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Trip Report Kauri, history, and earthquake recovery - short stop in NZ

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I had a few extra days after a meeting in Christchurch to see some places I've missed in previous trips to NZ. I'll share some thoughts and impressions from the experience--I'm a 50+ female traveling alone on 3rd trip to NZ. Those who have seen my previous posts know I am a budget traveler; nature, history, and architecture buff; use a lot of public transportation; and eat most of my meals from grocery stores, so take my report in that context.

Christchurch--my first trip after the earthquake. It is so sad. The center reminds me of photos of bombed cities after WWII with the cathedral walls falling, buildings propped up, detours, etc. Folks staying at the Novotel and Ibis hotels were quite happy with their accommodations but felt at a loss after 5pm when the few shops closed and they had to walk for blocks in any direction to find a restaurant or two, a grocery, etc. The botanic garden is still a nice outing. Other neighborhoods were bustling. It was recommended to drive to the eastern suburbs to see how quickly nature takes back abandoned developments, but we chose to use our free sunny afternoon to drive over to Lyttelton. The views of the water were nice. Not much to the town. Folks were swimming and boating down in Governors Bay, the parking lot overflowing, but we didn't have our swimsuits. The airport is larger and nicer than my last visit.

Kauri trees--I flew up to Kerikeri and rented a car to drive to the forest to see the kauri trees. The walks were great. I only wish I could have timed my visit to have a long day in the area rather than the afternoon of one day and the morning of the next. The road is hilly/winding, so it does take some time to reach the trees. Although each walk is only 5-45 minutes one way according to the signs (I could walk much faster), if you are a forest lover, it is easy to linger, study the different types of trees, wait for a change in lighting for a photograph, sit and enjoy a cold drink while soaking up the atmosphere, etc. The forestry staff at the parking area where you pay $2 (reportedly high breakin area) told me he left at 4pm, so I felt pressured to walk and leave. I chatted with him when I returned about safety etc. and he said the only threats were human. When he leaves at night he notes the car license plate numbers so if a car is still there the next morning they will know something is wrong. The visitors center was not worth the drive down the gravel road except it did have a toilet.

Opononi was my overnight spot. Roadside motel, poor fish and chips, headlands to climb to watch the surf, beach to walk. I think I would like to cross the harbor to sandboard, but the thought of climbing up sand sounds challenging despite the reward of sliding down. I didn't see any activity on the water or the dunes.

Paihia was my next stop. I returned the rental car to the Kerikeri airport and rode with Supershuttle first to deliver a family to their home north of Kerikeri on a bay, then down to the Seaspray Suites, quite a nicer apartment than the Lighthouse motel the night before. I walked to the Treaty Grounds for a picnic, tour, and cultural show. I enjoyed my short visit. I also rode the ferry over to Russell. The waterfront had a touristy, but nice feel with a live musician in front of the hotel, folks lying on the grass, others eating at restaurant tables. A short walk took me by the historic structures. I'm not a water/boat person, so I don't tend to linger along the shore unless there are waves to watch and listen to. In Paihia I happened upon a fund raiser art and craft show where I bought a necklace made out of a calendar (yes, it sounds strange, but the paper makes beads and this was from a Monet calendar) from the artist. Her paintings and hand painted scarves were beautiful, but the canvases would not fit in my bag and I already have a collection of scarves I don't wear, so I chose the necklace, which fit easily and I know I will wear.

Grabaseat--I only flew from CHC to Kerikeri because somewhere (here?) I learned about Air New Zealand's grabaseat website. If one searches flights on the Air NZ website, it does not show the lowest priced seats offered as grabaseats. If one searches on the grabaseat website, one sees the discount fares (if available) plus the regular fares. They will also send emails of what city pairs are on special each day. I was in luck and could get really cheap airfare up to Kerikeri and back from Auckland. I decided to take Intercity bus Paihia to Auckland and see the countryside. So, it took some waiting here and there, but I used plane, rental car, shuttle, bus, shuttle, plane for my roundtrip. Inefficient, but a nice tour and at the right price.

Check in. Check in time for me and my bag seemed to vary. I was told an hour in advance CHC-AKL. When I arrived at AKL-CHC bag drop 1.5 hour in advance, the sign said FINAL CALL. I should have checked more closely, but I was trying to loosen up on my usual planning on this trip and go with the flow.

Intercity bus. I continue to find the intercity buses run close to schedule, the drivers run a tight ship, and they try to help if they can.

Driving on the left. This was my first time to drive on the left (my husband has been with me the two other times and he wanted control). I chose to do it only on the country highways from Kerikeri over to the west coast and back, during and the day, and during good weather to minimize stress. I generally had no problems except occasionally turning on the wipers instead of the turn signal. The only time I got frustrated was backing up on the curing gravel road cut into the hillside when I had the right of way through a narrow section, but the oncoming vehicle was a rental camper van whose driver only knew drive forward and stop. I couldn't get the hang of looking over my left shoulder and I needed to be careful of the left side of the car/hill, so I made a mess of what should have been a graceful arc. No one behind me, so no rush, but I'm sure I scared the camper driver. Also, as is often stated on this board by those in the know, do not expect to drive the speed limit on the rural winding highways. I laughed at the 100 kph signs on several winding hilly roads.

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