Crossing the International Date Line (the longest day of our lives)

From Auckland, we flew halfway across the Pacific to Honolulu and crossed the International Date Line. We woke up on Tuesday in Auckland, spent our entire day there and boarded a flight at 22.40, had a night on the plane and then woke up as we landed in Honolulu on Tuesday morning (again). This was a first for both of us, and meant that:

  1. We were irrationally excited
  2. Our spending against budget on Tuesday 30th was a bit of a disaster since we lived the day twice over
  3. Despite point 1, we forgot to book accommodation for our second Tuesday. Whoops!
  4. Our photos look like absolute chaos, flipping wildly between being in Auckland at 11am and Honolulu at 11.01am. This gave us the idea that we could do a time-travelling diary of our two Tuesdays…

So, here’s how our two Tuesdays unfolded, arranged by local time in each destination.


🏢 Auckland: We checked out of our hotel and left our big bags with the front desk, before walking through Auckland Domain (via many closed paths and diversions) to the Auckland Museum, which sits right in the middle. We actually came here on our very first day to watch the sunset, so it felt like nice symmetry to revisit on our last day.

🌺 Hawaii: Meanwhile, in Hawaii, our flight landed and we cruised out of the airport at record speed. Who has ever got through US immigration in under five minutes?! There was no queue whatsoever and while the officer initially seemed slightly concerned about our plans to stay in the country for nearly 50 days (well within the permitted 90 days, but admittedly still quite a long time), he soon got distracted by his absolute horror that we might consider crossing the country by train!


🏢 Auckland: Inside the museum, we met Peter and Barbara, two rare T-Rex skeletons (not casts!). These were very cool and we were particularly pleased to meet Barbara, as she is one of only three female T-Rex ever discovered. It blew my mind that Palaeontologists could tell she was female not from her size or shape, but through tiny chemical differences in her bones because she was pregnant at the time of her death. Meanwhile, we could see Peter’s injuries that likely resulted in his death.


🏢 Auckland: We began looking at exhibits on Māori and other Polynesian culture, but really spent most of our time dodging huge school groups before we realised just how much museum there was upstairs and so headed up for some peace and quiet. In the Natural World section, we laughed a lot at this quote on an exhibit about Charles Darwin:

His visit to New Zealand was brief, confined to the Bay of Islands, and made little impression on him

Auckland Museum

Poor New Zealand!

🌺 Hawaii: We arrived at our hotel (a last-minute interim when we realised we had nowhere to stay on our extra Tuesday – we’ll move to an apartment tomorrow). Our room wasn’t ready but we commandeered the ground floor bathrooms to change and freshen up, then set off to explore Waikiki.


🌺 Hawaii: Within minutes, we came across a very public Hula lesson in the street. We did not join in!


🏢 Auckland: After exploring a First World War exhibition together (fascinating to see it from New Zealand’s perspective), we parted ways. Oli spent some time in the Second World War exhibition, where his top sight was an anti-aircraft gun that had been bought from the US Navy after the war for two bottles of gin! Meanwhile, I headed to the Robin Morrison Road Trip exhibition, which featured photographs that he had taken on a seven-month trip around the South Island in 1979. I loved this – the use of colour and the composition of his photographs were beautiful and really did serve as a time capsule of the late seventies. It felt wrong to take photographs of his photographs to put on the blog but I do keep thinking about them – I’m going to have to buy the book!

🌺 Hawaii: We took a walk on the beach and the promenade, soaking in the buzz and feeling intense culture shock. We weren’t in sparsely-populated, low-key NZ anymore! We saw surfers catching waves further out to sea, body boarders closer to the beach, people playing in the shallows and even a man using a metal detector in the water – I wonder whether he found any treasure.


🏢 Auckland: We met up for a (mediocre) lunch in the museum cafe. We arrived and ordered separately and then staff definitely suspected that I was stealing Oli’s lunch when it came out and I claimed it while he was in the loo!

🌺 Hawaii: After a long time in the same country, we were ready to embrace a new cuisine so we headed to Five Star Poke, which served (you guessed it) poke bowls (containing marinated raw fish, rice and sometimes other vegetable goodies, such as seaweed and edamame beans), pretty much the only thing we knew about Hawaiian food.


🏢 Auckland: We walked across the city in the sunshine to the 328m-high Sky Tower, an iconic part of the city’s skyline and the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.


🏢 Auckland: From the tower, we had beautiful views of the city, the harbour, multiple volcano cones and the outlying islands. It was only slightly disconcerting having orange-suited people hurtling past the window as they base-jumped from the level above us!

🌺 Hawaii: We checked into our hotel the moment our room was ready and promptly fell asleep.


🏢 Auckland: We had a very early dinner at Bona’s Thai, served by the loveliest husband and wife team, before heading back to the hotel to pick up our big bags and say farewell to Auckland.


🏢 Auckland: We walked to the central station, where the chap at customer services joined us in our confusion about the best way to pay our fares without buying two transport cards (which seemed a bit ridiculous, as we were on our way out of the country). I’ll just say this: if your ticketing structure is so complicated that even your own employees don’t understand it, then it probably needs a bit of work… Anyway, at length we managed to buy tickets and took the train to Puhinui and a connecting bus to Auckland International Airport.

🌺 Hawaii: We rushed out of our hotel with just minutes to spare and arrived at the beach bang on 6.30pm (having read that people normally set up chairs several hours before!) to watch a Hula performance while the sun set behind us.


🏢 Auckland: Even with our ticketing adventures, we still arrived at the airport SO early that we had time to kill, so we set about trying to palm the transport card we’d just bought onto someone else. This was harder than it seemed! Eventually, we donated it to a newsagent who sold the cards and she promised us that she’d pass it onto the next people who came to buy one. I wonder where it is now!


🏢 Auckland: Once we’d passed through security, we set about playing a round of one of our favourite games: Leftover Currency Golf. This is where you try to buy as many tasty snack items as possible using any remaining cash, and then count up your change to calculate your score. Lowest score wins!

🌺 Hawaii: We joined a very long queue to try the most famous noodles in town at Marugame Udon. We were surprised to see such strong Japanese cultural influence here, but we read that Japanese people were actually the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii, a result of the long tradition of relations between the two. Anyway, the food was delicious and tasted just like Japan.


🏢 Auckland: We boarded our flight and Oli took full advantage of the New Zealand wines while I watched Nomadland. Then it was time to try to get some sleep before beginning our Tuesday all over again in the morning…

🌺 Hawaii: We arrived back at our hotel, exhausted from our two Tuesdays.

Auckland strikes back

We returned to Auckland on a trusty InterCity coach, and while these aren’t exactly tour buses, I’ve come to appreciate the freestyle commentary that some of the drivers take great pride in imparting along the route. Today’s driver Brian, however, gave by far the longest and most irrelevant spiel of all, which covered topics such as: yesterday’s weather, the seat belt configuration on buses other than the one on which we were riding, and how to load luggage on to subsequent connecting buses. He did his best to maintain order and keep to schedule on a very busy route, but we could tell Brian had accepted that some things were just beyond his control. This was summed up perfectly when a couple of guys arrived to board the coach just as it was pulling away, and Brian spent the next five minutes chastising them over the tannoy. To be fair to Brian, he wasn’t visibly angry, you could tell by the tone of his voice he was very disappointed. The irony of his next lengthy tirade about how we shouldn’t take phone calls on the bus in case we disrupted fellow passengers was not lost on any of us.

Having a second shot at Auckland gave us the time to visit some sights that were further afield and that we didn’t manage to squeeze into our first visit. The first of these was the suburb of Devonport, located on a spit of land opposite downtown Auckland and easily reached via a short ferry. The suburb itself looks like a very comfortable place to live, with the perfect balance of quiet local life and proximity to the city centre. We enjoyed strolling the sunny streets and browsing the shops, before settling down at Corelli’s for brunch. Here, Sara enjoyed a generous helping of bacon and creamy mushrooms on wholegrain toast, which has swooped in and stolen the top spot on her list of NZ brunches.

Just behind Devonport is Mount Victoria, which is quite an impressive-sounding name for a 66m hill. Still, it occupies a great vantage point over Auckland’s harbour and has long been used as a defensive fort, first by the Māori and later by European settlers. Today, the hill functions as a public park, so we joined in with what most other Devonporters seemed to be doing, and climbed it in an attempt to work off our brunch. It was a little breezy at the top, in case you can’t tell!

Having been feeling a little under the weather since arriving in Auckland, I took our first day to recover while Sara went out for dinner alone. She returned with such rave reviews of the Ramen joint across from our hotel that I was keen to make it my recovery dinner, meaning Sara had to eat there two days running. I could tell it must have been really good as she didn’t seem at all upset at the prospect! As well as offering a traditional tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, this place also specialises in sesame ramen, which we both tried. This turned out to be a deliciously rich and salty broth – the kind where the first mouthful makes your tastebuds dance, but by the last mouthful you’re totally defeated.

We also failed to visit Auckland Domain’s Winter Garden on our last visit, having previously arrived too late in the day. This time, things were different (by luck rather than skill!), and we enjoyed a lovely stroll around two beautiful glass houses and a fernery.

It felt very fitting to end our nearly two-month trip to New Zealand in the same city in which we arrived. Auckland really grew on us too, I think helped by better weather and staying in a more central location on our second visit. Having said that, Auckland still felt worlds away from the rest of the country, and couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the desert-like mountains of Central Otago or the wild west coast of the South Island. We were very sad to say goodbye, but as always, excited about the next leg.

Walking in a thermal wonderland 🎶

We began our time in Rotorua with a casual stroll around the town and along the lakeside. At first glance, it’s just your average NZ town, until you start to notice the little pools of bubbling mud and steam rising from all over the place. And then, of course, there’s the pungent, eggy smell of sulphur that lingers in pockets, catching you out when you least expect it. That’s because Rotorua sits within the Taupō volcanic zone, which is an incredibly active geothermal area. Even the picturesque Lake Rotorua, on which the town sits and which looks very benign, is actually a volcanic caldera!

Lake Rotorua

A walk through Government Gardens made for a pretty interesting combination of Māori heritage, European-style park landscaping and wild nature, but this was really just the beginning of the geothermal activity we would see.

Later in the day, we wandered through Kuirau Park, which had free foot spas that made use of the hot spring water, and more geothermal curiosities, including smoking piles of rock, bubbling pools of mud and a whole steaming lake. Again, though, this was just a warm up for what was to come tomorrow.

For the afternoon, we switched tack to see the other side of what Rotorua had to offer. Much like Queenstown on the South Island, Rotorua specialises in outdoor adrenaline activities, with a gondola to whisk visitors up Mount Ngongotaha to take part in things like mountain biking, ziplining and a 150 km/h sky swing. Seeing as we’d missed out on both the gondola and the luge track in Queenstown, we thought it was about time to put this right.

The view from the top, with one of the luge tracks on the left

I made sure to get my money’s worth by going down the luge SO slowly that at one point Oli had to stop entirely to wait for me to catch up. Safety first!

To be honest, the biggest adrenaline rush probably came from our bus journey back into town, when we were picked up by an incredibly enthusiastic driver who wouldn’t accept our bus fare (we’re still not sure it was actually a public bus) and spent the entire journey frantically giving us emphatic recommendations for the local area while maintaining eye contact in the rear-view mirror and not looking at the road at all. The whole thing was both alarming and heartwarming, such was his level of enthusiasm. He even left his engine running in the middle of a busy road and hopped off the bus to point us in the direction of the Thursday night market, which was our next stop.

Here, we joined the longest queue we could find (always a good sign) and shared some of the locally-famous Johney’s dumplings as well as a satisfyingly spicy portion of channa masala and rice, all while enjoying some live music from the two-piece band.

The following day, we started bright and early with an attempt to visit the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland 30 km south of town using only public transport and our own steam. We’d read online that this was just about possible, as long as we were prepared to do quite a bit of road walking and spend all day there to fit with bus times. A long day and the possibility of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere? Sign us up!

Our first hurdle was to get into the geothermal area containing the Lady Knox geyser, since we’d read online that pedestrians weren’t allowed to enter and we saw a huge sign saying the same. We thought that was a bit ridiculous and thankfully the person we spoke to at the visitor centre said it was fine, as long as we were VERY CAREFUL of the traffic while walking along the road. Well yes, we do know to avoid cars (of which there were very few) – we’d assumed it had more to do with the risk of falling into hidden ditches filled with boiling water!

Anyway, Lady Knox erupts every morning at 10.15am, which sounds impressive until you find out that one of the guides pours in organic soap powder and this sets it off. Exactly how this works is still a mystery, since their explanation was rather vague. But I have to say that seeing the occasional soapy bubble floating out of the erupting geyser did add a bit of comedy to the proceedings.

After this somewhat odd spectacle, we spent most of the rest of the day on the walking trails exploring the various geothermal features around Waiotapu. We saw a series of craters, some 15 m across and up to 20 m deep, formed after acidic steam rose from underground and eroded the ground until it caved in. At the bottom of one of the craters is a pool of boiling mud making a pretty ominous sound, which was recorded for use as Mordor sound effects in the Lord of the Rings films. In another crater, birds nest in holes in the walls, with the rising heat helping to incubate the eggs.

The whole area was hissing, bubbling and steaming, with hot waterfalls, unnatural-looking colours and strange deposits forming a landscape that looked unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been, and on a huge scale. It was quite an assault on the senses, but the indiginous population knew how to make the most of this environment, and used the heat for cooking and collected unrefined crude oil from the mud pools to burn in lanterns. We just did our best to stay on the paths and not get ourselves in hot water, which was tricky as I was trying to navigate using yesterday’s map of the luge tracks and couldn’t work out why nothing seemed to fit!

The star attraction is the Champagne Pool, the largest hot spring in NZ with a maximum depth of 62 m, which takes its name from the fizzing of carbon dioxide in the alkaline water. While it looked very appealing on a chilly day, the spring that feeds the pool is 230°C and the water contains such minerals as arsenic, thallium and mercury, so probably not brilliant for a dip…

Even more alarming was the lime-green colour of the Roto Karikitea, or Devil’s Bath, which had a pH of 2 – roughly the same as lemon juice. I know it looks like I’ve filtered this picture, but it really was this bright! Fun fact: the canteen in our University Hall used to serve a cake that was just this shade of green. Funnily enough, we all called it radioactive cake.

Our final stop before catching our return bus were the Waiotapu mud pools, which sat outside the Thermal Wonderland park and were free to visit. These were so mesmerising that we could barely tear ourselves away – it’s difficult to explain why, but they made such satisfying blip blopping sounds and we got really into predicting which mini mud-volcano would erupt next. I know it’s probably hard to believe from the gif below, but it was the best thing we saw all day!

Finally, after a busy and baffling day of geothermal wonderment, we hopped onto the bus to take us back into Rotorua. Then, early the next morning, we set off back to Auckland to complete our figure-eight of NZ and return to where it all began, nearly two months ago.