NZ – North Island Pre-Christmas and Christmas!

It’s been difficult getting into “the Christmas spirit” lately – maybe it’s because outside is 80-90 degrees, sunny, green grass everywhere, sheep, cows, llamas, deer and some emus scattered in the fields where they lay, yes, but few Christmas trees, and too many people in flip-flops (known as “thongs” here – on the feet not the behind), or bare-footed!  December isn’t known so much as for Christmas as for “going on holiday” with campers, tents, camper stoves…

The "IN" crowd at Whanganui's Lake Virginia - Pre-Christmas 2010

So, we got into the Summer Camper kind of a mood!  Hurrying back to Auckland from South Island, we passed through our FAV place – Whanganui!  Caught Enaj, Ric, Devon, Sophia, James, and Carter for a late lunch, and even met up with Alice and Mike for a walk around Lake Virginia (the one I keep trying to call, “Lake Veronica, Lake Victoria, or Lake Valerie” …)!  Jammed so fast in getting to Rotorua for the night that I took a wrong turn and drove for about an hour (about 30 km) through the Wanganui National Forest – an unpaved, trail-breaking road before I turned around and got back on the right path!  Our goal was Auckland before 3 pm Dec. 23rd, in the hopes of seeing Garry Nash still blowing at his glass workshop!  Well, we DID arrive by 3 pm, but Garry was off fixing his plane’s propeller southward, where we’d JUST come from! Go figure.  Claire and Barbara (sp?) were helpful while covering the shop.  They showed us what they blew during the last few weeks – bowls and cups in gorgeous colors!

So, we saw Garry the next day and got his autograph.  We’ll stop by and visit him sometime to watch him blow between Christmas and Jan. 5th, when we head back to Sydney.  Garry Nash Glass Studio!  Beautiful works of art – a definite stop.  Garry might even let you watch him blow glass!  His assistant, Claire, is really helpful, and comes from England.  She’s been around for more than a year!

Mount Eden provides a super view of the city and surroundings.  It does NOT have a bathroom, however.  Good hike up and down on trails, or drive up.  Don’t walk down into the volcano crater – it’s sacred.  Brass disk with pointers for various locations around the world and the distances.

“Wetas” are harmless, though they sure don’t LOOK like that way.  We found one in our room as we had the windows wide open.  They’re normally found on trees and wooded areas.  They can be held though we forwent that opportunity;  we captured the 4″ hard-coated insect in a glass and tossed it far out front by a tree.  NOT to be confused with a “weka” – a kiwi-like bird with a shorter strong beak.

"My wine!" "No, MY wine!" (In NZ, 18-year-olds can drink alcohol)

"Cheers!" Dinner with Alain, Chris, Amy and me

In the meantime, our stay at the Pentlands Backpackers hostel was entertaining.  We got delightful and quiet roommates – Jens Wegar from Finland, and Alain Busseires (sp?) from Quebec.  Jens has been in NZ for about 9 months, and came over to work on an organic farm, but after 2 weeks, he got a project in software programming from Finland, and decided to travel around NZ and work remotely instead of farming.  He speaks Finnish, Swedish and very good English.  He was reading Red Sea Rising, a Tom Clancy novel!

Brunch with Kin, Alain, Jeannie, Chris, Jens, Amy and Freeman; Newlyweds Adam and Jayne from Wales / London are in the background making toast!

Alain is a lot of fun, an active but easy-going fellow, and has been traveling everywhere it seems, and though he started in Quebec and around the States, he’s joined camping tours around Australia and New Zealand.  He’ll be camping and touring around NZ for about a month starting at the end of the year!  Alain has two sons, almost four grandchildren.  He doesn’t speak much English, but we’ve found we don’t need English to get along and communicate!  We’ve had dinner, dessert and champagne together.  It’s been fun and funny!  He keeps a blog of his travels, people he’s met, and what he’s been doing.

Kin and Freeman are friends from Hong Kong.  They quit their programming jobs and began traveling months ago.  They’re going around New Zealand.

Vinnie, the manager, wishing us a GREAT Christmas! Funny guy!

Christmas found us STILL at the Pentlands Backpackers Hostel in Auckland, NZ – that is, Chris, Amy, and I.  Mark arrived on Christmas day to Sydney from Los Angeles at 8:30 am, and  at about 5 pm to Auckland from Sydney … about 23+ hours of traveling and waiting between flights!  We then WHISKED him off to drop his bags off at the hostel, quick change and onward to our fancy dinner at the Auckland Tower – Sky City The Observatory Restaurant!

There are TWO restaurants at the Sky City at the top of the Auckland Tower.  One rotates, and the other DOESN’T!  We found out the hard way after making a reservation more than 3-weeks in advance to learn the reservation couldn’t be changed to the rotating one.  The buffet restaurant doesn’t rotate, and tends to high in cost, though the menu is extensive.

Auckland Tower Observation Platform - Christmas Evening 2010

There is an Observation Platform below both the restaurants – there is a cost to get up there, though no extra charge if one dines at one of the two restaurants.  At four locations on the Observation Platform 38mm thick glass flooring allows one to view straight down and appreciate how tall the tower is.  Not for the faint of heart or acrophobic!

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And to all a "Good Night!" ZZZzzzz

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