Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The North Island

Kia Ora (hello and welcome) Archmere group!
Adele, our guide (Aidan Callaghan) and I met the 14 students and 2 teachers this morning.  Luck was with us as we walked to our very nice 29 passenger coach, which fortunately was parked under cover--the moment we got to the bus and met Richard, our driver, a squall passed through with heavy rain and wind.  There is a “Southerly” coming through the North Island today so we headed south for Rotorua driving through some rain and strong winds, arriving about 3 hours later.  Intermittent rain and sun greeted us in this town of steaming geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools.  But the sun came out as we arrived at the Polynesian Pools, a spa with several mineral baths with different temperatures ranging from 38 to 42 degrees Celsius.  The sulfur smell and slick feeling on your skin was not a deterrent to the therapeutic soak, a great way to relax after a long plane ride! 

Next we made our way to Te Puia, a Maori cultural experience where we learned about their spiritual beliefs, how they came to settle around these natural hot springs, carving and weaving schools.  The geyser was erupting for us and we sat on hot rocks, which felt great in the chilly wind!  The rain has passed and it was a lovely afternoon.  This evening we were treated to a performance of dance and song and then a hangi, a dinner where the food is cooked in the ground, meat and vegetables sort of smoked and steamed at the same time.  The Maori village uses the geothermal energy to heat their homes and cook with as they are located right on top of the steam vents, boiling mud and a cold stream running through. 

About we returned to the YHA hostel where we are staying.  A very affordable option, these are self-catering set ups with a public kitchen, utensils, dishes and cookware—you bring your own food.  Adele and Aidan had stocked us up with food and drinks before leaving Auckland.  What fun!  The rooms are Spartan, the kids had shared bathrooms but ours were quite comfortable with private bath.

After breakfast and clean up we headed off for Huka Falls, a narrow gorge at the end of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.  This is the beginning of New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato.  Amazing how much water is moving through there, enough to fill 5 Olympic sized swimming pools every MINUTE! 

We got back on the bus and continued south, skirting the huge Lake Taupo and then taking the “Desert Road" which bisects three national parks.  To the west we saw Mount Tongariro, a classic snow-covered cone-shaped volcano that is flanked by two other impressive peaks. 

We continued to travel through sheep farms and dairies and stopped for lunch in small town park.  Around we arrived in Wellington, the capital city, after traveling a short distance right next to the Tasman Sea. 

Our visit to the national museum Te Papa, right on Oriental Bay, was both enlightening and fascinating.  Te Papa is a very interactive museum with great information about natural occurrences like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which are part of this young country’s history, in addition to the natural history.  They even have a rain forest set up outside, where Trish and I heard the most musical bird singing…turned out it was a tui, a bird which has recovered from near extinction.  We were surprised to see its black plumage with two white feathers, kind of like earrings, hanging down next to its beak.  The variety of sounds it made was unbelievable! 

Tui - this is from a postcard, my picture was ok, but this is much better!
Wellington reminds me a bit of Cape Town, it is quite hilly and a large port, the wind blows a lot here.

Gas prices here are the same as they are throughout the country, a consistent $2.18 per liter—that’s over $8.00 per gallon.  Every station is the same, there does not seem to be competition on gas prices.

We are boarding the ferry from Wellington to Picton in less than an hour, more later!

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