Sunday, 10 March 2013

N.Z North- Hobbits, Hot Springs and Hakas

Craig writes: New Zealand. At first I was surprised to learn that the entire population of New Zealand is only a little over 4.5 million.  Then not so surprised when you learn that while Ghengis Khan was conquering most of EurAsia, while William Wallace was giving the English a good hiding and while some of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe were being built, New Zealand lay completely uninhabited . Not a single human being to bother it.  That all changed when seven canoes full of Polynesians paddled over in 1246 and decided to call the place home.

They lived happily by themselves till all of a sudden in 1642, a Dutchman called Abel Tasman, arrived for a short and inglorious stay. While stopping to replenish water they had a run in with the Maoris and several men on both sides were killed.  As Tasman's white sails billowed off into the sunset the Maoris must have wondered what the hell had hit them and who were these white devils. They had a long time to think about it because that would be the last white man they would see for some time. They would have to fight among themselves for another 127 years before the "Eddy Everywhere" of exploration, Capt James Cook arrived in 1769 and proceeded to map most of the coastline. From then on several different European countries, and some North American whaling ships, started to visit and trade. They thoughtfully introduced muskets, potatoes and several diseases. Thanks to the bubonic appearance of "civilized man" and the inter-tribal "Musket Wars" that killed 40,000 Maoris warriors between 1801 and 1840,  by the 19th century the pre -settlement Maori numbers had decreased by 40%. In 1840 the Brits signed a treaty with the Maoris when they were petitioned by the Maori chiefs to help defend them from the French. The Brits forthwith claimed sovereignty over the country and made it part of the realm of Her Maj.  The rest as they say, is history.

The country itself is only 1600kms long and 400kms at it's widest.  The two islands are only separated by a meager 22kms with two thirds of the population, and most of the Maoris, living in the North.  Auckland draws the biggest crowd with about one third of the total population living there.  The rest scatter themselves between, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. That leaves a paltry 1.5 million to spread around the whole South Island. Another reason why I really like the South Island.

We flew out of the beautiful South and headed North to Auckland. The best hire car we could get was an old cluncker called a Nissan Sunny. Where do they get these names?  First thing about the drive is, where are the mountains? The South has 23 mountains over 3000 metres, the North has three over 2500 metres and they're all volcanoes.  There are lots of cows grazing and maize growing, it's hard to find a sheep. For what the north lacks in stunning mountain ranges it definitely makes up for with its abundant, and slightly alarming, volcanic activity.  There are steaming mud holes, active volcano's and thermal springs a plenty.

Off to Hobbiton today and I must admit, feeling a little giddy with excitement. Wow. If you can remove yourself from the throng of tourists and find a spot to yourself, which wasn't that hard, it took very little imagination to believe you were there, in real life Hobbiton, and Gandolf was just about to round the bend in his is old horse drawn cart with a chatty Frodo Baggins beside him.

The view over the lake up to Bilbo/Frodo's place under the big oak

I swear I saw the curtain move
For a country undergoing the hottest and driest summer ever and the surrounding country side looking varying shades of grey and brown, Hobbiton is an oasis. The village is not spared a single drop of water to keep the gardens, the grass and the veggie patches in full bloom.  The place is meticulously groomed and watered to maintain that old lived in Hobbiton feel. There are tiny wheel barrows parked outside tiny woodsheds, little brush brooms leaning against gates patiently waiting to be used to sweep up a few errant leaves scattered across the path, hobbit size work benches with hobitty tools and trolleys ready to roll in a few cords of wood to keep the hearth going. Huge veggies freshly picked and lying there, ready to be thrown in the pot for tonight's supper.

 Hobbit Quidditch anyone?

We're just popping out, come back later!
The highlights were definitely Bagg End with the original bench where Gandalf and Bilbo sat to watch the sunset before Bilbo's eleventieth birthday party. Here's a snippet. The scene was set at sunset but because they were facing East to get the sun where they wanted it they had to shoot the scene at sunrise and pretend it was sunset. Tricky.  The big green door of Bilbo and Frodo's Hobbit hole was left tantalizingly ajar and roped off.  The big party tree, the stone bridge over to the Green Dragon and the old mill were all special moments. We finished at the Green Dragon where we were all given either a choice of a free cider or an ale.
Gandalf and Bilbo sat on this bench to watch the sunset (sunrise!)

Yer just want to poke your nose in don't ya

The bridge over to the Green Dragon

The Old Mill and Bilbo's big Party Tree on the far right

The whole tour lasts about about two hours and at $75 NZD an adult, $35 for Callum and $10 for Charlie, it was good value. Even Christina, who is not a LoTR fan, liked it.

Well we're definitely back in the swing of touring now. Hobbiton yesterday, Te Puia today and Huka Falls tomorrow.  Just as well really, Callum informs us today is our 50th day on the road. Seems like we only left last week, till I stop and read the blog.  We have done some stuff in the last few weeks.
Te Puia is a Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and home to the largest geyser in the Whakarewarewa valley, the Pohutu geyser. Every 30 minutes or so the immense build up of steam, gas and boiling water in the underground chamber builds to a point where it cant be contained forcing a violent explosion of water 30 metres up through the geyser vent and out into the air.
The Pohutu Geyser showing off
There are also the sinus cleansing mud pools and hot springs with temperatures over 90 degrees C. AArrh , I love the smell of sulphur early in the morning. You want to be careful about sinking a bore in this area. The earths crust is only 5km thick, not the average 40km, and there is an active lava flow which super heats the crust above resulting in all the geo-thermal activity.

Mud holes make for lousy action shots...and they really smell

Keeping the old arts alive
There are traditional wood carving and weaving schools here where a select group of locals are being taught to keep the old skills alive. It's amazing what they can do with the fibre of the flax plant.  In a matter of minutes our guide had stripped a large wide leaf using nothing more than a traditional mussel shell and a shapely bit of thigh to roll out a double thread of flax fibre strong enough to tow a small car with.   Ohh, we also got to visit the Kiwi Sanctuary where we got to see the furry arse of a sleeping Kiwi, the bird not the person. Very exciting.  All in all worth a visit.

A very casual start to a day which held a nice surprise at the end. First stop was Huka Falls which is fed by the Waikato River. Waikato drains Lake Taupo and the flow rate is regulated by the Taupo Control Gates as part of a local Hydro Scheme. At Huka Falls the water is squeezed through a narrow channel about 15 metres wide and a couple of hundred metres long. At the falls end the water regularly topples over at around 200,000 litres per second resulting in a massive washing machine of swirling pounding water of the most beautiful soft aqua blues, light jades and frothy white peaks.

Stunning Huka Falls
Onto Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand at 616 sq km and 189 metres deep. This massive body of water is actually sitting in the cauldera of the  worlds largest active super volcano. Without boring you lets just say the last super volcano of that size to erupt covered most of North America in two metres of volcanic debris and was possibly responsible for the last mass extinction of life on the planet. Having said that, it's a beautiful place with some lovely little restaurants along the lake front and a cheeky hole in one golfing pontoon sitting 100 metres off shore offering $10,000 for any lucky hacker wanting to chance their arm. It's all very nice, I'm just not going to buy any lake side property there.
After that we were going to head back home but were given a tip that there were some hot springs worth checking out in a place called Waikite Valley. Having not been all that impressed with the hot springs we saw at Te Puia we were ho humming about taking the 6km detour but in the end thought, what the heck....  Best thing ever!
When you arrive you must take the short Eco walk that leads to the source of this amazing natural phenomenon.  An absolutely prehistoric setting of the largest eruption of boiling water in New Zealand.

The moss growing here dates back 340 million years, the 2nd oldest thing on the planet
"The Source" water from the boiling Otamakokore River gushes out at 98 C 
Water bursts out at a scolding 98 degrees C.  Huge clouds of steam billow up and swirl around this tiny valley so that one minute your looking into the heart of a bubbling cauldron and the next your desperately trying to cover your camera from a cloud of hot clammy steam.    The waters have long been know for their mystical therapeutic value and while my hair was still grey and my sprained groin from an over enthusiastic lunge session was still niggling me, damn it, I felt great after a 40 minute soaking.   There is a choice of six different pools of varying temperatures that you can soak in and all the pools are emptied at the end of the day and refilled overnight with fresh water from the spring.

One of six steamy pools

And another
And another
You can even hire your own indoor pool if you fancy stripping off and boiling your tender bits in private. My favourite was the hot pool at 42 degrees C. There are no accommodation units on site but they have a camping ground that takes about twenty camper vans. The facilities look good. The toilets and showers are clean and tidy and there's a handsome little bar and entertainment area there.  Plus if you camp for $40 NZD per night, you get to use the hot springs free! Highly recommend this one. Ooh and very affordable, family pass of 2 plus 2 for $38NZD. 

"THE NAIL" by Callum V.W.
Turns out the whole Glow Worm thing is a bit of a con. Their not worms, their actually maggots. They mix up this glowing concoction that they shoot out of their butts to attract insects. To trap the unsuspecting bugs they spin these fine fairy floss threads that work like a spiders web. Once trapped they literally reel the fresh meat in, eat em and lay some more sticky threads.  They do this for up to nine months till their fat enough then they spin themselves a cocoon to hatch as grown up Glow Worms.

Glow Worm death traps
Glow Maggots...... glowing
The girls live for two days, the guys for up to five.  The girls get to have a couple of hundred babies before kicking the bucket while the guys get to hump everything that glows before dying of exhaustion.
We learnt all this at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.  It's a short tour of about 45 minutes. There is a working amphitheater there where many a concert is held. Dame Kirri Karwashe has apparently performed there many times. The tour is finished with a slow and very hushed boat ride through the main Glow Caves. Apparently they don't like a lot of noise.  The guide pulls the boat through the caves using a suspended rope to keep any noise to a minimum, you turn a corner and suddenly the roof lights up like a moonless desert night sky. It is spectacular and worth a look at. You can forgive them their little fib, I'm not sure that Glow Maggots would have the same appeal and that would be a shame.

The Ruakuri caves were brilliant.  A large spiral walkway descends 65 metres down to where the caves begin.  There are some stunning displays of Stalagmite and Stalactite formations. It takes 100 years to form a 1cm cubed piece of Stalactite. On a rough calculation some of what we were looking at were over one million years old. It was a two hour tour but the time flashed by.  

The most amazing cave entrance you'll ever go in.
Stalactites, these little ones are only slightly older than the pyramids
I would love to come back and do the Black Water Rafting. There are underground rivers and waterfalls that run through the same cave system that you can negotiate on rubber tubes, in pitch blackness.  If the screams echoing through the caves were any thing to go by it's a must do.

Look familiar Sydney?
Stunning harbour views

Our flight was put back six hours so we decided to head into Auckland and go up the Sky Tower.  I'm glad we did. We had a nice walk around parts of the city then headed out to Ponsonby. It reminds me a bit of St Kilda or Mt Lawley - Beaufort st. 
New Zealand is Awesome!!

Christina writes: When we left the South island, I felt sure that I would be disappointed with the North island in contrast to the majestic mountains and lakes we had been enjoying. How wrong I was, I find the whole geothermal region fascinating and the hilly landscape quite beautiful. Being in NZ made me feel closer to home - resulting in a little home sickness. The best part was cooking with the local produce and enjoying the freedom of eating when we want and having a car to jump into anytime we please. Craig has summed up our two weeks so well, all I have to add is a few photos of the good meals we enjoyed.

Corn cakes with bacon, avocado and salsa from a lakeside cafe in Taupo

Peanut Butter, caramel and chocolate cheesecake - in a jar

Kiwi Cheesecake - made by the supermarket, and me.

Smoked salmon risotto

Callum with leftover pizza from The Pizza Library - HUGE slices

1 comment:

Clare M said...

OK so I am officially home sick for NZ now. Well done!