Aotearoa: The First Encounter
Aotearoa, the name given to the land of New Zealand by the native Maori people, means "land of the long white cloud." As we began planning for our trip, we got our first real taste of the Maori language (and suffered many mispronunciations along the way). Many of the towns and natural sites in New Zealand use Maori names, so it was unique and refreshing to see that the native culture has been so well preserved over the years.
New Zealand had been high on our must-see list since the dawning of the Lord of the Rings movies. When we learned that the landscapes in LOTR were actually REAL, we knew we had to witness this magical land with our own eyes. After a couple years of saving up our money & vacation time from work, we were able to make the dream a reality! Along with our partners in crime (my cousin, Katie, and her husband, Ethan), after spending countless hours researching and putting an itinerary together, we finally booked our 23 day adventure in NZ. It was almost too good to be true... none of us felt like it was actually real until we set foot in Auckland, NZ on November 4, 2016. From that point on, we were smitten.
Our first encounter with the Kiwi lifestyle was driving... on the left side of the road. (The people of NZ are called "Kiwis" in case you haven't heard that term before). Ethan bravely took the wheel and drove us 2 hours from the airport to our first destination, the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula (and we arrived safely and without a scratch!).
As a side note, our rental car (a Mahindra XUV 500) was AWESOME! Turns out that Mahindra doesn't just make tractors, they make cars too! When we Googled the model, it said it was designed with an "intimidating cheetah-inspired exterior," and our car was known from that moment on as "The Sexy Cheetah."
Our first two nights in NZ were spent near Hahei at the Purangi Garden Accommodation, which ended up being high on the list of "best places we stayed while in NZ". First of all, we stayed in a yurt, which was lovely and wonderful in itself. Secondly, THE FRUIT. THE GARDENS. THE BIRDS. THE STARS. THE VIEWS. Everything about the place was perfect, including Susan, the owner, who made sure we felt right at home. She took us on a tour of the expansive organic gardens & orchards she wholeheartedly tends to AND she sent us on our way with a HUGE bag of amazing fruit & "avos" (avocados) when we departed. She's the sweetest, and we will surely be visiting her and the yurt again on our next trip :)
By the end of our first day we were pretty much zombies from the long hours of traveling. NZ is 18 hours ahead of East Coast US time, which means that we left home (Pittsburgh) on November 2nd and landed in Auckland on November 4th. Helloooo time travel! Our flight to Auckland was 13 hours from Los Angeles, and we had already flown 5+ hours to get to LA from Pittsburgh. Needless to say, that kicked our butts. Although I must mention, Air New Zealand was fantastic and we were very well cared for on our long flight! Still, we legitimately struggled to stay awake until an "acceptable" bedtime, and we were all asleep by 8pm the first night. Early to bed means early to rise, though, which turned out to be a real blessing when I woke up at 5am the next morning to the sounds of the native birds. Check out the video below (be sure to turn your sound up)!
If New Zealand isn't on your must-see list, it will be by the end of this blog series! Until next time, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!