Vacation Down Under 2016 Quicklinks
- Travelling Down Under – Getting To Australia in 2016
- Cairns 2016 Adventure One: Cairns Business District Walkabout
- Cairns 2016 Adventure Two: Nobody Expects the Spanish Rainforest Castle Ruins!
- Cairns 2016 Adventure Three: He rode a Blazing Saddle, He wore a shining star…
- Cairns 2016 Adventure Four: Onward By Rail, Homebound By Air
- Cairns 2016 Adventure Five: Adventure Island – Fitzroy Edition
- Cairns 2016 Adventure Six: Above and Below the Reef Sea
- Brisbane: Woo~ I’m on top of the world!
- Auckland: We’re Going On An Adventure!
- Auckland: Rain changing ALL the plans…
We awoke on our second day in Auckland to a very rainy day. Our plan had been to take a ferry to a nearby volcanic island and go hiking all day, which would have been pretty awful given the weather so we immediately scrapped it. That left us with absolutely no idea what to do with a whole day. We spent a good chunk of morning looking things up and trying to find something we could do on our own and out of the rain. There were obviously tours to places that would have worked, but most of those left so early in the morning that it wasn’t actually an option to join now. We ended up finding a couple of options worth visiting around town mixed in with all the shopping areas. We eventually decided to start off with a trip to the aquarium. We had actually considered this aquarium when looking at things back home because you can do dives into their shark tank. When we arrived in the country, though, we decided to scrap the idea in favor of more New Zealand specific sorts of activities. With the weather giving us issues though, why not give it a shot? We did, however, decide to forego the shark encounter. We couldn’t do the scuba diving option because we would be flying too soon afterwards to be safe. The other option is snorkeling in a shark cage which just didn’t seem worth the cost. Too much like viewing them in any other normal enclosure, you’re just wet while doing it. The cage took something away from the whole thrill of genuinely swimming with the sharks, so we figured if we were going to watch them from behind barriers we may as well save money and stay dry while doing it.
The aquarium had a shuttle bus that picked up right down the road from our hotel so we headed off that way to find it. We got a little lost, but remedied the problem easily enough by asking a super sweet shop-owner in a nearby athletic and souvenir store, grabbed a quick breakfast at a streetside cart she recommended, and waited. Eventually a big van shaped like a shark pulled up and we jumped inside. A quick ten minutes later and we were climbing back out and heading into the Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium. It was built right on the edge of the sea, and was partially underground. We entered into an area called Scott’s Hut. It was apparently a replica of a hut built in Antarctica for Captain Scott’s famous research expedition. There were a bunch of signs telling you details of the expedition and what it was like to live in the frigid Antarctic weather. They also had a penguin skeleton in the hut, which seems really random but we were interested since we’ve never seen a penguin skeleton. It’s neck was really long and S-shaped, which we didn’t expect. We had no idea at the time who Scott was, but it was still a neat little extra to have as a lead-in to the next area and we’d left having learned something new.
As we rounded the corner, we were stopped for photos. Apparently they make those little photoshopped books of your adventure here too. It seems a bit unnecessary in this case considering you can just take your own pictures of yourself in the aquarium, but here they make you do a second pose. In this pose, you’re supposed to act like a shark is coming towards you, and that’s exactly what they shop that pose into later (among other things). Again, it was cute, and we looked at the result before leaving, but passed on buying it. We moved on into the next area, which housed the penguin exhibits. We started off where we could see them swimming around in the water, and then moved up to the land portion next. They had a few different kinds of penguins in there, and quite a few babies too. The babies were at that point where they were the same size as the adults but still had their baby feathers. One of them was insistently trying to get food from an adult’s mouth as we went by. Further on, there was another section that was for breeding. A ton of little penguins had been collecting pebbles and setting up nests, and even possibly laying on eggs. We couldn’t quite tell for sure.
There was a small bit at the end of the penguin exhibit that was built to look like Scott’s research base again. Perhaps we were supposed to be pretending we were Scott going out onto the Antarctic ice to see those penguins. In this area was an interactive challenge. There was a box with little holes for your hand, and a sign that said “Can you last 30 seconds in the frozen Antarctic seas?” Of course Jeff had to give it a shot, dunking his hand down into the icy water and whining while watching the handy dandy clock count down his 30 seconds. He can’t say no to a dare and doesn’t exactly have the healthiest regard for his own well-being, so of course he kept his hand in there the whole time despite his constantly clenched teeth and screwed up face due to the unbelievable cold. His hand came out quite white at the end of it all.
Next up came a preserved giant squid. It was enormous, and not even fully grown. We continued on past some tanks of jellyfish and crustaceans and anemones and such with really interesting lighting. Then we popped out into a more wide-open area entitled Jurassic Seas. This area had an interactive swim with the dinosaurs game, but it was covered in children on a school trip so we didn’t quite get to see what that was all about. Jeff was sad. Instead we poked around looking at the frogs and tuataras, crabs, and random ancient looking fish. There was one small tank that had a giant spiky anemone stuck to the top of it and pointing its spikes down towards where your head was. It was a bit intimidating. I couldn’t help but notice throughout this whole aquarium that the signage was a bit lacking. There were signs near most tanks, but not all, and most of the signs would only have one or two of the various animals inside listed on them. I often couldn’t find signs for the animals I was interested in and it was rather disappointing.
This area opened out into the cafe area. Even this was cute and interactive though they didn’t have much in the way of refreshments. It had a big glass window along the one side, and lapping up against that window was the sea. This was part of the building that was submerged and it was butted right up with the adjacent ocean, so it felt like you were dining partially submerged in the waters. It was pretty neat. In one corner they also had some touch pools where you could poke at some starfish. On the other side was a pool of puffer fish and elephant sharks, both of which are rather awkward looking. We continued on down the path to find some giant stingrays. These things were seriously massive and sitting right up against the glass. I ended up terrified though, as one of them decided to slide straight up the wall I was standing up against the tank. He was just trying to turn around and go elsewhere. It lifted up right up against my face and his total body length and breadth were taller than me. I’ve seen the underside of stingrays at other zoos and they often have cute little “happy faces,” but these bigger cousins of theirs had much angrier looking faces, the ends of their stingray mouths tip the opposite direction. It makes me shiver a bit even now remembering it and writing this.
Next up came a big tank with a moving walkway that went in a circle underneath it. We went around it, watching all the sharks, fish, eels, etc swimming around above us. On the far side, we found a keeper. Apparently something had happened to one of the fish in the tank and it was laying up against the glass having clear difficulties. At least somebody was already on top of that, and we passed two other keepers coming as we left. The last bit of aquarium had just some random fish tanks and a ton of seahorses. The seahorses were cute, as always. One of the tanks was home to a very active octopus, that at one point had been given a camera and taught to take pictures of people. There was a video playing near his tank about it. It would be pretty cool to have an octopus take your picture, not gonna lie. With that, we had arrived in the gift shop an the end of the road. It was actually quite a small aquarium, but it was still quite cute. We didn’t end up buying anything in the gift shop so we headed pretty quickly back to the entrance area to await pickup from the shark shuttle. We had a good 20 minutes or so to wait there, but soon enough we ended up back in town.
Since we were so close to our hotel, we decided to head back there to decide what to do with the next part of our day, what with it still raining pretty heavily and all. We screencapped some maps for potential visiting spots and then headed back out. We grabbed lunch at a nearby Mexican place and headed off down the main street, Queen Street. Right near our hotel was a supposedly good place for shopping, the Queen Street Arcade. We headed over to it only to be somewhat disappointed. It was mostly full of stores that we weren’t even slightly interested in, though the building that housed it was admittedly pretty. We went in a big CD/DVD store that was somewhat amusing, but the only really interesting thing there was a comic and game store. We spent far too much time in here just perusing the wares, even though there wasn’t much chance of us buying anything. The prices were just too high even though we really wanted some of the games and comics both. Even counting exchange rates, for some reason gaming and role playing materials are outlandishly expensive in New Zealand.
We headed back out of the complex and farther up Queen Street. The nice thing about this street is that a large part of the sidewalks are actually under a roof or awning of some sort or another. This was especially good since not long into our trek, our cheap umbrella decided to break completely. Not in any sort of normal way either. The metal rod going up the center completely separated itself from everything else, and we couldn’t get it to close. We ended up with an open, totally fanned out umbrella with a dangerous metal spike sticking way out the center of it through the top. Jeff ended up smashing it in on itself, half terrified he’d drive a giant stick of metal through his hand in the process, so that we could jam it into a trash can. Luckily he managed not to stab himself horribly. We decided not to replace the umbrella since the rain had slowed notably. As we walked up the street, we really only went in a few stores, partially because we’d already done most of the touristy stores on this street earlier and partially because a lot of the stores looked very expensive.
At one point we found an EB Games, and felt like we couldn’t just walk past that even though we knew we wouldn’t buy anything. It was actually really weird because so much of the store was devoted to systems that we don’t own nowadays. Living in Korea has made it difficult to keep up with consoles since what’s popular locally doesn’t match what we play and importing is extravagantly pricey. Still, it was neat to walk around window shopping for all the new games again. We also found a larger electronics store with literally every sort of electronic gizmo you could think of. We spent a ton of time in this one deciding to take notes of movies we were finding that looked interesting. We also popped into a couple of clothing stores, but only one was actually worthwhile. I walked out with a new backpack and a drapey sweater-type overshirt thing.
Eventually our overhangs protecting us from the downpour disappeared and the rain picked up tremendously. We ducked into some manner of shops-and-fun building. It had a food court and a few shops, but most things were actually entertainment related. There was minigolf, an arcade, a sensory walkthrough (seemed like a sort of fun house), and a movie theater. We walked around looking at everything, but didn’t actually partake in any of the attractions. Instead we headed back outside and back towards our hotel, along the opposite side of the road in case we could find anything new on that side. There really wasn’t much though, and so we ended up back at our hotel pretty early. We decided to do a bit of self-pampering with our extra time. We had bought mud masks with fancy mud from the nearby Rotorua area, and so we piled that onto our faces and sat around just sort of relaxing for a while. Eventually we got hungry and headed back around the corner to a pizza shop we had seen earlier in the day. Their pizza claimed to be authentic New York pizza, and although it was really good pizza, it definitely wasn’t quite New York pizza either. It came with these delicious garlic knots too. They were the best part I thought, and I kind of wished we’d gotten more. We headed to bed pretty early this day, as our next morning was set to be early.
We awoke in the morning, hoping that the day’s plan was good to go. We had booked a whale and dolphin watching cruise, but it came with a warning that they might have to cancel if the seas are too rough. Given that the previous day’s trip had been cancelled because of how rainy and windy it had been, we had pretty much expected the same of ours. It was of course still a disappointment when I got the email though. Our attempts to go whale watching on this trip were thwarted at every attempt, and all we could say was, “Well, I suppose we have to come back now!” Looking outside and realizing that it wasn’t actually raining, and wasn’t quite expected to, we pretty easily decided what to do with the day: our plan that we had been forced to cancel the previous day, hiking on Rangitoto Island!
We got ready and headed out to the marina right down the street, stopping in for some water and snacks to take along. The island we were headed to was a nature reserve and had no stores or permanent residents or anything really. We got to the ferry terminal and our tickets easily enough and waited just a few minutes before boarding started. We headed up to the top level of the boat which was open to the wind but provided the best view to all sides. As the boat left the harbor, some crewman or another started giving commentary. Apparently this ferry was partially a harbor tour as well as just a shuttle to Rangitoto. He told us about various different buildings and such as we headed out into the sea. We could understand almost immediately why our whale watching tour had been cancelled though, as the boat was extremely rocky right from the beginning. We went past the aquarium we’d seen the day before, and some areas where they were reclaiming docking space for ships. As we headed farther away from shore, we went by an old, tiny lighthouse. It was apparently perched on a chunk of lava rock from the volcano we were visiting that was sitting just a couple feet below the waves. He then mentioned that this whole area was actually extremely shallow water, and if you looked closely on a good day you could see some of the rocks just below the surface.
It was about this time that our destination came completely into view as well. You could tell instantly that it was a volcano. It just had that shape. This island, Rangitoto, is a volcano that erupted about 600 years ago, only once, and then become essentially a mountainous island. It is now used, along with a handful of other small islands in the area, as a wildlife refuge of sorts, mostly for birds. They are very strict with keeping pest animals or predators off the islands. We even got a flyer about it when we bought our tickets. At one point, people started building small vacation homes of sorts, called baches, on the shores. It wasn’t long before they banned this building though, and since then all have been vacated. Many of them are still on the island though as a sort of museum, with little plaques in front of them and everything.
We arrived at a small pier and piled off the boat, being warned to check the ferry departure times for later in the day. There were probably only about 30 of us that got off, and the island was all ours. We walked on down the pier, getting a bit distracted by the various birds we found immediately and the scenery in general. Having a weird fascination with volcanoes, I was especially excited and couldn’t stop marveling at the lava rock which made up literally the entire island. At the entrance to the island was a themed archway welcoming us, and signs welcoming us and pointing us to various trails. We followed the way to the summit course, passing by a ton of informational signs about the island and various trails available. There was a bit of a boardwalk area on the way and we wandered along there first. We found a big stone archway near the waters edge with a fence around it. Upon closer inspection, we found a sign next to it that said it was the entrance to an old men’s restroom. Wonderful thing to save I suppose.
Finally, it was time to venture off down the path. It started off as a very wide, easy path to walk along, but the farther along we went the small and more intense it got. It was actually quite cool. The sides of the path were a mix of snargly, intense forests and fields of broken up lava rock. Everything, living and nonliving, was also covered in mosses and lichens and the like. It looked really awesome, and we couldn’t stop taking pictures of weird stuff. I was especially amused by this one moss or fungus or something that looked like soap bubbles. I took far too many pictures of it, and had to at least point it out every time we saw it. Every so often along the path we would also come across traps. I mentioned that they were really hard on pests on the islands, and this was just a small reminder of it. This path took us up to the summit…..eventually. We meandered quite slowly and it was a long path. At one point, there was a sort of lookout branch that went off into one of the lava rock fields, so we detoured out to it quickly. It didn’t really produce any cool views, but basically just had little information signs on it. Very quickly we also started to see views way back across the sea to Auckland proper. Every so often there were also stairs, which were built to blend in entirely with the surroundings, and quite a few birds. The paths, in fact, were actually quite well done. They were clearly well tended and intentionally made paths, but at the same time they blended in so well with the island. It was neat.
Much further down the path, we found a branch. A sign told us that we were only about 20 minutes (of the estimated hour that this path was said to take) from the summit if we continued down the same path. There was another option though, to take a longer path, said to take 40 minutes to the summit. Looking at the fork in the road, the original path looked much less interesting. The new path was much smaller and wound its way off through one of the lava fields. We weren’t at all strapped for time so we decided to take the more interesting road, and I’m really glad we did. Especially since looking at our brochure that had a map of all the trails, we could come back from the summit via the original path and thus see both options in the end anyway. Quite aways down this path we were surprised by the sudden appearance of a very large bird in a tree above us. We were posing with a random pile of stones taller than us that was on either side of the path for no apparent reason, when a pigeon the size of a house cat landed in a tree above our heads. It was quite startling.
Eventually this path ended in a larger dirt road of sorts. This was part of the path that the so called Volcanic Explorer tour would take if it was running. It’s an optional way to explore this island, though it seemed like it ran on an as-needed basis. We followed the road just a few minutes before running into the summit boardwalk. We headed up the wooden walkway as it ascended the last bit of volcano. It was made almost entirely of stairs but had a few benches strategically placed throughout to give people a break. We didn’t quite feel the need for those since we took a few breaks of our own as different far off views began to appear. Before we found the summit itself. we found the volcanic crater, or place where the volcano erupted. It was entirely covered in trees now but was still a really big crater in the ground, and was quite intimidating somehow. Knowing what I was looking at made it have a completely different feeling from simply looking off the top off a mountain. I can’t quite explain it, and it’s possible it’s just me. (I mean I do have a goal in life to witness a volcano erupting. Not a violent one, but more like some of the ones in Hawaii that are just constantly oozing lava pretty slowly.)
After a number of pictures, we headed up the final stretch to the summit, marveling at the intense views. You really had a 360 degree view from up here, looking back across the water to Auckland, across the small channel to another island, and even straight out into endless sea. It was awesome! We lingered here a little while before heading down via a different path, the crater rim walk. This path immediately took us past an old military lookout shelter. We continued to follow the path around the crater, where the dirt was for some reason switching between red and black at random. We also found a pair of really pretty green birds that we had to stop and take a million pictures of. Soon enough we had returned to the crater lookout point from earlier, and again started on a new path, going back down the mountain.
We had one more stop before we returned to the bottom of the mountain and the sea. The branch-off point for this path was only a few minutes down the path. The ground in this area had become much more rocky and chopped up, and it only got worse as we followed our new path towards some lava caves. Eventually our path sort of devolved into the least path-like path yet. It was more of just a rock field with little posts set around it to lead you to the different caves and back to the real path. The lava caves were really neat, but essentially just small holes in the ground. There was one that seemed like you could actually walk through it if you chose, but it was a tight squeeze and with the weather lately it looked quite damp and gross inside so we chose not to try. Still it was a cool extra thing to see.
We retraced our steps a bit to rejoin the main path and continued our way back down the mountain. We had now seen everything we had set out to see on the island, and were somewhat concerned about making it back to the pier in time for the ferry. We ended up arriving back at the entrance point almost exactly in between the last two ferry runs, which meant we had about half an hour of time to kill near the sea. The tide had come in at this point, so the boardwalk was a completely different place, so we walked along that again. At one point we both had these tiny little birds that came up and bounced around within a foot of us. I’m not entirely sure what their deal was. We also noticed that there was a sort of man-made rock hole in the ground near the sea that became a sort of swimming pool at high tide. (It was built during the time of those baches I mentioned before for communal use.) We then meandered off to the opposite side of the pier where a ton of the baches were. It also said there was a grove of some sort of tree nearby and we decided to try and find it before the ferry arrived.
We wandered down the coast, taking tons and tons of pictures, before we found the path to the grove heading back into the forests. It looked fairly similar to all the other paths we’d taken, though it was lined with small rocks on either side that were completely covered in moss. It was quite cute. With a bit of rushing, we made it to the edge of the grove, took a quick picture of the trees, and headed back out to the pier. We arrived just a few minutes before the ferry, watching it sail up as we walked back up the coast, and hopped on. The upper deck was closed this time, as the winds and waves had gotten even more intense throughout the day, so we instead sat on the middle deck on the inside. Even there, while were sailing back to Auckland, you could see the spray splashing up along the windows next to us. We made a quick pit stop at another bit of city before returning to our original location. Leaving the boat, we headed off towards our hotel, stopping at a coffee shop/restaurant for dinner. We both got cheesesteak sandwiches, but they were nothing like what we expected, though still quite good. They were definitely a localized type of sandwich despite their borrowing the Philly namesake.
When we arrived back at the hotel we basically just packed everything up for the morning and headed to bed early. Our flight out was before 9am so we would be getting up super early to get to the airport on time. We woke around 4am, and headed out around the corner to the bus stop for the Sky Bus, or bus to the airport. We had already bought tickets on the way out of the airport so it was quite easy. Apparently we gave ourselves a ton of unnecessary wiggle room though. There was no schedule for these buses. They were simply meant to arrive about every 15 minutes. When we arrived though there was one simply sitting at the stop, so there was literally zero waiting time. About an hour later we arrived at the airport. It turned out that we had actually gotten there before check-in opened, so we had a good 30 minutes of standing around waiting for our counter to open. Then when we actually checked in, the poor girl at the counter was super confused by our Korean ARC card and had to ask for help from the Korean guy next to her.
Soon enough though we were ready to go, grabbed some last minute bits from airport stores and a quick breakfast before sitting down to await our flight. We were flying with Korean Air, on an 11 and a half hour straight flight back to Seoul. We pretty much knew what to expect since I had flown Korean Air before, and it really isn’t very different from Asiana which both of us have flown several times. We got quite a few snacks and meals and drinks, and were given pillows, blankets, slippers, and tiny teeth brushing kits. Despite it being a middle of the day flight, they still shut off all the lights and expected us to sleep for a good part of it. We instead watched a ton of movies and read a good bit of our books. I considered sleeping a few times, but we had quite a bit of turbulence (also rather expected since we were flying almost entirely over water and that always seems to be more turbulent.) Eventually though we arrived safely back in Seoul, though we still had quite a bit of travel before arriving back at home. This was travel we knew well and barely had to even think about. We had an intensely amazing trip behind us, but were entirely excited to be home at the same time. Every time we can’t help but be amazed at how happy we are arriving back into Korea from abroad, how much like home it really feels, and how excited we are to hear and use Korean again.