Joined February 2020 Message
  • Day7

    Day 7: Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

    March 4 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 66 °F

    More Waiotapu Observations:

    - The Taupo Volcanic Zone, that Waiotapu is part of, includes the White Island volcano that erupted a few months ago... I feel super safe now.
    - Sam & Janelle are pros at getting us to the busy attractions before the crush of people
    - It's hard to take good photos of many of the interesting geothermal features. A lot of them involve obscuring steam, or weird sounds and smells.
    - Cell phone might still work after dropping them into a thermal feature (if the couple I saw drop theirs into the Sinter Terraces is any indication)
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  • Day7

    Mud Pools, Lady Knox Geyser & Huka Falls

    March 4 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 64 °F

    Tour Day #3 started with my first rain-camping experience. The only benefit of the rain was it partially drowning out the late-night celebrations of the paragliding club that was camping in the site next to ours.
    The dreary start was made better by Sam & Janelle making us eggs and bacon for breakfast! But I could tell I was a little out of it when I managed to pour a large amount of salt into my coffee, instead of sugar. Thankfully, my kind camp mates didn’t allow me to drink it, despite the certain comedic value it would have provided.

    We packed up our wet tents and got onto the road to make sure we arrived at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in time to see the Lady Knox Geyser go off at 10:15. We stopped to see the largest mud pool in NZ before joining the large crowd seated around the white cone of the geyser. We were all prepared to be amazed by the entirely ‘natural’ wonder of a geyser erupting with Old Faithful-like predictability. Imagine our surprise when 2 women came out to stand beside the cone - surely a dangerous position given the imminent explosion of steaming hot water!. They proceeded to explain that Waiotapu was once a prison labor camp, and men washing their clothes in the warm thermal spring discovered that their laundry soap would cause the spring to erupt. Obviously, none of us had done our research about the Lady Knox ahead of time, so we watched in bemusement as they brought out a big bag of soap and poured it into the white cone to generate a 20m fountain. Impressive? Interesting? Sure! But not at all what we expected.

    We hiked around the beautiful Geothermal Park afterward (see a later post about this) and continued on towards Taupo. We stopped at Huka Falls to see the incredible flow of icy blue water rumble through the gorge and erupt out over the shallow falls.

    Daily Observations:
    - Turns out, you can fit bus through there 😊
    - Surprisingly, the Waiotapu Thermal Park and all its bubbling, steaming features had nothing on the sulphur smell at our campsite in Rotorua

    * Group photo credit to Aine
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  • Day6

    Day 6: Maori Feast

    March 3 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 70 °F

    After setting up camp, we ended the 2nd day of the tour at the Tamaki Maori Village. Other than what I learned from Moana (which surprisingly is a great deal – Did you know Heihei is actually the Maori word for chicken?!!), my knowledge of Maori culture was pretty limited. The night’s festivities put a good dent in that ignorance.

    Our viewing spot was terrible, but my dragon boating-heart went pitter-patter when the men of the village paddled in in their waka (canoe). We were treated to an impressive and intimidating welcome ceremony (powhiri) that included a haka dance. Maori traditional culture isn’t exactly a model of gender equality, so a male representative of our shuttle bus-tribe accepted their invitation for us to enter the village where we moved around different demonstrations of the Maori traditions & customs. We saw wood carving, basket weaving, games and dance. My tribe’s “chief” chose me to participate in the stick game (he could sense my innate ability) where a group of us stood in a circle, each held a large staff in one hand, and tried to reach the next person’s staff before it fell after the caller directed us to move around the circle in a particular direction. I won’t say that I have a profession contract in my future, but negotiations are in the works. 😊 We capped off the fun and games with watching the men of the group learn and perform a traditional haka dance of their own.

    The remainder of the evening was mostly about the food. We experienced a traditional hangi, which is not unlike a luau. The vegetables and meat are cooked underground with hot rocks. No whole pigs here, though. It’s mainly chicken and lamb. We also got to try the green-lipped mussels unique to NZ. I left full, especially after they brought the passion fruit-drenched pavlova dessert (dairy free!!).

    Surprisingly, the bus ride back to camp was almost as entertaining as the entire village experience. Our linguistically-talented driver treated us to greetings in so many different languages and authentic accents that I quickly lost count. He had the whole bus rolling in the aisles, especially as he circled the roundabout by camp at least 5 times singing “Here we go round the ‘Maori’ bush”. Classic!!
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  • Day6

    Day 6: Rotorua

    March 3 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 77 °F

    After a glorious al fresco sandwich buffet that made us the envy of the rest stop, we drove down to Matamata to drop off several people for their Hobbiton tour. Although the pineapple at lunch was tasty, there's always room for ice cream! Sam took us to One Road Ice Cream Company in Tirau, a handmade ice cream shop with a friendly owner that takes a lot of pride in his delicious ice cream & sorbet (I had the passion fruit).
    Tirau was also our introduction to the quirk of "big things". Small towns in NZ who want to increase tourist traffic build big things to pull them in. Tirau has a big herding dog & sheep. In my opinion, totally worth the stop.

    We had several options for activities in the afternoon. Even though Rotorua is the birthplace of zorbing, I didn’t quite have the desire to put my body through the abuse of sloshing around inside a human hamster ball. And based on Gordy & Jaimie’s video of their experience, I also wasn’t ready to get quite that intimate with my tour mates. 😊 Instead, I opted for the Skyline luge track. Marty (from TX) joined me, and we had fun getting to know each other better between sled rides down the mountain. I especially enjoyed the “scenic” track that took you past a mid-hill event space where guests could luge in and park their sleds to join the party. We hurried through our luging to make sure we had enough time to visit the Volcanic Hills Winery tasting room at the top of the gondola. Brent, the wine maker, was very chatty (to the point where we were afraid we would miss our bus). But, I did learn he worked for several years at a vineyard in the Willamette Valley – small world.

    We did make the local bus into Rotorua to meet back up with the Flying Kiwi at the iSite, and we had just enough time to take a quick stroll to the lakeside park to see some of the geothermal vents that were responsible for the rotten egg, sulphur smell permeating the town.
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  • Day6

    Day 6: Waihi & Hauraki Rail Trail

    March 3 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    Day 2 of the tour. We backtracked down the Coromandel Peninsula to Waihi for a coffee stop & a gander at the mine pit there. It was also our daily cycling opportunity.
    Today was a very nice ride along the Ohinemuri River on an old rail track. It was 17km of distractingly pretty scenery (as Hannah later found out). Lots of old railroad paraphernalia that would have delighted Jaimie’s 5-year-old son.
    Suspension bridges, 1km-long tunnels (an engineering feat to be sure), gorges - the ride had it all. Unfortunately, I did come around a corner to find Hannah on her back on the side of the gravel trail with blood streaming from her knee. She wasn’t too badly hurt and thankfully was able to get back on her bike to finish the ride.

    The larger group of us did have a fun time finding the pickup spot in the Karangahake Gorge, but eventually sorted it out after a WhatsApp call back to home base.
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  • Day5

    Day 5: Cathedral Cove w/ Flying Kiwi

    March 2 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 75 °F

    So, the tour begins! After leaving my Herne Bay home away from home, I once again braved the Auckland bus system with my luggage and met up with the Flying Kiwi tour.

    I watched as all the prior tour participants hugged & wished each other farewell. No one seemed ambivalent about their tour completion, so I took that as a good sign that I was in for a fun time.

    Sam & Janelle are our guides for the majority of the next 24 days. There are 23 of us starting out on the tour today: Germans, Canadians, Irish, British, Spanish, Bulgarians, Chinese (HK), & Americans compose the group. We all introduced ourselves, added a couple of songs to the bus playlist, and shared our desired superpower.

    We headed out to the Coromandel Peninsula and stopped in Tairua for lunch. I surrounded myself with British Isles-dwellers: Aine (Ireland and my seat mate), Hannah, Jaimie, Gwynne, Aaron (U.K.). Our food took the entire hour we were allocated for lunch to make, but even in a ToGo box, it was delicious. 😋

    Our first scenic stop was Cathedral Cove (along with a fair amount of other tourists). It was a 30-ish-minute hike down to the beach, but was definitely gorgeous, as you can see from the pics.

    Many decided to brave the rough, and fairly chilly waters for a swim. I stuck to some light photography...

    Daily Observations:
    ~ Estimated hiking times on kiwi signs seem fair (take note BC)
    ~ It’s the 2nd “surprise” hill that kills you
    ~ My day-packing skills need work
    ~ From our first encounters, SO GLAD I didn’t choose one of the other hop-on-hop-off bus tours
    ~ Flock in Tairua has slow lunch service

    Unsolicited Trump jokes = 3
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  • Day5

    Day 5: Eeek!! I’m Camping!!!

    March 2 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 70 °F

    It’s probably been about 20+ years since I’ve slept in a tent. God, help me.

    We were given the option to bike into camp the first evening. We, however, were not given the option to do it without the hills... we were warned about the first one. The second one was a ‘bonus’. Of course, the ONLY reason I had to walk my bike up both was on my physical therapist’s orders not to climb on the pedals (thanks, Ari).

    Nevertheless, we made it and cycled in to a very nice camp ground that made me very regretful I hadn’t upgraded to one of their cute, modern cabins. Well, no getting out of tent sleeping.
    Sam provided a very thorough explanation on the basics. Much to Aine’s disappointment, the demo tent was his own. We had the tents up in no time and lined up excitedly for Janelle’s delicious dinner (prepped solo for almost 30 people in under an hour!)

    I’ll skip over the evening activity, since those pics will show up in a later post.

    Showers - fair. Lots of hot * cold fluctuations
    Bugs - minimal
    Sleeping bags - warm
    Tents - not musty
    Sleeping mats - not as plush as I’d unrealistically expected
    Tent position - far enough away from snoring and ‘other’ noises
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  • Day5

    Day 5: Relaxing at Hot Water Beach

    March 2 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 66 °F

    So, at low tide, this very unique beach on the Coromandel peninsula has geothermal features that allow you to dig holes into the sand that will fill with spring-warmed water that create natural hot tubs you can soak in. Some “tubs” are warmer than others, and there are even places that are too hot to touch. [Eddie Murphy’s James Brown bit floats through my head]

    Sam guided us down to the beach, explaining the significance of the silver fern to Maori culture and pointing out possible glow worm locations. We did a bit of digging ourselves, but mainly took his advice to scavenge other people’s digging efforts. Janelle arrived a bit later after sorting the kitchen to document the event & do some of her own relaxing

    Hot Beach Observations:
    ~ Awesome hot tub, but sand in very undesirable places
    ~ “Hold the wall” (the first rule of Hot Beach
    ~ watch out for burnt feet & butt cheeks
    ~ tree roots are invisible at night
    ~ pretty sure Sam was having us on about the glow worms here
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