New Zealand’s North Island: Auckland ,Rotorua and Taupo March 1 – 6 2016

                        Some photos will be sideways depending on your viewing source.
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We landed to a rainy New Zealand. We were met by our North Island tour representative & taken to our first hotel. Our guide, whose name was Uncle, is a Maori native and was an excellent greeter. He gave us information about Auckland as we drove to our  hotel.
The hotel was a comfortable city hotel. Our room had a small kitchen, which gave us the flexibility to cook a breakfast before starting our days  of adventuring.  We swam in the hotel’s  indoor pool, rested and walked to the nearby ferry terminal to find dinner and explore the area .
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 We were up early the next day.  Hank cooked breakfast & we set off to catch a 45 minute ferry ride to Waiheke island for a day of wine tasting. We  tasted wines at three vineyards:
. Jurassic Ridge vineyards across the street from sheeo farms had vineyards & olive trees.
The owner is a retired neurologist & geologist;
. Goldie vineyards,  which is  first winery on Waiheke and had very beautiful scenery;
. StonyRidge where we tasted wine & had a wonderful lunch.
 After the tour we ferried back to our hotel & napped!
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A Montepulciano wine is unusual for New Zealand’s soils.

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image                                                  Que Syrah Hank?

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 That evening we met up with our Atlanta friend Harriet’s daughter, Bahama, who lives in Auckland where she works as a swimming instructor.  She drove us to Mission Bay to a Belgian restaurant for dinner.  We sat outside on the balcony & enjoyed the pretty views of the bay and Bahama’s wonderful company. Hank and Bahama shared New Zealand green lipped mussels. He was in seafood heaven.
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image                                   Beer, mussels,  and chips
The next morning we were up early to catch a ferry to Rangitoto Island & a tour of this young volcanic island which last erupted 650 years ago.  We were transported on a tram pulled by a tractor along a rough lava path passing lava fields in the process of being reclaimed by vegetation.
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The tram took us to a walkway where we walked along a boardwalk to the summit that was built 10 years ago by unemployed Auckland youth. At the summit, we looked over the Waitemata Harbor and Hauraki Gulf and could also see Auckland harbor. There  was a military outpost that was built as an observation post for the World War II.  We continued on the tractor pulled tram down the lava chute and had a chance to walk around the area some more before the return ferry.
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Back at Auckland Harbor we found lunch by the water. More New Zealand mussels for Hank!
We rested  and then Hank found a good foot massage. We had an early evening since our tour bus was to pick us up at 6:45 am to set off for Rotorua. We checked out of our hotel and set out  for Rotorua. 
The drive  was great experience. The hills were dotted with cattle, sheep and some alpacas.
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Our first stop was Waitomo to see the glow worm caves.  This was a spectacular experience as we walked through a limestone cave with impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations before boarding a boat that floated on a subterranean river through the cave that was illuminated by hundreds of spots of light from glow worms. They didn’t allow any photographs, so this is a green screen picture that the cave operators made possible.  
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  Our next stop was The Agrodome where we watched a sheep shearing demonstration and an Australian  sheep dog herd sheep around a paddock.
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We then boarded a tractor-tram to pull us around the impressive farm. We were surprised to see a  deer farm which are very popular in New Zealand for venison, which can be bought at grocery stores and restaurants.

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We then  drove to a Maori cultural village called Te Puia. The Maori came from Polynesia about the year 1500, and have been living in this area for almost 700 years. Te Puia offered a chance to find out more about Māori, their culture and land.  We watched a Maori cultural dance and music performance.
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 We then visited a Maori  woodworking workshop.
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 We were led to the  Pohutu geyser which was just starting to spurt and also watched bubbling mud pools. 
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That evening we went to dinner that included a Maori cultural performance.
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In the morning we were picked up for the 1 hour drive to Matamata where we would tour Hobbiton. We drove past acres and acres of hilly sheep farms and  beautiful landscapes. It was easy  to see why Peter Jackson selected this countryside for his filming.  Hobbiton was an incredible place to be. Their was no hint of Disney or Hollywood about the place.  It was perfectly possible to believe that a hobbit would appear with his pipe to sit on his stoop, or to come round the shed to tend his beautiful vegetable garden. We really liked being at Hobbiton.
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In the afternoon we went to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. Shelley got a mud treatment and Hank a massage . We then soaked in the geothermal pools for which Rotorua is known.  After an early breakfast we walked to the Government gardens where we saw more natural geothermal pools and a lawn bowling tournament.
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W e saw this interesting bird in the park. It is a Pūkeko. image
We then set off to Taupo by bus and upon arriving found out that The Ironman competition was at Taupo that day.So, our adventures continue! Our bus dropped us at a location blocks from where our tour company told us the stop would be.  We had to drag our luggage through the crowds who were waiting for the many cyclists & runners. At the visitor center we were able to arrange for an evening boat cruise to see relatively recent (1979) Maori carvings on the cliff.   We made our way to the busy harbor where they graciously  stored our luggage.  While waiting for the boat tour we ate lunch by Lake Taupo and watched swimmers, cyclists and runners. We even saw a low flying helicopter catching great shots of the athletes.
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Back at the harbour  for the evening cruise, we rode on Lake  Taupo, a crater lake 100 miles circumstance, to see the Maori carvings. It was a  very nice cruise and they served snacks and drinks to0.
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The next morning we hired a taxi to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to Huka Falls. It’s a popular natural attraction, but the town doesn’t offer a shuttle to see it. You can ,however ,book a tour on a speeding jet boat to view the falls, but we’re not THAT adventuresome.
DSCF3580After seeing the falls we had the taxi driver drop us off back in town where we stored our luggage near the visitor center and wandered around the town, now devoid of the Ironman crowds.  Soon we were catching our bus to Napier, as we continued to explore the North Island.