Posted by: dammer145 | November 4, 2008

Storm on the Greymouth front

The day before we had booked ourselves a treatment at the Hanmer Springs Spa, but as it wasn’t until noon that we had to be there we had planned to go and play midget golf. We had breakfast and made our way to the A-Maze-Ing golf, a combination of a maze and golf – but it was closed! We tried the other one a bit further up the hill, but it was closed as well! They both said they should be open from 10:00, but at 10:30 both were still closed. As we had to wait for another 90 minutes we killed some time by having a look at the two or three shops in the village and we had a coffee in one of the two cafes the town has.

Come 12:00 we headed to the spa for our “Vichy Scrub” treatment. We were provided with bath robes, towels and disposable (!) swimming trunks; once we had changed we waited in the lounge. We were collected by two ladies and both Anouk and myself were led to our own “chamber”. The we were asked to lay down on a sort of oval, wooden table with a sort of arm above it that had various shower heads on it. First our whole bodies got scrubbed with a sort of rough mix of almonds and brown sugar. Then that slowly got showered off with a massage shower. Relaxing!

After having topped up our fluids with some large glasses of water, we got changed. We had some lunch in the camper (Anouk made some tuna salad).We were stuck with a little bit of a dilemma: the weather predictions for the West Coast were not good, but we didn’t really want to backtrack the road we came on (and there is only one road eastwards and one road westwards from Hanmer Springs). We decided to press on westwards and hope it would not be too bad; we set off at about 14:00. On our way out of town we discovered that the golf had opened! Anouk felt betrayed by midget golf and swore never to try to play again in NZ.

Our camper mascots Tahi and Rua (One and Two in Maori).

Along the road we passed some large open plains and it soon became clear that the weather was indeed turning sour. A storm was clearly gathering and at times I had to be very careful as the winds were literally pushing the camper van off the road.
After a rather harrowing trip we finally made it to Greymouth, one of the larger towns on the west coast of the southern island. By the time we got there it had started to rain and the wind had picked up even more speed. We filled up on diesel at the local BP and headed for the camping.

We made ourselves some dinner (pasta with scampis), watched a film we had brought with us (Harsh Times) and crept into bed. By this time the camper was being rocked back and forth pretty heavily – at about 02:00 it was shaking so hard that it woke us up – at first I thought the camping had been flooded or so but it hadn’t.. after a while I fell asleep again.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 3, 2008

Captain, there be whales here!

Today was to be our whale watching day! We had booked our trip the day before and had to be at the Whale Watching office at 09:00. We checked ourselves in and watched a feature film on whales in the area. The main type of whales we could expect to see there were sperm whales – just off the peninsula the sea floor drops about a kilometre into a deep trench where the sperm whales find all kindsof tasty snacks – sharks, other fish and most importantly, giant squid.

Watch out behind you!

At 09:30 we boarded a bus which took us to the south side of the peninsula. We got on a purpose-built catamaran called the Aotaki along with 40 other passengers. We were introduced to the crew and shown another feature film about the surroundings as we made our way out of the marina. Soon we were on open sea and could feel the boat being tossed about in the large waves, even though it was a clear and calm day. The captain and his aides were constantly busy trying to locate whales – to find them they used radar, hydrophones, radar and constant screening of the horizon for water spouts from the whales’ breathing holes.

On board the Aotaki.

Soon the skipper had spotted a whale and set the engines to full throttle. Sperm whales can dive to depths of 1500 metres for more than an hour, so the boat had to be quick before it would dive down again. Luckily we got there on time and we were able to see the sperm whale up close and take some nice pictures. It was a small male, about 10 metres long. After about five minutes it dived down, showing us the signature tail before disappearing under water. As this whale would be down in the abyss for the coming hour or so, the captain headed back towards the coast where another whale had been spotted earlier. After a little while it surfaced with an enormous plume of water and stayed at the surface for about ten minutes while it cleared its blood of carbon dioxide.

The tail just before it dived down.

It went down again, this time the tail was a lot more in view and I was able to make some pretty pictures. One of the tour guides then announced that a large group of dusky dolphins had been seen in the area along with a juvenile humpback whale! The boat speeded off due south and there was a tangible sense of excitement on the boat. Suddenly on the port side of the boat in the distance I noticed some splashes – dolphins jumping!

We headed in that direction and as we got close we could see what was going on. In the sunshine, a young humpback was basking in the sun and playing with a large group of dolphins. Once we got close the dolphins seemed rather intrigued by the catamaran and jumped around the boat and swam underneath it. It was all quite magical and both Anouk and I felt quite touched by having seen this. Our time was unfortunately almost up and we had to head back. We felt very lucky with what we had seen – but there was more to come: on the way back we passed a group of fur seals enjoying the sunshine and a large group of albatrosses bobbing up and down on the water.

Dolphins.

We got back to the marina and were taken back to where we started, still feeling very uplifted by what we had seen. Before setting onwards, we hit the local pie shop (The Pot Belly), who already had their christmas decorations out. I scored a bacon and egg pie and Anouk had some asparagus quiche, along with some chocolate mud cake (Anouk felt rather sorry that it took so long for her to discover mud cake as she ate every little bit of it, fingers and all).

We took road number 70 towards Hanmer Springs, a small mountain village at equal distances from the east and west coast. The road was bendy and had many sharp turns, so by the time we got there I was rather tired. Hanmer Springs is small but charming – it has some lovely spas and reputedly the best midget golf on the south island, if not in entire NZ! Once we were installed on the camping we walked up into the village and spent a couple of hours in the spa to relax and wind down from our adventure that morning and the exhausting drive. We left the spa at about 6 and headed for the local supermarket to buy ourselves some dinner. We bought pasta and prawns, however, on the way back to the camping we passed a pizza parlour called “The Pickled Pig”.

Pigs love Pizza!

Anouk first just went in to get a fruit juice. However, knowing that she would be able to tempt me, she came out with the pizza menu, which she promptly shoved under my nose. As I am sure everybody knows, I am rather a hapless victim when it comes to BBQ pizza so it didn’t take much convincing to get me inside and I ordered myself a piggy pizza. We would eat the pasta and prawns another day! Rather full we dragged ourselves back to the campsite to sit in the setting sun with a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc so I could finish my diary for the past couple of days.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 2, 2008

Kaikoura, home of the Whales

We got up rather late and made our way off the camping by about ten o’clock. We filled up the camper on diesel, bought some breakfast at the bakkerij [sic] and soon we were on our way southwards towards Kaikoura, the whale watching capital of NZ!

We passed through the enormous vineyards of Marlborough country, where various types of grapes are grown, predominantly sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. We stopped at one of the wineries to have a quick look, but didn’t buy or taste anything.

Further on, the road met the Pacific Ocean. The last half of our trip down took us down a winding road past the water. We stopped for coffee and cake at a place called the Pacific Pavillion – a lovely cafe on the (black and volcanic) beach. After having had a “long black” and a “flat white”, we walked down the beach for ten minutes. In those ten minutes we found some rather indistinct bones of some or other mammal and a dead, washed-up juvenile shark.

The Southern Pacific towards the Antarctic.

It wasn’t long before we arrived in Kaikoura at about 2 o’clock. Kaikoura is situated on a peninsula that sticks out of the mainland (the locals like to say it sticks out like a whale’s tail). This causes the north side to be rather sheltered from rain and wind that comes in from the Pacific to the south. We had a brief lunch and then set out on a 12km walk that would take us all the way around the peninsula. Along the way we stopped to taste the local specialty: crayfish. The name “Kaikoura” actually means “tasty crayfish” in Maori. We passed a seal colony, saw some spectacular sights over the ocean and even saw a couple of local blue penguins. We got back to the camping at about seven o’clock.

Om nom nom.

I had been trying to figure out the southern sky for a couple of nights. Anouk discovered that there were sky watching tours in Kaikoura so we went to have a look. We had to be at the local tourist office at 21:15, where we were picked up by a guy called Hussein, along with another five or six other people. He took us out of town into a field in the middle of the peninsula, away from any light pollution that the town was generating. In the middle of the field Hussein had installed a powerful 8-inch telescope. Soon we were exploring the craters of the moon and having a look at Jupiter and Venus. Hussein explained how to find the Southern Cross, the constellation that can be found in the NZ flag and which has been used for thousands of years to find south in the southern sky. He showed us the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of our own Milky Way, clearly visible in NZ. Binoculars were passed around, allowing close-up views of all kinds of objects that seem faint or unclear to the naked eye. A great evening and we both learned a lot!

We were dropped off at the tourist office and made our way back to the camping.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 1, 2008

The ferry to Picton

As we were too tired from our trip the day before, we were going to have a look around Wellington before we had to catch the ferry. We woke up to a very windy morning (our camper was literally shaking back and forth) and had some breakfast. As the weather was so bad, I called the Interislander company to make sure that the ferry would be sailing. They assured me it would be departing as scheduled.

We made our way into Wellington centre, only a 10 minute drive from the camping. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, although it has a lot less inhabitants than Auckland (400.000 compared to 1 million). We didn’t have very much time so we wanted to do one thing: the Te Papa museum. Te Papa is more or less the defining museum of New Zealand: it contains exhibitions on it’s natural world, it’s history, and a very large exhibition on Maori history, culture, traditions along with a large collection of Maori artifacts. Once we arrived we immediately went on two “rides”: one under the sea that showed us how the volcanic activity in New Zealand works and another that gave us a general overview of New Zealand. After that we went through the various exhibitions in a rather high tempo; we only had about 2,5 hours before we had to make our way to the ferry terminal. Afterwards I bought a book with pictures of New Zealand and Anouk bought a cuddly Tui bird.

Te Papa Museum.

We left the museum and were almost blown away: whilst we had been inside the wind had gained even more strength and it had started to rain now, lashing our faces. The ferry drive was only about 5 minutes from Te Papa. Once we got there we learnt we could have stayed in Te Papa for another 30 minutes: the ferry was running rather late due to the bad weather. We had some lunch in the camper while we waited. The ferry terminal is situated in a rather sheltered cove that by then was covered in thick fog – our camper was being rocked back and forth quite heavily as we ate our sandwiches. Anouk was not looking forward to the prospect of crossing in weather like that.

Bracing the storm together!

The ferry arrived and after all the ships onboard had disembarked we were allowed on. We set off and at first it seemed quite sedate – once we hit the channel however the boat was at a constant angle of about 20 degrees – the wind was blowing so hard from the starboard side that the ferry was being pushed to the port side. By this time Anouk was cutting off the blood supply to my right arm… Once we had crossed the Cook Straight between the north and the south island we came into calmer waters. Before you get to the terminal on the south island you pass through the Marlborough Sounds – a fjord-like set of hills and mountains that rise out of the sea.

Soon we arrived in Picton, the other end of the crossing. Picton is a lovely little town. Situated in the middle of the Sounds, it is surrounded by steep, high hills on each side. Picton is not very big – it has three or four streets, a couple of (surprisingly modern) pubs and restaurants. We checked in to the local camping, then walked to the “centre” for something to eat. We ended up in a place called “Escape to Picton”, apparently famous for it’s seafood platter for two. How could we resist!

Picton harbour.

Now here comes the funny part: via a rather obscure path we started talking with a couple in the restaurant. They turned out to be Flemish, here to promote knowledge about New Zealanders who took part in the First World War in the Fields of Flanders, some of them never to return. He worked for SD Worx, who my mother also has done some work for. Once I mentioned her name, he knew her! What a small world – out in the murky backwaters of New Zealand, in a tiny restaurant with about three tables, we met somebody who I had a connection to – very, very peculiar.

The food was excellent at the Escape. The desert I ordered was a lot bigger than I had expected though – I didn’t manage to finish it.

That evening the NZ rugby team (the All Blacks) were playing in Hong Kong against the Australians (the Wallabies). We headed round the corner to Oxleys, the local pub, to watch the game. In Taupo I had bought myself an All Blacks t-shirt, which of course, I wore that evening. NZ won 19 to 14!

We headed back to the camping and fell asleep, aided by wine and beer.

Posted by: dammer145 | October 31, 2008

Heading further Southwards

The Tongariro Plains.

Today was to be a traveling day – we had to get from Taupo to Wellington to catch the ferry to the south island. We left the camping towards ten o’clock and soon we were heading down road number 1 in the direction of Wellington.

Our route southwards us took through the high plains and high mountains of Tongariro, one of New Zealand’s national parks. Wellington is about 400km south of Taupo, a distance that can easily take 6-7 hours on New Zealand roads.

We travelled through Bulls, which has a sign that reads “Const-a-bull” outside the local police office. After that it was a rather boring, albeit very windy, drive to Wellington.

We headed straight for the camping as I was tired from the drive. We put out our table and chairs, had some nice NZ wine and later on made ourselves some dinner (potatoes, parsnips and wiener schnitzels – not very inspirational). Somehow I managed to get the TV to work in our camper so we watched a film (Sleepy Hollow as it was Halloween), then made up our beds and went to sleep.

Posted by: dammer145 | October 30, 2008

Gone fishin’

Gus the Fishing Guide.

At 5 am the alarm went off. Our guide for the day, Gus, would pick us up at 05:45 so we had to hurry a bit. He picked us up in his van and drove us to Taupo fishing harbour, where his boat was waiting for us. We climbed aboard and set off – soon we were out on Lake Taupo fishing whilst the sun was rising behind us. I was the first to hook a fish, although I was unable to land it. After that we thought we had caught something but it turned out to be a seaweed-fish. In the end Anouk, as has become more or less the norm when we go fishing together, managed to catch two rainbow trout and I caught absolutely nothing. Anouk however was not very happy about having the fish clobbered over the head with a blunt object, but Gus proceeded anyway.

Fishy Fishy Fishy.

We had read in the rough guide that somewhere on the lake were a bunch of Maori carvings and Anouk asked Gus whether he could take us there. Five minutes later she was regretting having asked that, as to get there we had to pass through some pretty rough water. The carvings were pretty though and well worth going there. We both thought those carvings had been there for hundreds of years – Gus told us that a bunch of Maori students had carved them in 1980. We were back at the camping by about 09:30 and as we were both still rather tired, we laid ourselves down for another couple of hours sleep.

We woke up rather later than intended at about 12:30 and set about making ourselves some lunch with the fish we had caught earlier. Gus had been so kind as to clean the fish for us, so all we had to do was put it on the camping BBQ and wait for it to cook! We had it along with some bread and margarine and it was delicious.

Huka Falls.

Towards about two o’clock we made our way to the local waterfall on the Waikato, the Huka falls. These falls dropped 11m over a distance of about 100m. At the top the river is about 30 to 40 metres wide, but then suddenly all that water gets forced into a narrowing only about 6 metres wide. This causes an enormous mass of water to speed up as it gets pushed into a narrow funnel. A bridge has been built over it, allowing you to experience the full power of all that water gushing under you. We hung around there for about half an hour and took some pictures.

At three o’clock we were expected a little further down the Waikato river, at Rapid Jets. Rapid Jets is a small enterprise run by a couple of enthusiasts; the basic idea is driving a high-powered 500 hp speedboat up and down the river, with us in it. After having signed the necessary insurance forms and getting togged up in large raincoat-type jackets and life jackets, we walked down the river bank and got aboard. The ride only took half an hour but that was more than long enough – towards the end we were both soaked. The boat took us through winding chasms and sometimes it seemed as if we were heading straight for the wall until the boat veered off. What a ride! During the ride they took some pictures, which we bought afterwards on a CD. Looking at the pictures afterwards, it looks pretty scary!

Ahhhhhhhhhrgl.

As we wanted to see a bit more of Taupo, we headed for the centre (it’s not very big so ‘centre’ is a bit of an overstatement). We passed by the local bungee jumping station, took some pictures and left quickly before anybody offered us a jump. We had a walk around town, had a look at some shops but as most shops in NZ close at about 5pm, there weren’t many places left open. We sat down for a couple of beers outside one of the pubs there and watched the local youth come and go in their “johnny” cars.

It was time for some dinner – and as we were feeling rather lazy (again), we headed back to Burger Fuel! This time Anouk had the Naked Flame and I had the upgraded version of the Bastard, the Big Bastard (which included an egg) – when we get back I am heading straight to the gym. *Burps*. We felt horribly full and went back to the camping. Once there we floated around in the swimming pool for quite some time and had a nice chat with a couple (Filip and Katarina) from Switzerland that were touring around the world for six months.

Posted by: dammer145 | October 29, 2008

The road to Taupo

We got up, had breakfast and left rather late from the camping. I was still a bit upset about not having been able to find the Southern Cross the night before – but I would not give up until I had succeeded!

The camping we were staying at was not far from a volcano, mount Tarawera, that had erupted 120 years ago. We drove up hoping to be able to get a bit closer to have a look. On our way up we passed the “Buried Village”, a settlement that had been covered in ash and lava when the volcano had erupted. We pressed upwards, though unfortunately the volcano proved to be on the other side of a lake (Lake Tarawera would you believe), so we were not able to get very close to it. We did however get some lovely views of the surrounding area along with some nice camera shots. We even saw a group of schoolchildren arrive in a waka (a Maori war canoe), which obviously was part of a school outing. We hung around for a while, then set off southwards.

Waka Waka Waka!

Along the road between Rotorua and Taupo, we stopped at another geothermal site called Wai-o-tapu (“Holy Waters” in Maori). We paid our entrance fee and followed the path round the site – a 3 km long walk that took us along all kinds of exotic geothermal structures, ranging from black mud pools called the Devils Ink Pots to bubbling pools of boiling water with orange, yellow, green and pink colours mixed all together.

The Champagne Pool.

The most impressive of all was called the Champagne Pool, where thousands of little carbon dioxide bubbles came to the surface amidst a large orange crust on the edge of the pool. There is also a geyser there called Lady Knox, which spouts up to 10 metres high every morning at exactly 10:15, but we didn’t make it on time to see that. It is hard to describe the sights of the site – once we get round to sending some pictures I’m sure they will speak for themselves. Once we had finished the walk we had a pie each – Kiwis sure do know how to make a decent chicken or veggie pie.

We carried on our journey towards Taupo and arrived there at about 6 o’clock. We first hit the tourist information office, as I wanted to go fishing and Anouk wanted to do the river jets (more on that later). We found some brochures and passed by the supermarket to buy ourselves some dinner.

The camping for the night was about five minutes outside of Taupo and proved to be a lovely, albeit big and professional, place. I gave the guy from the fishing brochure a call and arranged that he would come and pick us up from the camping the next morning at 6am (fish bite better in the morning). As we had to be up rather early we decided we would head into town for a bite to eat and keep our earlier purchases for another day.

Driving around we passed a place called “Burger Fuel” – it was right between McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King, so Anouk had a hard time choosing. I convinced her to try something new (although still burgers) and so we entered Burger Fuel, expecting a new world to open for us. Burger Fuel had about 30 different burgers to choose from, with exotic names such as Flame Thrower, Brie Injection, Burnout and last but not least, Bastard. New Zealand has a special type of potato, called the kumara, which is somewhat sweet in taste.

Fuel for the Human Engine!

Burger Fuel made fries out of these so we ordered those, along with complementary aioli sauce. They also had a rather ingenious system for holding ones burger – a cardboard construction called a doofer which made holding the sloppy construction somewhat easier and less messy. One thing though – Kiwis are a messy lot; they leave behind all their mess and expect others to clean up after them… and not only in fast food restaurants.

Full of burger and fries we headed back and went to sleep.

Posted by: dammer145 | October 28, 2008

Rotorua

One thing about Rotorua is that almost everything costs money. You cannot visit any geothermal sites without paying entrance fees – rather strange when you are used to the European model where the government owns these kind of places and they are free for everybody.

Whakarewarewa (pronounced Faka-raywa-raywa)

After packing up as quick as we could to get away from that horrible camping, we set off for the close-by village of Whakarewarewa, a small Maori village built right on top of one of the geothermal sites. After paying the entrance fee, we had a look around first by ourselves. One way you know you are near Rotorua is the ever-present smell of rotten eggs (also a good cover-up for any incidental flatulence). The houses of the village had been built between boiling water holes and steam vents – not the best place on earth to have your abode. We went up the hill to the concert hall, where we would first be treated to a Maori show of song and dance. It was a nice show, somewhat different to the one we had seen in Waitangi and a little less professional, but good fun nonetheless. We even got to take part in the singing and dancing here!

Anouk fancied him.

Anouk fancied one of the Maori men and got her picture taken with him – I’m sure that picture will make it’s way onto one of our walls back home. After that we were guided around town by Rubina. She showed us the hot pools that the locals used to cook food, along with their “microwave” – a wooded hatchet on top of a vent with a cover. One of these microwaves had exploded the month before! Rubina showed us our way through the bubbly pools and vents up to a large, double geyser where the tour ended. The geyser was quite impressive – the larger of the two went up to ten metres high! We walked back past the cemetery and shops selling Maori arts and crafts and had ourselves an enormous burger in the restaurant.

Traditional Maori Art on top of a marai (meeting hall).

As we wanted to stay in the Rotorua area, but definitely did not want to stay on that camping again, we decided to move to another camping just out of town, not far from mount Tarawera, the volcano that had blown its top off 150 years before. The camping was right next to a lake and had some lovely views. We had an early dinner of pasta, chicken and chinese BBQ sauce, we headed back to Rotorua for the Polynesian Spa!

The spa consisted of four pools, ranging in temperature between 36 and 42 degrees celsius. All towels, lockers etc. were included in the price and we bathed and lounged around until about half past eight, when large hoards of Japanese tourists started to arrive. We decided it was time to leave and after an ice cream for me and a drink for Anouk we were back in the camper towards mount Tarawera.

The day before I had bought a small book at the bird sanctuary describing how to find the Southern Cross constellation. So, once it was dark I installed myself outside with a glass of wine, some crisps and my book to try to figure out those southern skies. Now I might not be the smartest person in the world, but I do think I have a little common sense – and I really could not make heads or tails out of those stars at all! The southern sky is very unlike it’s northern brother – it’s hard to make out shapes or constellations. After about an hour I was chilled to the bone and gave up – I decided I would try another day as I was getting nowhere.

Our trusty Kea Camper!

Posted by: dammer145 | October 27, 2008

Glow in the dark

We got up at about 8 o’clock and had breakfast in our camper. The night before we had booked ourselves a trip to the caves with a company called Spellbound, who run small-scale personal visits to the glowworm caves. After having showered etc. we were ready for our little trip into darkness!

At 11 o’clock we had to be at the Huhu cafe, just outside the camping. We were awaited there by Pete, a 45-year-old bald fellow who was to be our guide for the afternoon. Soon enough we were in the minivan on our way to the caves along with six other people. As we drove through the countryside, Pete told us about the area and how it was formed over millions of years. Waitomo translates as “water-hole” and driving along it became clear why: the ground there was made up primarily of layer upon layer of soft limestone and had been eroded away over millions of years. This had caused large sinkholes to form – Pete said that some sinkholes were over 250 metres deep and were a major tourist attraction for absailing.

The Spellbound Tour Bus

We made our way through fields with cows and sheep, and soon we were on a small country road going up and down over hills. We passed a large field with a set of toilets next to it, where Pete told us we would return later on.

We would visit two caves that day and our first cave was to be one without glowworms. We made our way into the long winding passage (the entrance to the cave was large and had been formed naturally). The cave had been formed by water streaming through it and eating away at the soft stone. Also, the wind seemed to be howling through the cave at all times. We saw stalactites, stalagmites and even the remains of an unfortunate moa that had got stuck in the cave (moa were giant flightless birds that were hunted to extinction by the original settlers of New Zealand). Due to the fact that the wind blowed through this cave at all times, it was also a lot dryer than any caves we had previously visited in countries such as France or Belgium. At some spots the ceiling had caved in and light shone down in iridescent beams.

We made our way back the way we came and had tea and biscuits (provided by Pete) in the field where we passed earlier. After a quick sanitary stop we donned a safety helmet with an attached lamp and headed in a different direction. Our first stop was at a small river where Pete said river eels lived. He took a little bit of goat meat out of a bag he had with him and went down to the river bank. Almost immediately a large, wriggly head popped out of the water and snapped at the meat in Pete’s fingers. We all had a go – there were about two or three eels in the water there that seemed to have learnt that the presence of humans almost always meant lunch.

All geared up and ready to go!

We crossed the stream on a thick wooden plank and entered the second cave. A steel walkway had been built there which we followed for about fifty metres, until we were alone in the darkness with the lamps on our head. Above our heads we noticed one or two little blue-green dots – the glowworms! Pete explained that in fact they were not worms at all, but rather larvae. Glowworms live for about 300 days, most of which is spent as a larvae. They dangle transparent silky threads from the ceiling of the cave and use their bioluminescence to attract flying insects, which then get stuck in the threads. Only during the last four to five days of their life to they turn into a fully-fledged flying adult and have to frantically find a mate before their time is up.

A little further down the walkway we met the river again. An inflatable boat was waiting for us in the water and we all climbed in (Pete asked Anouk and myself to sit in the middle of the boat for obvious reasons). We floated down the river (there was a rope that had been attached in the cave overhead so Pete could lead us down the windy passage). Pete asked us to turn our lamps off. Very soon our eyes adjusted to the light and we were met by the most incredible sight: thousands upon thousands of tiny marine blue lights shone overhead. The cave was about 5-6 metres wide and the entire ceiling was covered in tiny little blue dots.

Threads of glow worm silk.

Without seeing it, it is hard to describe, but it felt like sitting under a starry sky in the middle of France without any other lights around. Note that the Maori name for the glowworms is “titiwai”, literally “light over water”. Soon we could see the outlines of the cave and each other, lit only by the little worms. For those of you who have ever been in the Droomvlucht in the Efteling – it was like that, only a million times better. We spent about twenty to thirty minutes floating along, staring upwards at something that truly did have us spellbound.

Anouk being stalked by a duck.

With regret we headed back out of the cave and after a short walk up the hill we were back in the minivan, on our way to the Huhu cafe. We hopped into the camper and set off in the direction of Rotorua, about 150 km south. Along the way we stopped at the bird sanctuary in Otorohanga. It was a bit of a sad place, it looked as if it was in urgent need of either renovation or closure.

We did however see our first kiwis there – intriguing creatures that were actually a lot bigger than I thought – more or less the size of a chicken or a duck. Entirely wingless, they forage around the forest floor with their long beaks, at the end of which the birds have noses to smell what’s wriggling around. For the first twenty minutes in the park we were followed by a white-headed duck, that seemed intent on keeping us for itself as it chased away any other birds that came near us.

After having bought a NZ map of the stars, we set off again towards Rotorua. We arrived at the camping at about 7 o’clock, checked in and found our spot. The camping was not as nice as the one we had been the night before. We went back into town for a bit of shopping (supermarkets here are open quite late – this one was open till midnight), then went back to get some well-earned dinner and sleep ( however only after Anouk got a chicken burger from KFC).

Posted by: dammer145 | October 26, 2008

Camper time!

Today was going to be a bit of a shift in our holiday – we were going to move away from the luxury of hotels and restaurants into the world of camping!

We got up and had breakfast again at the Mecca (I had the blueberry and banana pancakes, Anouk made me feel all guilty and went for the yoghurt and fruit). After that we checked out and left our luggage at the hotel – the shuttle service to Kea Campers wasn’t coming to pick us up until one o’clock so we had a couple of hours to fill.

Anouk very much wanted to go and visit Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World. We hopped onto a taxi and soon enough we were on the other side of Auckland. The first part of the Kelly Tarlton’s descibes Robert Falcon Scott’s effort to be the first to reach the South Pole during 1911-1912. Soon we were in the middle of Scott’s expedition – artifacts, films and facts described what his trip was like and his despair when he found out the Norwegians had beat him to it.

After that we took a ride in the Snow Cat which took us through the penguin enclosure. Here they had all kinds of penguins, including the yellow-faced emperor ones. Other interesting things to see after that were turtles being fed, very large stingrays, a dead architeutis dux or giant squid preserved in alcohol, and some pictures on the life of Kelly Tarlton, an expert on maritime recovery and conservation. This aquarium pioneered the walk-through acrylic tunnels that are now common throughout the world, and we could see many endemic New Zealand fish through these here. After the tunnels were a dozen or so more tanks, containing fish like sea horses, clown fish (i.e. Nemo), lion fish and a large collection of lobsters.

Even penguins need a decent shower.

Soon we were back in a taxi towards the hotel and, after having a bite to eat at the Soul bar, sure enough the shuttle bus was there at one o’clock sharp. The driver took us to the Kea Campers depot which was about 15 km north of Auckland.

Once there a very kind lady called Chantal made us very welcome and, after having signed all the necessary documents, showed us our way around our spanking brand-new -looking camper, a Ford Transit that had been especially modified. I had more or less forgotten what we had ordered, but it had just about as much luxury as our hotel room the night before – a microwave, a television set, a DVD player, a radio, a nice and wide bed, a fridge, loads of storage space, camping chairs, camping table, cutlery, all towels and bed linen, a shower, a toilet, a gas-powered stove, air conditioning, etc. Ahem.

We needed to stock up on some food and other stuffs so, armed with a stack of discount vouchers we had received at the Kea depot, we headed for Food Town – the supermarket a bit further south. Anouk, as usual, went supermarket frenzy and bought loads of “productjes”. I also got a new pair of shoes from Foot Locker as the old ones were quite literally falling apart, along with a nice sweater as well.

Shortly we were heading south towards Waitomo – the home of famous caves containing glowworms and ancient Maori art. Towards about 7 o’clock we arrived the Waitomo Caves Holiday Top Ten Park – a long name for a lovely camping. The lady at the reception proved to be very kind and sorted us out a nice spot close to the facilities. After having sorted out all our bags and having stashed away all our clothes and food in the right places, we set off to the communal kitchen to make ourselves our hotdogs.

After having eaten we went back to the camper to watch The Whale Rider – a kiwi film we borrowed from the reception for free. I think we made it about 30 minutes through the film before we were both snoring away.

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