Bowl on the screen. This was actually Monday at noon, because of the time difference. They were great at this place, even though there were only about 6 people that actually cared to watch. It was good to see Oakland get their butts kicked!

After the game, we drove south (towards Wellington) to a town called Masterton (population 19,900). We spent the night there and the next day got some supplies for a 3 day backpack trip to Mt. Holdsworth.

We had really nice weather during the backpacking trip. On the first day it was very sunny, but very windy. Fortunately we were staying in a hut. New Zealand has a great system of huts in their wilderness areas. They are mostly all maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The facilities vary, but most of them have water, gas cooking rings, some sort of heat (usually coal stove), and latrines. Our first hut (Powell Hut) had just been rebuilt in 1981. It was beautiful. The hut was designed to sleep 40 people, so it was pretty large to say the least. When we got there, we were greeted by a German girl, Simone, who was hiking and traveling alone. No one else showed up so it was just the three of us in the huge hut. We taught her how to play some card games and generally had a great time hearing about where she had been and what she planned to do. Simone asked if she could hike with us because the DOC people had warned her about hiking alone on the track when it was windy. This day had actually been incredibly windy, so she was a bit concerned; she had turned back the previous day because of the weather. So, the next day the three of us hiked over Mt Holdsworth (1470m or 4821ft) and followed a ridge line that was pretty narrow at times. This was all above trees, but unfortunately was also in the clouds. It reminded me a little about walking some of the ridges in the White Mountains. The trail continued to Jumbo Peak (1405m or 4608ft), then followed a “knifes edge” trail to our second hut, Jumbo Hut. This hut was older and smaller than the previous one, but very nice. It had a coal stove in it, which we cranked up because it was pretty cold. Again, the three of us were the only ones at the hut, so there was plenty of room. The next day we hiked out of the mountains and back to our car in beautiful sunshine and warm weather. While we were hiking we meet a couple of women that lived in the area. They were on the trail just for the day to pick up markers from a race on the track that we just completed. They told us that the record is to do the entire track in 2.5 hours! We were doing it in 2 days, which really made us wonder how anyone can do it in just a couple of hours.

After the backpacking trip, we headed back towards Auckland to attend the Waiheke Island Wine Festival. homefestival_logo:  To get to Waiheke Island, you take a ferry from Auckland. We got on the ferry late Friday afternoon after we spent some time at the America’s Cup Viaduct Harbor area (more on the America’s Cup later). When we got to Waiheke, we spent a couple nights at the house that Tony lived at when he worked on the Island. Tony had been working for Goldwater Estates, which is the oldest vineyard and winery on the island. We stayed with the wine maker, Nikolai St George, his girl friend Jasmine and Luke, who is also a student at Lincoln but had worked for Goldwater for the past year. The house was pretty dodgy, but served our purpose of a cheap (actually free) place to crash for a couple of nights. It was great meeting these people; they had lot of stories too. Especially Luke who likes to start every story with “A friend of a friend….” I also got to meet Peter, who is from Canada and also one of Tony’s flat mates at school. He has a friend Fe-fe, who I was fortunate not to meet, but heard lots of stories.

The Wine Festival was kind of disappointing, but I'm glad we did it. Had we known what it was going to be like, then we would have visited Waiheke at a different time. They charged too much money for a festival ticket (which entitled us to an empty glass and bus transportation). Each winery SOLD tastings of their wines, or you could buy bottles, full glasses or food. They all had some sort of entertainment too. The day was perfect, but over priced, but that’s typical of Waiheke. After visiting three wineries, we ended up at Goldwater, where we spent the rest of the day. Since Tony had worked there, they treated us really well. The food was excellent, and the entertainment was nice too. There were heaps of people, so I'm sure they consider the festival a big success. This was the first one they had ever done, so the proof of the success will be next year when they do it again.

Map of New Zealand

We took the ferry back to Auckland on Sunday then got in the car and started driving south again. We ended up in Rotorua (pop 56,900), which is the most popular tourist spot on the North Island. It’s surrounded by thermal pools, geysers, hot springs and a very nasty sulfur smell, which was like rotten eggs. The whole town really smelled, but it was very cool. It’s kind of like Yellowstone National Park, but with a city built in the middle of it. We basically just spent the night there and then continued the drive back to Hawke Bay for some more wine tasting. This time we had a couple of days, so we were able to see a lot of different wineries. We even went to a couple wineries that are owned by Americans. After all this wine tasting, we head back north to Auckland.

Sailboats, Peace Rallies and America’s Cup Racing

In Auckland (actually Bayswater) we chartered a sailboat for 7 nights. The boat was a New Zealand design Farr 1020, which was 10.2 meters or approximately 33.5 feet. After a quick chart briefing and return the rental car, we were off for 8 days in the Hauraki Gulf. The weather was absolutely wonderful, sunny and warm all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes with nice weather usually means a lack of wind, and that was our case. I'm glad for the nice weather, but we could have done with a bit more wind. The boat was nice and allowed us to get to some pretty cool places. We spent a couple nights around Waiheke Island and the Coromandel Peninsula. We wanted to get out to Great Barrier Island, but we would have needed a lot more wind to get there. We did come across the Italian Ship the Amerigo Vespucci. She is a big ship, 101m (331 ft) long with 3 masts. The Amerigo was built in 1931 in Italy and is used by the Italian Navy as a training vessel. She was in town for the America’s Cup races. While we were sailing around the Amerigo Vespucci the New Zealand air force flew over head and had a conversation with the captain of the ship who invited the air force for a tour and coffee when they got back to Auckland. I wonder why we didn’t get an invite. There was practically no wind that day, so some of her crew was messing around in a dingy, which was also very cool looking.

Map of the Hauraki Gulf

The next day, there was lots of wind, blowing about 20 miles per hour. It was probably the best sailing day we had, it was also the day before we returned the boat. We sailed towards Rangitoto Island where we planned to spend our last night. As we sailed back into the strong wind, we were greeted by tons of HUGE boats making their way to a big party on Kawau Island. This party was for all the big shots in town for the America’s cup race. We had no idea at the time where they were all going, but it was pretty cool to see. We also saw the Amerigo Vespucci making her was to the party. She was very impressive under sail.

On our way to Rangitoto Island, we got a little to close to the America’s Cup course. One of the teams was actually on the course practicing. I think it was team New Zealand, but it didn’t really matter. While the teams are racing, they have boats at the edge of the course to keep other boats out of the area. Needless to say, we were asked to change our course. The next day, it was time to return the boat. The eight days went very fast. We didn’t get to every where we wanted to, but it was a great time. With the lack of wind we had time to enjoy some very fine Cuban cigars and some port as we slowly sailed around the Gulf.

It was getting close to the end of my trip to New Zealand (which you are probably glad for if you have read this far). I still had 4 more days, which we choose to spend in Auckland. On Saturday, February 15 we got a chance to participate in the “peace rally” that was held in the city. It was estimated that from eight to ten thousand people marched in Auckland. It was a pretty interesting sight, and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. It was tough being an American and feeling the hatred of people against my country. I know it’s silly to take things personally, especially from groups of people that don’t necessarily have all the information (who does?). There was plenty of contradiction as well. While they were shouting to “boycott American goods” they were lined up 20-30 deep at the counters of Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King. Anyway, this is neither a political storey, nor do I wish to make any political statement. I just find it odd that they depend so much on American tourist dollars and American products that they would think they could possibly get along without them.

This day was also the start of the America’s Cup race, which I was very interested in seeing. It was a pretty windy day, but plenty of sunshine. The city was very excited about their team defending the cup. The whole city (well those that were not marching) was at the Viaduct Harbor to watch the boats leave for the race course. The race started about 1:15pm, but Team New Zealand was in trouble from the start. Their boat was taking in a lot of water, then their boom broke, finally their jib pulled out one the cleats that hold it to the deck. The race was over for Team New Zealand in a matter of minutes. There is still a lot of speculation about what happened, but suddenly they were down one race and had a broken boat to fix.

Race 2 was held the next day (Sunday).  We had made arrangements to see the race from the water aboard a very cool sailboat called Arcturus. We got to the harbor at 9:00am to head out with the boat. There were 15 of us onboard, it was a great day. The sun was up, and the wind was light. There were people everywhere on shore and on boats as Team New Zealand made its way out of the Viaduct Harbor to the race course. The course is about 10 miles from the harbor, so it takes almost 2 hours to get there. It was quite a sight, I'm so glad we were able to participate in it. The boat we were on was awesome. Due to the light winds, the race was delayed for a few hours. We were able to sail around while we waited for the start of the race. When the race finally started, we were very close to the starting line. We had a great view of the race. Team New Zealand was doing great until the very end when the Swiss team passed them to win the race by seven seconds! Now Team NZ was down by two races. The winner is the first team to win five races (so it’s a best of nine series). After I returned home, that cup was concluded in dramatic fashion. Team NZ was defeated 5-0. Race 3 was a pretty close race under mostly calm conditions. Race 4 was a different matter. Again Team NZ had troubles with rough seas and suffered a broken mast, among other things. Race 5 was held two days later and Team NZ was clearly not in the mood for racing. So the America’s Cup will now travel to Europe, which is another first.

Time for Home

The next day was Monday, the 17th of February and time for me to head back to the US. Tony left in the morning to fly back to Christchurch to start the new school year and I flew to Los Angeles and back towards winter. When I got to LA I was informed that my flight to Boston was cancelled because the Blizzard of 2003 was just getting started on the East Coast. I wouldn’t be able to get a flight back to Boston until at least Wednesday. So while everyone was watching the snow fall around them at home, I got stuck in LA. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot worse places to get stuck; some people were stuck in Pittsburg, or worse! LA was sunny and mostly fine, so it worked out ok. It also helped to break up the long flights and gave me a chance to get some pictures of the American side of the Pacific. After taking so many pictures from the New Zealand side, I couldn’t resist getting some from the American side. Anyway, Wednesday morning came and I was on my way back to Boston.

Well, I had a wonderful time in New Zealand. There is something about taking five weeks in the middle of winter and finding summer. I look forward to returning there some day and having other adventures. Who knows, that return visit may not be that far off. For those of you that actually made it this far, thanks for reading. I would love to hear what you think.





Copyright 2003, John Gareri            All rights reserved.
Last updated Saturday, March 08, 2003