Electronic Postcard From Down Under #2

G'day --

January 14-15

Yikes, here I am sitting in the Hokitika Holiday Park in South Island, NZ and realizing that I had better catch you up on our adventures. We spent four delightful days in Auckland, the largest city in NZ (and containing almost 1/3 of the NZ population). Visited the village of Devonport, a 10 minute ferry ride from Auckland. It had an old fort in it with very dark tunnels and narrow vertical passages to climb. Great fun! Dill growing wild everywhere. Also saw a Maritime Museum containing a replica of the America's Cup (which Kiwis are quite proud of winning). We are zoo, botanical gardens, and aquarium aficionados, so we try to see those wherever we can. Here we saw a real live kiwi (nocturnal and rarely seen outside of a zoo), a wallaby, a tuatara (direct descendant of dinosaurs) and a cookaburra. One goal Di has is to see everything mentioned in the song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down," so she's made a start. We actually saw the zoo in the pouring rain but we had our raincoats and animals didn't mind at all.

Another tourist stop was the much touted and very unusual Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. It had two major themes. The first was a historical perspective of Antarctic exploration (complete with a replica of one of the first research stations and a penguinarium) and the second was an aquarium. You walk through a tunnel that is inside of the fish tank with the sea creatures swimming on either side and above you. Rays, lots of fish, even some good sized sharks were included.

January 16-17

Our next stop was several days in Whangarei (pronounced "fangeray"), a port town north of Auckland. We chose this area since it was mentioned in the guidebooks as the best scuba diving in NZ. We were not disappointed. At the suggestion of the hostel assistant, we (and a cute young man from Holland) contacted a local man (Kevin) who picked us up, took us out diving on his small boat (22 feet) and served as captain/divemaster/guide/storyteller for the day. We did our first two-tank scuba dive and saw lots of colorful fish (including scorpion fish), huge lobsters (Kiwis call it crayfish), manta rays, eels, and sea urchins. Kevin would take us by the hand and guide us under ledges to see stuff we would normally have missed. We went through underwater tunnels and later fed the fish while snorkeling and saw penguins. When you stop and realize that you are 60 feet down and the outsider in the underwater world, it is hard to believe.

We spent some time in the area exploring the Bay of Islands. Or at least we attempted to. Although the map said the road to Russell was paved, it wasn't. So we drove quite a while through subtropical jungle on a winding, narrow gravel road in the pouring rain on the left side of the road. We weren't sure where we were or how to get back. Luckily, we hit pavement again and found a ferry that helped us avoid returning the way we came. Thanks to our well-worn, trusty guidebooks for that one. Di pulled something in her knee while taking a side path to see a great waterfall, but aspirin and an ace bandage seems to be doing the trick. We later returned (by a safer route) to the area (Paihia) for excellent local fish dinner. Since it was fast approaching the end of summer holidays for school kids, the NZ tourists were out in force. Reminded me of Grand Haven in August. School is back in session now so things will be quieter.

January 18

The drive from Whangarei southeast to Rotorua was unfortunately eventful. We stopped at gift store of Kauri tree products, a local specialty. And we wisely chose not to visit the ever popular Cow Town, where you can even milk a cow! (no kidding, there is even a Sheep Town, Rabbit Town, and Possum Town). As we approached Auckland to make an Internet stop, Tim "clipped a curb" (as the Avis man so nicely put it) and blew out both tires on the passenger side (left) while crossing a narrow bridge. We were not hurt (only Tim's pride) and within 1.5 hours we were back on the road with a new rental car. Wait until you see the picture....we're talking major hole in the tire.

Stirred but not shaken, we proceeded onto Rotorua with a stop in Hamilton to meet with a teacher who uses our textbook. He had contacted us via e-mail and we talked with him for a while and visited his school, a Mormon private school for 13 - 18 year olds. As we traveled to Rotorua, it rained but we were rewarded with a double rainbow, one on top of the other (Di's first). A beautiful ending to a rather frustrating day.

January 19

Ahhh, Rotorua....one of the few cities you can smell before you see. It is the site of geothermal features (like Yellowstone, Iceland, and Russia). Having visited Yellowstone, we expected Rotorua to be smaller and less spectacular. Except for the variety of colors of hot springs at Yellowstone, Rotorua was as varied and interesting. We walked through two thermal areas with geysers (pronounced geezers here), hot springs, and mud pools as well as a waterfall, river, and Maori craft school. One geyser erupts each day at 10:15 am because the ranger pours soap into it. Discovered by a prison gang washing their clothes, when they added soap to the hot springs, the geyser erupted and they ran...leaving their dirty socks shooting 30 feet into the air. A trail in one area had cicadas making such a loud noise that you couldn't hear someone talking to you. NZ is known for having 26 varieties of cicada and they were all represented here. I think this is the original surround-sound stereo system.

January 20

About 150 km away from Rotorua is Waitomo area, famous for its caves. We did some blackwater rafting which consists of dressing in full wetsuits (boy were they hot) and headlamps, walking though a cow pasture and down into a cave. Then you get into a cold underground river and float along on inner tubes, sometimes with all the lights out. You also get to jump over some underground waterfalls and bounce off the limestone walls. Some of you probably don't think this sounds like fun but it was..as long as you don't dwell on where you are. We also took a tour through the glowworm caves. Thousands of little worms spin threads that hang from the cave ceiling. The worms glow in the dark and attract any unwary insects that venture nearby. The hungrier the worms, the brighter they glow. Its like a thousand points of light (sorry, George) inside a cave.

January 21

Next to the eastern port of Napier for a quick visit to an earthquake museum. In 1931, an earthquake made 10,000 acres of land rise by the city. Napier also has a great aquarium where you can dive into the tank and feed the sharks (no takers in this group!). Ended up in Wellington, at an old hotel converted to a hostel.

January 22

We stuffed a lot into our one day in Wellington -- saw Te Papa (trans. "Our Place") the new national museum. It was one of the top five museums I've ever seen. It presented a natural, historical, geological, artistic, and cultural introduction to New Zealand from both the Maori and white/european points of view. Lots of interactive displays (including virtual sheep shearing). And, like many of the points of interest here in NZ, it was free. Then we took a cable car up to the botanical gardens overlooking the city. It contained a huge rose garden (in full bloom), begonia house, and herb area. Dinner was at a pub close to the government buildings that was decorated in larger-than-life 3-D caricatures of NZ politicians. Seems like the Kiwis enjoy making fun of their leaders as much as we do! And we're off to the South Island on the ferry. That will be the next installment.

16 days gone, still feeling well and having fun...and you?

Di and Tim

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Tim and Diane's email address is ttdk@aol.com