It was the start of our 2020 New Zealand adventure – 2.5 weeks exploring parts of the North Island with the kids during the Summer holidays.
So far 2020 hadn’t been kind in the weather stakes, with extreme heat (barely a day under 35 degrees and days hitting 45 degrees) and smoke from bush fires giving Canberra the worst air quality in the world, we hadn’t had much luck even leaving the house. We’d all been looking forward to some cooler temperatures and the ability to go outside in New Zealand.
Tuesday January 14….
As holidays often start, the adults were up late working, and getting the house organised before a 4.30am start to get to Canberra airport in the dark……. after a couple of trips back home to retrieve missing items (Soren’s Garmin) and collecting our driver, Uncle Mikl, who had missed his getting up alarm.
It was a painless check in and off to the Virgin lounge for a quick breaky and off on our 6.50am flight to Brisbane. The excitement level was still high at this point!
The flight was fairly uneventful except for a tired Zinnia who was ready for sleep by landing, but had avoided actually napping despite the early start to the day!
In Brisbane it was off to the international terminal on the bus and then through immigration before a second breakfast in the Virgin International lounge.
Our second flight of the day took off a bit late, just after 9.30am Brisbane time and the flight passed fairly fast with the kids napping for a short period – Astrid on Zinnia (gotta love having a little sister to use as a pillow) and Soren on me, followed by some average airplane food lunch. Used to much longer international flights, the flight time of just over 3 hours was quite pleasant and we we were off the plane by 3.45pm Auckland time, which was only a little after lunch time in Canberra. The lucky older kids did a visit to the cockpit to chat to the pilots on the way off the plane. It’s their second visit to a 737 cockpit, and Mum missed out again……..
With our luggage and car seats collected, it was off to find our hire car for the trip. The Toyota Camry Hybrid was a little smaller than our car at home and the car seats took some juggling . It was 18 degrees and raining which was a bit of a shock to the system after the hot weather in Canberra so the kids were not impressed at standing around in the ‘cold’ while we wrestled with car seats.
There was heavy traffic from the airporrt through to the city area, but we eventually made it to our hotel in Ponsonby, checked in, and decided to go for a wander to find some food as we were starting to feel weary from the early start (and it was now definitely dinner time in New Zealand).
The area we were staying was nice, with views down to the harbour and Sky Tower. There were plenty of places to eat within a short walk and we settled on a Turkish place (which turned out to be more Mediterranean) and ordered a wonderful mezze platter and baba ganoush.
After a lovely dinner and with full bellies, it was time to get the shattered kids off to bed. There had been a definite lack of sleep for amount of time we’d been awake!
Wednesday January 15
Zinnia didn’t sleep well in her cot (something that became a theme of this holiday) and ended up in our bed after not very long. The other kids ‘slept – in’ until 7.30am which would have been great if they still weren’t operating on Canberra time still (where it was 5.30am) and hadn’t gone to bed quite late!
Despite the hotel having a kitchenette, we opted for breakfast at a cafe next door to the dinner one. It appeared that it was supposed to be a French style cafe but seemed again a weird Mediterranean mix. Nonetheless the food was good and the kids had French toast with berries and bacon, I had a Mediterranean omelette and Anto an eggs hollandaise and coffee bigger than all our heads. The coffee was definitely needed, I think Astrid could have done with some too!
With food and coffee on board, it was time to check out of the hotel and do some exploring of Auckland for the day before heading out of the capital to Thames in the late afternoon, before the start of our bike tour the following day.
In what appeared to be a rapidly developing pattern, not long after leaving we were back to retrieve missing items (this time the hire car manual), and it was a very slow trip into the city in some pretty average traffic.
Anto and I had spent quite a long time figuring out the best (aka cheapest) places to park to allow us to do some sightseeing without walking over 20km and exhausting the kids before we even started riding.
We had settled on parking at the Auckland War Memorial museum as it was a good location and not as insanely expensive as other carparks. The kids were off and racing to climb the trees while Anto and Zinnia went back to the car to retrieve Zinnia’s lost shoes (definitely a pattern developing here……).
After a run around the grass and some tree climbing it was a short walk to the Auckland Domain, the oldest park in Auckland. It’s 75 hectares in size and located in the cone of an extinct volcano.
Our first stop was to be the Wintergardens. On the way we wandered past the first of many ponds and found quite a few friendly geese. The kids were still finding it rather cold at 20 degrees and insisting on wearing jumpers!
The Wintergardens were designed in the early 1900s in the style of the famous English partnership of Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jeckyll and opened in 1913. Two barrel-vaulted Victorian style glass houses which face out on to a court yard, and a sunken pool, contain changing displays of plants, including some rare plants. One house is heated and shows off tropical and heat-loving plants while the other displays temperate plants changing with the seasons.
Admission to the Wintergardens is free and they are full of the most beautiful plants. The kids were excited to see plenty of Delphiniums (from which Zinnia’s middle name is derived) but unfortunately no Zinnia’s while we were there. There were however some absolutely massive sunflowers and impressive display of fly catching plants.
We also saw a great collection of ginger plants, giant water lillies and the Carrion or ‘corpse flower’ which is both enormous and known for it’s flower that emits an odour that smells like rotten flesh. They also only bloom once every 7-10 years and the flowers last approximately 24-36 hours. We happened to arrive about a week after the plant had flowered so saw the remnants of the flower, which was kind of cool as it’s the only plant of it’s type in New Zealand.
There are also a wide collection of New Zealand ferns growing in a sunken scoria quarry behind the Wintergardens. The kids enjoyed exploring the fernery, although Zinnia was disappointed we wouldn’t let her loose to run around in the mud!
Next it was off to explore more of the Domain as we headed in the direction of the city. We walked up and down plenty of hills, admiring the interesting trees lining the paths.
There were plenty of flower beds dotted around, amongst lush green grass. With the heat and fires in Australia, we hadn’t seen flowers or green grass in awhile!
Astrid and Soren spied a fountain that reminded them of those dotted all over Rome (but did not have copious amounts of gelato shops nearby)…….
Soren had been very keen on going up Sky Tower, but we convinced him that our walks of the day were going to give him plenty of views of it and we were better off enjoying a lunch out near the harbour.
Of course, once we got out of the park and into the city area you could no longer see the tower as it was hidden by the buildings, so he remained unconvinced at our claims!
Anto and I had both been to Auckland before (although not since we’ve known each other) but this was the kids first trip. The city area is not unlike that of either Sydney or Melbourne, although significantly smaller.
After a wander through the city and towards the harbour we decided on a pub on the harbour front that looked interesting. The kids had a seafood pizza and shared a poutine with Anto. I opted for a Mexican bowl and a bitter orange cocktail, which was awesome and I need to recreate one day. Zinnia was extremely excited to be getting both pizza and chips, but was not happy about not getting the cocktail!
We were all happy to rest our feet over lunch as we had done a fair few kilometres already that morning. After lunch we wandered along the harbour and checked out the cruise ships.
There was a lot of construction in the harbour so it wasn’t the most pleasant place to walk. The kids were fascinated by the e-scooters all over the city that people can hire and drop. They are literally everywhere, including apparently at the bottom of the harbour!
We were now a very long way from where our car was parked so our plan was to catch the train from nearby Britomart station to Parnell station. The kids love trains, it cut a few kilometres of walking out and a fair bit of hill (Auckland is far from a flat city). Britomart was a cute little (well not that little) station hidden just under the harbour area. While not as impressive as some of the big European stations it was a fun little trip for the kids.
At Parnell station, it was out into the now increasingly warm sunshine, and after a slight annoying detour courtesy of google maps, a more pleasant 1.5km shady walk through the Domain gardens. It did unfortuantely involve quite a bit of hills and stairs, which weren’t great on the legs, especially as I had a front-loaded Zinnia to carry!
Google maps did eventually get us to the right spot and we emerged to see the museum and quickly located our car, all sweaty and a bit tired. We had originally planned to visit One Tree Hill and Mount Eden before leaving the city, but after a big day of walking we thought that the kids could do with a nap in the car and an earlier arrival in Thames before a few big days of riding.
Zinnia had been napping on and off in the ergo all day but wasn’t exactly full of beans and the other two kids were definitely looking weary. It was 3pm when we reached the car and the air conditioning was rather blissful! Once we were out of the city area (where we again crawled through traffic) it was quite a pleasant drive through some green countryside, dotted with happy cows.
After awhile (and much bickering) all the kids were asleep and we got to enjoy the scenery …… and silence!
It was a total of a 1.5 hour drive to Thames, which is South East of Auckland at the South-Western end of the Coromandel Peninsula. Just before we reached Thames, we went through the town of Kopu and over the Kopu bridge. We would subsequently ride over it several times over the coming days. Each time the kids loved the statues on the pillars.
As we had made it to Thames by 4.30pm we headed straight to Jolly Bikes, with whom we were doing our riding tour. While we didn’t have to be there until the next morning, from experience with bike tours, it’s best to check everything beforehand. This proved to be wise as they had the trailer set up on Anto’s bike rather than mine and they had thought we were bringing our trailgators and we thought they were supplying them. Luckily we got one sorted for Soren, Astrid was just going to have to ride the whole 4 days! The kids also got to check their bikes and helmets for fit and everything was going to be ready for our departure the next day.
Despite the car naps, all the kids were rather tired so we grabbed some supplies from the supermarket and were off to our hotel, the Coastal Motor Lodge, which which was in a rather scenic spot, right on the Firth of Thames.
After a quick pasta (carb-loading definitely required and it was quick and easy) dinner it was off to bed for the tired kids. The adults enjoyed the spectacular views and sunset from outside our room. Perhaps hanging out here all day the next day was a better plan than riding 45km?
I took a quick walk down the the beach and it was rather shelly and rocky but very pretty. The kids were promised an explore the next morning!
Daily statistics for Tuesday the 14th of January, 2020 – we started with a pleasant 13 degrees at 4.30am in Canberra, and it had reached the heights of 19 degrees for our afternoon in Auckland, New Zealand. After our hot Summer we definitely felt cold! We managed 6.95km of walking for the day.
Daily statistics for Wednesday the 15th of January, 2020 – the temperature range for the day was a pleasant 18 to 24 degrees Celsius in both Auckland and Thames. We still manged to work up a sweat wandering around Auckland in the sun! The total walking for the day was 12.1km, a good effort for the kids, Astrid and Soren easily racking up over 17,000 steps each. Our total driving for the day was 121km, through Auckland city and out to Thames. A map of our drive is below………
The first day of our cycling adventure, as we made our way from Miranda back to Thames. There was a some great scenery, very unpleasant gravel and quite a bit of cycling involved!