Way Up North
The past two weeks have been one long adventure on the North Island. We visited many places along the way and more or less circumnavigated the sucker, minus most of the west coast as well as the area north of Auckland.
|A troll almost stepping on me at the Weta Cave.|
The next two nights were spent at the small town of Turangi where we stayed at a hostel that had an overly friendly dog as its namesake. The hostel wasn't terrible, but it could have been better, too. Our full day there was spent venturing up to Tongariro National Park and hiking around the volcanoes, which fortunately appeared for some photographs before falling behind the clouds again.
|Bubbling mud pots in downtown Rotorua.|
|Bilbo Baggin's home at the top of Bagshot Row, Hobbiton.|
|A sleeping tiger at the Auckland Zoo. All the animals were out that day (except the kiwis!).|
|A recreated city street at the MOTAT Museum, Auckland|
|The Driving Creek Railway, showing the side of the train and one of the switchbacks, Coromandel.|
|A teracota tunnel constructed along the Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel.|
|A Driving Creek Railway passenger train, named "Snake", Coromandel.|
|One of the beautiful sea rocks on the Coromandel Peninsula.|
|Downtown Napier, showing a few of the art deco buildings. We stupidly didn't take any better ones. Sorry!|
|The park through which Gandalf and Sauruman walk in Isengard in The Fellowship of the Ring.|
|The Southern Alps at Kaikoura, where they reach the Pacific Ocean.|
|Seal pups playing beneath a waterfall near Kaikoura.|
The True Kiwi
Searching for kiwis is a strangely difficult task in New Zealand. Since they are an endangered species (and there are six species of kiwi), they are not found easily. We've already been to numerous places, in fact, that have kiwis, but we never even saw a trace of one yet. The North Island has more kiwis, but our search for one was still difficult. At Zealandia, we found that the daylight and openness of the park protected them, but also allowed them to sleep through the day (they're nocturnal, naturally). At the Auckland zoo, we discovered that they had multiple kiwi in an exhibit that flipped day and night. Yet the exhibit was still so dark that even if there were kiwi in there (we think we saw one's feet), they were out of sight and ignoring us. Finally, out of all places, we discovered that the Napier Zoo had a single large kiwi on exhibit, also with flipped day/night cycles. But we got there in the simulated morning, when the exhibit was somewhat illuminated, and right there, searching for bugs in the middle of the exhibit, was a class A kiwi bird.
These creatures are much larger than you may imagine, about a foot tall and round like a kiwifruit. They also are surprisingly fidgety. The one there was pecking around everywhere for foot scraps in the ground. And it found some, too, because it kept eating stuff it found. But also was pacing around frantically, which may have been because of the exhibit, or the simulated day, or who knows what. In any case, very strange creature and one of the weirdest birds ever. You've got to try and see one if you're in New Zealand, although results vary.
During our journeys, we did the almost impossible: we hardly ate out at all! That's right, we carted around our bag of pre-cooked bacon and eggs and other not-so-cooked comestibles. It wasn't always easy to accomplish and we broke down a few times, especially near the end of the trip, but overall we saved a bunch of money on not eating out. As a reward, we had a lot of ice cream or, more specifically for me, thickshakes. Thickshakes are what Americans call milkshakes. They are called that because they are thicker than a New Zealand milkshake. Like in the UK and elsewhere, milkshakes are more literally milk with just some ice cream, so they are really cold but really watery. Thickshakes put in around twice as much ice cream to keep it thick and creamy. Oddly, they also pretty much use vanilla ice cream exclusively for thickshakes, adding in flavour burst that resemble (and taste a bit like) snow cone flavours. Very odd.
We also tried to so something else creative on this trip: we pre-made taquitos. They actually came out really well, though they were a bit soggy by the last day. I didn't get sick of them despite eating them for five days in a row. Kara mixed in really pulled apart chicken (which mulched in the slow cooker), cream cheese, milk, mixed cheeses, a few peppers, and other spices. It was crazy gross looking but tasted amazing, wrapped in little initially crunchy corn tortillas. We decided as soon as they were finished to make them again this week, but turn them into full on deep-fried chimichangas with homemade refried beans, rice, and more cheese. They're going to be amazing, I can sense it! Too bad I'm almost out of my salsa. We ran out before the taquitos were done. The red salsa was SO hot, but it tasted good and I was actually getting used to it by the time I ran out, so that's good.
Ups & Downs
For once, we actually did some hikes. A bunch of them in fact. Our first hike was within Zeelandia wildlife park. The park is built in a reclaimed forest that served for many years as a two-tiered reservoir. When they realised the entire thing was built atop a major fault line, the dams were decommissioned. Today the park is slowly growing to become an old growth forest, though it has about 500 years to go before that goal is achieved. While the park has kiwis and rare owls, those creatures are only visible in the night, but since it had rained the night before, all the other animals were out in abundance. We wondered around the trails checking them all out, including native parrots, tui birds, large pakehas, fantails, and a bunch others. They also had little roach hotels for the native wetas, which we viewed a little too close for comfort when we wondered into an only gold mine shaft where these buggers are literally right there on the far-too-close-for-comfort walls. That little explorative journey didn't last long.
A few days later, we did double hikes around the volcanoes of Turangi. These were the inspiration for Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, though they weren't, in fact, Mount Doom. The first hike was out to a beautiful waterfall that ran off an old lava flow. We walked through some beautiful forest and pretty fields on the way. It was quite beautiful. The second hike was along a major hiking trail through the volcanoes which takes about eight hours to complete. We only walked to the first hut, about 45 minutes away. Still, the view we got of the nearest and most picturesque of the volcanoes was perfect and the clouds even went away so we could enjoy it that much more.
|A waterfall along one of the trails in Tangariro National Poark.|
|One of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park.|
|View of Auckland from the ferry to Rangitoto Island.|
That's pretty much it for hikes and walks. Quite a lot in a little time, but there were so many more we didn't do that we could have. New Zealand is a hiker's paradise, for sure.
Getting a thesis chapter done while on the road is virtually impossible, I've found. We even dedicated a day to it at Auckland, which turned into a nice afternoon out at the MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) instead. I mean, I got a few pages done early on, but we kept getting in too late and then there was DAREDEVIL! Yeah, that's right, a t.v. show distracted us. When we got into our otherwise rather crappy accommodation in Auckland, we discovered that we had a huge HDTV there. And I mean HUGE, like 60+ inch huge. Conveniently, I had downloaded first episode of Daredevil the night before, so we tuned in and OMG! Yeah, that's pretty much when our studies ended. All our other t.v. shows went on hold, all our nightly homework assignments went out the door, we have been watching a couple episodes a night, with a few interruptions, whenever possible. We were going to see Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight, but the tickets sold out, so we're going tomorrow instead. That means we get the Daredevil finale tonight instead. It's been a Marvel-ous week to be sure. In any case, these next two weeks are going to be very thesis-filled.
The Kiwi Way
Roads are something the kiwis are kind of bad at. From paving them properly, to keeping them at least two-lane, to remembering to put reflectors in them, to maintaining them—kiwis are bad at all of that and our trip proved it. First off, unpaved roads show up suddenly and without warning more often than they should. Sometimes a perfectly paved thoroughfare will become unpaved for a brief stint because of a recent construction project or something. When will they pave it? Someday, I presume. The road at the end our street is still unpaved three months after the construction crews stopped working on it. .:.sigh.:. Another phenomenon is the lazy bridges. Bridges here are often only single-lane. When you approach one of these, there will be a sign showing who has right-of-way, and even some long bridges are one-way, with little pullouts in the middle in case two cars both decided to try it at the same time. I can only guess that economics is the reason for these narrow bridges, but they really stink. From there, reflectors and even reflective road lines don't really seem to be a thing here. When it rains, the lines in the road literally disappear from sight—in Wellington, we had no idea if we were in one lane or straddling two lanes. It was sheer craziness! And road signs are often not reflective either, so at night you can't see where you're going or what you're driving on. One last annoyance is that most roads in New Zealand are two-lane, even major thoroughfares. Passing lanes may be provided, but it is always the slow lane that must merge into the passing lane, even though the passing lane always is broken off from the slow lane. It doesn't make sense, really. Passing lanes are not always marked, either. Sometimes they get their own lane, sometimes they are short sections that the vehicles have to almost completely stop in, and sometimes they are just really wide sections of road where cars can just move over to (sometimes noted, sometimes not). Regardless, almost all sections of road allow passing, and double-yellow lines outside of cities are pretty rare and reserved only for the most dangerous passing areas (sometimes). The bottom line: driving in New Zealand is more free, but is also less controlled and somewhat more difficult, especially at night and/or in rainy weather.