So in NZ – mostly in large and cosmopolitan Auckland – they don’t really believe in street signs. Passing up the highway-robbery rental GPS and not being able to access Google maps on our iPhones lest we pay hefty roaming charges, we decided to go old school–printed Google maps. Unfortunately, when there’s no sign as to what road you’re actually on and very few indicating which streets, roads, highways you might want to be on, we found ourselves going in circles trying to get out of Auckland on our way to explore the central and southern parts of the North Island.

But first things first. We spent our last day in Auckland touring the amazing facilities of one of our album binderies – Queensberry. Having toured another of our album companies a couple of years ago, we knew how important it was to see first hand the hard work, love and care that go into making our clients’ albums long-lasting family heirlooms. The opportunity to visit Auckland-based Queensberry was a primary reason we decided to visit NZ at this time.

Our rep with Queensberry, Gino, was kind enough to take time out of his day to give us and Angela a tour of their large production space. (For their privacy and security, we didn’t take any photos during our visit, although we wish we would have thought to have them take one of the three of us outside in front of their sign. Doh!) We can’t go into many specifics, of course, but suffice it to say everything they do is top knotch. We were incredibly impressed by the staff’s training and their dedication to laborious hand-making techniques. Angela and Webster are the recipients of a beautiful matted album from Queensberry so we thought it’d be fun for her to see where and how her album came to be in the final post production phase. Such craftmanship truly makes a difference and we’re proud to offer such an gorgeous and uniquely crafted wedding album to our clients.

That night found the four of us seeing Avatar 3D – us for the first time! Yes, we actually went to a movie during our vacation in NZ, but we have to mention it since it was one of the highlights of the trip. Okay, one of many, but still. The Kiwis do movie theaters right. All seats are assigned and you have an usher to show you to your seat. We all decided to splurge and upgraded our tickets to La Premiere, a VIP section of sorts – something we’ve never seen in our neck of the woods. With La Premiere we had a separate lounge/bar area we could hang out in before and after the show and was where we placed our order to have dinner and drinks delivered to us 1/2 hour into the movie, with dessert following an hour into the movie. Nice! Then our route to our seats – loveseat recliners(!) – included a trip through their enormous projection room which looked like something out of Architectural Digest magazine. Huge spools of film were going in all directions (beside us and above us) as we could see all the movies currently playing through the large windows overlooking each theater. It was really cool, but alas, you’ll have to take our word for it – no pics of all that. Oh, yea – the movie was really good, too – especially after two glasses of wine! 😉

The next day, we reluctantly bid adieu to our gracious hosts and took off for Waitomo and Rotorua. A few hours after getting on the road (after lots of wrong turns we eventually decided to take a break and eat an early lunch in the city), we finally made it out of Auckland and were on our way. Finally, you say, are we getting to the pictures?! Why, yes. Yes, we are. 🙂

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A hillside Maori cemetery we drove by and did a u-turn for. It was beautiful, but only on our way out did we notice the “no tourists” sign. Whoops! Out of respect, these are the only pictures we’re including. We were amazed by how personalized the grave sites were – most headstones had photos of the deceased – and humbled by cultures who honor their lost loved ones with such grace and respect.

Waitomo is on the map because they’re home to the famous glow worm caves. Never heard of them? Neither had we, but we just had to see these magnificent little creatures ourselves. Because it’s so dark in the caves (what claustrophobia?) we couldn’t take any photos inside without a lot of set up and a tripod. Plus, it’s just one of those experiences you should just sit back and enjoy anyway. The near silent boat ride through the main cavern filled with millions of tiny glow worms was truly awe inspiring and we highly recommend a visit should you find yourself in that neck of the woods.

Photo courtesy of Waitomo Glowworm Caves

So we took a few photos around outside the cave and then headed on to Rotorua where we would be staying the night before hitting the mud baths and the stinky sulfer pools the following day.

More highway u-turn pics!

This bull was large and in charge and we couldn’t resist the pre-storm light on him…

and his nearby friends.

Rain storm coming our way. Perhaps we should concentrate on driving from this point on. 😉

The next day found us up early to make sure we saw the Lady Knox Geyser erupt promptly at 10:15 am. We were advised by the books and websites to get there early to beat the crowds. Didn’t work as they were all advised the same apparently. No matter, we were sure the upcoming show would be worth it after waiting in the blazing hot sun for 45 minutes. We then found out how this little miracle of nature spouts each day on such a predictable time schedule. The park ranger comes out and pours a little soap flakes in it! They explain it would erupt anyway, they are just helping it along. Um, okay. It was cool, but a bit of letdown after so much buildup.

After that, we made our way out to the main part of Wai-O-Tapu, along with hundreds of our closest friends, who all jostled for viewing positions at the overlooks. Did we mention it was high tourist season in NZ? 😉 Once we arrived at the steaming Champagne Pool though it all seemed worth it. Amazing, amazing sights and, believe it or not, the Champagne Pool is 2000 feet deep. Thankfully, the pics aren’t scratch n’ sniff – we would eventually be washing ALL of our clothes with ammonia to remove the sulfur smell from our clothes, after the clothes we were wearing infected all those in our suitcases. Once we got to the South Island, people probably knew one place where we’d already been!

Bubbles on the super hot surface.

Don’t know if this was a hot or cold pool, but we did know that we didn’t want to get in it! Colors have not been adjusted, by the way, it really is that putrid looking.

Sadly, we too quickly had to leave the thermal playground so that we’d make it to Wellington before dark. First though, lunch at Fat Dog Cafe. It’s definitely a can’t-miss spot. Thanks Angela and Webster! 🙂

Bill had to get what they’re known for, the Dog Bollox Burger, containing two beef patties, grilled onions, tomato, fried egg, onion rings, kawakawa, lettuce, and beetroot. (Be thankful there are no photos of him actually eating the thing!) Anne enjoyed their BLAT sandwich – Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Tomato, which could be found at just about every cafe alongside fish n’ chips.

We didn’t realize we’d be driving by the stunning Huka Falls though, so we had to take a little detour on the way.

Anne thought Bill’s tee shirt that day was especially appropriate.

At last, we finally arrived at our destination for the night. We wanted to maximize our time there since the next morning would find us up at the crack of dawn for our inter-island ferry ride.

The view from the top floor of our lighthouse! Fun place to stay for a night and one night was actually enough. Very tight quarters like on a ship. Anne thought of it like a little glorified camping trip. With a few improvements and a little cleanup, it could be a really cool place, but the view was pretty killer.

Our stay on the North Island was much too short, but we couldn’t wait to see what the South Island had in store of us. Can you?