New Zealand Travel Journal

We departed Tupelo on Thursday a.m., drove to Myrtle to the Sunshine Inn where a good friend, Jeff Galloway, drove us to Memphis. He will pick us up upon our return. There was a moment of drama. I left my laptop in his car, realized this after we had gone through security at the airport. Sandi called him, he returned and I met him outside. We departed 11: 30 a.m., arrived Detroit at 1:30; left Detroit at 1:30 and arrived LA after 4 1/2 hour flight. Great seats all the way. We also had good seats for the 14 1/2 hour flight to Auckland.

Day One Saturday February 20

We arrived in Auckland after an almost 24 hour journey that began in Memphis on Thursday, the 18th. The flight from LA to Auckland was uneventful and we had great seats on the plane. We decided to take a taxi to our room downtown and return the next morning to get our car at Hertz. The first taxi driver in the taxi queue was a very nicely dressed bearded man named Mohammed. He was quite cordial and helpful, allowing Sandi to use his cell phone to call our friend Jackie in Akaroa to let her know we had landed safely. He took us to the Sofitel Hotel on the harbor and said he would pick us up the next day and return us to the airport to the Hertz office to get our car.

We enjoyed the late afternoon unwinding with a glass of wine and dined in one of the most fabulous restaurants ever. The name was Lava. The decor involved laminated layers of lava wrapped around the entranceway, pathways and each room. The meal was unbelievable. We both had a dish of red fish. Leo, our server, was extraordinary.

We went to bed very filled and fulfilled.

The food got better the next morning with breakfast. A Continental Breakfast Buffet offered seasonal fruits, yoghurts, cured meats and South Island smoked salmon with condiments, locally made artisan breads, New Zealand cheeses and selection of sweet items. The full breakfast of our choice was for me, Salmon scrambled eggs and house smoked salmon; and for Sandi, Spanish omelette. Champagne was complimentary.

Mohammed sent his son Ashif to return us to the airport. Ashif, also a Muslim, is an economic student and very intelligent and well informed. On the way, he called out the names of trees and flowers and gave us some history of the area. He was impeccably dressed and very helpful. He told us there was no discrimination in New Zealand against Muslims and that all people were treated with respect and dignity. How refreshing!

Renting our car was no problem. Getting out hand-held GSP to work was a great problem. We checked the hand maps and followed the instructions provided by Teresa at the Hertz desk and in moments we were on Highway 1 headed for Rotorua. The drive was uneventful, not very scenic as we had experienced on the South Island years ago where every turn in the road offered a jaw-dropping scene. I adjusted quickly to driving again on the right left side of the road. The time of year is approaching their fall and we saw numerous crops we would see in the South of our country, particularly strong and tall stand of corn. There were boulders of volcanic origin, hillocks (Kames)and loess from glaciers of eons ago.

We arrived in Rotorua and located the Novotel Hotel with minimal trouble (and without our GSP). Our room overlooked beautiful lake Taupa (where we will stay in two nights) and was rather bare.

We stopped at a cafe and had soup then strolled along the lake, deciding to turn down opportunities (expensive) to fly over volcanic craters and active thermal craters. Back in the room, we napped before going out for dinner.