Saturday, December 22, 2007

Atlanta to Columbus

Delays, delays, delays.

The trip was going so incredibly smoothly up to this very last leg of the journey.

Apparently, the weather in Philly is a mess. Something about low-level clouds. So a flight from PHL to Atlanta left about two hours late. Since we were supposed to take that aircraft from ATL to CMH, our flight was delayed, too. We sat around the airport for a couple of extra hours... but found some decent nachos to keep us occupied.

We made it home at 1:30am. I have to be at work by 4am. Oy. Eh, sleep is overrated anyway.

Welcome home!

Friday, December 21, 2007

San Francisco to Atlanta

Three words: First Class ROCKS!

Not sure how or why our SFO-ATL tickets were upgraded to first class... but who's complaining?! It's awesome!

The flight itself was totally over-booked and Delta was offering US$400 vouchers for people to take other, later flights. Not a chance in the world we were going to give up these seats!

I'm actually writing this aboard the plane... with full plug-in power AND a personal entertainment system (watching the Bourne Ultimatum). They just keep coming with the hot food, snacks and complementary adult beverages. Who could ask for anything more?! Wow!

Auckland to San Francisco

We left early and drove all morning from Pahia to Auckland.

We were dreading another 13-hour flight from Auckland to San Francisco. Ugh. But Air New Zealand makes it easy... so do Captain Xanax and Admiral Ambien. (I took two Ambien... and don't remember having breakfast. Jeff says it's was really good... and that I ate it... and even talked about it. I don't remember a thing. Ambien has reported sleepwalking and even, believe it or not, sleepeating events. Guess I've done it. It might explain the mess on the floor that I don't remember making. Ooops.) They serve a great couple of meals with fine New Zealand wines.

Zonking out certainly makes the flight go faster. By the time I actually woke up, there were only about two hours left. I'm almost afraid to find out what happened to all those hours in between. Yikes!

Driving to Auckland

We made a quick stop for breakfast and headed down Highways 11 and 1. The scenery is just as beautiful on the way south as it was on the way north.

We stopped in Warkworth for a few minutes. Finally, a chance to snag some fish-and-chips from K&J Takeaways. They're the best! The food is perfectly fried... and it all comes wrapped in newspaper... just the way it's supposed to. It was delicious! A great lunch for our last day in New Zealand.

We also stopped for a little visit at Mahurangi College, my old school. I ran into Mr. Dempsey who said, "Hey! I remember you!" I was in his whanau (house) in 7th form. They let me wander around the grounds for a little while.

The school has changed a bit. They've closed in the pool and built an entire sports complex. Sadly, I wasn't able to find the Senior Common Room. I think I found the doors... but it doesn't look like the room is serving the same purpose any more.

We also made a detour through the Auckland CBD ('cause we had plenty of time before needing to be at the airport). We ran through Albert Park to see parts of the Univeristy. The administration building has an ornate clock tower lovingly referred to as "The Wedding Cake." And Albert Park has beautiful fountains and an enormous floral clock.

Foods to Recreate in the US

Must start having spaghetti and toast (with or without beans) for breakfast again!

Must attempt (again) to make a pavlova for Christmas. Great with a kiwifruit and berry topping!

Must try to find a recipe for "hokey pokey" to eat by itself... with some chocolate... or to mix with some vanilla ice cream. Brought home some duty-free Cadbury "Crunchie" bars but, y'know, they'll only last so long!

Gisborne Earthquake

We did not feel the quake in the Far North District.

Around 8:55pm last night, a 30-second, 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the east coast, approximately 50km off shore from Gisborne. At least two buildings collapsed in the city and dozens of other buildings were damaged. The worst damage is in the CBD. The railway line between Gisborn and Napier is shut down until it can be thoroughly inspected. The earthquake was felt as far south as Christchurch and as far north as Auckland's southern suburbs. Many Gisborne residents scurried for high ground in case the quake generated a tsunami (it didn't).

A 4.5 aftershock happened this morning.

A state of emergency was declared for the Gisborne area this morning. The city and the district council have mobilized the civil defense agencies and are trying to get things inspected and cleaned up as quickly as possible.

TVNZ's coverage, to be honest, was very disappointing. The quake was at 8:55pm. The evening newscast was at 10:40pm. In nearly two hours, they still had no video from the Gisborne, only phoners. By the Breakfast show, they had heaps of video and they were doing plenty of aftermath coverage.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Rock - Day Two

Not surprisingly, we were the first ones to bed... and the first ones to rise. Other than our skipper, Peter, and the aforementioned Dutch parental pair, we are probably the oldest people on the boat. Most of the kids are backpacking their way across New Zealand (in some cases, the world). The good news is... they were surprised to find out just how old we are.

As we were having some tea out on the back of the boat, we noticed a dorsal fin break the surface about a hundred yards away. Everyone agreed a fin that size had to belong to a shark of sizable proportion. It was gone in short order... without disturbing a couple of ducks that were floating on the surface.

Once everyone else was up, the crew put out a breakfast of porridge, fruit and cereals... and we cruised off in search of a good place to snorkel. Mussel Island turned out to be the perfect place.

Most of us donned wet suits before plunging into the chilly water. It takes a few minutes to get used to it. The wetsuits certainly help. We swam toward the giant rocks, the waves breaking over them. The water's tug and push was tremendous. At times it felt as if you'd be dashed against the jagged volcanic rocks... but just as quickly, you'd be pushed away.

We were diving for green-lipped mussels and kena. (Kena are a native sea urchin.) And we saw heaps and heaps of fish of all kinds. The mussels are attached to the rocks with what seems like super glue... it's a bit of a struggle to rip them away. The kena are much easier. The hardest part is diving down to the rocks while fighting the current, getting a good grip on the mussels and making it back to the surface before gasping for air. But we did it!

Thank goodness my ear plugs worked perfectly and kept the water out of my tubed right ear!

Lunch was on an island beach, not too far away from Mussel Island. There were trails to hike up a nearby hilltop for a spectacular view of the Bay of Islands. Jeff did some kayaking and I did some more snorkeling. Today was finally a day with fine weather... the sun was brilliant and the clouds weren't getting in the way too much. We finally got in a little sun tanning.

Back aboard The Rock, Julian led a kena- and mussel-eating demo. Kena have to broken open with a knife and the eggs (think: caviar) are scooped out with a spoon. The mussels are the same ones we caught this morning... they were steamed. They're the biggest you've ever seen and they're delicious!

We were back in Paihia by mid-afternoon... with plenty of time to relax at the hotel this evening.

P.S. I'm actually feeling the after-effects of being on the boat. The land feels a little like it's moving and rocking. Not feeling "landsick," just odd to feel like the ground is heaving a bit.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Rock - Day One

From the Paihia Wharf, we caught a shuttle out to The Rock around 5pm. It's an old car ferry. It was bought by a man named Peter who is still her skipper. He sailed it right round the northern tip of NZ (with a campervan on the top) and into the Bay of Islands. Then he built a second level on the ferry so it would have sleeping quarters.

Now, it cruises the waters of the Bay of Islands several times a week with a multi-national crew and a manifest full of international travelers, backpackers and families.

There's a huge bar down the middle of the lower deck. Lots of seating and couches. Even a pool table.

On our cruise, we've met people from Holland, Ireland, Canada, Argentina, Sweden, Australia and England. There's even a Dutch family on a seven-month tour of the world. They're home-schooling their 8- and 10-year-olds during the trip and doing a bit of home exchange. We are the only Americans on board.

The evening began with a shooting contest. A duck decoy is trolled out behind the boat while we cruise... and everyone gets a chance to use the air rifles to shoot at it. The winners got free beers. A couple of Canadians won.

Then we did some fishing. I caught two small snappers but they had to be thrown back because they were THAT small. A guy from the Netherlands actually caught a small shark. Some of the fish became dinner... but thank goodness there was plenty of steak and sausages, too. The green-lipped mussels were sooooooo fresh!

Dinner was family-style at a huge table than ran nearly the length of the boat.

The sunset was incredible while we were fishing. And a lot of folks took advantage of the night kayaking. Tomorrow will be a blast!

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi is ground zero for New Zealand history. It's been called the "Birthplace of New Zealand." It's where the British signed a treaty with the Maori chiefs.

The Treaty of Waitangi is still enforced today.

It gave the British the right to govern. But still preserved a host of rights for the Maori people and culture. It remains one of the most important documents in New Zealand history and current law.

Glow Worm Caves

By chance, on our way to Paihia, we noticed signs for the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. It turned out to be a great, spur-of-the-moment side trip.

Driving up to the Kawiti Marae, you first notice the huge, rocky outcroppings. They're sandstone and limestone. Tens of stories high. And randomly carved into bizarre natural shapes.

The Kawiti tribe has occupied the land since the 17th century. Our tour guide is part of the 16th generation of guides descended from Roku, the runaway wife of a Maori chieftain.

The caves twist and turn through the inside of an outcropping. A small stream runs through it. The tribe has built a wooden boardwalk through it. Inside, there are thouands of tiny worms hanging from the cavern walls, the stagtites and the stalagmites. Their tails emit a small, blue-green light to attract insects to their sticky tendrils.

In the dark, it looks like the Milky Way; thousands of points of light, shimmering in the inky blackness.

After the cave tour, there's a 15-minute trek through the bush, back to the car park.

We may have skipped Waitomo Caves... but we still got to see glow worms! Yea!


The rain came down in buckets overnight. Downpours so loud we could hear it beating on the motel roof. In the morning, Northland was shrouded in a drenching mist. It wasn't an actual rain, but a few seconds outside and you were soaked. It all cleared up by midday. We had mostly cloudy sides with some fine periods.

The drive to Paihia was very pleasant. It's beautiful countryside. (And we'll be backtracking it all in a few days.)

Paihia is a small town on the Bay of Islands. It's the home of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It's become fairly touristy now with cafes and shops and souvenir stands. We saw ads for homes and condos going for well over a million dollars.

From the wharf you can catch a boat to see the Hole in the Rock, the dolphin tours, a helicopter ride or our accommodation for the night, The Rock.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weather Update

The weather has treated us pretty well most of the trip. It's been warm and humid the past few days.

Christchurch: mostly sunny.
Kaikoura: partly cloudy
Wellington: partly to mostly cloudy
Tongariro: mostly cloudy to overcast
Taupo: mostly cloudy with occasional showers and fair bits
Rotorua: mostly cloudy
White Island: mostly sunny and hot
Auckland: mostly cloudy with occasional light showers
Auckland: a quick morning shower then partly cloudy
Auckland: mostly cloudy with a few passing showers
Whangarei: cloudy with showers and a few downpours


The drive to Whangarei (fahn-gar-RAY) wasn't too bad... but we had to deal with rain much of the way. Some of it very heavy rain. This is the first time in a week and a half we've seen much precip.

Whangarei is just a rest stop and laundry opportunity for us tonight. There's really not much here to see other than the Whangarei Falls. They're pretty... but not quite as spectacular as some of the other falls we've seen on the trip. Still, worth driving out to see.

Remembering Warkworth

It's incredible what a difference 20 years makes. Parts of Warkworth are just about as I remember them... but other parts are totally unrecognizable. The whole town is growing and growing and growing!

The city centre has blossomed into a thriving little shopping area. Some of the same stores are there... others have change completely. The banks are in the same place... and we're going to have to stop at the K&J Shop to get fish and chips on the way back south.

We went up to Kaspar Street to see the Rose's old house. It's been added onto... and it's for sale just now! (Hmmmmmmmm.) We took a drive out to Mahurangi Heads to see the Abbott's old place. What used to be a gravel and dirt sheep track is now a sealed/paved road with a name! The house is just as we left it... but with much bigger trees. We weren't able to get out to Casnell Island because it wasn't low tide yet. But we snapped some pictures from the shore.

We went out to Point Wells and Matakana but, unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the Waddington's house. It's out there somewhere... I'm sure we passed by it at least once. Omaha has turned into a little yuppieville with brand new, modern houses being built by the dozens... right up to the beach. Most of them inhabited by well-to-do Jaffas.

It was a great walk down memory lane. Really glad we took the time to do it. Jeff deserves a huge thank you... he's been very patient today, putting up with all of this.

Walk Down Memory Lane

Today was the day. We got to spend time with Anne Waddington and Rose Rose... two of the best host mums a kid could ever ask for. It's been 20 years (nearly 21 years) since we've seen each other... and it was great to do a little catching up.

Neither of them has changed a bit.

We met Anne for breakfast at the hotel in Auckland. Her son, Gareth, came along, too. (He's grown up, to be sure! Looks a lot like his dad!) Anne is just back from Scotland where she's been taking care of an elderly couple... and traveling the world. She's been all over Europe and to lots of places in Africa. The caregiver job allows her some freedom to take time and travel.

Anne told us the tragic story of how Barry and Jeanette Jones' daughter was murdered in Auckland. Awful situation. She was on her way home, walking past a park, only a block or so from the police station, when she was attacked. She was raped and murdered by a man out on parole. He's been put away for life now. Anne and Rose said the news hit the Warkworth area pretty hard... and people are still a bit unsettled by it.

We met up with Rose in Warkworth. The boys are grown and she and Barry have bought a nice piece of land near Wellsford. Barry is planning to retire from the police force "in about two years." Rose is doing sales at the local electronics store -- she's such a people person she could sell just about anything. They're doing great and seem wonderfully happy. Rose always has a great smile and witty comment.

In Warkworth also ran into Wendy Milne who says Don is at home these days.

Petrol Still Really Expensive

Thankfully, our rented Toyota Camry (we landed a free upgrade) is good with fuel. We've been more than 1200km on the North Island and we've only had to fill up twice so far. Today, we picked up another 57.59 litres at NZ$1.719/litre... total of NZ$99.00.

Driving an SUV in New Zealand has to cost a fortune. Yikes!

Whangarei Food

In New Zealand, never try to get dinner after 9pm. It ain't gonna happen. Especially in a place like Whangarei. In Auckland, you might get away with it... but not in Whangarei.

We tried four different restaurants... and ended up at a pizza shop called Hell. Turns out, Hell is an NZ-wide chain with great pizza! They even sell demonic souvenirs, taking the theme to the nth-degree. They've even managed to snag a demonic phone number... 0800.666.111.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Time For Some Sunscreen

We really should have worn some sunscreen today. We both ended up with a bit of sunburn after being in the sun during our trip to Waiheke Island.

New Zealand has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. This is the home of the hole in the ozone layer. The UV Index today was 13+. (In Ohio, it rarely makes it to 10.)

Now, kiwi men are being busted out for not wearing sunscreen. So are we.

Here's a link to an article in today's New Zealand Herald:

Don't Like the Weather, Wait 5 Minutes

The weather was foul this morning. The rain came down in buckets.

But in the short time it took for us to drive to Orewa, only about 20-30km away... the sun came out and the skies were clear.

In Auckland a couple hours the later the sun was brilliant.

At Waiheke Island, the skies were fair and the sun was baking... but as we putted back toward Auckland late in the afternoon, we could see the showers in the distance.

The clouds come and go... the showers are here and there. It's a forecaster's nightmare.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is known for its beaches and "eclectic lifestyles" (read: "bunch of artists and homos"). There are galleries and public sculptures scattered all over the place. The island is big enough for three small villages, full bus services and regular ferry service.

The ferry leaves from the Queen Street Wharf and takes about half an hour. It runs through the Hauraki Gulf past the dormant shield volcano, Rangitoto, among a dozen or so other islands.

We jumped on a bus and took it to Palm Beach. We were expecting to have lunch there... but didn't find much. So we caught another bus... but ended up going the wrong way and ended up headed back toward the ferry terminal.

This time we jumped off in Oneroa, searching for some lunch. Every restaurant we tried was closed or closing in a few minutes. Aaaargh. So, we waited for the Island Queen restaurant to open at 4pm. Our server was a nice kid from California who claims to be losing his American accent (ummm, not so much). The food was good and the gin-and-tonics were probably the best we've had so far!

It's a beautiful place to visit! Probably a great place to have a vacation bach or getaway from the city...



Wow. Things have changed in 20 years. We're in my neck of the woods now. These are the areas where I used to live... two decades ago. So, seeing the changes is really amazing.

Highway 1 is a major thoroughfare now. Twenty years ago, it was just a two-lane road running by the beach at Orewa and the town was just a wide spot in the road.

Now, there are huge neighborhoods and subdivisions. The town centre has dozens of shops... even a supermarket!

Can't wait to see how Warkworth has changed!

We stopped for a little breakfast, a quick look through the shops and a stroll on the beach. The jellyfish were washing ashore (the little bastards) and we picked up a few shells as souvenirs. And, of course, we had to stop for a little time with the puhutukawa trees in full bloom.

Swain Tours & Grandview Travel

We have to give a shout out to the folks at Swain Tours and Grandview Travel.

About six months ago, I went to Rob Elking in Grandview and told him we wanted a trip to New Zealand. I gave him an itinerary and told him what we wanted. He contacted Swain Tours and they made it happen.

Swain picked the hotels. They landed good prices. They scored great locations. And very good rooms with wonderful views.

They did a super job of making our itinerary a reality. It has been, quite literally, a dream vacation... 20 years in the making.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

(N)One Tree Hill

In Cornwell Park, atop one of the tallest summits in the city, a monument honors the great Maori nation. Until a few years ago, a single tree stood next to the hundred-foot obelisk. One obelisk. One tree. One mountain. One Tree Hill.

The tree is gone.

There's nothing left but some dirt, a few old, leftover roots and a small piece of stump. It is most disconcerting.

We're told the tree was destroyed in some kind of protest. The vandal has been "dealt with by the government." And, reportedly, another sapling is being cultivated and will be planted on top of the hill as soon as it is strong enough to survive.

With or without the tree, One Tree Hill (the name still stands) has one of the best views in the city. From the summit you can see both harbours (from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean), the CBD, up and down the coastline (as far out as Great Barrier Island) and the entire city. It's a panorama not to be missed!

Bethell's Beach

A few kilometers out of the city, the west coast beaches are beautiful black sand. We went to one of the popular surfer locations, Bethell's Beach. It was low tide and the sand went on and on and on. The waves weren't too rough but the surfers were having a great time.

Puhutukawa trees (the NZ Christmas Tree) are blooming now. There were lots of them near the beach. They blossom with beautiful red flowers all over the tree.

Auckland SkyJump

I threw myself off a 192m (630ft) tower this morning.

The SkyTower is the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere. It's Auckland's major landmark and tourist attraction. And you can jump off it. So I did.

The view from the top of the platform is incredible. You can see the entire city... from One Tree Hill to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The buildings look sooooo small from up there.

They get you shoehorned into a flight suit then strapped to a couple of guide-wires. You hyperventilate a little bit as you're staring down at the ground. Then you just step off a platform and plummet toward the city sidewalks.

The pictures and video are great! (They're not in the right format to put on the web... but we'll show them to you after the trip!)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Auckland's Gay Scene

Exploring Auckland's gay scene was a bit of an adventure. And, sadly, underwhelming and disappointing.

Before we left the U.S., we did some internet research and made a list of gay bars, restaurants, etc., in cities that we'd be visiting. The only bar we could find in Wellington was closed the day we were there. So Auckland was the place to explore.

We went searching for a place relatively close to the hotel on Anzac Street. We got bad directions from two different people but finally found a hole-in-the-wall adult book shop and went inside to ask where to find the bar. "Oh, it's in the sauna upstairs," said the man behind the counter. We asked for directions to other places.

Most of Auckland's gay places are in Karangahappe Road ("K' Road"). The man at the book shop said that's where we should go. Jeff asked whether we should take a cab and the man, literally, gasped and said, "Oh, no! Walk! It's only 20 minutes walk." He gave us some quick directions and off we went.

Ummm, yeah. Not 20 minutes. More like 45 minutes. Uphill. To the top of Queen Street then to K' Road.

Our first stop was a place called the Family Bar. They were very nice folks. Treated us really well and gave us some suggestions for other places to visit. The bartenders, Francis and Mark, found copies of the local gay paper for us and told us a little about the community.

We were surprised how subdued the nightlife was. There were very few people out and about.

Urge Bar was not too far up the street. It's the local leather bar. It was a single, small room with a bar. My backyard patio is a larger space. Again, everyone was very friendly. And, it turns out, they were ready for us. They had a heads up from the folks at Family Bar that a couple of Americans were headed there... and they were told to treat us well. It was nice.

We called it a night by 10:30pm.

To be honest, for a country that is so progressive... light years ahead of the U.S. in terms of gay inclusion... it really seemed like the community was in hiding. Jeff is right when he calls it "heartbreaking."


The Auckland headquarters for Television New Zealand is only a few blocks away. So, of course, I had to stop for a look. It's smallish... but still kind of cool. We rang security to see if they had a gift shop. Nope. No TVNZ souvenirs.

Rydges Hotel Auckland

The drive up to Auckland takes about 2.5 hours. It's an okay drive through rolling countryside. It's pretty. Getting into the "big city" is a little bit of culture shock after being in small towns most of the week.

The Rydges Hotel is great! It's in the middle of the Central Business District, two blocks from the SkyTower. We're on the 9th floor... with a view looking directly at the SkyTower!

Buried Village

The village of Te Wairoa is gone... along with 153 souls. So are the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terraces. They were all lost in the massive, overnight eruption of Mt. Tarawera on June 10, 1886.

For "four terrifying hours," the mountain exploded and hot ash and boiling mud rained down on the village. Buildings collapsed. Homes were buried under a couple of meters of ash and mud. The terraces were destroyed.

Today, you can see what's been excavated. The family who bought the land in the 1920's began the task of uncovering the village.

The village's tragedy is partly told through the letters of a woman named Margaret. She seems to have written letters to family and friends every hour, on the hour documenting the devastation. Jeff points out, "She needed the comfort of a man." Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Maori Hangi

The Hangi is the traditional, cooked-in-the-ground Maori feast. In Rotorua, it's become a tourist-trap-style event... complete with a show and demonstration of Maori dance and hakas. We partook of the show in our hotel.

We were the only non-Asians in the audience. In fact, other than the performers, we were the only English speakers. And the cheese factor was off the charts.

White Island

We walked through the living, breathing, killer crater of New Zealand's only active marine volcano. White Island is connected to the same system of volcanoes that rumble around Rotorua and Taupo. The same group that helped form the North Island and has been responsible for some of the world's greatest eruptions.

The shuttle picked us up from a hotel down the street and took us 85km, past Lakes Rotorua, Rotoehu and Rotoiti, Rotoma, and past Mt. Egmont, to the coastal town of Whakatane (fah-kah-TAHN-eh). Then a boat took us 29km to White Island. The boat can't actually dock at what's left of the White Island wharf... so we had to use inflatables to get to the actual island.

We spent about two hours trekking over the crater's wasteland, exploring the vents, the boiling mud pools and the crater lake. The lake is extremely acidic. In fact, on the pH scale, some scientists have placed it at -0.5... yes, even more acidic than pure acid. (On the pH scale, 14 is alkaline, 7 is water and 0 is acidic.)

The activity on White Island is actually relieving some of the pressure on the area's volcanic system. Without it, other volcanoes could erupt sooner... perhaps even in Auckland. Ngauruhoe, by the way, is being watched closely because it's due for some kind of "release."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hell's Gate Wai Ora Spa

Hell's Gate is on tribal land but now owned by a private firm. Many of the employees are members of the land's original Maori tribe. It is said to be one of the most active thermal areas in Rotorua.

We took the shuttle (The Mud Bus) about 15km out of town toward Whakatane to the spa. The first hour includes the walk through the thermal reserve. There are dozens of boiling pools, thermal vents, bubbling mud, sulphur crystals and a real mud volcano. (Apparently, the volcano was a few meters higher a few months but it blew itself apart again... as it does every few months.)

The mud baths are like stepping into a vat of muddy water with thick, dark grey mud. You can scoop the mud off the bottom of the pool and apply it to your whole body. It feels really wonder. The icy cold shower afterward closes your pores and invigorates your body. (It really sucks.)

After the mud is the sulphur bath. It's a huge hot pool full of yellowish-greenish water. The sulphur is supposed to be good for your skin. As a note: Jeff did not wear his rings into the water... but there is so much sulpher in the air, the rings turned brassy. They're a mess now.

The massages were wonderful. As always, too short.

Exploring Rotorua

While Jeff was napping this afternoon... so stole away to explore a bit and headed for the lakeside, etc.

The first stop was Government Gardens, the home of the Rotorua Museum, the recently-restored Blue Baths, and the city's best lawn bowling greens. Today people were bowling in their traditional whites. One of the thermal vents in the Gardens is an ancient Maori burial site. It is still considered tapu (sacred). Warriors' bodies were tossed into the deep vent to keep them from falling into enemy hands.

Lake Rotorua itself is a thermal wonder. The entire south end of the lake is a milky, yellow-green because of all the sulphur in it. Steam vents and boiling pools line the edges. Even when you can't see the boiling water in the holes, you can hear it gurgling and gushing around. Just be careful of the gulls... they did a bit of dive bombing today... thought at least one was going to take out my head.


The Zorb is, quite literally, a big ball of fun.

We did the water version.

It's a giant, hamster ball, surrounded by an even bigger hamster ball. They dump some warm water in it... and roll you down a huge slalom. It's almost impossible to control which way the thing rolls. And you just bounce around inside the inner ball. It's a blast!

The sign-in certificate includes an emphatic disclaimer: "WARNING! Sporting activities such as Zorb riding can be dangerous. You can be serious injured or even killed as a result of your participation in Zorb riding."

(The photos are stuck on a CD... so you'll have to wait to see them. In the meantime, you can check out the Zorb at


We stopped for petrol again today. Oy. $1.70/litre. Total of NZ$90.01. Gawd it's expensive to drive a car here!

Jeff's keen sense of smell was quick to notice the ever-present aroma of sulphur in Rotorua. "It really stinks here." The thermal vents produce a sulphur smell... and so doe the lake itself. For most of us, it doesn't take long to get used to it and not even notice it.

The Rydges Rotorua Hotel is okay. It's right in front of the Rotorua Race Track (harness racing). It's time, though, for the Rydges to do a little updating and remodeling. The rooms are nice but a little dated.

Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako was our first thermal area. It's just north of Taupo, in the middle of rolling rural area, between Highway 1 and Highway 5. It's private land... with its own lake and thermal reserve.

We took the boat shuttle to the reserve and started wandering the track over the steaming, mineral-coated, rocky terrain. The colours are like an Artist's Palette (they named part of the reserve that). The Diamond Geyser was steaming but not quite ready to erupt. The Sapphire Geyser (how appropriate for us) DID blow while we were close by. Interestingly, it erupts horizontally.

We climbed down into a huge cave. Scientists still don't quite understand how or why it was formed. The water in the bottom is very alkaline and said to be good for cleaning jewelry. Jeff tried it and said it seemed to work a little bit. If you put your left hand in the water and make a wish, the legend says the wish is guaranteed to come true.

The boiling mud pools sputter and spit constantly. And the landscape is dotted with random steam vents. In the middle of some trees and brush, a constant column of steam just belches forth.


The allergies are going a bit nuts on the North Island. We don't really know what the specific triggers are... but since it's late spring and everything is in bloom, there are a number of suspects.

The New Zealand Christmas Tree (pahutukawa) is going into full bloom this time of year. The Manuka trees are full of dense pollen. Screeds of other flowers and trees are also blooming and spewing crud into the air. It's an allergist's nightmare.

Television New Zealand

Twenty years ago, TVNZ had only two channels. Now, there are at least six main channels and a few side channels.

The daily "newscast of record" comes from ONENews on TV1. But TV3 also does a nightly newscast.

ONENews' "New Zealand's Breakfast" is every morning from 6:30am to 9:00am. TV3 does a show called "Sunrise." In reality, TVNZ is competing against itself with the new morning shows.

"Breakfast" is, IMHO, the better, more watchable programme. Paul Henry is mouthy, opinionated and dryly funny (a kind of toned-down Paul Lynd). Pippa is a cute-but-credible blonde sidekick. Pete is the older, serious newsreader. And Tamati is the young, hot, modelesque weather boy. It's a good combo.

Here's a link to Breakfast: