New Zealand - December 31 - January 18, 2024

Kia ora! We decided to go to New Zealand in January because that is in the middle of their summer (equivalent to our July). But, since they are so far south of the equator (Christchurch is a jumping off place to Antartica), their summer is about the same as Houston's winter days before a cold front comes through.

The islands are so beautiful that it is hard to decide what to photograph, since you want to take one of everything. I've sorted through over 800 to show a representative sample of what we saw. It was a very good visit.

[Sunday, December 31, 2023] We left home a few minutes after 3:00 pm and took IH-69 to Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport. It took a lot of time at the gate for us to check in because we had to do a lot of the documentation that we were not successful in completing previously. It's not real easy to travel to New Zealand, compared to other countries we have visited. They are very strict on what you bring into the country that might cause trouble for them, such as plants and animals and food. They have a lot of paperwork to file. We were flying Air New Zealand flight NZ29, even though we made our reservations with United. It was a Boeing B777-300V2, and Business Class was very comfortable for the 14-1/2 hour overnight flight. We pushed away from IAH gate 18B at 8:03 pm. It was a smooth flight and we were able to get a reasonable night's sleep.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

< Our flight path.

[Monday] We skipped today, January 1, 2024 because we crossed the international date line and jumped up one day. We get it back some on the way back home.

[Tuesday] We arrived in Auckland on time, and took a taxi to our hotel. We arrived at the Rudges Auckland Hotel at about 7:00 am, so we had to wait until 3:00 pm to check in.

We walked a block from our hotel to the Auckland Sky Tower (1,076 ft. tall) and waited in the Casino hotel lobby next to it until the tower opened at 9:30 am. We then went up to the 51st Main Observation Level and 60th Sky Deck Level of the Sky Tower and looked out over the city. They even have lines that allow you to jump from the top and glide down to the ground. We didn't participate in that.

Afterwards we ate lunch at The Coffee Club which was down the street from the Sky Tower.

< Sky Tower from near hotel. < Through the window in the floor.

We went back to the hotel for a little time, then walked a few blocks down to the harbor and took a ferry across the bay to Devonport - a tourist destination, with shops and restaurants. We walked around the tourist areas some and then took a ferry back across the bay to Auckland.

< Ferry to Devonport. < Scenic Devonport.

< Interesting trees abound. < View of Auckland from across the bay.

We returned to our hotel and were able to check in to room 1309 of Rydges Auckland Hotel. We had a great view of the harbor area from the 13th floor. We ate supper in the hotel restaurant.

< Rydges Auckland Hotel.

[Wednesday] This morning we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then walked to the bus stop next to the Sky Tower and took the Auckland Explorer Bus (a hop on / hop off) and rode it to the Auckland Zoo. We had intended to stop at the Auckland Museum, but when the bus got there, all the people that had been visiting the museum were outside due to an emergency inside (we found out from a news report that it was a bomb threat). So we decided to skip it and tour the zoo instead.

The zoo was a little disappointing because we wanted to see the native birds and we saw a few, but not many, because the enclosures were large and the birds not very active. It was also very crowded with visitors, since the locals were still on Christmas holiday.

< Auckland Explorer bus. < Kaka parrot at zoo.

We rode the bus back to our hotel, stopping along the way at Holy Trinity Cathedral to tour it. A lady at the church showed us around since we were the only visitors at that time.

< < Holy Trinity Cathedral.

After a short stay in the hotel, we walked up the street to the Matthew-In-The-City Anglican Church. It was closed so we couldn't see inside.

We then walked to the Wongkok Cafe and Bar to eat supper. It was very good and we were the only customers that were not Oriental - a good sign, we thought.

[Thursday] Today at 10:00 am, we took a 4-1/2 hour Discover Auckland tour. ( On the tour, we went to the harbor area near the bridge and heard the interesting story about the bridge. We then went across the bridge to North Head Park which has an impressive view of Auckland across the bay. The park is inside an extinct volcano - one of many here in New Zealand.

Then we drove back across the bridge to Mt Eden, another extinct volcano. There was a great view of the city from there also. We finally stopped at the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial, on top of another high point overlooking the city.

< < < Scenes from the tour.

After the tour we ate a late lunch and bought a few souvenir items. We returned to the hotel and after relaxing we walked down to the harbor and watched one of the cruise ships leave. Then we walked back to the hotel along some of the interesting streets and ate supper in the hotel restaurant.

[Friday] Today we rode the InterCity bus to Rotorua, about 140 miles southeast of Auckland. It was a great way to get around the country. They make several stops at scenic locations and give you time to see them. We left at 8:30 am from the stop near the Sky Tower and arrived at 1:00 pm. It was a beautiful drive through the countryside. Along the way we stopped at several interesting places and saw many farms, crops, sheep and cows. We saw a large pasture of red deer. There are no wild deer there, but they raise deer for meat, just like cattle. New Zealand is a major dairy producer.

< InterCity bus.

It was a short three block walk from the Rotorua bus station to our hotel, the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside Hotel. After we checked in, we walked across the street to Eat Street, which was a covered pedestrian street with nothing but eating establishments for a block. We stopped at one and had fish and chips, just like in the UK.

< Eat Street.

The radar looked like it was going to rain, so we went back to our hotel. The rain didn't come, so we went back out and walked about 6 blocks along the Eat Street and back, to see the area. Then the rain began falling so we went back to our room for the evening.

< Novotel Rotorua Lakeside Hotel.

[Saturday] Today we took Rotorua based Small Group Morning Tour Waimangu and Wai O Tapu. ( They picked us up at the hotel at 8:15 am and we got back at 1:00 pm. These thermal formations are different from those in Yellowstone National Park. Waimangu was formed in 1886 by a volcanic eruption and is said to be the youngest geothermal system in the world. Wai-O-Tapu is the country's most colorful and diverse geothermal area and is home to the Lady Knox Geyser.

< < <

< Wai-O-Tapu. < Lady Knox Geyser.

< < < < Waimangu.

Once we got back to the hotel, we went back to Eat Street and ate lunch.

We then walked to the park next to the hotel and watched some of the helicopters landing from tours of the thermals.

[Sunday] This morning we didn't have anything planned before checking out of the hotel. We walked down two blocks and ate lunch at the Subway.

Today we were picked up at 12:30 pm by a taxi that was sent from our tour company, and transported to the meeting point. From there we boarded a small van for the Rotorua to Auckland Afternoon Transfer with Waitomo Glow Worms Tour ( It took about two hours to get to Waitomo. We stayed about 1-1/4 hours and rode in a boat through the caves and saw the glow worms on the ceiling of the cave. They looked like thousands of little white LED lights in the darkness of the cave. They did not blink on and off like fireflys here. It was too dark for any photos of in the cave.

We then continued our journey to Auckland. They dropped us off at the Novotel Airport Hotel where we spent the night.

< < The boat we used in the cave.

[Monday] This morning we went across from the hotel and found out that our domestic flight was from the domestic terminal and not the international terminal where our hotel was located. We rode a shuttle bus for about 10 minutes to the domestic airport terminal. We ate breakfast at McDonald's in that terminal and boarded Air New Zealand NZ413 (An A320D aircraft) to Wellington, at the southern tip of the North Island. We took a taxi to the Novotel Wellington Hotel and were able to check in early to room 801


< Novotel Wellington Hotel.

After we got things setup in the room, we rode the nearby Wellington Cable Car to the top of the mountainside.

< Wellington Cable Car.

We then took a shuttle bus to Zealandia, a one square mile enclosed and protected wildlife sanctuary. We walked around a portion of the park and saw some of the protected birds and reptiles. We saw a flightless Takahe, thought to be extinct until the 1940's. We also saw a Tuatara, the sole surviving member of an ancient order of reptiles. We ate lunch in their cafe. We had hoped to see a Kiwi there but were not able due to the dark enclosure being overly crowded with people.

< Takahe. < Tuatara.

We were going to go to the Botanical Gardens, but they were so large and it was so late, that we went back to the hotel.

[Tuesday] This morning at 10:45, we took the Half Day Tour of Wellington We were driven to many scenic views and entertained by the driver/guide. The tour ended about 3:00 pm.

After a short stop at the hotel, we walked down to the waterfront and ate a late lunch. We returned to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

Due to the possibility of earthquakes, they also need to be aware of tsunamis near the waterfronts.

< Maybe you should find another place to live?

We saw many houses up on a steep mountainside that had the garages on a different level, with a cable car to get them from their garage to their house.

< House is up on the top out of sight.

< < Old St. Paul's Church.

[Wednesday] We got up at 5:30 am today and took a taxi to the InterIslander ferry terminal for our travel from the North Island to the South Island.

We boarded the ferry at 8:00 am and the ferry left at 8:45 am. We ate breakfast on the ferry and had a good table looking out the front of the boat. We crossed the Cook Strait on the very large ferry and arrived in Picton on the South Island at 12:15 pm. We were able to check our luggage all the way from Wellington to Christchurch.

< < < InterIslander Ferry to South Island.

We walked a few hundred feet to the Picton Train Station and checked in for the Coastal Pacific Train to Christchurch. We walked around the station area until time to board.

< Picton train station.

The train left Picton at 1:40 pm and the ride on the Coastal Pacific Train was smooth and scenic. The windows were large and clean. It was an excellent ride. We ate lunch on the train. We arrived in Christchurch at 7:30 pm and took a taxi to the Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square Hotel and checked in. We ate supper in the hotel.

< < < <

< View from the train. < Open car for photos.

< Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square Hotel.

[Thursday] Today we spent the day touring Christchurch using their Hop-on hop-off Trams. The trams are over 100 years old and run on tracks in the central business district. We visited the Cardboard Cathedral, a temporary replacement for the Christchurch Cathedral that was damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The Cardboard Cathedral is largely made out of cardboard and shipping containers painted white to form the walls. The Christchurch Cathedral is being repaired, but it looks like it has many years to go before it is usable. Christchurch is a beautiful city that is doing its best to recover from the earthquakes.

< Tram. < Damaged Christchurch Cathedral.

< < < The Cardboard Cathedral.

We also visited Quake City, a museum that tells about all the events that happened in the two recent quakes. A lot of their buildings are condemned and will be demolished. Many others have already been demolished or rebuilt. In order to make the city more attractive, they have commissioned artists paint murals on the bare sides of buildings that lost their close neighbor in the earthquakes.

< < A few of the colorful buildings.

< Quake City Museum. < Earthquake victum.

[Friday] Today was a travel day. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the Christchurch train station. We left Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island and rode the Tranz Alpine Train through the New Zealand Alps to Greymouth on the West coast. We left Christchurch at 8:15 am, and 5 hours later we arrived in Greymouth, after one stop at Arthurs Pass.

< < < < < < View from the train.

< Arthurs Pass < Greymouth Train Station.

Our InterCity bus was waiting at the train station when we arrived, and we boarded it and rode the 3-1/2 hour bus trip to Franz Josef. We made a lunch stop about halfway there. The New Zealand Alps are beautiful but did not seem as rugged as the US Rockies. We saw some distant snow. The weather was still nice and temperatures were in the 60's in the daytime.

< Our bus. < Along the west coast highway.

Late in the day, we checked into the Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier. Franz Josef is a tiny little village that seems to exist solely for people to visit the glaciers in the area. When the weather was good, you could hear the nearby helicopters continuously taking off and landing nearby.

< Our hotel. < The main street in Franz Josef.

[Saturday] This morning from 9:30 am - 12:30 pm, we took the Franz Josef Nature Tour ( in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The walk was a little challenging due to the mountain terrain. The Franz Josef glacier is one of a very few glaciers in the world that are located in a subtropical rainforest. Due to the warming climate, the glacier is diminishing at a rapid rate. The large yearly rainfall/snowfall makes the glacier grow in the winter and shrink in the summer. The west coast of the island gets a very large rainfall each year. We were fortunate that it wasn't raining today.

All of New Zealand has a problem with mammal predators that were introduced into the country over 100 years ago. They are actively trying to eliminate them by various means, to protect the native species of birds and animals, but they have a long way to go. They set bated traps and try to catch and kill as many as they can. A possum (not our opossum) is a major problem and their fur is mixed with Merino sheep fur to make gloves, scarves, and caps that are sold everywhere. .

< < < < < Views from the tour. < One of the traps for predators.

After the tour ended, we walked down the street to the SnakeBite Restaurant and ate fish and chips (they were just like in the UK). We decided that the rest of the afternoon we deserved to relax after our exertion on the mountain trails that morning.

[Sunday] We heard rain falling on the roof during the night and the clouds had engulfed the mountains when we got up. It was quiet all day because the helicopters were grounded. Since it is a subtropical rainforest, Franz Josef gets about 141 inches of rain a year, pretty equally distributed each month. Rain showers continued off and on throughout the day. Apparently we were very fortunate that we had a beautiful day yesterday for our tour.

We walked across the street to the West Coast Wildlife Center and we actually saw two live Kiwis in their exhibit. We had tried unsuccessfully in Auckland and Wellington to see them. Since they are nocturnal, you can only see them in enclosures that are dark as possible so they will be active and you still be able to see them some. We ate lunch at the Center in their cafe and came back to the hotel to watch the Houston Symphony live streaming Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony at 3:00 pm (8:00 pm Saturday in Houston). We watched it on our iPhone. It continued to rain.

< West Coast Wildlife Center. < Franz Josef rainfall comparison.

[Monday] The weather was beautiful again this morning. We were up at 6:00 am, ate breakfast at 7:00 am and on our InterCity bus to Queenstown at 8:00 am.

It was a winding road through the mountains between Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Many were hairpin curves. We were riding to near the southern most point of our trip, to Queenstown. It was a beautiful ride and we stopped at several scenic spots for photos.

We went from the subtropical rainforest to mountains with no trees, and arid terrain that had to be irrigated to grow the crops. They grow peaches, cherries, and other fruits, including grapes for wine in that area. The bus was comfortable and the scenery was outstanding.

We arrived in Queenstown at about 4:45 pm, and caught a taxi to the Holiday Inn Express hotel. We checked into room 467, then walked around the area a little before supper. We ate supper in the hotel restaurant.

< < < < < Some of the scenic stops.

< Holiday Inn Express Hotel.

[Tuesday] Today was totally awesome!!! We took the 7:30 am Small Group, Award Winning, Full Day Milford Sound Experience from Queenstown. ( To get to Milford Sound in the mini-van was a 5-hour drive through the most beautiful scenery, with several stops at scenic locations for photos. Along the way we passed the southernmost town of our trip at Te Anau. We arrived at Milford Sound and took a 2-hour boat cruise on the sound.

< < < On the road to Milford Sound.

< Getting on the boat.

< < < View from the boat.

< Seals taking a nap. < < View from the boat.

We decided to fly back to Queenstown (instead of riding back 5 hours by the same route). We flew in an Air Milford Cessna Caravan aircraft. The 45-minute flight back to Queenstown through the mountains was outstanding. We ate supper in the hotel restaurant.

< < < < < < < View from the Cessna.

[Wednesday] This morning we left on the Queenstown to Christchurch Via Mt Cook & Lake Tekapo Small Group Tour ( It was a tiring 13-hour day, but the scenery was incredible again. The drive to Mt Cook was 4 hours in a small van, with 3 hours for us to eat lunch and hike 2 miles on the Hooker Valley Track at Mt Cook. The weather was beautiful again. The continuation to Christchurch was 5 hours, with stops at scenic sites. It was a long day, but worth the effort to see Uncle James Cook's mountain!! ;-)

< < On the way to Mt. Cook.

< <

< < Hooker Valley Track at Mt. Cook.

We checked into the Novotel Christchurch Airport Hotel upon our arrival in Christchurch. We ate supper in the hotel restaurant.

[Thursday, January 18] We checked out of the hotel this morning and walked across to the Christchurch Airport for our 2:00 pm Air New Zealand NZ550 flight to Auckland. We flew on an Airbus A320D. Our Air New Zealand NZ28 flight from Auckland to Houston departed at 7:30 pm and arrived at 2:00 pm the same day. We arrived before we left, because of the international date line. Our flight to Houston was on a B777-300, and we arrived on time.

New Zealand was a very interesting country to visit. It has a lot in common with Europe. They don't use plastic bags, so there is essentially no trash on the streets and highways. The roofs on the houses are mostly tin with a few tile - no asphalt. Electric scooters can be rented in the cities and can be left wherever you like, for someone else to rent. The roads are clean, well marked and smooth. Roundabouts are used extensively - very few stop signs and traffic lights except in the downtowns. Solar panels are tilted to the north. The Maori culture is a big part of the country's life.

This draws to a close our to New Zealand. We hope you enjoyed the photos and brief descriptions of our activities. God willing, join us again soon for another travel adventure.

Goodbye for now,

Lawson & Kay

February 16, 2024

The Lord is great and is to be highly praised; his greatness is beyond understanding. What you have done will be praised from one generation to the next; they will proclaim your mighty acts. They will speak of your glory and majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds. People will speak of your mighty deeds, and I will proclaim your greatness. They will tell about all your goodness and sing about your kindness. The Lord is loving and merciful, slow to become angry and full of constant love. He is good to everyone and has compassion on all he made. All your creatures, Lord, will praise you, and all your people will give you thanks. (Psalm 145:3-10 GNT)

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