OOOOk. Are you ready? I’m not sure I am. Here we go.
Tom and I went to New Zealand over the Christmas holidays, and the question that inevitably is asked by everyone is, “How was your trip?”. The answer I’ve been giving everyone is, “It was bipolar”. When it was great, it was really really great, and when it was not so great, it was really really not so great. There was rain, brilliant sunshine, a few torrential downpours, an earthquake, national flooding and blue skies. We ate weird food like chicken flavoured chips, fancy McDonalds, hokey pokey ice cream and lots of different Cadbury products. We visited the mountains, the lakes, the glaciers and the beach. We went to five different national parks and slept under the brilliant stars. We saw the Southern Cross. We experienced a wide range of emotions, from crushing disappointment to manic glee and everywhere in between. In short, our trip to New Zealand is not one I will soon forget.
We left Seattle on Friday afternoon and flew down to LA with our two large backpacking packs, camera gear and “toy bags” for the plane. The LA airport is it’s own special Hell. The domestic terminals and the international terminals are not in the same building, and we had to shlep all of our belongings through two parking decks and across many busy streets to arrive in the international area. It was also raining…I thought it never rained in LA?? After finally finding our correct gate and killing some time eating overpriced Burger King, we finally were ready to get on the plane. We had a direct flight from LA to Auckland, New Zealand, so we were in it for the long haul. The flight is every minute of 13 hours, which is a long time, if you were wondering. We were in coach, which while being worlds better than flying coach domestically, was still the “low rent” district of the plane. I was entertained by the safety video for Air New Zealand, which features their beloved national rugby team, the All Blacks. They did serve us two full meals on the flight, (with complementary beverages, which were necessary after around hour 8…), and we had our own little screen thingys on the back of the seat in front of us which provided a nearly endless supply of movies. Tom slept for most of the flight, and I spent most of the time trying to not to think about the vast expanse of open water thousands of feet below.
Another “program” on the tv screen was the “flight information” program which had a little icon of an airplane that you could watch creep slowly around the world from LA to Auckland. After what seemed like days (which technically it was), the totally out of scale airplane icon arrived at New Zealand, and sure enough, there was LAND outside of our window! Real LAND! After getting off the plane we were processed through customs. We had to declare our tent and our hiking boots for inspection due to strict regulations on soil contaminants being brought into the country. As we were taking out our contraband, a man behind us in line says, “Do I have to declare these?”, and holds up two compressed fuel canisters. Since these are so far against the normal rules of what you can bring on an airplane, they were of course seized immediately and the guy was taken aside for questioning, still looking baffled about what he had done wrong. Luckily, our tent passed inspection, and we were ready to take on our rental car! Don’t laugh too much at the pale person next to the car. She lives in a world without sunshine in the winter months.
Tom drove on the left side of the road when we were in Ireland and the UK last summer, so I wasn’t to worried about his driving ability. We plugged in our trusty GPS that we have dubbed, ”Penny”, and were off. We decided to head south to our bed and breakfast where we would be staying for the next few nights. Somersal Bed and Breakfast is a lovely little place with lushly landscaped gardens and incredibly kind hosts. We were greeted with a warm smile and a cup of tea, which was nice, as it was raining, (you will sense a theme here). They also had a few sheep, which everyone seems to have, and which also happened to be grazing right outside our window. Quaint. That night, we ventured down to the local pub, where people kept wandering up to our table to chat, simply because we looked “new”. The Kiwis, as the New Zealanders call themselves, were all very nice to us totally strung out and jet lagged foreigners.
The next morning, we feasted on a delicious breakfast prepared by our hosts, which was very similar to the “British” breakfasts we got at so many B&Bs in the UK, but there was bacon, so we weren’t complaining. We then headed down to Wiatomo to visit the famed glowworm caves. These caves are known for having millions of small, blueish pricks of light sprinkled along their ceilings. These lights are the “worms”, which really aren’t worms at all, but larval stages of a type of fungal gnat. Glowworms sounds better in the marketing material though. There are many different outfitters who work in the area providing all manner of adventurous ways to experience the caves, but all we were really interested in seeing was the glowwoms themselves, so we opted for a more calm tour. We booked with Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours, which gave us a three hour tour of two different caves, one wet, with the glowworms and one that was a drier, more traditional, limestone cave with all the formations that are typical to these types of caves. Our guide was very knowlegable and gave us lots of details about the worms and caves. In the glowworm cave, we walked for a bit and were able to see the strands the larve drop down to catch their pray who are drawn to their light. We then boarded a rubber raft, turned out our lights, and our guide pulled us through the grotto hand over hand using a rope fixed overhead. It was very peaceful in the dark with the little blue lights splayed out above us like so many strange and unfamiliar constilations in the night sky.
The dry cave was also very interesting. There were your traditional stalactites and mites and other beautiful limestone formations. There were also several places where sinkholes had broken through into the cave, and the sky above was exposed. These holes are dangerous traps for animals though, and there were the bones of a few unfortunate souls who misstepped.
Later that day, after we emerged into the land of light, (and rain), we headed up towards Rotorura to visit some of the active geo-thermal sites there. We arrived too late to visit the Thermal Wonderland we had wanted to see, but were able to find the bubbling mud pools! Let’s just say, you should be thankful these photos are not scratch and sniff. The sulpher smell was nearly overpowering, as if a million eggs had all spoiled at once and you were forced to breathe it it. Or as Ludo says in Labrinth “SMELL BAD!!!” The bubbling, burbling, squirt and belching mud was pretty need though, even if it was noisy and smelly.
Next up…Tongoriro National Park and Wellington!
Note: The photo credits for many of these early photos go to Tom, as I was too jetlagged and crazy to take pictures…
Note #2 : These posts are long. I am sorry.