Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Mount Doom

We drove from Rotorua down to National Park, a tiny town named for the nearby Tongariro National Park. We stayed in a cute little lodge used for skiing accomodation in the winter. That night we saw a spectacular sunset over Mt. Ngauruhoe (2287m), otherwise known as Mount Doom in the Fellowship of the Ring Trilogy.

On Wednesday, we did the Tongariro Crossing, sometimes referred to as New Zealand's best one-day walk. The scenery was very unusual and the walk was tough. There was a couple in their 70's on the bus trip in and they amazed us by their ability to handle the trek. It was like the second and third day of the Inca Trail all wrapped into one day. There was a never-ending, steep uphill climb over rocks and boulders and then a scary descent that involved sliding down a steep, sandy hill. I actually had to dig the edges of my hiking boots into the sand to avoid sliding.

As if that was not enough, we decided to add on an extra hour and a half side trip up to the Tongariro summit. At one point we were walking along a sandy ledge on the side of the volcano. I decided not to look down in order to keep going. It was a bit scary! We made it, however, and had a picnic lunch on the top of the summit. It would have been perfect if it weren't for the pesky flies that somehow seemed to know there were people eating lunch way up on top of the barren volcano!

Highlights of the walk included all kinds of spectacular views of Mt. Doom, the huge crater bowl we walked through, the New Zealand army jogging past us as they trained, lunch and views from the Tongariro summit, the Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes. We had to pick up the pace a little in order to arrive back to the parking lot before 4pm. Otherwise, we would have had to spend the night in the park! I don't think the hobbits were acting when they looked exhausted as they made there way through Morder. We were exhausted, too!

Rafting the Kaituna River

Today we went river rafting down the Kaituna River just outside of Rotorua. It is considered a level 5 river rafting excursion primarily because of the 7 meter (21ft) fall that you go down. It is the largest rafting waterfall in the world. Needless to say, Athena and I were a bit unsure about going down this particular river. We read all the brochures, looked at the pictures and the woman at the information place assured us that no one has ever been hurt on the waterfall.

I was really nervous this morning before we set out, but I am really glad I did it.

It was such a rush! We had a really mad Kiwi guide, and a guide in training in our boat. They made the whole trip so much fun. They took our minds off of the steep falls by talking about the giant eels that live in the river -which made us feel so much better as you can imagine! Our group was the first group to go over all the falls. It seemed like we were under water a long time. In fact, when we looked at the photographic evidence of the trip our entire raft disappeared underneath the water before finally bobbing up. It was really exciting! Next time I will go down with my eyes open.


This morning we met Joe for a last breakfast at the Strawberry Alarmclock, a cute little breakfast place in Parnell, a smart area of Auckland. The homes are really nice there. Joe made several recommendations for things we could do in and around Rotorua since he worked at a hospital there for 3 years.

We arrived in Rotorua in the afternoon so we decided to visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley first. This is the newest geothermal are in world. It was created during the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886. Before that, there was no geothermal activity in the area. Now it is a seething hotbed of steaming streams and cliffs and hot springs. We did the two hour walk to the end of the park and got the shuttle back. Inferno Crater Lake was the most beautiful sight because of the amazing blue color of the water. Also, I snapped some photos of Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot spring in the world. It was really interesting to see the photos taken of the area immediately after the eruption at the turn of the century...

Piha and Karekare ('The Piano' beach)

Today we met Joe at Circus Circus, a really great breakfast cafe on Mt. Eden.

He then came along with us to show us around Karekare and Piha beaches.

First, we went to the tourist information center for the Waitakere Range, a wilderness area once full of kauri forests until they were logged almost to extinction. They are starting to make a comeback now.

Next, we drove to Karekare, the beach featured in the movie, 'The Piano'. It is really pristine and beautiful. If you look back at the beach there is almost no sign of civilization. There are few summer homes nestled in the trees, but you can't even see them from the beach. The sand is made from iron and very dark. It is also extremely hot (much hotter than white sand). Joe was very knowledgeable about the movie and he even showed us the tree the posh lady from the movie chose to pee under while her servants held her skirts...We then walked to a nearby waterfall. It was tempting to swim in the pool below it, but then Joe mentioned the eels that live there so we opted not to jump in.

Finally, we drove to Piha Beach, a popular surfing spot. The beaches on the west coast can be very dangerous because of the strong undercurrents. Fortunately, Joe knew about a secret cove where we could swim in a natural wave pool away from the surfers. It was an idyllic spot. I took a picture of it from the hillside above. It was really fun bouncing over the waves after they had crashed on the rocks behind us. Joe told us that when Pearl Jam was in New Zealand Eddy Veder had to be rescued by the lifeguards because of the strong currents. He invited them to the concert that night and told everyone the story.

Back in Auckland, Sky Tower

Here we are back in Auckland and up in the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere (328m). We made dinner reservations for 9pm and went up to the observation deck early to watch the sunset. It was really high and really scary. They even had glass windows in the floor so you could stand on them and look down at the ground. People actually bungy jump off the Sky Tower! I couldn't believe it! I couldn't even watch the video of the people bungy jumping.

Dinner was excellent and the floor in the outer section of the restaurant rotated slowly so we got to see all the way around the Sky Tower while we ate. I guess it makes one complete revolution an hour. We were there for two hours so we revolved twice. We were even lucky enough to catch the holiday weekend firework show on the harbor side as we revolved.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Bay of Islands

On Thursday, we drove up the the Bay of Islands. It is really beautiful.

We went swimming in the bay. I was amazed at how warm it is after swimming in the sea in California. We also took a ferry across to the town of Russell for sunset and an evening meal. It is an idyllic town - so beautiful! I am including some pictures so you can see for yourself. I'll also get Stephen to add his thoughts on the Bay of Islands while I attach pictures...

Auckland, New Zealand

We're back! After a nice visit with family and friends in California and frantically submitting MBA and teaching applications for next year...we are back on the road.

We are now in the beautiful country of New Zealand. We managed to meet up with Alan and Athena once again and we have been exploring Auckland. We arrived here on Tuesday and Stephen and I walked up to the top of Mt. Eden for an amazing 360 degree view of the 'City of Sails'. It was spectacular. Stephen, however, noticed the darkening sky and suggested we head back to the hostel. Unfortunately, we didn't quite make it and we were caught in a brief, tropical torrential rain storm arriving at the hostel absolutely drenched.

On Wednesday, the weather wasn't great either so we decided to head to the Auckland museum (apparently there was a cyclone passing through). It was really good. I especially enjoyed the Natural History section with all the insects and animals because I have not fully grown up yet. I also liked the simulation of a volcano eruption in Auckland. Hopefully, the simulation is the only one we will really experience.

The best part, though, was the Maori cultural show. I am including some video of the haka...the American audience might not know what this is because they do not watch rugby...the haka is the traditional chant the Maori warriors did to intimidate their enemies. It is very intimidating, especially when they are sticking their tongues out as their eyeballs are bulging. I am including a little video performance (please ignore the heads of the people in front of us)! Enjoy!