(not so) Warm weather and (the general lack of)Sunshine.
15.11.2009 - 19.11.2009
We spent our first day in New Zealand Checking out Auckland, the City of Sails. We spent some time exploring some of the cities large parks and the museum that focuses on Maori Culture and South Pacific History. We also checked out the super trendy “K” road or Karangahape Rd. This was at one point the "red light district" but has since become a hip place of cafes and shopping, home to many uber cool thrift shops and 2nd hand stores. We were both able to find the jeans we had been craving for NZ’s cooler climate at the first thrifty we stopped at. After a trip to the harbor to admire the luxury sailboats and yachts we ended the day at a Brew Pub cheering on the All Whites, NZ football (soccer) team, to a victory that qualified them for the 2009 world cup in South Africa. Who knows, maybe we will see them again in Johannesburg!
From Here on out we were in the campervan for our month in NZ. After a brief tutorial in the Cook Islands I was now thrown headfirst into downtown Auckland for my first few miles of driving on the left. It was a little herky jerky at first but I did a good job getting back downtown to pick up Meghan who was waiting with the bags. Getting put of Downtown proved to be more difficult than getting in as we had difficulty figuring out how to actually get on the highway. After a few wrong turns and a u-turn we were out and on our way. The biggest things for me about driving on the left is the stick (manual shift) being on the left but the indicator is still on the right. I can not tell you how may times I put the windshield wipers on when trying to signal and signaled when trying to turn on the wipers. Also the paint on the road is different. Sometimes the centerline is marked by a yellow line as it is in the states but most times it is just a white line so it is hard to determine if you are on a two way street or a one way road. Another thing about driving on the left that we caught onto in the city was looking the wrong way to check for oncoming traffic. Look left, then right!
Once outside of Auckland the weather quickly deteriorated and spoiled our plans to tackle the Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National park. With the cold weather we decided to seek out a thermal hot spring to warm us up. . Most hot springs I have been to have been a hot spring mixing with river water in a hot pool area. Were we were the entire river was hot and was apparently fed by many springs. We arrived just as the a tour buss was leaving and had the entire place to ourselves.
Our revised plan was to drive some remote back roads in search of the New Zealand Heartland. We are in the King Country. Land of green rolling hills and the setting for the Hobbits Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As we descended from the mountains of Tongoriro the sky’s open up to let the sunshine through and the temperature crept up to be tolerable. Our drive took us on seldom driven roads to the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Here we are treated to black sand beaches. Real black sand. Blacker than black and fine as powder. We stop at two beaches, the first down a sketchy steep dirt road that turns to sand at the bottom and the second at the end of a dirt road were a 300 meter tunnel cuts threw the steep hillside to a deserted black bay. Both places we had the beaches to ourselves or the few moments we stopped. After we had driven North up the coast we cut back to the east towards Waitomo along the Waikato river. This fertile valley was home to many farms and we were held up by a farmer driving sheep down the road. For a few moments we were surrounded by noisy sheep and barking sheep dogs as they surrounded the van and moved on. We see this all the time in CO but somehow in NZ, were the sheep outnumber the people 10 to 1, it seamed special.
Anyyone for Spelunking? We went big and decided to do a day of caving in the famous Waitomo Glow worm caves. The trip we had booked was a tubing trip through one of the may caves in the area inhabited by the “glow worm” Turns out the glow worm is actually a maggot (larva) and the maggot creates a glow by burning off waste internally because it dose not have a butt (or Bum in Kiwi English!) to crap it out! We descended into the narrow cave by ducking are way down and into the earth. At first there was just a trickle of water at our feet but we could here the sound of a river raging in the distance. At first it was really a narrow opening into the earth and shortly there after it opened up to a large room were we all gathered ourselves together and went over some safety procedures. From here I was volunteered to lead the group through the cave at the guides request and the amount of water increased as we mad our way in further. Eventually we got to the point were we were waist deep and it was time to stick our butts into our tubes back up to the ledge of a small waterfall, and plunger into the pool below! From here on out we would be rafting. We moved in short segments to keep the group together. Sometimes the water was moving slowly and we had to make our way under shallow underpasses and tight corridors, Other times it was full on rapids and we were bouncing off the walls and cascading down the subterranean stream. We came to another waterfall after a little while that was much larger than the first. Probably 7-10 feet high and we needed to jump off of it to continue on down the river. As before we were instructed to back up to the waterfall, insert our butts into the tube, and take a leap of faith backwards into the darkness! What a rush!. Once were all back together in the pool below the waterfall it was time to link up, douse the lights, and slowly float a section were the glow worms were especially prevalent. This was like stargazing on a clear night far from any city lights. The ceiling of the cave twinkled with thousands of glow worms as we slowly floated from one cave to the next. Despite the adrenaline rush of the waterfall this was the real highlight for me. Or trip ended with a lights out game of find your way out of the cave on your own! Not to hard with the river guiding your way but still a lot of fun. We were all bumping into each other, getting wedged together in narrow sections of the cave, and splashing about not knowing where we were or who was around us. Finally the Light from the outside world started to glow at the end of the tunnel and we made out way out of the cave threw the jaws of stalactites descending from the ceiling into the river. What an amazing experience! (Photos borrowed from internet due to cameras and water not mixing, and well they didn't allow them)
Next it was of to the sleepy surf town of Raglan. This town was featured in the 1960’s surf flick endless summer, a tale of adventurous surf bums chasing summer around the globe in their woody camper. As we descended onto the beach it seamed like the only thing that had changed was the woody being replaced by the Toyota campervans! Surfers lined the parking lot playing guitar and hanging out as others caught what has been said to be the longest left hand break in the world. Unfortunately no surfing for me as we did not have a lot of time before heading out to Auckland to catch our flight to Christchurch.