Monthly Archives: April 2015

April 30, 2015 Grand Canyon National Park, Part 1

We left Cottonwood and made the three hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park.  The bad news is our colds/allergies followed us there.  The good news is we have ten days to enjoy the park.  Hopefully during that time the cold/allergy medicine will eventually kick in.  For two people who have never had allergy problems in the past, springtime in Arizona has really kicked our butt!!  Evidently this area doesn’t have cottonwood trees but it does have juniper which is just as bad.IMG_20150501_142837

Our campground is right in the heart of the national park and super convenient to everything.  We have a full hookup site and the first thing we noticed were all the elk roaming throughout the campground.  It is possible to step out of your RV and see elk a few steps away.  They are completely unafraid of people.  However we realize this is not a petting zoo and we stay a respectful distance away.IMG_20150430_170732IMG_20150430_170759IMG_20150428_174137IMG_20150429_173751

Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919.  The canyon is 277 miles long, one mile deep and covers a total of 1,900 square miles.

This was my first visit to the Grand Canyon and Bill’s first visit in about ten years so after setting up the RV we drove over to the south rim for a first look at the Grand Canyon.  It is truly breathtaking and leaves you awe struck!IMG_20150429_163506

We are staying at the south rim of the canyon and will visit the north rim in the fall when we have completed our summer travels.  Unlike the north rim, the south rim is well developed with a village that includes hotels, lodges and several restaurants.  Also located in this area of the park are a general store, bank and a post office.  The general store amazed us with their collection of souvenirs, clothes, shoes, hiking poles for rent as well as a huge range of food items and a wide choice of cold/allergy medicines as well as other first aid supplies.  To discourage traffic they have a convenient and free bus shuttle service throughout the park.  Other national parks we have been to have provided this service and we usually don’t take advantage of it since we prefer to come and go as we please.   But they make the bus service so convenient we took full advantage of it.  The bus picked us up at our campground and the bus stop was just a short walk from our campsite.  The bus ran until 10:00 PM and stopped at various places every 15 minutes throughout the park.  Each bus had bike racks on the front so you could take your bikes with you and if you got tired, ride the bus home.

There is a thirteen mile rim trail that follows the rim of the canyon with part of it being wheelchair accessible.

Another day we stopped by the Visitors Center and were reminded how much nicer the national parks are in the United States compared to New Zealand.  The national parks in New Zealand are free, but the facilities and services are extremely limited.  If you want a map or any information such as hiking trails, you have to pay for any printed materials provided and the amount of information is very limited.  In the United States our national parks have ranger programs, movies, visitors centers with displays and well maintained trails.  We heard many tourists in New Zealand tell us how much they loved the national parks in the United States.  At the Grand Canyon Visitor Center we saw a great movie about the canyon.  A ranger talk was beginning and there was a lengthy list of ranger talks and programs scheduled for the week.

We walked on the rim trail to Mather Point, one of the most popular lookout points at the canyon.  The view was spectacular.  While we were there a kind gentleman offered to take our picture.  Our colds/allergies were still making us miserable so we stopped by the village General Store on the way home for more allergy medicine.IMG_20150429_164621IMG_20150429_163113IMG_20150429_163643

There is a fantastic Geology Museum in the park and the bus dropped us off near the entrance. The museum building was dedicated in 1928 and that site in the park was chosen because it was felt that this site had the best view in the park.  The museum does an excellent job of describing the geological history and composition of the canyon with floor to ceiling visuals and interactive displays.  While we were there we caught a ranger talk on how the Grand Canyon was formed and the rocks that make up the layers of the canyon.  One interesting thing was the difference in temperature between the rim of the canyon and the floor of the canyon.  Down on the floor of the canyon the temperatures can be twenty plus degrees warmer, critical information for hikers to know in the summer months before hiking into the canyon.  The Grand Canyon was formed by erosion from the mighty Colorado River and it was interesting to learn that the river is just as wide now as it was five million years ago.  The river continues to cut the canyon deeper but not wider.  We also learned that the Grand Canyon is constantly changing.  Since it rained a bit that day, that means the Grand Canyon has changed since we arrived.  Cool!!IMG_20150429_164308IMG_20150429_164301IMG_20150429_163800

April 27, 2015 Cottonwood and Sedona, Arizona

We are back from New Zealand and glad to be home!!  Except for things like high prices for food and gas and unusual food selections, we really enjoyed our time in New Zealand.  It was fun and exciting to visit the North and South Islands and live amidst a different culture.  It was challenging to drive on the opposite side of the road and learn new traffic laws and patterns.  Some parts were easy such as New Zealand being an English speaking country and their monetary system is based on the New Zealand dollar and therefore similar to ours.  Before going to New Zealand Bill and I wondered what would happen if we fell in love with New Zealand and wanted to live there.  No worries.  There is no place like home.  America’s greatness far outweighs the problems and Americans are truly blessed to live in the U.S.A.  We can also truthfully say that New Zealand, with all its natural beauty, doesn’t begin to compare with the magnificent beauty we have seen in America, from sea to shining sea.
A couple days before leaving New Zealand I picked up a bad cold which made the long two day travel back home especially miserable.  The day we arrived back in Phoenix, Bill came down with my cold so we were both down for the count.  After spending the night in a Phoenix hotel we hit the ground running the next day despite us both feeling pretty miserable.  We got the RV and car out of storage and after checking them out we were relieved to see they both survived the two month storage and were in fine shape.  With the refrigerator empty and the pantry pretty bare we had to make a big grocery run.
We then drove two hours north to Cottonwood, Arizona for an eight night stay.  When we turned off the main road to drive the two miles to the campground we occasionally had to stop and wait for cows to cross the road since this is an open range area.  This “Home, Home On the Range” feeling added to the western charm of the area.  We reached the campground which is a Thousand Trails resort with full hookups and a nice clubhouse, restaurant and pool/sauna.
Cottonwood is a small town with a population around 12,000, about thirty minutes from Sedona and the Red Rock Canyon.  We had hoped to spend our time there exploring the area, however our colds seemed to get worse instead of better.  Except for some short trips into town to get soup, juice, tissues and stop by McDonald’s to check our email, we stayed inside.  We went to the pharmacy to ask for advice on what to take to relieve our colds, and the pharmacist told us this was high allergy season in Arizona.  The cottonwood trees are in full bloom causing many people allergy problems.  Since the town is called Cottonwood, you can imagine how many cottonwood trees there were!  So it appeared we were hit with the double whammy of a cold and allergies.
On our last day in Cottonwood we refused to let our colds stop us and we decided to drive to Sedona and the Red Rock Canyon area on the Red Rock Scenic Byway. The beauty of the Sedona area has long inspired artists, musicians, architects and craftsmen to settle in the area.  Sedona is known around the world for its unusually high number of active vortex sites and a place for spiritual and holistic healing. These vortex sites are points at which the earth is believed to emit swirling waves of energy and Sedona is one of the few places in the world that emits all three forms of energy; electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic.  These sites are thought to enhance prayer, meditation, and stress reduction.IMG_20150427_105814IMG_20150427_111758IMG_20150427_104726
We saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross, one of the seven man-made wonders of Arizona and recognized as a Sedona vortex site.  The chapel is built directly into the buttes of Sedona’s red rocks.  It is possible to park at the bottom of the chapel and walk up the road to the interior of the chapel with its magnificent views, but we did not feel up to the walk.  We settled with stopping long enough to take some pictures.IMG_20150427_124931IMG_20150427_130242
We passed colorful rock formations ranging from bright red to a pale sand color which change colors as the rays of sunshine and clouds pass over.  The rocks are mainly sedimentary and constantly eroding and changing shape.  Some locals have named the rock formations with names such as Chimney Rock, Cathedral Rock, Thunder Mountain, Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.  With some imagination we could see how the formations received their names.  This area has served as a backdrop for many Western movies.IMG_20150427_112653IMG_20150427_112632IMG_20150427_113030IMG_20150427_125752
With more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails and two state parks, there is so much of this beautiful area left to explore so we put it on our list of p!aces we definitely want to return to someday.  Between the allergy season in the spring and the extreme heat of summer, next time perhaps we will come back in the fall.IMG_20150427_191145

April 16, 2015 Mangonui, New Zealand

We arrived at our final New Zealand destination, the tiny town of Mangonui where we stayed in a two bedroom duplex apartment overlooking Doubtless Bay, part of the South Pacific.  It was named by Captain Cook and the name stuck.   When he saw the bay in 1769 he said, “Doubtless, a bay”.  The beach was steps outside our door and we enjoyed walking on the beach.  One morning our neighbor knocked on our door to tell us that some dolphins were in ocean right outside our door.  We stood and watched the six or more dolphins frolicking and playing in the water before they disappeared from sight.        PicsArt_1429159271944PicsArt_1429156087344PicsArt_1429156242188

On Friday we took an all day bus tour of the peninsula.  We drove to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide.  If you recall a picture in a previous blog of Bill standing at a sign at the southernmost point of New Zealand.  This sign at the cape shows the northernmost point of New Zealand.  We were able toPicsArt_1429264877979 find a geocache at both places.  At the Cape is a pohuteukawa tree believed to be over 800 years old.  Maori tradition teaches that this tree is where the spirits of the dead leap into the ocean to depart and head homeland.  It is seen as a sacred place and you are not allowed to eat at the Cape.PicsArt_1429262141176PicsArt_1429260322717PicsArt_1429260008457

Another cool place we went is called 90 Mile Beach which is really only 56 miles long.  Here people can actually drive on the beach.  Due to changing tides and the possibility of your car getting swept away or stuck in the sand, rental car companies forbid you driving a rental car on the beach.  This is one reason we decided to go on a bus tour.  Leave the driving and potential PicsArt_1429268037107 headaches to someone else!  The driver drove the bus through a riverbed stream to reach the beach.  He said it was quicksand and if he stopped we would actually sink.  He told us stories of buses and cars sinking in the sand and we had seen pictures online of this happening.  He stopped at a large sand dune area and passed out boogie boards to anyone interested in climbing to the top and surfing down the sand dune.  Some of the younger members of the group took him up on the offer.  Others declined once the driver told us the company would not be responsible for any injuries and described some of the injuries others had suffered while surfing down the steep dune.PicsArt_1429267029599PicsArt_1429271246809PicsArt_1429269867376

It was fun to speed down the beach in the bus with the waves lapping against the shoreline.PicsArt_1429311986648PicsArt_1429268379347

Before we left our landlord made us an interesting offer.  He offered to give us the use of his beautiful house, car, boat and a fuel card with as much fuel as we wanted, in exchange for the use of our RV in the States.  It was easy to say no because we have no plans to visit New Zealand again in the near future.  If any of our RV friends want to take him up on the offer, we will give you his contact information.

We look forward to heading home on April 19th.  We will do one final New Zealand post with our final thoughts when we get home.  We have a couple long travel days ahead.

April 15, 2015 Tutukaka, New Zealand

We left Hamilton and set out for a four hour drive to the final area of New Zealand we had yet to visit, the remote Northland.  Rain followed us, heavy at times and intermittent at best.  We passed through Auckland, the city where we had landed seven weeks earlier.  Traffic in this area was heavy and we slowed to a crawl around the city.  We had literally come full circle, starting in Auckland seven weeks ago, traveled south down the east side of the North and South Islands and then north up the west side of the South Island.  Now in our final week we would circle north of Auckland on the east side of the island and then west down the other side and back to the Auckland airport.

Other than the rain it was a pleasant drive.  The Northland area of the North Island is known as “Wilderness North” with more than 100 bays and beaches as well as forests, sand dunes and serene lakes.  It is New Zealand’s narrowest region.  It is a long narrow peninsula with no place more than 44 miles from the sea and is more tropical in climate.  Northland is where the Maori and Europeans first decided to settle and this area is known as the “Birthplace of the Nation”.  Some of the country’s oldest buildings are in this area.

We arrived at our first destination for a two night stay in Tutukaka.  Our motel was located on a cliff with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.  The Tutukaka coast area is rated as one of the Top Coastal Destinations on the Planet by National Geographic Traveler.  We could certainly see why with these views!PicsArt_1429148849311PicsArt_1429146650499

After a long day of rain as we drove up to the motel we looked out over the ocean and saw a beautiful rainbow, our first one in New Zealand.  We registered, went to our room and unloaded the car and then went for a walk.  Another beautiful rainbow awaited us and after admiring the view we stopped along the fence to greet some curious sheep.PicsArt_1429149022238PicsArt_1429147489250PicsArt_1429147946809

We loved our motel apartment, a two story apartment with floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the ocean on both levels.  The upstairs bedroom had a nice balcony. Our only complaint was the only bathroom was on the first floor.  I could really get used to those cliff side ocean views!  The weather during our stay here was uncertain with rain one minute and sun the next, but the rainbows made it worth the rain!!PicsArt_1429169375887PicsArt_1429149511100

We made a trip to Waipoura Kauri Forest to see the world’s tallest and largest living kauri tree.  It is named Take Mahuta meaning Lord of the Forest.  It is one of the most ancient trees, having sprung from seed around 2,000 years ago.  It is 170 feet tall with a girth of 46 feet.PicsArt_1429149745283 PicsArt_1429151914748While there we also hiked to see Te Matua Ngahere, meaning Father of the Forest, the second largest known living kauri tree with a height of 95 feet and a girth of 54 feet.  (Keep in mind neither of these trees are as old or large as the California Redwood/Sequoias.) PicsArt_1429150399301PicsArt_1429150532497

At the parking lot where we hiked to the trees there was a man in a truck with a sign saying for $2.00 he would be sure your car was safe.  At first we thought he was just trying to take advantage of tourists, but two official New Zealand government signs said there had been a history of car thefts at this car park.  The 2.00 charge was for his time.  Considering there were at least a dozen cars in the car park and cars were constantly coming and going, he probably did very well.  During high tourist season he probably brought in quite a bit of loot for himself each day.  All he appeared to do was sit in his truck and collect $2.00 as each person walked by.  Didn’t even have to get out of his car. Over the past two months we have seen quite a few signs in tourist car parks warning of break ins, but this was the first time we paid for a watch dog.

Some observations:

  • Diesel fuel is cheaper than regular but vans and trucks have to pay an extra tax to the government to keep up the roads.
  • Their natural gas field is about to run out.
  • In New Zealand they have the Lions Club, Rotary Club and Salvation Army.  We saw Salvation Army in almost every town we went in, even the smaller ones.

April 11, 2015 Hamilton, New Zealand

We enjoyed our stay in New Plymouth regardless of the rainy weather.  Our last night there Bill was able to connect with some Kiwi ham radio operators on his hand held ham radio he brought with him.  He really enjoyed chatting with them.

The next morning the rain continued and we drove to Otorohanga for an overnight stay on the way to Hamilton.  We don’t usually stay at bed and breakfast lodgings, but this place had excellent reviews and the choices in tiny remote Otorohanga were very limited.  This bed and breakfast was located in the countryside and the proprietors had chickens, horses, a donkey, dog and cat.  We had a nice room with an outside entrance and private bath.  Breakfast was included in the price of the room so the next morning Bill enjoyed Eggs Benedict made with fresh eggs and I chose croissants with homemade jam.  It was nice that the proprietor was a chef by trade.

The next morning we headed to Hamilton for a three night stay.  Not far from the bed and breakfast lodging we came upon a field of several ostriches.  One was particularly friendly and quickly came over to see us.PicsArt_1428824829414 The weather was horrible for most of the drive to Hamilton with heavy downpours and wind.  We planned on visiting a Natural Bridge and a waterfall, both of which required a small hike.  We refused to let the weather defer our plans so we put on rain gear and trudged on.  We knew we couldn’t say “we would do it tomorrow” or “next time”.  It was now or never and we refused to let the rain stop us.

Our first stop was Mangapohue Natural Bridge.  A walk over several suspended catwalks and a swinging bridge led us to a beautiful limestone double archway.  Due to the lack of sunlight on this rainy day and the cave like interior, it was hard to get pictures to do the natural bridge justice. AfterPicsArt_1428825077344PicsArt_1428825293060 a short drive further down the road we came to the trail leading to Marakopa Falls, advertised as one of the most picturesque falls on the north island.  This one hundred foot waterfall was spectacular, made even more so by the heavy rains.PicsArt_1428825424436PicsArt_1428825669990

We were traveling on back roads and passing through small towns.  Our bed and breakfast proprietor did suggest we stop at one tiny restaurant that had great pies.  In New Zealand, pie always means a meat pie, similar to a chicken or turkey pot pie in the States.  There pies are usually beef, steak, lamb or kidney.  They never have fruit pies and you never see a slice of fruit pie on the menu in restaurants.  I find this so strange since they have so many orchards and farms here.  We stopped at the pie shop and Bill chose a steak and cheese pie which he said was “okay”.  I think he expected more since the motel proprietor said they always stop there and buy pies when they pass through the area and commented on how good they were.

We arrived in Hamilton still wet from our hiking excursions and glad to reach the hotel since the weather continued to be wet and miserable.  We have been really really lucky with the weather so far so we can’t really complain. Hamilton is a large college city with a vibrant downtown area with many restaurants to chose from.   Like most downtown areas with an abundance of restaurants within a small area, we had to circle around for awhile looking for a place to park.

Besides having several grocery stores they also had a Dunkin Donuts, our first since arriving in New Zealand.  We were excited and went there for breakfast one morning.  It was a bitter disappointment.  They don’t use Dunkin Donuts coffee blend which was a huge disappointment to Bill.  We buy Dunkin Donuts to fix at home in the States and he was looking forward to some coffee that tasted like home.   Instead he got the same stuff he gets everywhere.  Second disappointment was the price.  $12.50 for a half dozen.  Third disappointment was they were stale.  Bill mentioned this to the clerk and she said they are made at the Dunkin Donuts in Auckland an hour away and trucked in to Hamilton.  On top of that they freeze them.  So after almost two months we are still waiting for a good donut and a decent cup of coffee.

Our main reason for coming to Hamilton was to take the tour of Hobbiton in the nearby town of Matamata.  We drove on Saturday to Matamata for our 12:30 tour.  The Hobbiton bus took us thirty minutes into the countryside to the Alexanders’ spectacular 1,250 acre sheep and beef farm. PicsArt_1428827939323PicsArt_1428825946475PicsArt_1428826131629 This farm was selected by Sir Peter Jackson as the setting for many scenes for the “Lord of the Rings” movies.  The bus took us on a narrow winding road constructed by the New Zealand army so that the set could be constructed.  Sir Peter Jackson sent the Alexander family on an all expense paid vacation for three months and took up residence in their house where Jackson and his team went over daily film takes and conducted business.  Sir Jackson was a stickler for detail.  He didn’t like the sheep on the farm and brought in black face sheep from England.  He had members of the crew walk each day on the path to and from the various clotheslines so the path would look worn down.  He had a huge artificial tree built with over 250,000 fake leaves. When he didn’t like the color green of the leaves he had each leaf repainted to the shade of green he wanted.PicsArt_1428826841017PicsArt_1428826357250PicsArt_1428826981174

After the filming ended the sets were all taken down.  Then in 2009 the sets were all permanently rebuilt for the filming of ” The Hobbit Trilogy”.  PicsArt_1428826231025PicsArt_1428826300832PicsArt_1428826582829PicsArt_1428827150135Today daily tours are given of the movie set.  We had a great tour and at the end of the tour we stopped by the Green Dragon for a complimentary alcoholic beer or non alcoholic ginger beer.  PicsArt_1428827238082PicsArt_1428827790143We were so fortunate that the rain had stopped overnight and it was a beautiful sunny day.

On our last day in Hamilton we found a geocache, walking on a path covered with fallen leaves with leaves softly falling around us in the breeze.  Autumn in New Zealand and springtime awaiting us back home!  One week to go!

April 8, 2015 Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth, New Zealand

We left the South Island on Easter Sunday and traveled on the car ferry back to the North Island where we will stay for two weeks before flying home.  We have already toured the east coast of the North Island, driven east to west around the South Island, and now we will drive around the central and west side of the North Island to complete our journey.

The ferry ride was very unpleasant for me.  It started off fine but once we left the channel and got out into the ocean, the choppiness of the water and rocking of the boat made me feel very nauseous, even with two Dramamine in my system.  I spent the last two thirds of the trip sitting outside on one of the upper decks freezing with the cold and wind, but the cold air helped to fight the nausea.  How I envy people who read in moving vehicles and sit in the back seat of a car without getting sick!!

We arrived in Wellington late in the day and found an Italian restaurant within walking distance of our motel that was open on Easter.  The next day before heading out of town we drove around the Wellington Harbor for a last look at this charming capital city.  We were once again captivated by all the houses crowded on the hillsides and surprised to find surfers in the water around the harbor area.PicsArt_1428491181734PicsArt_1428492132046PicsArt_1428492032955PicsArt_1428491672401

We left Wellington and headed along the coast to Wanganui for a one night stay.  The next morning we drove to New Plymouth.  We took a slight detour to visit Egmont National Park where we took a short hike to Dawson Falls.  PicsArt_1428493453500PicsArt_1428493312626Since it was a cloudy day threatening showers, we did not have a clear view of Mt Taranaki in the distance.  Mt Taranaki is the North Island’s most majestic peak.  It is not often you see a conical volcano rising abruptly from sea level surrounded by beautiful beaches!PicsArt_1428493037055PicsArt_1428492499883

We spent two nights in New Plymouth.  We had planned to spend some time walking the beach there but our only full day in the town brought heavy rains.  The rain gave us a good excuse to have a nice “at home” day to relax and watch some tv, work on the blog and rest.PicsArt_1428493596854

Some observations:

  • New Zealand is an agricultural and dairy farming country.  So why are milk, fruits and vegetables so expensive?