New Zealand IX

Trip Start Oct 18, 2005
Trip End Dec 15, 2005

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, December 5, 2005

Day 46: We left Wellington after much to-do about getting a rental car. The leasing agent had told us as we were inspecting our Toyota Corolla what a high percentage of their cars are Toyotas since they "last forever." This one, however, had seen better days. It had already logged 190,000 kilometers, the stearing was all over the place, and it made funny noises when it idled. We took it back and advised him to retire this one from the fleet, as it had reached forever.

As we drove to Turangi, in our newer non-crappy Toyota Corolla, we saw some awesome looking volcanos to the left; Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. Very cool! We arrived in Turangi just in time to get a room, get a happy hour beer, and determine the next course of action. The weather report was favorable do to the Tongariro Crossing, which is the most walked of all the walks in New Zealand. It goes across Mt. Tongariro and has outstanding views. At least that's what the guide book said.

Day 47: We were up bright and early to catch the bus for the 17 kilometer Tongariro Crossing (about 10.5 miles or so). We departed the bus at about 8:30, and we were told that the first bus would leave the other end at 4:15. It started out as a nice, easy, pleasant hike through high desert land and volcanic rock. As we got higher, however, it turned into a foggy, windy, steep walk. Oh, no! We were afraid we would do all this climbing up and not get to see anything. We passed by the Red Crater in complete fog. On the way down from there, however, the clouds broke just enough to offer a glimpse of the Emerald Lakes. Great! Since there is absolutely no incentive to hurry (remember the bus won't leave until 4:15), we just sat there, had lunch, and waited out the fog. It was well worth it! Once some of the clouds cleared, the views were outstanding!

As we were leaving the Emerald Lakes we ran into Sabastian and Kathrin, the German people we had gone kayaking with at Abel Tasman. What a small tourist world! It was great to catch up with them over a beer later that night!

Day 48: We left Turangi for Rotorua, and we stopped to see a few sights around Taupo along the way, including Lake Taupo, Huka Falls, and Craters of the Moon. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, and it is the crater of an old volcano. Huka Falls is a really cool waterfall where the river is pushed into a narrow gorge (15 meters wide and 10 meters deep) before plunging off a small ledge. It was very impressive! Craters of the Moon is a thermal area that became much more active in the 1950's when the New Zealand government built a power station that took some of the ground water. There are lots of thermal craters, and even a little boiling mud.

Here are a few things to note about Rotorua. First, this is probably the best place to get a flavor of the Maori culture, at least as a tourist. There are all sorts of shows and demonstrations in Rotorua. Next, since it is in the middle of a large thermal area, the whole town smells like a big fart. At least that's what Janell kept saying (every ten minutes or so). Finally, it is the adventure capital of the North Island. You can go bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, giant swinging, and of course, zorbing.

Zorbing was invented by a farmer that wanted an easy way to cross a large stream on his property without getting wet. He came up with a huge plastic ball that you can get into and move by walking and pushing on it with your hands. Somewhere along the way he got the idea to charge people money to roll down a hill inside the ball. Well, we thought it was a pretty good idea, too, so Jason was driven up to the top of the hill, put into the ball with some water, and then launched down a zigzag track. It only lasted about 45 seconds, but it was really fun! Don't worry if you think you're missing out on this great sport if you don't go to New Zealand. They are building one in Las Vegas right now!

Day 49: The main activity for the day was the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. This is a park where you can see all sorts of different thermally related pools, springs, geysers, and boiling mud. It is actually very similar to Yellowstone. The first thing we checked out was the geyser that goes off every day at 10:15 (with a little help from the park people). We got there at about 10:25, so it wasn't quite as impressive as when it first goes off. Janell's disappointed face matched her comment of "It looks like someone's science project." Anyway, the boiling mud was much more impressive. It looked like chocolate cake batter, but neither of us wanted to taste it. The walk through the park was one of those things that are hard to describe words, except "Man, this place stinks, but it sure is pretty!" You'll just have to check out some of the pictures.

Finally, we made it to the last stop in New Zealand...Auckland.
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