After a short wait in line, we got our rental minivan.  It took us a while to figure out how to get everything into the van.  My parents brought way more stuff than we were expecting, so even with a minivan it was a tight fight to get everyone and all of the luggage into the car.  We then set up the GPS and mapped us to our next destination.  Before we left, I found a free Garmin compatible map set of New Zealand and loaded it on our GPS.  You can find the maps here.  This mapset would prove very helpful and accurate in getting us all over New Zealand.  It was then time to actually start driving.  I was pretty worried about driving on the left side of the road.  Not only is it quite strange to drive on the left hand side of the road, New Zealand also has a weird right of way that is confusing if you've spent your entire life driving in the US.  Before you drive in New Zealand, I would suggest reading this brochure.  On the whole, driving wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I did spend several days turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to use the turn signal.  That was probably the biggest difference of sitting on the right hand side of the vehicle while driving.  The turn signals and wiper controls are reversed and it is very hard to retrain your brain after 18 years of doing it the other way.

We had planned a busy first day in an attempt to keep us going and awake until the evening.  It was a 19 hour time zone change from Wisconsin to NZ, and with little sleep on the plane, we knew it would be tough to stay awake until a proper bedtime.  Our first stop was to a grocery store a short distance from the airport.  We loaded up on some groceries we knew we'd need and also bought sim cards for our phones there.  We bought peanut butter and bread so we could have breakfast in our rooms most days.  This saved us a lot of money because most of the places we stayed had very expensive breakfast choices.

The first scenic destination we went to was a small area that had some Kauri trees.  Kauri trees are massive trees found in the northern parts of New Zealand.  Most of the trees are found north of Auckland, but there are a few that can be found south of Auckland.  When we started researching New Zealand, I started reading about Kauri trees and knew that we needed to see a mature Kauri tree during our visit.  Kauri trees are similar to Giant Sequoias.  They are very wide and don't have many branches.  We had originally planned on going to the Waitakere Ranges northwest of Auckland, but decided we didn't want our first experience in New Zealand to be driving through Auckland during Monday morning rush hour.  After quite a bit of digging, I found a short trail that has an 800 year old Kauri tree that you can see.  The trail is the Kauri Loop Trail in the Hakarimata Scenic Reserve.

We followed the GPS to a small parking lot and started hiking on the trail.  It didn't take long to realize New Zealand was going to be quite a bit different than the US.
Start of Kauri Loop Trail
Tyler climbing over the gate to start the Kauri Loop Trail

This trail is nice and short, but it is pretty steep with lots of steps.
Stairs on the Kauri Loop Trail
This was the first of many trails in New Zealand that featured lots of stairs

After a few minutes we reached a large tree.  We didn't think we'd gone far enough for this to be the Kauri tree we were looking for, but it was still big and very impressive.
Erin in front of large tree
Unknown large tree
Unknown species, but a very impressive tree

We continued on the trail and were rewarded with many awesome views. We also noticed how different the plants were in the forests compared to the US. The forests were filled with all kinds of different ferns and trees that we've never seen before.

View of the hillside
Scenic views and wild ferns were everywhere

It didn't take us too long before we reached our destination.  This Kauri tree is estimated to be about 800 years old.  It was massive.
800 year old Kauri tree
Top of Kauri tree
The Kauri trees were simply amazing

There used to be two large trees on this trail, but one of them fell over in the last few years, so there was only the one tree to look at.  The one that fell was still laying on the ground nearby which was a pretty interesting sight as well.  There are also many other younger Kauri trees that you can see in the area.  My parents turned around and headed back to the car, but Erin, Tyler and I continued on through the scenic loop. 

More views of the forest from the scenic trail

Eventually the trail came to the top of the hill and the following view presented itself:

Scenic view from the top of the hill

It was a short walk back to the parking lot where we met up with my parents and began the short drive to our next activity.  We headed a short distance over to Bridal Veil Falls in Waikato.  This falls is about 170 feet tall but very narrow.  We got out of our car at the parking lot and it was a short walk to the top of the falls. 

The top of Bridal Veil Falls

We spent a few minutes at the top then we headed down to the base of the falls.  It was a pretty short, but steep trail to the bottom.

Looking down from the trail to the base of the falls

Here's a few shots of the falls from their base:

Bridal Veil Falls

We then headed back up to the trail head.  I grabbed a few pictures of the trees and ferns along the way.  The vegetation in New Zealand looks so different from the Midwest.  It has a tropical rain forest feel to it.

Vegetation on the way back

When we got back to the van we were all getting hungry so we drove to Raglan to find our first meal in New Zealand.  I quickly spotted a fish and chips place and knew where I wanted to eat.  I got some fresh fish and Erin and Tyler got burgers.  We quickly learned a few things about food in New Zealand.  First, their idea of ketchup is not even close to what we were used to.  Second, they like to put beets on their burgers and third, they make good fish and chips.  The place we ate at was kind of a dump, but the food was quick and good.  We found a little table outside to sit at and eat our lunch.  Then it was time to head to the beach.  We knew Tyler would enjoy seeing the beach and getting a chance to run around after the long plane ride, so we drove out of town and found a spot to park near the beach.  It was beautiful and a big change from the cold an snow of the Midwest that we had just left.

Enjoying the beach at Raglan

We spent some time at the beach and then decided we should drive to our hotel for the night.  We were staying in Waitomo Caves at the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge.  We booked two rooms.  As we found for most of the trip, kids were not free as they typically are in the US, so we paid more for the hotel on most nights than my parents did (NZ $135 for us, NZ $120 for my parents).  The owners of the lodge were great and very friendly.  We got checked in and settled in to our rooms.  We then headed over to the nearby bar and waited around for them to start serving dinner.  By this time we were all exhausted and were nearly falling asleep while eating our dinners.  We walked back to our rooms and promptly went to sleep at around 6:30pm.  It was an amazing first day in New Zealand and we were looking forward to the rest of our vacation.

Continue to Day 2

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