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Nature and Landscapes

Sunday 11th October 2015

sunny 17 °C

We were booked in to do a glowworm tour this morning, our sole reason really for coming to Waitomo. We needed to be in the village by about 9:45am so we were able to have quite a leisurely breakfast. It didn't take us long to check out and we had time to look in the visitor centre in the town briefly before we needed to meet our local Maori guide Mangu. There should have been twelve of us but half the group hadn't arrived just after the departure time so sadly for them they were left behind. On the journey up to the cave we were given information about the local area and Mangu also explained about the legislation/ case law stating that farmers own the rights the the cave systems that open onto their land. That meant that Spellbound the company that we were with and one other were able to have exclusive rights to the caves that we were going into.

The drive was about twenty minutes or so up a gravel track and gave us great views of the surrounding countryside. The landscape was very hilly, with lots of steep dips filled with trees and it was explained to us that this was created by the collapse of cave systems. We were dropped of and the six of us made the short walk to the cave entrance whilst Mangu parked the minibus.

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Once there we put on helmets with head torches and entered the cave. A short way in, we stopped and switched off our lights and took a look a some glowworms. It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the dark but once they did it was amazing how many of the small blueish specks of light we could see. Mangu told us quite a bit about the life cycle of the larvae who spend nine to twelve months in this stage, in contrast to the two or three days as a fly during which time they mate. We were also told how they make the silk threads that they use to catch their prey.

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We then walked deeper into the cave and boarded a small inflate able raft. This was propelled by Mangu using a simple rope system which made the journey very quiet.

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Both photographs courtesy of Spellbound Tours

By this time our eyes were really getting accustomed to the dark and we were encouraged to leave our cameras and torches off for the time being. In order to stimulate the light producing quality of the worms, Mangu clapped to create the vibrations that make them believe food is present. Sure enough even more glowed, and the older the glowworms the brighter the light.

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Photograph courtesy of Spellbound Tours

He manoeuvred up and down the stream so that we could get a really good look at them and then we were able to get our cameras out and take some photographs. My ones of the glowworms were not very successful but the pictures we took of the silk webs more so. As we moved downstream the sound of a waterfall nearby became very loud which was quite disconcerting given that it was completely dark apart from the light from the glowworms. In order to keep our eyes adjusted to the dark once we got off the boat we kept our head torches off and relied solely on the light from our cameras. This meant that once we got back to the first main cave area we were able to see many more glowworms than when we first entered the cave system. Once out we walked to the field where Mangu had parked the minibus and we had tea or coffee and biscuits.

It was then only a short walk to a second cave. This was a more traditional set of chambers with rock formations such as stalagmites and stalactites. Mangu pointed out places where a cave had collapsed or a stream diverted. We also saw the skeleton of a now extinct Moa bird with its large dangerous looking talons.

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Once we had finished exploring this cave system we went back in the minibus to Waitomo. It was interesting looking at the scenery and at one point we saw some men on quad bikes moving a few cattle, there must have been more people than animals which amused me. When we got back to the village we had a meal in one of the local cafes and then got on our way towards Tongariro.

As we approached the National Park we got tantalising glimpses of Mount Tangariro (6,453ft), Mount Ngauruhoe (7,503ft) and Mount Ruapehu (9,176ft) the more traditional cone shaped of the three volcanic peaks. At one point they were clearly outlined against a blue sky.

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When we arrived at our accommodation we went up to the owners house first, which was a few hundred metres away from The Tree House where we would be staying. Tim directed us back explaining that our house was unlocked, so back we went. There were about 60 steps from the parking area, so it was a bit of a struggle getting our bags in, but once we did we poured ourselves a gin and tonic and started to relax. Tim joined us and he explained how things worked. After he left we finished exploring the house and admired the views of the two most northward peaks and then made our supper and settled in for a relaxed and peaceful evening.

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Posted by Gill's Travels 22:50 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains new_zealand waitomo glowworms Comments (0)

How the World Began (part 2)

Saturday 10th October 2015

semi-overcast 15 °C

I was sad to be leaving Rotorua today. It isn't that the town itself is particularly special, in fact it is a little run down in places. However I really liked the hotel, and the peace and relaxation it offered once the door was shut behind us. In addition there are lots of interesting things to do within the area and we could have easily spent another few days exploring. We weren't in any particular hurry to get to our next destination and we had decided to delay our departure from the Rotorua area and go to Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park this morning. One of their key attractions is the Lady Knox Geyser which is 'seeded' every morning at 10:15. This meant that we had to be out of our accommodation a little earlier than usual. We arrived at the visitor centre in plenty of time to get our tickets and then drive the short distance to the geyser. There was plenty of seating and we positioned ourselves in a spot where we thought we would have a good view. A guide came just before the advertised time and explained a little about the geyser and why they set it off with surfactant (it's cycle is erratic meaning that not many visitors wouldn't see it erupt). It took about five minutes or so for it to explode into action but when it did it continued for nearly an hour and was still spluttering when we moved on. In some ways it was more spectacular when it slowed down a bit as you could then see more of the water droplets coming out of the vent.

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Once we had our fill of the Lady Knox Geyser we drove back to the main bit of the park to have a look at the other attractions. There were three sections to the walk and we decided that we wanted to do all of them in order to maximise the number of features that we could see. The main thing that struck me was the array of colours that can be found in nature. Whether this is the sulphurous coloured rocks or the yellows and blues of the Artist's Palate, the green and ochre of the lichen on the ground and growing on the trees, the soft opal greens of the Frying Pan Flat and some of the waterfalls, or the more intense emerald green of the Lake Ngakoro and the pea green of Devil's Bath.

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Perhaps the most spectacular is the 700 hundred year old Champagne Pool which is 65 metres in diameter and 62 metres deep. It has a combination of minerals and metals including gold, silver, mercury, sulphur and arsenic colouring the water turquoise and the sinter ledge bright orange.

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When we had finished looking around we went back to the visitor centre where we ate a late lunch, after which we started making our way to our bed and breakfast in Waitomo which was a couple ours away. The scenery was lovely for much of the way, but as is often the way there were tantalising glimpses with few places to stop and even less time to explore.

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By about 5pm we had arrived and checked in. We were able to relax in the guest lounge for a while and also eat a supper of cheese baguettes that we had prepared earlier. Our room was pretty but quite small and the whole house was perched on a little hill with great views of the surrounding countryside. Our host was very friendly but was perhaps a little too hyper for my taste. Despite being perfectly friendly and comfortable it didn't really do anything to change my mind about traditional bed and breakfasts.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua new_zealand geothermal Comments (0)

How the World Began (part 1)

Friday 9th October 2015

sunny 16 °C

We had booked a trip to one of the geo-thermal areas today but as we didn't need to be there until about 1pm we were able to have another slow start and relax in our apartment for most of the morning. We then left to make the 30 minute journey to Waimangu Volcanic Valley at about midday. As we left the highway to drive the last few kilometres, the countryside was heavily wooded and gave no indication of the geothermal activity that was present nearby. We arrived at the visitor centre and explained that we wanted to do the full walk down to the lake which is about a two and a half mile walk.

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The footpath initially went past the southern crater, which was a deep emerald green in colour and from there we walked along the edge of the Echo Crater and watched the steam rising from Frying Pan Lake. There was an atmospheric rock formation called Cathedral Rocks which had steam rising up from the lake as well as fumaroles releasing steam into the atmosphere.

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As we walked past these formations, every now and again we would get whiffs of sulphur. From the overflow stream from Frying Pan Lake we took a short diversion to the incredibly bright blue Inferno Crater lake which has a 38 day cycle during which time the water level rises by 12 meters before discharging into the streams that eventually flow into Lake Rotomahania.

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It was fascinating looking at the steaming streams and waterfalls that are a feature of the valley.

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As we continued on our walk we went past the bright ochre coloured Marble and Warbrick Terraces, spluttering out steaming water and mineral deposits shaping and reshaping the landscape as they do so.

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The further we got on the walk and the more bus stops we passed (there are three on the way to the lake) we saw less and less people. We had about two hours to make the walk down to alongside the stream to Lake Rotomahania from where we had arranged to go on a 45 minute boat trip to see more geothermal features, many of which were linked to the the eruption of Mount Tarawara 131 years ago.

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This joined two small lakes and increased the overall size of the flooded area many times over. There was only Nigel and I on the cruise and it was surprising that they still went out with so few people, but as we had walked two hours to get there we were pretty glad they honoured the booking. We were taken across the centre of the lake from where we could see the main crater of the volcano and then continued along the shoreline seeing more fumaroles and mini geysers as we went.

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The strap line for the park, which is How the World Began, really seemed to fit the area. When we got back to the mooring we were able to catch the bus back to the visitor centre from where we drove back to Rotorua stopping at a supermarket en-route to get provisions in order to cook a risotto for dinner. Before I started cooking we took a hour out for a gin and tonic and some relaxing time in the hot tub.

Posted by Gill's Travels 19:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes lakes rivers rotorua new_zealand geothermal Comments (0)

In Hot Water!

Wednesday 7th October 2015

sunny 16 °C

Although our time in Tauranga has been fine, and we had an amazing breakfast this morning, I was looking forward to moving on. It is one of the few places on our trip that I probably wouldn't recommend for those on a limited schedule. I was hoping that we could get away early, but a problem with a tour booking meant a phone call and a quick transfer of money and we realised our everyday account was getting low. The journey to Rotoroa was less than two hours so we had planned to stop at some waterfalls en-route. The scenery was lovely once we got out of Tauranga; some steep hills initially and the into farms and orchards. Perhaps not surprisingly kiwi fruit is grown and we went past a Australian style giant advertising kiwi fruit beside the road.

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The majority of the orchards we have seen in New Zealand have had high conifer hedges around them, presumably to protect the delicate blossom and fruit from the wind and frosts, and this area was no exception. We saw a sign for a honey farm/ museum and decided to have a look. The exhibition was led by a guide and ours was very new to her job and quite nervous. The displays were interactive and it was very interesting and we got the feel of what it is like to have lots of bees around you spinning and shaking as they pass messages to their fellow bees. We also got to taste the honey, which was delicious. Our guide told us about the health properties, especially manuka honey and she told me where there was a manuka bush that I could look at.

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There was also a hive we could look into. After our tour we brought some manuka honey, as they said that one of the things it is good for is digestive problems so I thought it might be good for my IBS. Before leaving we bought some savoury muffins for our lunch and then got on our way.

It probably took us another half an hour to reach the Okere Falls. I already knew that these were well known in the area for guided white water rafting and although neither of us were tempted to have a go, it was certainly worth having a look at others doing so. We were lucky as there was a group of rafts going down just after we arrived. The first rapid seemed relatively straightforward and all got down safely. We then walked down to the second fall and this was much narrower and steeper and two out of the three we saw turned over. The guides respond very quickly and seemed to have a well rehearsed routine but it still looked very scary. It appeared that one girl was a bit shaken up having banged herself on another person's helmet (so we heard later).

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We continued walking to where the rafts finish although there were none coming down at that point. We walked back the way we had come and got our car and then drove down the road, back to the bottom of the falls with the intention of eating our lunch. Whilst we were sitting there some more rafts came in. They all looked very exhilarated but there was no opportunity for them to relax as they all had to help get the raft out of the river and back to the trailers.

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Several local people also walked by and stopped. A woman who lives really near was walking two dogs, one of which insisted we throw sticks for him. Some young girls were doing some serious posing and photography and the two boys with them who were probably their brothers wanted to join in and I took a sneaky photo.

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By then it was really time for us to get on our way and finish our journey. It probably took us another twenty minutes or so to get into Rotorua, and we quickly checked in and got shown to our room. It was lovely to have our own space after the bed and breakfasts and particularly nice to have a hot tub on our balcony. We relaxed for a while and then walked to the local park which had lots of areas fenced off due to geothermal activity.

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We relaxed for a while taking advantage of the communal foot baths, which was slightly strange but great for wary feet. We then walked to the supermarket as we needed to get some food. This was much further than we thought and we were pretty tired when we got back to our room. We had a gin and tonic and went in the hot tub before dinner. We ended the day feeling tired but relaxed and chilled out.

Posted by Gill's Travels 21:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls rivers rotorua new_zealand geothermal tauranga rafting Comments (0)

Rest and Relaxation in the 'City'

Tuesday 6th October 2015

sunny 24 °C

We went for a continental breakfast this morning as there was a great spread of breads, meat, fruit and toast as well as the offer of a cooked breakfast. I had been feeling a bit miffed last night when we were chucked out of the guest lounge a couple of minutes before the 10pm 'curfew' by our bathrobed host, but they did seem to make a effort to give us good service at breakfast. After we had finished eating we drove across the city (although I would probably call it a large town). Tauranga is quite industrial, with a big container port and lots of gas storage so as you drive through it is not the prettiest of places. It seemed to be a different matter once we got down to Mount Maunganui, as both the hill itself and the beach were really beautiful.

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There are two walks on the Mount, one up to the summit which 232 metres high and the base track which runs round by the water and is 3.4 kilometres in distance. We decided to go for the later. It was a lovely walk with great views and being the school holidays there were lots of people out walking, children clambering on the rocks and in the rock pools, all giving the area a lovely relaxed family feel.

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On our way round we saw a number of young fur seals basking on the rocks and in the rock pools. It probably took us an hour or more to do the walk as we stopped a couple of times to soak up the view. By the time we got back into the town it was lunchtime and so we stopped and had some food before walking across to the beach and onto Moturiki Island which is actually joined to the mainland by the sandy beach. We made the short walk to the end and then sat for a while on the rocks watching young people, perhaps a little recklessly, jumping into the sea.

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Once we had walked back to the beach we sat for a while and I had a paddle. The water was still quite cold although there were quite a number of hardy New Zealanders having a swim. Nigel had arranged to go and have his hair cut so he took me back to our accommodation where I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Nigel came back a little while later looking like a new man! Having seen the hubbub of restaurants down by the seafront we decided to go for what we knew and liked and had a meal at the same place that we ate at last night. The food was lovely again, although I caused a bit of a stir when I managed to knock my tall glass of beer over, sending shards of glass everywhere. It was a tragic waste of good beer but the waitress quickly came and cleared it up and after sharing a dessert we went back to the B & B. Interestingly the lounge had all the lights off when we got back so we took the hint and retired straight to our room

Posted by Gill's Travels 14:39 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hills ocean new_zealand tauranga Comments (0)

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