Hi everyone! I saved the best New Zealand spot for last, and then I left you hanging. My apologies. I mentioned before that we came back with colds, specifically Ellie came back with a chesty cough. After several days of coughing in my face, it seems the germs successfully transferred. I lost my voice a couple of days ago and have since done my best to be useless once Markus comes home in the evenings. Nothing serious. Just a cold. In the meantime, I uploaded almost 200 photos from our trip to our flickr account for your viewing pleasure. I haven't added comments yet, but if you want more visuals from the trip than you are finding here, head over there and check it out!
Now, Bay of Islands!
As the person who booked and planned the trip, I was most keen on Bay of Islands. It's the area at the northern tip of the north island. It is "perpetual summer" there, though it's New Zealand summer so it's not too hot, not too cool. We were lucky on our first day because the hideous cold rain followed us from Auckland, but the first day it was crystal clear and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! We drove out of the rain about 2 hours north of Auckland, and I started snapping away with the camera as we drove. The light was simply stunning!
To treat ourselves big time, we stayed in one of four holiday cottages on a 150-acre organic pastureland about 25 minutes from Kerikeri.
The Takou River runs through the property, and the owners (Anna and Ian Sizer) keep a boathouse filled with kayaks and assorted goodies available at any time. Of course, we had to get out in a canoe first-thing. The girls had never been in one, and it was pretty hilarious. It was low tide as we paddled upriver, meaning we got stuck on some rocks more than once. While stuck: Markus and I laughed as we pushed and pulled and scooted to free us; Ellie clutched the gunnels until her knuckles were white, screaming and wailing until her face was red as if we were going down on the Titanic; and Stephanie stood up from her post in my lap and grabbed hold of my paddle, calmly announcing that she would get us out, don't worry Mama. I wish I could have a video of it, because it makes me giggle just thinking about what a picture we must have made.
For lunch, we stopped at the Ake Ake Winery and enjoyed to a beautiful meal while the girls played happily in the grass and stones.
Later that afternoon, Markus couldn't resist another paddle, so he went for a solo kayak ride while the girls and I relaxed in the cottage. In her hallmark of comfort, Stephanie stripped bare the moment we stepped through the door. She hid under the table with the iPod for a while before joining Ellie on the fantastic fluffy yellow beanbag chair (it looked like a giant dandelion).
Markus got some incredible shots--some of my favorites of the trip--on the point-and-shoot camera he took along with him. We don't use PhotoShop, so what you see is what he saw. The light has a magical quality to it. Our assessment is Middle Earth is every bit as stunning as the movies portray it.
Of course, the rain started not long after sunset and lasted until we left. Good thing we maximized that first day! A highlight (despite the rain) was when we drove to a nice forest walk and checked out the ancient Kauri trees.
The rain was a bit of a bummer, but the Bay of Islands was our favorite spot nonetheless! We feel lucky we opted to stay there. It was a toss-up for a while. It meant a fourth place to stay, the most driving for our non-driving girls, and it wasn't on the beaten tourist track most people follow on their first visits to New Zealand. I'm so happy I was insistent, because it was beautiful! We can only imagine how fantastic summers there must be. Apparently, Aucklanders just sail up there and hang out. Lucky dogs.