Sunday, November 07, 2010

Geo-thermal heat & a NZ Blizzard

Central North Island is all about shaking and jiving. Of the earth's plates that is. You can smell that you are approaching Rotorua before you can see it. That eggy sulfur aroma fills your nostrils and you know you are in the land of sizzling streams, smoking lakes and exploding mud (either that or you are dangerously close behind Uncle Dan). Rotorua has always been revered by the Maori (NZ's indigenous population) and today 35% of the it's population is Maori. There is an interesting Anglican church in a traditional Maori village called Ohinemutu inside Rotorua which has successfully integrated ancient Maori traditions (mainly carvings in building structure) with Christianity. In the village was also a traditional meeting hut along with various other beautifully detailed Maori carvings. After exploring the church we went for the cheap geo-thermal thrills in Kuirau Park. Most of the geysers and hot pools in the area are on privately owned land and therefore cost money to see. Kuirau Park is right in the centre of town for all to admire. This volcanic area has a large steamy crater lake, several pools of boiling mud and a couple hot mineral baths for dipping. The most recent eruption in the Park was in late 2003 which left most of the park, including the trees covered in mud! Fortunately/unfortunately there was no such mud bath during our visit.

We headed further south to Taupo, the crater of a massive volcano disguised as a lake. After milling about the lake for a bit we headed into town and, seeing Merrells on sale, found ourselves in an outdoors store. Barry, the young Kiwi sales assistant was knowledgeable and friendly, telling us all about the surrounding area, the volcanoes in Tonganariro National Park, and the benefits of Merino wool socks. He told us that the volcanoes are still very active and in 2007 a small earthquake accompanied the eruption and a poor hiker in a hut on the mountain lost his leg when lahar (like lava) flew through the door! Jeez Louise!

Before venturing into volcano land, we indulged our sweet tooth at the Honey Hive. This magnificent store had active bee hives in glass enclosures, bee stats, bee movies, bee books, and, most importantly honey. Of the free sampling variety.What a delicious way to spend and hour... or two. Did you know that a worker bee (always infertile females) only live about 6 weeks and make a total of 1/2 teaspoon of honey over their entire lives?!

Next to the Honey Hive was Huka Falls. 22,000 litres of water every minute cascade dramatically over 10m into a swirrling pool. Its not quite as magnificent as Niagara, but it lacks the suffocating hotels and tacky souvenir shops, which is a major bonus. The water is moving so fast that the falls is a beautiful aqua colour, a result of the massive amount of oxygen mixed with the water.

We were lucky enough to learn about a free campsite beside a emerald green river and headed there for the night. There was a sign at the entrance that said the site didn't open until Nov 1st. It was Oct 29th, but the camp was quite busy. Jonathan went on a quest to get to the bottom of the situation and returned with new Kiwi friends Bill and Lindy. And Lindy arrived with cake for us! Delicious home made ginger and coffee cakes, which we devoured for dessert. Such treats are of high demand in these parts, we discovered when a dozen tiny ducklings bravely waddled up to our feet and did what I'm sure was their best attempt at puppy eyes. Who can say no to cute little fluffy ducklings begging for just the tiniest bite of cake and a cuddle. Who are we trying to kid. I can. This is cake we are tallking about here. Ducks eat weeds, not cake. (My aunts are now saying 'awwwwwww, Kristen is so mean!') Anyways, Bill explained that this perfect campsite had been left to the community as a free campsite in a will. Since then the township has been trying to close it down, but for some legal reasons they can't. Yaa for the law!

We ventured into the Volcano lair the next day. The three peaks of Tongariro National Park were a gifted to NZ in 1887 by the local tribe who saw this as the only way to preserve the area of spiritual significance. This makes Tongariro NZ's first National Park and the fourth National Park in the World. We spent 2 days hiking in the mountains. Other than the volcanoes we saw stunning waterfalls, gold coloured streams, a river adorned with dozens of inukshuks and water flowing through cream terraces. On one hike, on a relatively sunny afternoon we felt a cold breeze blow over us, and low and behold, it was snowing. Not huge flakes or swirrling gales, but beyond a doubt, snow. Last week I was in my bathing suit on a beach and today it is snowing. It was magical. Until Jonathan started humming ' Walking in a Winter Wonderland.' Camping is cold when you are in the mountains, it turns out. After putting on every single piece of clothing we had, and still not getting a wink of sleep we jumped into the front seats, put the defrost on full blast (which we needed, because there was frost on the INSIDE of the van) and took off in search of sun to warm our bones. Its amazing what a difference a bit of warm morning sun can make.

From the Park we headed to Windy Wellington, the Nation's Capital on the southern tip of the North Island. There were flags everywhere 'Wellington-Named by Lonely Planet as the Best Little Capital on Earth' or something like that. And it was impressive. Wellington has a huge magnificent harbour, beautiful beaches and lots of walk ways all right downtown. Like in Vancouver, everyone we saw looked fit and practically glowed of good health. Intimidating. Do they even sell ice cream here? Because I can't find any. Our first port of call was the National Museum, 'Te Papa' which loosely and affectionately translates to 'Our Museum.' Fitting. Te Papa is hugely interactive. You can touch, play with, light up, listen to or watch in 3D almost every exhibit. Plus, it's free. Our guide book says the museum is an 'innovative celebration of the essence of NZ' which sounds about right. Te Papa has the world's only Colossal Squid on display along with Maori art, lively displays of NZ culture over the decades, photography, trees, birds, sea life, geography and geology. Fascinating.

NZ fact: Similarities in language between Maori and Tahitian indicate close contact in historical times. Maroi is about as similar to Tahitian as Spanish is to French, despite the 4294km separating these island groups!

NZ fact: The Mouse that Roared: In 1984 Prime Minister David Lange barred nuclear -powered or armed ships from entering NZ waters. As a result the US threw NZ out of ANZUS, the country's main strategic military alliance which also included Australia , delaring NZ 'a freind but not an ally.' In 1987 the idea became law with the 'Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament & Arms Control Act.' NZ continues to demonsrate it's conscience through it's current un-involvement in Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Jon - is that you repelling down beside the Falls?
Kristen - not at all suprised you didn't share your cake with the little duckling. LOL
Great Stories!!

Erica said...

LOVE IT ALL!!! So glad you are having an amazing time!! Seriously, so great! and still cant wait to see Bali pictures

karly said...

heyy.. yea now you know how it feels to have snow!! lol im not the only one in the mountains!! u are mean i would've shared my cake! love u xoxoxo o n if u want to stay at another hotel around your world trip let me know n i cant check it out!! luv u

Anonymous said...

Remember John you only have to out run Kristen not the sea lions.
Glad your having fun.
La Dolce Vita.