A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Zorbing

We got up and hopped the bus to the Zorb place. We were the first zorbers of the day. For those of you who don't know what zorbing is, basically, you dive head first into a giant plastic hamster ball, they throw in some water, and then you run down a hill in it. It is soooo freaking much fun. I need to set up my own place around here so that I can go zorbing all of the time. I wish that instead of paying per ride, you could just pay a ton of money and get an all day pass. It would so be worth it. Check out the video to see me zorb. Then we hopped the bus over to Rainbow Springs. The bus wandered around town for a while before dropping us off. I'm pretty sure that you can flag the bus down whenever, wherever, just by waving at it he right way. There doesn't seem to need to actually be a bus stop anywhere. Same with getting off. I don't think there are official stopping places. Whenever you hit the button, the driver goes to the next corner and lets you off. Also, the driver seems to know everybody in town. Our various drivers were waving to people left and right and honking at people. I have surmised that in Rotorua, people don't honk to say "get the crap out of my way," they honk to say "hi." Nobody seemed fazed at all last night when Mark was honking away. The other drivers must have just assumed that he knew a ton of people and not been worried that he was trying to tell them something about the road. At Rainbow Springs, we took the sky gondola to the top of a mountain that overlooked the city and lake. I don't think we saw a single building in the city that could have been more than about 5 stories. It's short and flat and cute. From the top of the mountain, we took these "luge" carts down. There were some decent views, but a lot of the view was blocked by trees. It was fun though. The right way to do it would be to get a multiple luge pass and try the different courses. Unfortunately, we didn't really have the time for that. We had to catch the bus back to the hotel so we could eat lunch and go. The rest of the fam went to Pizza Hut. I had made it this far without having to resort to American restaurant chains, and I wasn't about to ruin it now. I walked down the street our hotel was on because I knew it was gravid with locally-owned restaurants. I noticed a specials board at a Turkish place that listed a vegetarian mezze platter, so I went in and ordered it. The restaurant itself was nice, but the food was awesome. The hummus had just the right acidic kick to make it flavorful enough that you could eat tons of it without getting bored. The orange dip (mostly pepper, or capsicum as NZ calls it) had just the right amount of heat so that you knew it was there, but almost anybody could handle it as it was so subtle. The falafel had the perfect flavor and a good texture too. The cheese on the salad was the second best cheese I've had on this trip (the first being the King Island Brie in Melbourne), and was perfect for the salad itself. The other dips and pieces were excellent as well. The best part was the dolma. Ephesus on Tutanekai street in Rotorua has the best dolmas I have ever tasted in my entire life, and I've had tons of dolmas. Unlike a lot of the ones you get in the US, the rice was perfectly cooked and soft, but not mushy. The inside had tons of flavor and was just the right balance of sweet and tangy. It melted in your mouth and just flowed because it was much looser than anything you get in the US, yet the dolma didn't fall apart at any time. The grape leaves were soft, supple, and not stringy at all. It is definitely in my top 3 things I ate on this trip. So, if you're ever in Rotorua, go to Ephesus on Tutanekai St. and get dolmas. Had I not been completely full because the plate was more than enough food, I would have ordered a whole order of just dolmas on the spot. Then, it was time to come home. We boarded a 20 seat propeller plane in Rotorua and took off for Auckland. I think they're changing it so they can have international flights to Oz, but as of now, the Rotorua airport doesn't have security for you to go through before you get on the plane. It reminds me of my teenage years at the Duluth airport, except much, much smaller. Just the trust that shows makes you feel good about being there. I was sad to go and very not ready to go home.

carting

carting


inside our Rotorua plane

inside our Rotorua plane


View from the cart

View from the cart


View from the gondola

View from the gondola

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Maori people rock

We got on our bus in the morning and headed towards the stink. To be honest, I don't actually mind the smell of sulfur, despite disliking the way egg yellows taste. Our tour guide, Cousin Ben, was extremely knowledgeable. He is a Maori local and so has lots of connections with the area and the people in it. At our first stop was the mud pool area near Wai o tapu. Here, the ground was wet and muddy. The difference between this mud and the mud at home though, was that this mud was boiling. We watched as hot water pushed its way through the mud to the surface, causing the mud itself to jump feet into the air to let it through. The whole area even sounded like it was boiling. If you've ever boiled a thick stew, that's what the ground around us sounded like and looked like. There was popping everywhere. Apparently, the other difference between this mud and the mud at home is that this mud has all sorts of minerals in it. Maybe that's why it's more of a gray color than a brown, I don't know. All over town there are spas that use the (cooled) mud from the area to put on people and make them feel better. However, as the mud is a depletable resource, they do some sort of recycling with it. Our next stop was the Wai o tapu thermal wonderland. Here, there are various thermal pools, mineral buildups, and other signs of the subterranean geothermal activity in the area. The whole area is on/near a fault line that is part of the ring of fire (which also includes Hawaii), so there is plenty of underground excitement going on. On the surface, this appears in many ways. In one hole in the ground, the water and steam escaping apparently sound like deep drums doing some sort of beatbox thing. According to Cousin Ben, Peter Jackson recorded the sound coming from the earth in this spot, spiced it up just a little, and used it in Lord of the Rings as the sound of orcs underground. Cousin Ben himself was an extra orc in the movie. He reports that lots of local Maori were, as they already are really good at making orc noises. (I didn't really understand that comment until later in the day.) While he was talking about what it was like to be in LotR, he also pointed out some mountains overlooking the thermal area and identified it as one of the mountains they taped Legolas running over. Shanaenae was in heaven. This is what she came to New Zealand to see, and didn't think she was going to get to. But here were her LotR sites, and we just happened to stumble upon them. In addition to steaming and boiling water, there was cold water pockets. One such cold water pocket was bright green because it had leeched lime out of the surrounding rock. We're talking green to match the colors of my house green. BTW, cold doesn't mean cold like it come from the tap. Cold just means that it wasn't steaming. It still might be the temperature of hot water from the tap, but compared to the boiling, it's cold. After passing a whole bunch of pockets of water that were steaming, or even boiling in the ground, we passed through another LotR site. Cousin Ben says that they brought in some grass, some plants, and filmed the scene where the Hobbits left Hobbiton (which is only a few hours drive away in Matamata) in a tunnel created by some trees. They did this all after the park was closed to tourists for the day and before they were going to come back the next. I think that's pretty impressive. They also digitally altered the trees from that area to become Ents. When we were done in the main thermal area, we moved over to Lady Knox Geyser. Unlike Old Faithful who erupts every day at calculable times, Lady Knox Geyser, if left to her own devices, erupts every 2 or 3 days, and is erratic. In order to put on a show for the public, the park rangers force a scheduled eruption each day. Basically, the cold water under the ground where the geyser comes out of sits on top of the hot water. When they combine, she erupts. To force them to combine, the rangers break the surface tension by throwing a soap-like substance down into the mouth of the geyser. The cold water mixes with the hot and the geyser begins to erupt. She erupts for quite some time and is taller than a couple of people standing on eachothers' shoulders, although not nearly as tall as Old Faithful. When we were done seeing the results of current geothermal activity, we moved on to see the results of past geothermal activity. I had mentioned that the area lies on a fault line. As a result, there are daily earthquakes in the area. Usually around 4 per day, although not all of them are able to be felt by humans. The hills however, clearly show the results of these earthquakes. The hills have ripples in them, almost like somebody wrinkled a giant blanket and laid it down on the land. These ripples are caused by the constant shifts of the land. They make the immediate area difficult to grow crops on, although there did seem to be a small amount of livestock in the area. Also related to the fault line, there are plenty of volcanoes in the area, both active an dormant. The active ones change the land drastically when they erupt, creating lakes, changing hilltops, moving the land. Cousin Ben walked us through the Waimangu forest area so that we could have a look at how previous eruptions altered the landscape. In some cases, there were even photographs of what the land looked like before as the eruptions happened in the 1900s. As we walked through the forest, Cousin Ben also told us all about the various plants. He showed us some that were poisonous to people, some that the Maori cooked and ate, and the plant that the Maori used to use as TP. It's got a pretty solid leaf that actually feels like it's made of plastic. The only way I could tell it wasn't was because I saw him pick it off a living tree. It even makes good paper as one side is white and holds ink well. We got to the valley area of the volcanic mountains and saw some more thermal activity in addition to a baby blue pond. This pond was not a normal pond color. Just like the lime green pond in the Wai o tapu area had leeched lime from the rocks, this pond was leeching silicon from the rocks. After viewing the water holes left behind by the volcanic activity, we went to the top of the mountain for a snack. I had real cola nut cola (organic, caffeine free) with my lunch. It was eye opening. Just like Capri Sun fruit punch tastes sugary and fake when you're used to real juice, this cola put all the fake colas like Coke and Pepsi to shame. It tasted earthy and real (because it was). If you ever see it, try it. I also had a caramel "slice" that was delicious. Based on the raspberry "slice" I had on the way down, I've decided that "slice" is one of my new favorite desserts. I just hope there are recipes on the internet under "slice" because I don't really know the word for what exactly it is a slice of. If you base it on the number of pictures I took, we had already done more in just that morning than we had done most other full days. But the day was far from over. We headed out to the local redwood forest. "Wait," you say. "Redwoods aren't native to New Zealand." No. No, they're not. About 100 years ago, a company decided to start some plant experiments. They planted trees from all over the world, including California Redwoods. Because the volcanitc ash leaves the land very fertile, in only 10 years, the trees have grown to massive sizes. While their biggest trees are still only normal size for the California Redwood forest, you have to remember that the NZ trees are about 100 years old and the CA ones are hundredS. I don't doubt that in another hundred years NZ may have some of the largest living redwoods. We headed over to an area near where Cousin Ben used to live. Here, the green lake met the blue lake. Why are they called that? Well, he green lake looks green and the blue lake looks blue. Despite the fact that they are only about 3 road widths apart, they have drastically different coloration. The last place Cousin Ben took us to was the Buried Village. Basically, people had set up a tourist town ear the volcano. It erupted, covering the town with ash. Instead of leaving it for hundreds or thousands of years like Pompeii was left, people rediscovered it less than 100 years after the eruption and started unburying it. It still contains so me mostly in-tact artifacts from the past, but many of the houses are at least partially made of materials that biodegrade and therefore are biodegrading if they are not protected. Additionally, there is a lovely waterfall on the site that is worth the walk unless you can't really do stairs at all. Mom and I did a supermarket/souvenir shop walk when we got back. It was funny that we couldn't find dried kiwi fruit anywhere. The grocery store was pretty similar to US grocery stores, although some of the flavors were different. Just like in Australia, there were tons of chicken flavored chips. We got back just in time to get picked up for our evening event. We were going to a Maori hangi (feast). Our driver, Mark, got us prepared for the event. First, he explained "kia ora" to us. That phrase is a both a coming and going greeting, thank you, you're welcome, but literally translates to something like "I'm glad to be alive." He explained this by giving the translation for something like 54 countries. While Australia, UK, and US were similar, he did the accents perfectly, making it harder. Beyond that, in some languages (like Polish) hello changes based on the time of day and he hit both the morning and the evening greetings. Plus, a bunch of the languages were reasonably obscure. I was impressed. He then turned us into a proper tribe with a proper chief. He told us and our chief what to do and how we would get greeted. The Maori apparently show off by doing some dances with spears, making orc noises (Cousin Ben suddenly made sense here), and sticking out their tongues. They then lay down a branch. If the visitors come in peace, their chief picks it up and backs away. Then the local chief and the visiting chief greet by breathing each others' air. It looks like a nose kiss, but there is no rubbing the noses, only breathing in. When we arrived, the ceremony went just like Mark told us it would. I didn't quite get the orc noises and the tongue thing until I was there. It's one of those things you just kind of have to see to understand. Then, the Maori acted out a piece of their history. They are really bad actors, but we understood what was going on. They left their play in the middle and invited us in to their recreation of a pre-European Maori village. The village was neat. They had buildings that showed how they stored food, they had people showing how they would have trained, and tons of intricate carvings all over. You could almost imagine being there before the Europeans invaded. They brought us to the meeting house to complete the play. Only, they left us hanging. They didn't tell us what happened. There was no conclusion, which made it seem like there was no plot. But that was fine with me. They spent the rest of our time in the meeting house dancing and singing. They may not be great actors, but they sure can sing. The songs were in the Maori language, so I didn't understand the words, but I sure did understand the music. It was lively and entertaining. With the drum beating in the back and the sound of the clapping sticks in the front, I was in love with their songs. (I even bought a Maori CD later.) Plus, the girls had these white balls on strings and were swinging them around in rhythm and unison. In some ways the whole thing reminded me of the Polynesian show at Disney World. However, this was much more real. You could tell that these people were not professional dancers/performers who were taught cultural dances, but were real Maori who were taught to perform. I had a lot of fun. After the dancing, they brought us in for dinner. Dinner was supposedly cooked in a hangi. A hangi is a pit of rocks that are heated by fire, then covered with food and dirt. The layer of dirt insulates the whole thing and allows the rocks to retain their warmth long enough to cook the food. The actual food they put out was pretty normal. There were a few kinds of meats, some veggies (or veges as they're spelled there), and some salads that were clearly not cooked in the hangi. The most interesting vegetable was the kumara potato. It is a sweeter potato with some flavor, but it looks just like a yellowish potato. It is not the orange thing we associate with the term sweet potato. I liked it a lot. Now I just have to see if Wegmans carries it. The other thing that excited me was dessert. Again, I had pavlova, Australia's food, in New Zealand. It was damn good. I went for seconds. On our bus ride home, Mark was up to some antics again. He is hilarious! First, he had all of us sing our national anthems with him- and he knew them all. Then, he somehow manages to get a bus full of adults to sing "the wheels on the bus" and honks along with the part that goes "honk honk honk." Crazy. It was a great end to a great day though, as I would rate today as one of the best days of the whole trip. A lot of what made the day great were the various super-friendly and absolutely hilarious Maori people. Both Cousin Ben and Mark had great senses of humor, seemed to know half of everybody in town, and were extremely knowledgeable about what they do. Maori music rocks- go buy some for yourself to see. Everybody was so nice. I'm ready to convert to Maori, just tell me what kind of genetic therapy I need to go through to become Maori. Tomorrow: Zorbing!!!

Maori art

Maori art


Boiling water

Boiling water


buried village waterfall

buried village waterfall


Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser


Lake by volcanoes

Lake by volcanoes


Maori TP

Maori TP


Redwood

Redwood


boiling water

boiling water


jumping mud

jumping mud


Lime pond

Lime pond


LotR scene location

LotR scene location


steaming hilltop

steaming hilltop

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Indoor skies of Waitomo

We left Auckland pretty early. While we did get a decent view of the water from our hotel and the highway, we really didn't get to see or do anything else in the city. I hadn't slept very well the night before, so I passed out in the van. I awoke for "morning tea," which for me was a pretty good raspberry white chocolate blondie-pie thing. It wasn't quite a pie, but was too tight/compressed to be a crumble. I don't think anybody actually got tea. We got back in the van to finish the trip to Waitomo. I noticed that the scenery had changed into rolling hills and farmland. There were cattle, sheep, and horses everywhere. The views were spectacular and we could see for miles. We arrived at Waitomo and got in line for the cave tour. The tour took us through some limestone caves. They paved the caves. They must have taken out some stalagmites because the floor of the cave was paved with cement tiles. I understand the concept of making something accessible to as many people as possible, but paving the floor? As there were steps we had to walk down to get there and some rather narrow spaces, it's not like they needed to make it flat for wheelchairs. Other than the floor, the cave was pretty. The stalactites were still intact, and there were some stalagmites left, although mostly only ones that had met the stalactites in columns. They were dripping on us. This implies that they are still growing and more stalagmites would be growing- except that they paved them. The cave is not one of those muddy caves that I've gone spelunking in, it is a pretty dry cave, with lots of space for fitting tour groups. One of the chambers that we entered is even called "The Cathedral" because it has high ceilings and the stalactites look like church organs. After looking at the dry part, we went down near the river. As the river runs through the caves, it brings in river creatures like fish, mosquitos, and other bugs. Just as bugs elsewhere swarm towards lights at night, the bugs from the river swarm towards the lights on the ceiling of the cave. Too bad for them. The lights on the ceiling of the cave are little glow worms, each dangling their own 1-strand spider web. When the bugs hit the strand, they get stuck and get pulled into be eaten by the glow worms. When the glow worms grow into their fly stage, they too can get trapped in the strands and end up cannibalized by other glow worms. However, as it is very dark in the cave, you don't get to see most of that. They do turn on a dim light in one area where you get to see the strand hanging. Beyond that, the glowworms just look like a night sky full of little blue stars. The only difference is that this night sky is dense (even denser than the real night sky in Uluru), very visibly has three dimensions as the ceiling is not flat, and goes on for rooms and rooms. It actually reminds me somewhat of an Australian Aboriginal painting with all the little dots. We rode a little boat on the river so that we could marvel at lots of glow worms. The boat was moved manually, but not with oars. The "driver" held on to different cords that were running through the cave and pulled us along. He would also push off of one rope to get to another, or even push off of a stalactite. This left us in silence and in the dark, which just amplified the beauty of the glow worms' lights. The only thing I was less than happy about was that we only got 45 minutes in the one cave area. I would have like to do some of the other tours of other caves as well, or even gone black water rafting. Next time... We went to lunch at Roselands farm. The food was good, but the view was spectacular. It was on top of a big hill and we could see for quite some distance. Also, they had some really neat art on the walls. There was one painting I was going to get for my house, but they were having trouble figuring out the shipping. Oh well, hopefully I'll find something else. The rest of the way to Rotorua was uneventful, but beautiful. There were more rolling hills, farms, interesting flowers, and animals. On the way in to Rotorua, we passed the Zorbing area and watched a couple of people Zorb down the hill. I think that got my siblings excited to go Zorbing soon. We also saw where the luge cart area was and I got excited for that. As we entered Rotorua proper, we started to smell the sulfur in the air. Rotorua is located on the edge of a lake in a volcanic crater. The area is full of hot springs, sulfur pools and geysers. Even the park had areas fenced off to protect people from walking into the steam emitted by the ground. Think Yellowstone Park. Tomorrow, we are going on a tour of the natural wonders of the area, so I'll talk more about them then. After we settled into our hotel rooms (no bugs in this hotel-woo hoo), mom and I went for a walk around town. The visitors center and Rotorua museum are contained in some of the nicest buildings, certainly the nicest visitors center building I've ever seen. We wandered the gardens and up by the lake. There are tons of water birds near the lake. We were wading through seagulls (lake gulls?), ducks, swans, and other similar birds. People must feed them because the swans were willing to come awfully close to us. For dinner, everybody went to Nando's. Nando's is a chain we saw all over Australia, but hadn't been to yet. The whole restaurant chain is based on a single pepper. While the peri peri pepper sauces and spices were good, everything had a very similar flavor. It was pretty good, but I don't really see how anybody could be a regular as the singular taste of the peri peri pepper could get old after a while.

Tomorrow: we see where the stink is coming from

black swan on Rotorua lake

black swan on Rotorua lake


New Zealand Farmland

New Zealand Farmland


Rotorua park fence

Rotorua park fence


Rotorua rose garden

Rotorua rose garden


the view from Roselands

the view from Roselands


Waitomo cave exit

Waitomo cave exit


Waitomo river

Waitomo river

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Pavlova, finally

I did a little last minute souvenir shopping in Palm Cove and then we were off to the airport. The flight was forgettable, which is a good thing. However, we were pretty hungry by the time we landed. We asked the driver if there were any places to eat that were still open. His response was "only the American fast food restaurants." He then proceeded to show us the Burger King, McDonalds, Denny's etc. Meanwhile, we were passing sushi places, Chinese food, and other local restaurants, but he was mostly ignoring them unless I was pointing them out. I'm sorry, but I can get American food at home. I'm here to experience New Zealand and to support the local economy, and not to spread McImperialism. We ended up going to Sky City. The Auckland tall tower has a casino called Sky City in the base of it. As the casino is all night, of course the food is there as well. As I was finishing up my noodle stir-fry, I happened to glance up towards the dessert menu. I almost jumped out of my skin with elation. They had Pavlova! The only thing I really knew about Pavlova was that it was the Australian dessert the way apple pie is American. I had seen an adaptation once on the show Top Chef, but didn't really know what it was. It was the one food I had wanted to have on this trip, but I hadn't seen it on any menus yet. I had pretty much given up on getting to try it as we had left Australia, and I had been bummed about that. Despite the fact that it was fast food in a casino in New Zealand, I just had to get it. Boy was it good. The bottom was some sort of merengue cake that was much softer than most of the merengues I'm used to. On top of that, there was some sort of tangy fruit (maybe passionfruit?) syrup. On top of that was whipped cream. I was definitely impressed. This is going to be the food that I try to find a recipe for so that I can recreate when I get home. I headed back to the hotel, but Rachel, Mike and mom stayed to gamble. I suppose if you're into that sort of thing it would be something to do, but I prefer my money in my own pocket and I was really tired. Tomorrow: Glow worm caves

Welcome to New Zealand

Welcome to New Zealand

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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