DAY 143-150: Like a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) we landed in Auckland, New Zealand.  Moving from the most polluted city in the World (apologizes to my Indian friends) into one of the cleanest countries in the world (with New Zealand falling in somewhere between #5 ands #10 in the world based on World Health Organization reports)!  Below are reports from aqicn.org which tracks real-time air quality around the world.  Needless to say, green is much better than red.

After getting our baggage and having a quick jaunt through Customs, we were in our rental car…line.  It took us almost an hour to get our car; I forgot that this was Christmas week and the airport was full of holiday travelers.  Bah Humbug!

We were a little stressed with this rental car delay as our flight had been delayed an hour leaving Singapore and we had a ferry crossing to make.  But luckily, we had built in a large time buffer to account for airline and/or airport and/or traffic issues.  Additionally, our ferry harbor was not in the city proper so we made it with plenty of time to spare.

The kiddos were excited because they knew that my parents – Jerry and Becky – were waiting for them at the rental house.  E & S hadn’t seen their grandparents for 144 days and this was the longest they had gone without seeing at least one of them.

Waiheke Island is located in the Hauraki Gulf and can be found approximately 12 miles from Auckland city center.  The second largest island in the gulf (which it shares with several other islands as well as both new and old volcanos) is the most populated.  It is known for its beaches and wineries and is a popular weekend and holiday spot.  Once we landed, the trees reminded us both of Northern California mixed with Hawaii.  And while the beaches were not of Seychellean (I think I just made up this word!) quality, they were quit lovely.  The water was a different shade of emerald green than we have seen before.

As this was Christmas week, I had booked this house many, many months ago.  It was quite lovely and just a short downhill walk to the beach.

Plus… as a surprise for E & S, the property manager was able to have a real-life Christmas tree waiting for us when we arrived!

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Needing to smell and feel a real Christmas tree

One of the first items of business once we arrived to the house… Jeni and I needed an outdoor run!  We’d been forced to run on treadmills for the past 16-days during our time in India and we were chomping-at-the-bit to get our legs moving on the New Zealand trails.

Jeni will describe the trail runs in her blog post, but suffice to say we were both so excited to be running outdoors.

On day #2, we made the first of many winery visits during the week visiting Mudbrick Vineyard.  Waiheke island is a large wine producing region of New Zealand with a majority of grapes grown being of the red varieties (and Syrah and Merlot as the top red grapes).  And as nice as the views are in Napa Valley, Cali has nothing on some of the views from the wineries we visited.

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Kiddo is wearing his new Christmas hedgehog t-shirt
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That is downtown Auckland on the horizon
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Cannot complain about the weather and the view from the parking lot

The beach near the house was one of the nicest beaches on the island.  The water was a little cold but Jeni and I found some time to get in the water.

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One of the island’s nude beaches is just on the other side of these rocks
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This view just might have been taken from the nude beach…
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Something’s really weird about having Christmas in the Summer

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This week was mostly a week to relax after our numerous traveling days in India… as well as a rest in anticipation of the next 40 days in New Zealand where were are expected to move around 15 more times before we close out NZ with 4-nights in Auckland.

Jeni and I did a few hikes including several of the Te Ara Hura walking tracks.  This trail circumscribes the island – if we had know about this from day #1 Jeni and I might have tried to hike the whole thing during the week.  The scenery was beautiful and I could probably post everyone one of the photos we took but then folks would stop reading the blog.  Below are several of most close up views of the hikes.

The Christmas tradition of a White Christmas and Elf showing continued.  Unfortunately… Die Hard didn’t make it to the screen this time around because we also needed to find time for all three Lord of the Rings movies.  E & S had never seen the movies and Jeni and I wanted them to see the scenery filmed in New Zealand, especially since we were going to be hitting areas used for the movie.  And my father – having just visited Hobbiton – had also never seen the movies.

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Candy.  Candy canes.  Candy corn.  Syrup.
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A little more subdued than usual… but it was still a Christmas tree

We hit a few of the wineries – including a lovely Christmas lunch/dinner at Poderi Crisci and had a few more trips to the beach.  But all-in-all we were just glad to spend the holidays with the Bepko Grandparents – keeping a streak of 16-consectutive Christmases that E & S have spent with the Bepko Grandparents.

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Before we knew it, the week was up and we headed back to the ferry for the trip back to the mainland.  My parents were going to spend a few days in Auckland before taking a cruise back to Australia.  The rest of us were heading on to the thermal area of Rotorua.

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Last goodbyes for at least 6-months

We had a great week of relaxation on Waiheke Island but Jeni and I were so excited to get a chance to show our kiddos the beauty of New Zealand.  Off to tour the North Island!

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Until we meet again Waiheke Island