New Zealand: An Unexpected Journey


article by Dean Nelson @GayWhistler PART 1 OF 2

An Unexpected Journey to Middle Earth

I really enjoyed my flight with Air New Zealand from Vancouver to Auckland, non stop on their Boeing 777-200. I arrived in plenty of time to YVR – Vancouver International and was greeted by a friendly smiling face behind the Air New Zealand premium checkin counter. The agent said, “Mr. Nelson, we had been expecting you!” I had been upgraded from economy to premium economy. I was really excited as I thought I would be able to try out the airline’s “cuddle class” known as their skycouch however on the 777 that seat category is unavailable (sky couch will be in service starting in October 2015 from Vancouver to Auckland).

I was able to use the electronic boarding pass on my apple watch which made going through security really easy, however checking in to the Air Canada (Code-shared with Air New Zealand) Maple Leaf Lounge, I had to remove the watch so it could pass under the scanner. Not very practical, but the novelty was fun. Boarding the flight to Auckland, the gate agents only wanted to see the paper boarding pass that had been stamped proving your international travel documents had been verified, so could not use the Apple travel feature for this international flight.
GayWhistler with Air New Zealand and Apple Watch

I had a good seat, 24A, for the outbound flight I did not see the sunset (a K seat would have been better) even though I had the whole row to myself I could not lay across the seats as the arms of the chairs are permanent, though had a lot of leg room and managed to get a good night sleep.

I suspect the Airline’s safety video must have played in and out of my subconscious with their captivating tale of Middle Earth and flying safe.

When I arrived into Auckland I was greeted by maori warriors and of course by the massive Weta Workshop dwarf sculpture. I had an idea of what my trip to New Zealand was about, but when I jumped into my rental car and zoomed my way down the highway towards Rotorua I began my unexpected adventure! I was really taken with the beautiful green rolling hills, the highway was easy to drive (once I wrapped my brain around I needed to be on the right side) and made excellent time. Since I had arrived so early in the morning I was able to make Hobbiton my first stop.
GayWhistler visits Hobbiton
I really had not planned to take in the sites of the film set of the epic “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” blockbuster movie franchise, but since I was here I thought I should check it out. It was, after all, on my way to my destination. There was something really special stepping onto this farm in the middle of nowhere that suddenly you are swept into the movie magic and could imagine seeing Bilbo and his cohorts mingling about the Hobbit village. We learned how Peter Jackson was able to make the actors appear smaller or bigger depending on the shot. It was all very fascinating and really glad I made the stop.

Next up was to take in the adrenaline roll down the hill with a Zorb. Imagine what it would be like to be like “Ant Man” and get shrunk down and get swept up in a ball racing down a hill… well, no shrinkage needed with Zorb… just dive in and enjoy the roll down the hill.

After being tossed about it was time to continue my journey towards Rotorua. I had been traveling now for some 26-hours and thought it would be best to check in to my hotel.

After checking in and relaxing for a bit, aka a quick 30-min power nap, I found my second wind and was off to explore this wonderful Geo-Theromal city. The scent of sulfur became quite nostalgic for me as I had been here some 14-years prior and had many good memories. The city had grown a lot since my first adventure and really did not recall too many familiar places other than Whakarewarewa – the living Maori Village.

After wondering the village and taking in the Maori culture I headed to my “perfect cure” forGayWhistler at Polynesian Spa jet leg… a night at the spa! As the sun faded behind the hills across Lake Rotorua I checked in for my hot springs experience under the starry sky.

The Polynesian Spa is one of the oldest commercial hot springs in the Southern Hemisphere dating back to 1878. The alkaline pool Whangapipiro (now known as Rachel Spring) and the acidic pool Te Pupunitanga (referred to as Priest Spring) have both been used by the Maori for generations for their therapeutic, healing and curative properties.  The spa experience was wonderful.  It reminded me of the Onsens in Japan.  The primary difference is in New Zealand all the thermal pools are co-ed and bathing suits are required.  It was wonderful to just relax in the warm waters and stare up into the night sky. The night I was there the facility was fairly quiet so it was like I had the whole place to myself.  Had a great night sleep after.

Travel Resources

– Air New Zealand flies non stop from both San Francisco and Vancouver to Auckland. Visit:
– Car Rentals – I use to see what is out there and then will check the car company direct. In this case I used and rented directly with they had great rates. The only down side was their office did not open until 7AM, so I had to wait at the Airport for 2-hours (5AM arrival) however weighing the extra $70 to have the car 2-hours earlier by using Avis really did not seem like such a good use of my budget (both time and money).
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – was actually quite interesting. It was expensive at $75 but that did included a guided tour and some great Hobbit Lager or non-alcoholic Ginger Beer after the tour.
Zorb Rotorua – just down the road from Hobbiton are a variety of adventure tours to be had including Zorb!
– Need to unwind from an active day? I suggest the Polynesian Spa. It is a full service geothermal spa but if you want any body work done, I do recommend booking well in advance as they do book up quickly.

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