New Zealand, week one: old friend

After a quick good-bye hug to Paula, we were off in Ruby’s little Suzuki Swift. Truth be told, Ruby did not recognize me when I walked right up to her at the meet-up spot. I recognized her right away. She looks exactly the same except her hair is now gray instead of brown. When we worked together, I was 18-19 years old, she was 32-33. It was a long time ago and although she had seen pictures of me on Facebook and on holiday cards, it took her a minute to make the connection. Although my face looks generally the same, I am a few pounds heavier than I was 30+ years ago (probably still close to 25 pounds), but more than that, I never wore my hair up back then. Yeah, I’m sure that was it. ūüôā No worries though because we picked up right where we left off all those years ago. She was like a cool big sister to me. Ruby is also an amazing tour guide. About 2/3 of¬†our total time was spent on the North Island of New Zealand as this is where both Paula and Ruby live.

Ruby¬†whisked us off to our first touristy destination of the day: The Hobbiton Movie Set, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Paula’s farm, actually. We took the two hour tour and it was interesting. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I have not actually seen any of the Hobbit movies. It was fascinating¬†to hear how Peter Jackson picked this particular farm, really just another working sheep farm. He and his location scout were flying over the area and he had something specific in mind. Jackson¬†spotted an amazing tree right next to a pond (from a helicopter in the sky) and decided then and there that this farm was the perfect spot for a Hobbit Village.

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Bilbo Baggin’s House at Bag’s End.

The Shire¬†is gorgeously maintained, with a community garden, pond, The Green Dragon Inn, and all the little Hobbit holes (houses) are really cute, most of them themed… a baker, a bee keeper, a potter, etc…

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Hobbit holes at The Shire. (photo credit: hobbitontours.com)

Ruby actually didn’t go on the tour with us as she had been twice before (and it is expensive!). She waited patiently and then we hopped in her little car and off we went to Rotorua. ¬†We had decided that we would not visit the famous Rotorua thermal pools as we had chosen a cruise excursion that would take us there. Instead, we went to a Nature Park where we would be able to see the endangered Kiwi Bird in a hatching center, as well as other New Zealand wildlife in a natural habitat of trees and other plantings. The Kiwi is a flightless bird that is native to New Zealand. It didn’t need to fly, because prior to the introduction of numerous mammals¬†to New Zealand by settlers,¬†there were no native predators. At this point, some species of Kiwi are critically endangered.

Again, Ruby is an amazing guide. She has embraced her adopted home with a kind of passion and enthusiasm that is infectious. As we walked around the park, she talked non-stop about every plant and bird and reptile we spotted. From the Tuatara (looks similar to a lizard) to the Silver Fern, which like the Kiwi Bird, is a symbol of New Zealand.

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New Zealand Silver Fern, Green on the top, Silver underneath.

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Baby Kiwi (photo credit: backpackerguidenz.jpg)

Kiwis are nocturnal, so the entire habitat was dark with special lighting. No photos were allowed, but we were able to see an egg, a mama Kiwi, and a baby Kiwi. Very exciting.

We also saw other birds both at the Nature Park and during the rest of our trip to New Zealand. One of the most interesting birds to me, which we saw both on the ground and in the air, but were unable to get good photos of, is the Kea. On the ground it looks a bit like a brown/green parrot with a wicked looking beak. And the stories about the Kea bird are really quite something. Apparently they are very destructive, and very smart, and can be brutal predators. Farmers don’t like them because they can kill a sheep. They also like to hang around tourist destinations, especially on the south¬†island, and chew apart cars and motorcycles. They can rip a windshield wiper right off a car, and often do.

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The New Zealand Kea (photo credit: blogs.thatpetplace.com)

The thing about the Kea though, is when they are in flight, they are the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.

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New Zealand Kea in flight (photo credit: somtren.com)

The park included numerous redwoods brought over from California and planted in Rotorua. The wood was harvested and used for building in the early 20th century. The park is set in a beautiful forest.

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A New Zealand California Redwood.

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One of my favorite plants was the native New Zealand tree fern. Known by its Maori name, Ponga. Look at that bark. Squeee! I love trees!

At this point we were only on day four of our tour of New Zealand and it had been a super loooong day. Ruby drove us back to her house in the area of Pukekohe, South of Auckland and asked us if we wanted to watch a movie. I was ready to collapse. Ruby is a real movie buff and she especially likes movies about New Zealand, movies filmed in New Zealand, sci-fi, and fantasy and apparently she is a bit of a night owl. I knew she and Blue Eyes would get along!

When Ruby first found out that I would be coming to New Zealand with Blue Eyes, I know she was not thrilled. It’s not because¬†Ruby had never met him, and she was nervous about it. She wasn’t. She’s an outgoing lady. The truth is, Ruby is a betrayed spouse whose husband left her for the other woman. In fact, I knew Ruby was a betrayed wife before I knew I was!!! She has been dealing with that for the better part of 12 years. She knows Blue Eyes’ story. When I explained to her about sex addiction, I could tell she wasn’t really buying it. This was all by email. I had “found” Ruby again through Facebook about three months prior to dday. Just prior to dday, we had talked about me and Blue Eyes making a trip to New Zealand. She was thrilled and offered us a place to stay with her (remember, I did not even know there was such a person as Paula at this point). Ruby¬†sent off a package to me with all kinds of brochures and information about New Zealand. That huge packet arrived ON DDAY. I know. ugh. I didn’t have the heart or the energy to contact Ruby for a WHOLE YEAR post dday. Ruby is a very sweet and patient woman. I told her everything. When we started discussing a trip to New Zealand, at that point, one year post, the discussion was about me flying to New Zealand, not Blue Eyes. She really felt like I needed to get away from my husband. At that point, I was still of the mind that getting away meant running away and I wasn’t about to run away from my own reality. And I didn’t. I stuck it out, every.single.hellish.day.of.it.

And then I found Paula, or Paula found me, or whatever. All of the sudden, New Zealand was on the MUST VISIT NOW list. Well, now took another 18 months or so… it takes a while to plan and book a five week trip Down Under. When all was said and done, Blue Eyes and I would make the entire trip together. As it turns out, and I knew it would, Ruby and Blue Eyes got along famously. Blue Eyes is actually a pretty likable guy, especially if you don’t get in the cross hairs of his sex addiction. Ruby and Blue Eyes¬†probably have more in common with each other, perhaps, than they do with me. Yay! While they were watching The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogies (yawn), I had some much wanted¬†alone time. Almost daily I made the 3-4¬†mile walk around Ruby’s neighborhood. The weather was beautiful.

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A gorgeous Pukekohe farm near Ruby’s house. Pukekohe crops include onions and Kumara (NZ sweet potato).

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I love love love plants and trees and flowers. I especially loved walking by this HUGE succulent every day on my walk. I think I’m going to paint it!

Ruby introduced us to her little town of Pukekohe and some of her favorite restaurants.

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I tried New Zealand corn fritters at the funky Cafe Kaos. Delicious!

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Speaking of funky restaurants, check out Whisk! Cafe. Never a dull moment in Pukekohe.

Ruby drove us to a beautiful beach close to her home. The north island west coast has black sand beaches.

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Our first foot prints in the black New Zealand sand.

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Kariotahi Beach.

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Kariotahi Beach.

We spent a whole day in the Hamilton area of the north Island with one of Ruby’s ¬†friends… who is also a betrayed spouse whose husband left her for the other woman. Ruby’s friend is a real talker and a bit snoopy. Somehow we were on the topic of infidelity, and Ruby told her I was one of them, part of “the group” if you will, a betrayed wife. She then said, “oh, so how long have you two been together?” I said 33 years and she just stared at me. I could see her confusion. Ruby merely told her that we were a couple that made it through. The friend just stared at me and said, “Oh, huh, well… ” I merely stated the fact that Blue Eyes is a sex addict. And that was the end of that. We all got along famously.

We started at the beautiful (and free) Hamilton Gardens situated next to an area of the Waikato River. A huge section of the park is dedicated to themed gardens from around the world.

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Japanese themed garden.

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Tudor Themed Garden at Hamilton Gardens.

Don’t ask about the American themed garden… it was really sparse and strange, had a sorta mid century vibe, and included a big painting of Marilyn Monroe, and then some Adirondack chairs on a concrete patio? I don’t even remember what the plants were. I wanted to say, to no¬†one in particular, pick a theme, any theme.

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Lunch at the gardens was an interesting affair. Blue Eyes and I had been trying to find some savory pies to try, so we shared a small meat pie and I ordered a Filo concoction filled with lamb and veg (yummy). Blue Eyes was eyeing something on the menu board called a Scandinavian Smorrebrod. It was a trio of very interesting open-faced sandwiches. We both thought it would be like finger sandwiches, since there were three of them. Nope. They were large, and they were delicious. I cannot even remember what was in them all, but pretty sure there was 1) roast beef, shaved parmesan, asparagus, sprouts, and hummus, and 2) pickle, poached egg, smoked salmon, and capers, and then 3) soft cheese, pea shoots, roasted tomatoes, and crispy pancetta. Wow. I can’t believe we finished all our food. It was all delicious.

After lunch we drove into downtown Hamilton, walked along Victoria Street, and visited the Waikato Museum where we learned all about the Maori waka taua (carved wooden war canoe). We also got a requisite photo with Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff Statue.

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We saw the first of two Michael Parekowhai art pieces:

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The Tongue of the Dog, sculpture by Michael Parekowhai. We visited the building in this photo, ArtsPost, the original Hamilton Post Office turned art gallery. (photo credit: pictaram.com)

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Riff Raff Statue honoring Richard O’Brien, creator of Rocky Horror Picture Show. They say it looks just like him.

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After our walk through downtown Hamilton, we drove and then hiked into Bridal Veil Falls, near Raglan.

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Bridal Veil Falls. Raglan, New Zealand.

Then visited some more beaches. I do love beaches…

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Ngarunui Beach. (Raglan)

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Ngaranui Beach. (Raglan)

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Kite surfer at Wainamu Beach. (Raglan)

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Fresh Green Lipped Mussels at Raglan Pier.

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Raglan Pier.

We also took the train in and spent a day with Ruby in the big city of Auckland.

We visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum and learned a lot more about New Zealand’s involvement in war than we previously knew, which was admittedly nothing.

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The Auckland War Museum also has amazing Maori exhibits and an interesting Volcano exhibit.

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Ruby purchased for each of us at the museum cafe, an ANZAC biscuit (aka cookie). I could tell from looking at it (and smelling it) that it had coconut in it. Just ask my friend Totally Caroline how much I love coconut (NOT!!!). But I ate it because Ruby wanted me to. And I hate just a little less coconut that is hard and has been cooked INTO something… I really won’t eat that fluffy white stuff on top of cakes. Seriously, I won’t. Anyway, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was established in World War I, and these cookies were apparently sent to soldiers because they did not spoil easily. They are just hard, sweet little cookies, but apparently, are still manufactured and sold Down Under. Perhaps that will be my one and only ANZAC biscuit! No picture, but it looks like a hard oatmeal cookie.

Ruby took us to this funky Sea Life Aquarium that reminded me a bit of something I might have visited with my parents as a child in the 70’s. We did, however, get to see a number of penguins and those would end up being the only penguins we would see on our entire trip. (foreshadowing: we were supposed to see penguins on one of our cruise excursions, but didn’t. more on that later)

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After a lovely dish of ice cream, Ruby walked us to the pier we would be leaving from for our 16-night cruise. At the pier was where we saw the second Michael Parekowhai art exhibit.

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The Lighthouse 2017 by Michael Parekowhai. “The Lighthouse is just that – a house filled with light. Its exterior takes the form of a traditional 1950’s New Zealand home, based on a house on the Eden-Roskill border. The exterior colors reference site and environment on Queens Wharf and the space between the sea and the sky. Inside reveals something different and unexpected. The English Channel, a polished stainless steel sculpture of Captain James Cook, occupies the void. Cook is contemplative. He faces the northwest and the light constellations dance off his highly polished surface.” (quote taken from ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz) The photo is mine.

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Our Cruise Ship, the Azamara Journey, docked in Auckland, NZ.

Saying good-bye to Ruby was very difficult. As we watched her walk back up the pier to the train station, off to her suburban New Zealand home, we immediately missed her. It is so difficult to leave friends you know you won’t see for what could be a very long while. We honestly feel so grateful to have such wonderful Kiwi friends.

And then we boarded our ship for the next phase of our adventure.

Auckland at night

Our cruise ship departed Auckland at dusk for the Bay of Islands (north north island).

We can’t wait to return to our New Zealand friends, new and old. Next up, some very stormy seas and some absolutely amazing sights. ‚̧

19 thoughts on “New Zealand, week one: old friend

        • Yep, we were on a pretty tight schedule in Australia… that is until Cyclone Debbie hit and we were stranded up in the Port Douglas area. Beautiful, but we were supposed to finish the trip at the qualia on Hamilton Island. ūüė¶ Just about the time we acclimated to the 38c+ degrees up north, it was time to head back home to Spring (average 13c) in the Pacific NW of the United States. To say it was a shock to our system is an understatement. Lots of fun though! It sounds like you were mighty busy yourself! xo

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