What New Zealand is Famous For, Part II

Joe and I have repeatedly noted during this trip that the Kiwis know tourism. This evening was one example of that.

We were picked up at the hotel after having enough time to warm up after Hobbiton. The bus was driven by one of the Maori men, who we would later find out was running the evening. After being taken to the in-town ticketing center, we drove to the outskirts of town. The drive was only about 20 minutes but the driver was entertaining. He told us about Kia Ora. As a matter of fact he told us what it it means in 48 languages. It was a fairly amazing feat. We also had to elect a leader to greet and be greeted at the gates of the Maori village. Since he lead the election and picked the criteria according to him no one except him was qualified since he was the only Kiwi on the bus. So he decided to go with lessor criteria but since no one on the bus played Rugby Union or rugby at all or even dreamed of playing rugby, we had to go with the guy who thought he might have played rugby in a past life. The tour driver thought it was a very sad day that no one on the bus cared about Rugby Union or the “best team in the world” the All Blacks.

When we arrived at the village we were greeted and challenged by the Maori warriors. This included the huka and the presentation of a gift to the leaders. After this we were welcomed by the chief into the village. My only complaint about the whole evening was that we didn’t have enough time to visit each of the areas and hear everything. However, Beth Anne was very brave and in front of maybe 30 people ran an obstacle course so that she and her people (family) could have their picture taken with a warrior. I was very proud of her.

Next we saw a show which included singing and dancing and poi. Poi is a dance form employing a ball or balls suspended from a length of flexible material held in the hand and swung in circular patterns.  the slapping the poi on the various parts of the body were used to keep the beat of the song as well as being a performance in and of itself.

After all of that we were shown into the dining room. The food was OK but this was our first exposure to Pavlova.  This is a meringue dessert.  The Pav is cooked so that the is the outside is a crisp crunchy shell, while the interior remains soft and moist. Its internal consistency is thus completely different from that normally associated with meringue, having more of a soft marshmallow texture. It is traditionally decorated with a topping of whipped cream and fresh fruit of sweet/tart flavors, such as strawberries and kiwifruit. Yummy.  It is also one of many bones of contention between Australia and New Zealand with both of them claiming to be the originators of the Pavlova.  But according to everyone I have talked to here the Aussies are lying.

Finally we were back to the buses for our drive home, after all the men on our bus push started it. We sang songs from different countries including the waltzing Matilda, the star spangled banner and the traditional Maori song “The Wheel on the Bus.” The verses are a bit different here. I had never heard the verse

“The Driver of the bus doesn’t have a license, have a license, have a license.

The Driver of the bus doesn’t have a license. Just thought you should know.”

The girls could not stop giggling. Brigit still is singing this verse.

An amazingly great day in Rotorua.

What New Zealand is Famous For, Part I

Ignoring the Kiwi encounter as interesting but not exciting and the Buried village as both not exciting nor interesting we will skip Sept. 27 and move along to Sept. 28.

Today was a busy day.  We had to be up and ready by about 8.20 am to be picked up for our tour of Hobbiton.  I was quite certain that it was going to be a disappointment.  I kept telling Beth Anne, who read “The Hobbit” when she was 7, that it was likely to just be the shells of the hobbit houses and that it might not look like Fellowship, which she had watched just prior to our leaving.  We had already had one disappointment when our booking to stay at the hobbit rooms fell through and she had to stay in the boat motel instead.  I was trying my best to prepare her for a second.

There was no need.  The tour was great.  We were picked up by Ben who was lovely and chatty and talked politics and living and Sir Howard Morrison’s death.  The weather was miserable on the way, raining and cold.  The cold complaint level up to Code Green at this point.

cold level

When we arrived at the Alexander Farm we stopped to use the toilets and see the pet sheep.  Yes, there are pet sheep and farm sheep and they are different.

The tour van drove us from the entry to the remains of Hobbiton.  We discovered interesting facts like the reason Hobbiton still exists at all is because of bad weather which set in about halfway into demolition making any further demolition dangerous.  New Line Cinema was required to demolish all sets after use.  Because the weather was so bad they had to delay at the farm.  During the time that they waited for the weather to clear, people began to visit.  The Alexanders began negotiations with New Line to halt demolition and begin a tour.  After two years it was finally agreed upon.  The Alexanders are very limited in what they can do to the hobbit holes.  They cannot use any film information at all.  They cannot make the remains look the way they did in the films.  But they can give tours.

We got to see the Party Tree and field.  We got to see The remains of the Gafter’s house, Rosie and Sam’s house and Bag Shot Row.  We were able to see the stairs where Frodo hugged Gandolf which still remain.  We were able to go into Bag End which is board and beam as the interiors where shot on set in Wellington.  The tour guide was accommodating and took pictures for everyone. We learned about filming and gardening and how they created the world of the Hobbits in very, very careful detail.  She told us about growing the gardens in front of the hobbit holes with plants laced with poison to keep out the local possum.  She also told us about the gardens full of plants all in various states of growth so that any plant which was damaged during a day’s filming could be dug up and replanted.  This, of course, made my OCD heart flutter.

After the tour we went to the sheering shed to watch a sheep get sheered.  It was an amazingly fast process and we watched the slowed-down version.  One of the sons is a champion sheer and on a good day in the spring will sheer 500-700 sheep a day.  That works out about 2 sheep a minute.  Then, then they topped that off by allowing the girls to feed lambs.  They were about 1-2 weeks old.  Lambs may in fact be the cutest things ever, but still yummy.

Then we were treated to tea, which consisted of an apple, a meat pie, a really good cookie and of course tea.  Finally it was back to Rotorua and a chance to relax before heading out to Tamaki Maori Village for our Maori experience.

Buried Village

If you want to be disappointed in New Zealand. Try the Buried Village. In 1886 a volcanic eruption buried several Maori Villages. One of those villages has been excavated and several of the buildings restored to give you an idea of what it looked like before the eruption. The museum includes artifacts from the village and pictures that were taken before and after the event. It also has dramatic presentation of what it was like in the local Inn during the eruption. You enter a dark room and during loud deep rumblings and flashes of light a visiting missionary, tries to calm the people telling them “God gave us this time to reflect and…” Since, the missionary died in the incident it’s unclear how they knew what he was saying. (Perhaps he was dictating?) It’s also unclear why he missed the very obvious (to me anyway) conclusion that God gave them the time to “Get the heck out.” It was quite dark in there so I’m betting the Secretary took some liberties with the dictation. Overall it was pretty neat, interesting but not great.

What really made it a disappointment however was what you couldn’t see and why the missionary was there in the first place. (Apparently, his missionary work was done elsewhere and he was sightseeing, afterward.) Prior to the eruption, the volcano had been bubbling up water with dissolved lime for tens of thousands of years. Creating two sets of terraced pools one white and one pink. They stretched up the side of the mountain and were a very popular tourist attraction at the time. Unfortunately they were obliterated in the blast, so you are left to your imagination and drawings that were made of them prior to the blast.

After you go through the village you have the chance to take a rather steep path to view a waterfall and this makes it almost makes up for it. I hope the pictures do it justice.

Driving in NZ

10 kph is very slow.

I am pleased to report that I am becoming accustomed to driving on the left. The transition was not as hard as I had feared. Fortunately, the pedals placed the same as they are in cars that are driven on the right. Also they have helpful little arrows pointing you to where you should be.

There are however some differences between driving here and driving in the states. First of all, there are a lot more roundabouts. Also, there is no left turn on red after stop corresponding to our right turn on red after stop. That is, if the police in Hamilton are to be believed.

Another difference is that when you make a mistake (for instance if you were to drift into some one else’s lane in a roundabout forcing them to take the wrong exit) they give you a quick toot with the horn and a friendly peace sign to let you know that you had slipped up. If they make an ugly face while they do this, no worries, it’s just part of the culture, like the faces made during the the Maori Haka.

You drive here.
You drive here.

Unfortunately this typical Kiwi friendliness has not yet been translated to their electronics. When you make a mistake it will say, “At the first opportunity, make a u-turn.” And then after you get back on track it will start repeating itself, saying “Turn left. Turn left.” as if you didn’t hear it the first time. Also if you happen to be off the road it will say, “Please return to the nearest roadway.” as if you were unaware that you were bouncing along in the berm.

It occurs to me, however, that this may simply be a setting for people traveling without a spouse.  I will double check the settings.

A Geothermal Volcanic Wonderland

We still have not completely adjusted to the jet lag. Brigit is conking out hard in the car every time we get in after complaining vigorously about the required child seat she is forced to sit in. It is according to her, A BABY SEAT!!!!

Today it was off to Rotorua by way of Taupo. Taupo is a beautiful city on at the edge of Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is huge; the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere. I was sure the guide book had to be mistaken until I saw the lake, or the part of the lake I could see from the overlook. We stopped in Taupo for lunch and began an ongoing search for warmer clothes. I packed what seemed like warm clothes in the 80 degree heat of Huntington but now in the cool chill of early spring NZ are not quite so warm.

On the way to Rotorua we were lucky to have the Kruse suggest Huka Falls. For those of you I didn’t tell about Kruse it this great system that works off of GPS to tell you about the history of the area your are in, stories and legends about the area and Points of Interest (POI). With some minor modifications it could be the best new invention for travelers ever!! I have loved listening to it and so have the girls and Joe. We have stopped in a few of the recommended places and have not been steered wrong.

Joe’s post about Huka Falls says it all. Well, that and this picture:

Huka Falls

Also, we went to Carters of the Moon. The rainforest’s alien landscape of the day before had nothing on this:

Craters of the Moon

The entire area surrounding Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland and according to the girls “Stinky!” Brigit actually sent most of her time seeing how long she could hold her breath. Craters was only one of many many place we could have stopped. It was great. Just long enough to feel like you have gotten your money’s worth and not so long that the complaint level rose above “I’m Cold” aka Cold Level Yellow.

Dave, Bring Your Duckie

220,000 Liters per second
220,000 Liters per second

The Waikato River drains Lake Taupo. As the river leaves the lake it is a wide ( about 100 meters across ) lazy stream. But just above the falls it narrows into a long shoot that is only about 15 meters across. While in the chute, the river drops 8 meters and at the end of the chute it drops about 11 meters into wide basin and once again becomes a wide, lazy stream. This is called Huka falls.

The water is exceptionally clear and as it is churned and filled with bubbles it becomes an intense, almost unreal blue. It reminded me a little of Iron Ring on the Upper Gauley. I say a little because the chute at Iron Ring is tiny compared to Huka falls. While we were watching it, I was speculating on what it might be like in a raft. Of course I assumed that doing so would not be permitted. I was wrong.

Just as we were about to leave a kid of about 12 ran past us toward the falls and we noticed an knot of spectators on one side of the viewing bridge. They were watching two kayakers in what I can only imagine were specially designed duckies. They no doubt had extra deep hulls to provide ample room for their enormous balls, which no doubt also functioned as counterweights, keeping the kayakers upright.

Note how low the kayak sits in the water, due to the weight of his massive cahones.
Note how low the kayak sits in the water, due to the weight of his massive cahones.

I was so busy taking pictures of them progressing through the upper rapids that I realized too late what that the kid who ran past us already knew. They would have to go over the falls, there was no going back up and no place to get out. So I ran back down to the falls but I only managed to get this blurry picture of the second kayaker just after he went over.

That little speck in the water, just past the falls. Yeah that's him.
That little speck in the water, just past the falls. Yeah that's him.

Not Your Father’s Rainforest

We got up early to repack the little we had unpacked and made ready to begin the newest part of our grand adventure. Joe will be driving through the two islands. Nothing usual about that, except that he will be doing in from the right side of the car and on the left side of the road.

We got an early start so that we had plenty of time to make our tour time in Waitamo. We got the car, the child seat, the GSP and the Kruse set up. The child seat was a bit of an issue since we have been using boosters with Brigit for a while now. But finally we got all situated. Everyone is buckled in and ready to go. When we discovered that we did not have the key. TO THE CAR. The one we were sitting in. So we sat for ½ an hour waiting for the key. We kept having these great ideas, like programming the GPS. Oh wait you need THE KEY for that. OK so we will listen to the Kruse. Oh, wait you need the key for that TOO. So we sat and sat and waited for the poor flustered car rental woman to return with our key.

Once that was accomplished we set off for Waitomo Caves and our tour of the Aranui Cave and the Glow-worm cave. We were further sidetracked by getting lost on the way. Our GPS favorites were listed alphabetically and not in order of visit, which caused some confusion and much driving around the New Zealand countryside.

We finally got the caves only to find that the boat tour we had booked was canceled due to major flooding. We did get to tour the Aranui cave. To get there we had a short walk through the Waitamo rain forest. The rain forest here is amazing. Completely foreign in makeup, and not just not our country foreign but otherworldly foreign. It did not surprise me to find that the documentary “Walking with Dinosaurs” was filmed in New Zealand. If you have seen this BBC/Discovery Channel show episode Two (“Time of the Titans”), episode four (“Giant of the Skies”) and episode five (“Spirits of the Ice Forest”) were filmed in New Zealand.

The cave was interesting but much like other caves I have toured. We did get to do a short tour of the glow worm cave and see some of the glow worms. It was anti-climactic for the most part. Until we stood in the cathedral of the cave, in the dark, looking up to to spy some of the few glow worms on the ceiling while our tour guide, after many failed attempts to get us to sing, sang a Maori song. She had a lovely voice and it will not surprise those of you who know me well to know that at that moment, when it finally began to sink in that we were well and truly on the other side of the planet, and this trip we had dreamed and discussed and planned was finally a reality, I did what I always do when overwhelmed: I cried.

A Video Interlude – Sheep

We were beginning to think that the sheep stereotype was a myth, when suddenly we came upon lambs. Yes it is spring here, complete with daffodils, tulips and lambs.  Lambs are everywhere! They are possibly the cutest baby animal I have ever seen.  Almost cute enough to make me rethink the yummy specialty pizza I ordered.  It was in One Red Dog; Teriyaki Lamb Pizza with lamb marinated in red wine, honey & garlic with spring onions, mushrooms teriyaki sauce.  Notice I said almost.