Monday, March 19, 2012

Winter Escape 2012: North Island, New Zealand

Our NZ trip is with the budget Magic Bus Tour; we anticipate being with the younger folk backpacking their way around NZ and staying in hostels.

Auckland has many steep hills around the city. Our accommodation was on top of one of these hills. It was easy to get panoramic views of Auckland which is locally known as the City of Sails--many, many yachts are anchored in the harbour.

The Shires Rest--home of the Hobbiton Movie Set 
On our way to Rotorua we pass by Bombay Hills with brief stops at Thames and Paeroa--known for NZ's Lemon and Paeroa spring water (LP) national soft drink. Our lunch stop was at the Shires Rest near Matamata--home of the world famous Hobbiton movie set which is open for touring the set of where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. In these shires there are thousands and thousands of sheep grazing on the miles and miles of rolling hills. On one particular day there were 13,000 of them.

Eruption of Lady Knox Geyser 

While in Rotorua it was a night of taking in the Maori culture that included Maori food and entertainment. Before leaving Rotorua we visited the spectacular Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland. In one section was the original site of the Lady Knox geyser eruption; today, it is a tourist site where the officials cause the geyser to erupt at certain times so that the tourists can witness the shooting jets of steam up to 20 metres high.

Wandering around the Geo-Thermal Wonderland 

On the other side around this highly active geothermal wonderland we wandered through the area, passing bubbling mud holes, sulphur pools and witnessing steam emitting from the various hot spots. It is a natural phenomenon that is an awesome experience.

Sulphur Pool 

The Steep Climb out of the Glowworm Cave 

The village of Waitomo took us into the Glowworm cave. We walked many, many steps down into the darkest part of the earth to enter the cave. Once inside this pitch dark area we walked for about 200 metres inside the cave observing the glowworms all lit up. They look like many clusters of tiny green lights on top of the cave. It was an unusual experience. After recovering from the steep and arduous climb up to the surface, we stopped for lunch and lots of much needed beverage. We then did the Bushwalk which took us through deep bush, forest and small crater-like tunnels along the way.

Volcanic Rock Formations 
The drive through the Tongariro National Park was stunning. This is an active volcano . At the lookout points we see dramatic craters with its crevices and lines of rock creating unusual rock formations. The Tongariro area is known for its skiing and is dotted with ski chalets around the area. There is also the impressive Tongariro Chateau--a five star hotel set in the ski hills.

We walk to Tawhai Falls which is not unusual in itself, except that two of our fellow passengers and our bus driver jumped over the falls into the deep, swirling waters at the bottom. Surprisingly, they surface unscathed. After a barbeque of sausages and steak with salads we turn in for the night in anticipation of our next stop, Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

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