Archive for May, 2006

Wednesday – Rotorua / Lake Taupo

| May 31, 2006 8:11 pm

We left Auckland early Wednesday morning for a 4 hour drive down to Lake Taupo. We stopped in Rotorua along the way and visited various sites. You can view a picture here of us in the Gondola in Rotorua ( enter code SKRT65312540 ) – spectacular view of the lake Rotorua from the summit! 5031
Our second stop was the Buried Village in Rotorua. In the 1800’s, a volcano erupted and sent a mountain of mud, ash, water over the village down below and most of it ended up half-buried. We also took some great shots of a waterfall located in the village.

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Our third stop was a rather quick drive through a “redwood” forest. Although the trees were large, they weren’t anywhere near the size as the ones in California so we were slightly disappointed. Our last stop before heading off for Lake Taupo were the Rotorua Bath Houses where one can indulge thyself in sulfuric near boiling mud water as a “rejuvinating” experience. The only experience we had was nausea and left after snapping some shots. We spent the remainder of the day driving down to Lake Taupo.

http://www.skylineskyrides.co.nz/rotorua/ssr_dailyphotos/

Tuesday Visit – still in Auckland

| May 30, 2006 7:58 pm

On Tuesday, our plan was to visit Rainbow’s End and let the kids have fun riding all the amusements. Unfortunately, we found out that the park operates on a “schedule” which means that only certain rides are open at certain times. The problem compounded itself even more by the fact that we have young kids that couldn’t ride all the amusements and the Kids Castle was closed for repairs. We quickly switched into Plan B which was go to the Auckland Zoo. Bart was especially disappointed with having to go to the zoo vs. Rainbows End so I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. I offered him $1 USD for every “tasty” animals he could find at the zoo.4793

By the end of the day, he had picked up $5 USD and named: deer, chickens, fish, ostrich, and ducks. The Zoo however, is truly one of the best I’ve ever been at. It is set in a lush subtropical setting with platforms that allow you to look down on various animals. You see giraffs from about 20 feet ABOVE their heads! I’ll post pics later when I get a chance. After the zoo we headed back to the hotel for a dinner appointment with a local kiwi we met through my brother. As an ex-pat having lived almost everywhere in the world and a native US citizen, he gave us the rundown on what Kiwi living was all about. He provided a great deal of insight into life in New Zealand – I took about 10 pages worth of notes which I may post later. He and his lovely girlfriend were as warm, helpful and welcoming as most New Zealanders have been over the past few days we’ve met over the past few days. After dinner, we headed back up to our room to pack up and head out to our next destination: Rotorua / Lake Taupo.

Monday Visit

| 7:26 pm

After plopping down $90 NZD for breakfast (more on this later) at our Hotel, we headed down to the harbour to take a ferry out to Rangitoto Island. This island is an old volcano that erupted a few hundred years ago and created the “new” island. The ferry ride was about 30 minutes and the hike up the mountain took about 1.5 hours. The view was spectacular and we were specially treated to a rather large rainbow spanning across the city of Auckland and nearby bays.

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We had a picnic at the summit then proceeded back down the dock to take the ferry back. Our second stop was the Kelly Carlton Underwater Sea Park; although interesting and a bit more diverse than the comparable “Aquarium” in just about any city, the kids had fun and they did learn quite a bit about Antartic aquatic life. Our day ended with a rest at the indoor “heated” pool at our hotel (more on this later).

Sunday Visit in Auckland

| May 29, 2006 12:18 am

After resting at the hotel and getting a bit refreshed, we proceeded to do a “walkabout.” We headed to Albert Park where I took some amazing shots for the floral growing here during the “winter”. I’ve posted some pics at http://www.sahifu.net/pac80

After the park visit, we headed off to Sky City Tower to get a full look at the entire city, bay and landscape. The view was absolutely amazing. We opted to eat dinner at the restaurant. The food was delicious. I had snapper and Marge had salmon while the kids ate from fish and chips. I’ll post some pictures later. I’ve gone way over my time limit and internet access at the hotel is quite expensive so I’ll post some more later.

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Hotel Check in

| May 28, 2006 9:25 am

We arrived way to early for most hotels to allow this early a check in but we decided to give it a shot.  Much to our surprise, the hotel staff (extremely friendly) let us check in early after hearing of our grueling 18 hour travel ordeal.  The staff is warm, welcoming and extremely helpful.   Our hotel room is nice, we have a great view of the city including the Sky City Tower and the Albert Park below.  I’ll post some photos later and a complete review of the hotel after our stay here has ended.  The kids are doing great and held up remarkably well for the long journey.

Arrived in Auckland

| 8:30 am

We arrived in Auckland on Sunday, May 28 at around 7:00 a.m.  We proceeded off the aircraft, through customs (fairly easy) then straight to the car rental place where our first nightmare began!  After REPEATEDLY calling our credit card company, Capital One about our planned trip to New Zealand and our plan to make rather large transactions during our stay (hotels, airfares, car rentals, etc) our first credit card transaction was DECLINED!  Marge called Captial One irate that they had screwed this up after so much hassle (so much for the No Hassle Card) calling them before hand.  Ultimately American Express came to the rescue and we got our car.  It was then that the real challenge began: Sitting on the right side to drive on the left side of the road!  It is quite an experience!

Time Travel

| May 27, 2006 12:44 pm

We are between two days, the flight from Houston to LAX was pretty smooth except the 1.5 hour delay leaving Houston.  We landed at LAX with just enough time to take a primative bus from one terminal to terminal 2 where our Air New Zealand flight was getting ready to board.  We boarded the 747-400 Jumbo and were on our way.  The 12.5 hour flight was fairly uneventful.  The food service was excellent, the entertainment entertaining and the sleep was anything less than restful.  Once we cross the international time zone we’ll be “jumping” into the future by one day.

Departure!

| May 26, 2006 11:38 pm

We left Houston an hour and a half late after quite an eventul week.  I had a great personal loss on Tuesday that consumed a great deal of time energy and emotion from me these past few days and I thought that this trip might not have happened but life happens for a reason and we must press forward.

Tools of the Trade

| May 22, 2006 6:56 pm

With only a few days before our trip, I wanted to run down some of the tools we used to plan our trip to New Zealand.  The most useful site was the official New Zealand Tourism website.  One of the biggest issues to overcome was selecting the right hotels.  Unfortunately it was difficult to find hotels that would accommodate two adults and two children;  We ran into a similar problem in France where hotels seemed to be designed to accommodate two adults and one child.  We’ll post more info (and reviews) about the hotels as we check in during our trip but for now here is a quick list of the top websites that helped us facilitate our trip:

Expedia – Great tools for reviewing hotels, locations, anemities, etc.  We booked our first hotel with Expedia and their subsidirary Trip Advisor provided very useful recommendations and honest tourist feedback about hotels.

Trip Advisor – As stated above, great for getting a run down of things to do in each particular city and recommendations from users about where to stay.  The only negative comment I have is that Trip Advisor is geared too much towards singles or couples with no kids.  Often, the boutique hotels or lodges they recommended did not accomodate any children under age 14 so we ended up skipping most of the top 10 recommended hotels.

SideStep – After searching most of the airlines and travel sites (like Orbitz), we finally opted to use SideStep to book our airfare.  It is somewhat ironic that Sidestep found us the cheapest airfare through a link to Orbitz yet while looking directly on Orbitz the airfare was much more expensive. Go figure.
Orbitz – Nothing special but this is where we booked our flight from the US to NZ.  We were referred here by SideStep.

Credit Cards & Fees

| May 17, 2006 6:13 pm

In planning our trip to New Zealand, we wanted to make sure we didn’t end up with any “hidden” fees or charges on our credit cards which we would use for the bulk of our trip. We called up the following banks to inquire about their fees for international transactions. Here is what we found out:

  • American Express charges 2% fee for foreign transactions
  • Bank of America charges 3% fee for foreign transactions
  • Chase charges 3% fee for foreign transactions
  • Capital One charges 1% fee for foreign transactions
  • Washington Mutual charges $3 fee/transaction on their debit card for ATM withdrawls despite claiming they’re “free”
  • HSBC charges 1% fee for foreign transactions

After careful review, we made the decision to take Capital One & American Express with us for credit card transactions and our Washington Mutual Card for ATM withdrawls. We’ll be saving 2% on almost every transaction on the Capital One card and we’ll use AMEX for emergency purposes only; The rest of the cards will be staying home as punishment for their insolence.