My family got here on Sunday! That morning Michael and I drove to the airport to pick up my mom, dad, and sister who fit surprisingly well in our little car (thanks to them heeding my advice to pack lightly). From there we went to our apartment and had a mini Christmas (that was mostly just them watching while Michael and I opened gifts from everyone), and then drove to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula (east of Auckland). We stayed in a “hostel” (which for us really meant that we had our own two-bedroom suit) that was just across the street from Buffalo Beach, so that day we took it easy with a game of beach cricket. The next day we went to Cathedral Cove, which took about thirty minutes of driving and forty minutes of walking. This is one of the places that Michael and I went early this year and it was just as beautiful as I remembered it. The weather ended up being perfect for a swim at the beach, and after the long walk back we stopped at a (well hidden) brewery for lunch. Later that afternoon my mom, dad, sister and I took some kayaks that were free to borrow from our hostel (because this place is the best) out to the beach and played in the waves.
The next day we went to the highly recommended New Chums beach. It turned out to be a bit of a challenge to get there since the trip required crossing a river and scrambling on some rocks and we went at high tide, but it was well worth it. That afternoon we went to Hot Water Beach, where a hot spring is located under the beach, so at low tide people dig holes in the sand that fill with warm water (like a sandy hot tub). This is another thing that Michael and I had attempted on our previous trip, but this time (because of the convenient lack of approaching cyclones) we were successful.
On Wednesday morning we left in good time to drive back to the city. We got to Auckland around noon and went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. After that we all went to see the newest Star Wars movie (at Michael’s insistence) at the theater nearest our apartment, which has some sort of special IMAX laser projector or something. That night we all met up with a few friends for a delicious dinner at our favorite Jordanian restaurant, then Michael, Sara and I went to a few of our favorite gay bars on K’rd.
We had to leave early for Matakana on New Years Eve (Michael had to work), so we were up bright and early Thursday morning. After a decent breakfast and a quick goodbye to Michael, my family and I drove to rent snorkeling equipment and then made our way to Goat Island Marine Reserve (a place I’ve been wanting to check out for a while). The water was cold, but we saw a ray and a bunch of cool fish. After an afternoon of R&R, we all went to a delicious restaurant called The Stables for dinner. From there, Sara, Michael, and I bar hopped (that is between the two bars in the tiny town of Matakana) and ended up at a busy pub with a pretty decent band when the clock struck midnight. In typical kiwi fashion, no one actually noticed when this happened but joined in a countdown to celebrate at about 12:05.
New Years day brought with it an unfortunate change in weather, so we spent the rainy day watching Suffragette at Matakana Cinemas (where Michael was once again working), and then took a wet, muddy (but surprisingly pleasant) walk through a sculpture garden at a winery.
Saturday brought a second early morning as we had to drive to the Auckland Airport to fly to Napier to visit my uncle, Terry, and aunt, Christine. Even though we got there a couple hours early, we spent most of our time sitting and waiting, because literally the only security we had to deal with was clicking “no” when the self check-in kiosk asked if we’d packed any prohibited material. After we’d gathered our luggage in Napier (directly from the luggage cart outside a sliding door with a sign labeling it “baggage claim”), we had lunch then drove to my aunt and uncle’s house in Hastings.
The next day we went to a huge farmers market where Sara and I bought enough fresh fruit, cheese, and bread to feed the seven of us for a picnic. After seeing a couple of beaches, we drove to a waterfall where Sara and I took a quick swim, then up Te Mata Peak where we got a beautiful view of the many wineries in the area.