Kia Ora, Christmas!

Since the mid-90s, Ned’s sister and her branch of the Davis family tree have lived in Auckland, New Zealand–land of extraordinary natural beauty, many hobbitses, Russell Crowe, and no visits from the Kress-Davis family.  But, this holiday season, we decided to change this last one and buckle in for the 24+ hours of travel to lovely NZ.

We began with an overnight in Toronto, at a remarkably solicitous and comfy airport Hilton–with a great breakfast buffet–that allowed us to get to our cross-Canada flight with a bit less stress.  Check out our new hiking boots!

Air Canada decided to get us back on stress-track, though.  For reasons no one at the airport could explain, the airline cancelled our long-booked, premium-paid exit row seats and scattered us around the plane for the five hour flight to Vancouver.  Sigh.  After considerable discussion, we eventually cobbled together two sets of paired seats about two dozen rows apart.  Added to the crunch of Christmas week travel, this did not make the miles fly by, but some of the views of the Canadian Rockies as we neared Vancouver were simply breathtaking (photos here from Penn).

We had just enough time to journey from the domestic to international terminals and grab a snack before our 13+ hour Air New Zealand flight to Auckland.  Given the length of the flight, we sucked it up and paid it out for Premium Economy, which–to be frank–was simply lovely.  Lots of room between rows, seats that reclined and had leg rests, remote controlled entertainment centers, multi-course meals.  And, personalized welcomes (which seemed unique to our row, though, as everyone else in PE just had Kia Ora).  Even Ned was able to sleep on the flight!  That’s a Christmas Miracle.

Hey, kids, let’s take a diagonal completely across the Pacific Ocean.

Leave Vancouver on Wednesday night, arrive in Auckland on Friday morning.  Hello, sunrise.

PE left everyone perky.

To get from Auckland to Rotorua, we grabbed a lovely 7 am lunch for our confused stomachs and a quick regional flight to ROT–seriously.  We decided not to read anything into it.

In the regional terminal, which is basically like a bus terminal because so many people fly internally, we seemed to be joined by every single family and baby in Auckland, all headed to some smaller NZ town for Christmas.  Finally, after another hour and a bit of a struggle getting a taxi at the tiny ROT airport, we set off for our temporary home: a rented bach (summer house) we’d share with 7 other Davises.

We soon learned that every single NZ road is a squiggle with many internal squiggles, so it took a bit of time to get to Lake Tarawera, but the view from the house made it worth the twists and turns!

360 view:

Fantastic porch wrapping around most of the 5 bedroom, window-filled house:

And a deep, flowered back yard.

Plus, the Davis Santas got here the day before we did!

When we were looking at rentals about half a year ago, we knew we wanted to be in Rotorua, knew we needed a crazy number of bedrooms, and knew we wanted to be near one of the town’s four lakes.  After seeing a photo of the trampoline at this one, two of us suddenly added that to the list of requirements, and their voices were multiplied by two more 🙂  Cousins!

Well, we had just traveled for a bit over a day, had landed at 6 am in Auckland, had turbulenced our way to Rotorua, had zig-zagged from airport to house, so we naturally fell right into bed.  Oh, wait, I forgot, we’re us.  So, we pulled on our swim suits and collectively set off for one of the city’s natural hot springs.  
First, Waikite Thermal Pools are fed by seriously hot springs.  Check out this steam!  Rotorua is built on an active volcano and the city center has a surprisingly not-unpleasant sulfur-y smell, like a struck match.  VNZ (new code: Very New Zealand)

As one is warned: this is Boiling Water / KEEP OUT

Waikite is a complex of six pools: the coolest is body temp, the warmest ~110 degrees.  Filled with body soothing, natural minerals and surrounded by gorgeous NZ scenery and beyond-blue skies, these were glorious for relaxing tired travelers and natives alike.

After soaking, we took the brief nature walk that took us through ferns that came of age in prehistory and right to the head of the springs, where it comes steaming and bubbling to the surface.  At times, so much steam rose that it blotted out all light.  VNZ

Wait, where did everyone go?

Once we reappeared, we split in two groups, with some of us going in search of food and mud pools.  That was us!  And we found one of our very favorites: Nando’s!  Another Christmas Miracle 🙂

Fortified by Peri-Peri chicken but chilled by the changeable NZ weather (“all four seasons in one day” is a country slogan), we went in search of another Rotorua volcanic legacy–mud pools.  These are like mud hot springs, but they emit a combination of gases that create dizziness.  People used to actually bathe in them until someone figured out it could be life threatening.

Oh so inviting …

Like a moonscape on earth

Back from the windy, barren landscape, the boys lounged stylishly in their matching Darth Vader Christmas sweaters.
And as the sun started to set over Lake Tarawera, we did, too.

And, I began work on this blog as the first day of another remarkable Kress-Davis adventure (this time with more Davises) was brought to a quiet close.

Po pai, y’all.

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