Monthly Archives: February 2015

February 28, 2015 Karangahake Gorge, New Zealand

We left Thames and headed to Rotorua (Row-toe-roo-a).  Along the way we stopped at Karangahake Gorge.  Here the Waitawheta River charges out of its steep rocky canyon IMG_3522and merges with the Ohinemuri River.  Almost all the names of streets, road, cities and towns and geographical places are named by the Maori people.  Generations ago canoes of Maori ancestors sailed from East Polynesia and landed in New Zealand.  Due to mixed marriages there are now very few Maori of pure Maori descent in New Zealand.
Here at the Karangahake Gorge we elected to do the Windows Walk which took us over two swinging bridges, up many many steps, and through tunnels which required IMG_3527IMG_3531IMG_3538flashlights which fortunately we had brought from Phoenix.  The mine tunnels had a series of openings or windows which looked down at the remains of the batteries and river below.  Panels along the path told the story of how over 100 years ago gold was mined in this area.  Gold was extracted from quartz ore and was the nation’s third largest and most productive quartz gold mine.  An incredible four million ounces of goldIMG_3535IMG_3533 was removed from this area.
After our hike we stopped to view Owharoa falls then we continued on to Mt MaunganuiIMG_3540 which is really a lovely and popular beach town in the shadows of Mt Maunganui, an extinct volcano.  This seemed much like a California beach town with many shops andIMG_3553 restaurants as well as sun worshipers.  We saw people making the long trek up to the top of the volcano for theIMG_3552IMG_3547 view of the town below, but we found people watching more entertaining.  On this day they were having youths between the ages of 10 and 14 competing in an ocean lifeguard event.  All of the youth had qualified to be lifeguards and this competition was to recognize the best of the best.  We chatted with one of the mothers of the competitors and she said that since New Zealand is surrounded by water, children train at a young age to be lifeguards since they are in high demand.

Some observations:
Everything in New Zealand is metric so we are having to refresh our knowledge of the metric system.
A “track” is a walk and a “tramp” is a hike and expect some challenging terrain.
A “torch” is a flashlight.
A large pizza and a large coffee is the size considered medium in the U.S.
New Zealand does not have many traffic lights or stop signs.  Instead there are round-abouts everywhere.  Bill loves them and I hate them.
All the beef used in fast food restaurants is 100% New Zealand beef and it is really good.
The New Zealand people are friendly and eager to help.  They are curious about where we have been and where we are going in their country.  Strangers say hello and wish you a good day.

February 27, 2015 Thames, New Zealand

We left Auckland and headed toward the town of Thames ( pronounced Tims).  Along the way we drove to the Coromandel Peninsula.  This stretch of scenic highway is considered one of the best on the North Island.  The road hugs the coast of the Firth of Thames (a bay) and has narrow roads and several one lane bridges with signs telling you which side has to “give away” (yield).  We passed through one particularly harrowing stretch of road that was extremely narrow and we wondered what would have happened if we had passed one of the many large trucks traveling the road.
We stopped along the way at a rest/camping area and talked awhile with a New Zealand couple camping there in their camper van.  They owned their camper van but this also IMG_3495IMG_3499seems like a popular way for tourists to travel in New Zealand since they are readily available for rent.  New Zealand is very friendly to campers and there are several options available with campgrounds as well as places you can camp for free for two nights. This couple was staying in a free two night area near the water where they could swim and fish.  We seriously considered this option when planning our trip but decided to go the rental car/hotel route.IMG_3498
We arrived in Thames for a two night stay.  We usually do not do bread and breakfast places, but this place had excellent ratings and private chalets.  We were greeted warmly by the owner and given homemade shortbread cookies and a bottle of liqueur.  We loved our little chalet which was bigger than a hotel room and had a small fridge, microwave and hot plate/convection oven.  We had access to the hot tub steps away from our chalet and the use of their large barbecue grill.  We certainly enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub and watching the sun set over the Firth of Thames.
The new day we drove to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.  Cathedral Cove is known as the most beautiful small beach on the North Island.  We were lucky to find a IMG_3508parking spot in their very small lot and walked around admiring the beautiful views.  It is possible to hike from the parking lot down a very long steep path to the beach, but on this hot day we decided to pass on the hike and admire the beauty from afar.
Our next stop was Hot Water Beach.  This is one of the North Island’s biggest tourist attractions.  During low tide scalding hot water pulses out of the sand.  You can rent a shovel and dig yourself a spot to make your own spa pool.  All this must be done withinIMG_3517IMG_3516IMG_3514 two hours of low tide and since low tide was 9AM and 9 PM we missed it.  Somehow knowing we had a nice clean hot tub waiting for us at the chalet made the thought of wallowing in hot mud less attractive anyway.  IMG_3519IMG_3521IMG_3502
Some observations:
A car park is a parking lot.
The New Zealand sun is very intense and hard on fair skin.  It is possible to get a sunburn through the car window and 50 SPF doesn’t help much.
The New Zealand currency is much like the U.S. dollar in some ways.  They have coins for one and two dollars instead of paper.  The smallest coin they have is 10 cents so if you purchase something and need change less than ten cents they keep the difference.  Hey!  That adds up!
The days here are 13 hours long.
Bill says the coffee is not very strong.
Living out of a suitcase and moving every two or three days has its challenges.  If I had 10 cents for every time we said “I can’t find” or “do you know where….”, I would have enough money to buy me one of those $4 cans of Diet Coke!
A note on immigration.  The government here makes it very hard to immigrate to New Zealand.  Before we boarded the plane the airlines made it clear to everyone boarding the plane that you better have proof of a return ticket when you got to Customs in New Zealand.  When we arrived they did ask us how long we were staying and we signed a customs form declaring that to be true.  They did not ask us for any proof.

Auckland, New Zealand February 24, 2015

We are now in New Zealand! After a short flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles, we changed planes and flew to Honolulu. We felt it would be easier on us physically to break the long flight up with an overnight stay in Honolulu to get a good night’s rest at a hotel near the airport. The flight to Honolulu was easy except by the time we got to our hotel it was almost midnight. Since we had gotten up that morning at 5:00 AM, it made for a long day.
Luckily our flight the next day to New Zealand left in the afternoon so we were able to sleep in the next morning.
We flew to both Honolulu and then to New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines. They really do a nice job and as far as I know they are the only airlines still providing free meals which included complimentary wine.
Nine hours later, after crossing the equator and the International Date Line,
we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. Right before we landed they announced that after we landed everyone was to remain in their seats with their seatbelts fastened. A Customs official would enter the plane at which time the flight attendants would open up all the overhead bins and spray them. Sure enough they opened up the bins and walked up and down the aisles and sprayed some unknown substance??? After waiting several minutes we were told we could depart the plane.
We made it through customs without any problems. They x-rayed our luggage and when they saw we had hiking boots they made us open the bags and remove the boots so they could inspect them. We had read before going that this might happen so we had already washed and brushed the bottoms of the boots before packing them.
Our hotel provided a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and we had no problem finding a courtesy phone to call for the shuttle to pick us up. It was again almost midnight when we arrived at the hotel.
The next day we picked up our rental car and Bill was able to rent a New Zealand Sim card at a Vodafone store so we could make calls and internet access while we are here if needed.
Bill has done a great job driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side. I haven’t tried it yet. The advice the rental car agent gave was "to do exactly opposite of whatever your instincts tell you to do".
Our first stop after leaving Auckland will be the town of Thames for a two night stay.
Our next blog post will have pictures. Some observations so far:
When driving on a multi lane highway, the slow lane is on the left and the fast lane is on the right.
We are still having trouble figuring out what day it is since the USA is a day behind us.
People from New Zealand are called Kiwis.
Chippies are potato chips and chunky chips are French fries.
Grocery carts are called trolleys and elevators are lifts.
If the grocery store has signs warning "Filling in Progress" it means they are stocking the shelves.
New Zealand has a lot of McDonald’s, some KMarts, Subway, Carl Jrs, KFC, and Pizza Hut but NO Walmart or snakes.
New Zealand McDonalds does not have Bill’s sweet tea much to his disappointment.
Restrooms are called Ladies toilets and Mens toilets and you have two options for flushing to save water.
Bathrooms have only hand dryers and no paper towels and restaurants never give you enough napkins.
Soft drinks are ridiculously high. About $29 New Zealand dollars for 24 cans. In the hotel they charge you $4 a can. I am trying hard to kick my Diet Coke addiction.
I love the New Zealand accent!

February 4, 2015 Lake Havasu and Yuma, Arizona

We left the dazzling lights of Las Vegas and headed back towards Arizona. We decided to break up the trip by staying overnight in Quartzsite at the same spot we had previously stayed. On the way we decided to stop in Lake Havasu to see the London Bridge. Yes, a real London Bridge.

The old London Bridge of nursery rhyme fame was built between 1176 and 1209. During its 600 years, over 30 severed heads of traitors were displayed on the bridge as was the custom of the time.IMG_3489IMG_3488IMG_3490

By the end of the eighteenth century the old London Bridge needed extensive repair and was too narrow for river traffic. The new bridge was begun in 1799 and completed in 1831. However as time passed the new bridge began sinking at a rate of an inch every eight years. By 1924 the east side of the bridge was three to four inches lower than the west side. The bridge simply had not been designed to withstand 20th century automobile traffic. In 1967 the city of London placed the bridge on the market.

On April 18, 1968, the winning bid went to entrepreneur and Lake Havasu City founder Robert P. McCulloch for $2,460,000. Each block of the bridge was meticulously numbered before the bridge was disassembled and shipped overseas through the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Arizona. The bridge was reconstructed in Lake Havasu City and finally dedicated on October 10, 1971. Including the expense for relocation and reassembly, the total cost of the bridge was $5.1 million.


Colorado River held up by Parker dam


Havasu Springs resort area

Lake Havasu City was incorporated in 1978 and became a legal municipality in 1987. It is quite a young city which makes the growth we saw pretty amazing. The city has shopping malls including a Dillards, as well as many box stores and restaurants. The motto of Lake Havasu is “Play Like You Mean It”. The city appears to be popular with snowbirds, though we did not see as many RV parks as other cities in Arizona.

As we continued on our way to Quartzsite we passed beautiful Lake Havasu Springs Resort. It certainly looked like a beautiful place to spend some time in the winter!

After a quick overnight stop in Quartzsite we continued on to Yuma where we stayed for a week. We drove over to Los Algodones, Mexico one day where Bill got a great deal on some sunglasses and had shrimp tacos for lunch. I got a great haircut, wash and blow dry for $10. The only downside to the day was the 90 minute wait to get through customs and walk back across the border. It seems every snowbird in Arizona was in Los Algodones that day making for very long lines. We spent the wait chatting with other snowbirds and watching all the vendors walk up and down the sidewalk trying to make that last sale before we crossed back over into the US.

While we were in Yuma the temperatures hovered in the upper 80’s. Life is tough!IMG_20150208_143436~2

February 2, 2015 Las Vegas, Nevada Part 2

Another day we headed down to the strip where we walked around beautiful Caesar’s Palace with its statues, fountains, a colorful dragon in the Forum Shops area, and the first curved escalator we had ever seen.  With all the twists and turns throughout the enormous Palace, it was very easy to get lost.IMG_20150203_111921IMG_20150203_113827IMG_20150203_111718IMG_20150203_120529

We attended a Rod Stewart concert at the Coliseum in Caesar’s Palace.  He put on a great show and at one point walked into the audience very close to where we were sitting.  The show ended with colorful balloons falling from the ceiling as he performed his closing number.  It is hard to believe he turned 70 last month!IMG_20150203_210041IMG_20150203_191212~2~2IMG_20150203_203724IMG_20150203_210506

After the concert we walked over to the Bellagio to see their nightly water and light show.  The Las Vegas strip is an amazing place to see at night with all the lights!IMG_20150203_213240IMG_20150203_213553IMG_20150203_213214IMG_20150203_212429


February 1, 2015 Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Disregard the previous email posting, this replaces that post of the same name.

We were eager to explore the area outside of Las Vegas and our first adventure was to make the short drive to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This 200,00016424649285_c868d338c6_o16398686696_2e17a75d02_o

acre area in the southern Mojave Desert gets its name from the fantastic red sand formations that can be found in the area. More than 500 million years ago this area was at the bottom of the ocean. For more than 250 million years limestone sediment accumulated and southern Nevada began to emerge from the sea. The great sandstone cliffs at Red Rock, thousands of feet high, are made of Aztec sandstone. The sandstone rocks were slowly uplifted thousands of feet to their current elevation where they have been exposed to weathering and erosion. The red color comes from deposits of iron oxide and calcium carbonate. Exposure to weather caused some of the iron minerals to “rust”, resulting in the beautiful red, orange and brown rocks.

15802163104_5f8ebfa5da_o16424662065_9e2209c210_oThere is a small Visitors Center there and a thirteen mile scenic loop drive with overlooks and places to hike and rock climb.

Paleontologists have confirmed that fossilized tracks made 180 to 190 million years ago in Red Rock Canyon are the first documented dinosaur tracks in Nevada.

There are many mammals which can be found in the area, including the kangaroo rat, blacktail jackrabbit and desert cottontail. We saw numerous road signs warning us to be on the lookout for wild burros and wild horses. These horses and burros originated from animals abandoned by settlers, ranchers, prospectors and Native Indian tribes.

The next day we decided to drive a further distance from our RV resort to Valley of Fire State Park, the oldest state park in Nevada. While we thought Red Rock Canyon was

​beautiful, it didn’t begin to compare with the magnificent beauty of Valley of Fire. The red sandstone formations were formed from great shifting sand dunes during the ago of the dinosaurs. The uplifting of the region through faulting followed by extensive erosion created the present landscape. Native Americans such as the Basket People and later the Anasazi Pueblo farmers lived in this region.

IMG_3467IMG_3471While in the park we stopped by the Visitors Center and watched an excellent film on the park. This state park also had a scenic drive with many stops along the way to see gorgeous scenery. Our first stop was Arch Rock followed by Atlatl Rock where we ​climbed stairs which took us to IMG_3462IMG_3464view some petroglyphs carved in the desert varnish. Here we saw depictions of an “atlatl” which is a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. We stopped several times to hike back into the canyon to view more petroglyphs and magnificent views. The day went by quickly and before long the sun was starting to set in the canyon.

IMG_3476IMG_3474IMG_3472IMG_3456We were so glad we visited these two beautiful areas and had a chance to see the area outside of all the lights and casinos in Las Vegas!

Native people lived in this area for thousands of years and evidence of their existence can be found in petroglyphs and pictographs throughout the park. A petroglyph is made by scratching into a rock, revealing the lighter colored rock underneath. The designs are often carved or scratched into the dark coating of “desert varnish” on the surface of the rocks. A pictograph is made by painting designs onto the surface of rocks.


Red Rock Canyon’s petroglyphs (scratched)


Red Rock Canyon’s pictographs (painted)


Valley of Fire ‘s petroglyphs (scratched) “atlatl” which is a notched stick is at the top


Valley of Fire ‘s petroglyphs (scratched)


Closer view Valley of Fire ‘s petroglyphs (scratched)