Never try to plan your birthday when you’re on the road…
I had the perfect plan for my 22nd birthday:
We would wake up early and spend a full, fabulous Tuesday on the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I would finally be able to knock it off my bucket list after leaving it behind last time I was in New Zealand. Sunshine and smiles for year twenty-two.
Except that’s not what the weather forecast was thinking. Not only would my birthday bring rain to Tongariro, but being that it’s still kind of winter, there were also warnings for a dangerous cornice [kor-nes • an overhanging mass of windblown snow or ice usually on a ridge], making the already expert-level adventure too treacherous for us to pursue. Though disappointed, I agreed that we would have to pass on the crossing this time around. If I have made it across the Pacific three times already, what’s a fourth? This just gives me one more reason to come back to the great NZ - to finally do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing once and for all.
Alas, we suddenly had an extra three days to fill and the world right in front of us!!!!!! So we spent the day in Taupo hashing out the details for a suitable backup plan. How about instead, we plan a road trip and drive the East Coast Road like the nice guy on Mount Maunganui recommended? We could go all the way to Gisborne, and then spend two days hiking one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, Lake Whakaremoana! I’d still be able to wake up on a trail for my birthday - another perfect plan!
And yet, our plans were foiled again. We were to hit the trailhead early after spending the night in Gisborne, but against my will, my body had decided to shut down. I woke up with excruciating stomach pains and body aches - thank you jet lag, exhaustion, and dehydration. While my will power told me to do the hike anyway, uncontrollably crying into a cup of tea told me that I would have to take another pass. Time to take a rest day.
We grabbed a “world-famous” pie from Osler’s bakery on our way out of town, and headed straight for Napier. Neither of us knew anything of the place, but it was the nearest city en route to our next destination in Wellington. We arrived midday and splurged for a private room. If we were going to be taking a rest day for my birthday, we were damn sure on getting the optimal amount of rest possible. I literally slept the day away.
So finally, we woke up on my birthday with one last perfect plan. We would take a walk down the beach and spend the day at the National New Zealand Aquarium. How could we go wrong?
Needless to say, it went swimmingly.
I love aquariums. They had an interactive seashell display. They had a coloring station (thank you Kim for the beautiful birthday card). They even had a TUNNEL through one of the tanks. A TUNNEL.
As if the day could even get any better, we went to a killer restaurant for dinner. We got all dressed up - lipstick, heels, and I even straightened my hair. All I have to say is that if I dedicated space to it in my pack, I better be using it.
Napier is apparently known as an art deco capital of the world, so we made a reservation at Masonic Hotel’s 1930s themed restaurant called The Emporium Eatery & Bar - the only place in New Zealand to have made it on the world’s 100 best bars!
They make a mean Old Cuban. AND WE EVEN FOUND PIZZA.
After a delightful birthday dinner, we strolled back to our 2-bed private for dessert: that apple, pineapple, passionfruit pie from the cafe of tears the day before. Kim even got some candles :)
The next morning, on our way out of town, I found an intriguing brochure. Not just any brochure though, a treasure map to murals around the city. Each mural spoke to a different theme of ocean conservation, featuring larger-than-life paintings of marine creatures crawling around urban community spaces. For more information, click on the following image!
Marine conservation + art + urban community planning = literally the coolest thing ever.
So of course, I dragged Kim around the city for another two hours while I gawked at paintings of seabirds, turtles, fish, whales, sharks, and even penguins.
I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a more suitable birthday surprise than an urban treasure hunt for ocean conservation themed murals. Good thing we ended up in Napier.