Monday, January 16, 2017

Sweet As: Auckland and Rotorua

*Warning: The first part of the blog contains rants. You might want to skip a few paragraphs if you want to give the moaning and angry tirades a miss.

Did I mention our family doesn't quite do routine? No? If not, let me mention it right at the beginning of this posts, so you don't think of us as raving loons (well, you might think that of us anyways, and may not be far off the mark, but lets not digress). So, here was out flight plan to Auckland: NY - Charlotte- LA-Auckland. Something to do with airline booking and round trips, the baa lamb reassured me. (I was not reassured.) A total of nearly 20 hours in the air. Add the interchanges and layovers, that's about a day - if you're not counting crossing over the international date line. Throw that in, and whoa, you're in Auckland 48 hours later completely zonked out of your head. Your poor body doesn't know whether to eat, sleep or just skip it all and take the next flight back to a time zone that's more manageable. Which sounds traumatic enough. But the icing on the cake was the woeful Airline that we'd booked ourselves on. American Airlines. We encountered our first and only set of rude Americas in the form of American Airlines employees at Newark. The ticketing experience was a hoot - lady didn't know Visa norms for non- Americans and she took 25 minutes just to check the 4 of us in. (Baa lamb in particular was scrutinised for a whole 10 minutes.This, I kid you not, included unapologetic staring at face for about 7.5 of those minutes). We were in for further rude behaviour at the boarding gate. Without prior warning, we were told our bags would be checked-in - with 2 kids and a 13 hour onward journey, we needed a set of spares and pillows. On mentioning this to the airline staff, we were met with complete indifference - nay, high-handedness, when a staffer told us he'd 'had enough' and if we continued with our protests, he'd be happy to offload us and get us on another flight the following day. This, after allowing at least half the plane that boarded before us to carry on two or more pieces of luggage. American Airlines, I don't know what you call that, but in my books, that was blackmail, pure and simple.
Our misadventures with this airline don't end there. Just as luck would have it, the entertainment systems on the long-haul flight wouldn't work. Asking for alternate seats and wifi access were apparently also out of the question. And of course, wherever heard of handing over entertainment packs to kids? Not AA. Have your tried entertaining kids on a 13 hour flight with NOTHING to do? Not for the faint of heart.
For my LOTR fellowship 
Auckland: We landed on a Sunday, and coming straight in from the bustle of New York, it was even more of a shock to the system to see how clean, uncluttered and quiet New Zealand was. We hardly spotted another human for miles sometimes and 3 vehicles at a signal qualified as a traffic jam. We didn't spend long in Auckland though, we drove to Rotorua the following day.

We had fun Quoting from this one :)

But our stay for the night was at a wonderful air bnb close to the shore. The room was cozy and had access to a relatively secluded cove which the kids lost no time in exploring.

A couple of white faced herons gave us company

The ducks looked on, quite amused by our antics
Child 1 and 2 delighted to have the beach all to themselves

The next morning we set off to Rotorua. En route, we stopped at the Waitamo glowworm caves. We weren't allowed to photograph the caves ourselves, but it was wonderful inside. Our guide too us on a tour of the caves, where stalactites and stalagmites had carved crazy, beautiful shapes. My favourite part of that tour was when the guide sang a song in Maori inside a section of the cave known as the cathedral. The chap was definitely talented. And then there was the boat ride- in utter darkness to see the glowworms. What a magical experience. It even drove my little one to silence!
Entrance to Waitamo Caves

...and the Exit at Waitamo. The magic in between remains...

... unphotographed. Exit, Waitamo

By lunch we were at Rotorua. Rotorua is on the thermal highway and is a fantastic place to experience the Geothermal wonders of New Zealand's North Island. Our first stop that evening? - The Polynesian Spa. Its a lovely place to relax with the family while we soak in the geothermal pools. The pools have 3 temperatures, the hottest perhaps a tad too hot for the little ones, but they could happily splash about the cooler pools which has a tiny slide and splashing area. So that's exactly what we did, until dinner.
A purple swamphen spotted at the carpark. 
The public springs which are free to everyone... good for a foot soaking

The next morning we set off to see Okere Falls. A beautiful place with a very short trek to see them. We even caught sight of kayakers trying to navigate the falls.
Kayakers trying to navigate the rapids

calmer waters further downsteam

Okere falls

Kids and Arun found it quite a game to navigate to the edge. Me? I was too busy screaming at each of them.

We discovered a lovely little hideyhole.

a baby fall at Okere

The next stop, another place where we could catch sight of Rotorua from the top - via the skyline Gondola. The gondola was pretty much like any other gondola, but the ride from the top to the bottom - in the luge, now that was fun. We really would have preferred to just the luge - and the ski- lift back to the top, for another 10 gos (but good sense and budget reminders stopped us).
speed junkies L and XS luge down the slope

speed junkie M coming up the ski lift while enjoying the views
We then heard from the locals about a place called Kerosene Creek which was a bit off the beaten track. The last 2 kilometres to the creek was practically a dirt track. It's not to be attempted with a car with a dodgy suspension. Once you got to the springs though, it all seems worth it. Just be sure to grab your suit and pick a good spot to soak - and there are plenty to choose from. your own personal jacuzzi in the open.
kerosene creek

This was our spot. Had a nice little island where we could picnic once we were done

After a really good soak, we though it only fair that we ought to get a glimpse of the national bird of New Zealand, the Kiwi. We headed out to the Rainbow Springs Park. Apparently the Kiwi are notoriously shy and nocturnal. So, after meeting with a few of the locals, we decided to revisit the place after dinner to see if we could spot them.
Despite the darkness and the relative quiet, we had to wait for quite a bit for the Kiwi to make a mad dash from one shrub to another. it was all quite exciting, but Child 1 was of the opinion that all he spotted was something that looked like a football on legs. So, naturally, the kids insisted in visiting the enclosure again in the light of day. This time we finally encountered a Kiwi that wasn't as shy as the rest and was willing to come out and root in the mud in front of us (basically a Kiwi version of Child 2). The kids were in complete awe (to be honest, so were we) and we left Rainbow Springs very reluctantly for Taupo....
*Video courtesy, Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

...But not before we caught sight of a host of birds, a bird show, some rainbow trout and some very dodgy articles at the giftshop.
The native wood pigeon

The Silver fern
That's a Weka. Odd. But cute!

The Nestor Kaka parrot

Massive rainbow trout swimming about

One of the stars of the bird show
Why? Why??