Wednesday, March 24, 2004

What goes around, comes around

When I was in elementary school, I used to think it was cool to tie a hair around a fly, remove a wing, and laugh as it flew around and around in circles. Little did I know that renting a car in New Zealand would make me feel like that fly.

After picking up my rental car and nearly getting killed entering a few roundabouts, I finally made my way onto the highway towards the Coromandel peninsula. Since I would be on the freeway for a while, I did what I do back home - get in the far left lane so I don't have to deal with merging traffic. Suddenly, I found myself off the freeway! I found my way back on, and a mile or so later, I was off again! I found my way back on again, but then I realized I got back on the wrong direction, and was heading back to Auckland. By this time, everything started looking familiar, and I couldn't rember if I passed it on the way out or in. So I got off. Then on. Then off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
I was so confused and so lost!
Starting to get dizzy from all that circling, I found a safe place to pull over, get my wits about me, and figure things out. It finally dawned on me that the exit lanes would be on the left, and I needed to get into the far right lane to stay on. I figured out which way I needed to go, and gave it another try.
After an hour of driving in circles just outside of Auckland, I was finally on the road.
Speaking of "adventurous" driving......
When I was in Rotorua, I decided to try off road driving. I followed the main road until I saw a sign directing me to turn on a gravel road. About a mile down the gravel road, I could see the main building in the distance and a little off to the right. The road had a fork in it, and I headed towards the right. After that, the road really deteriorated and became bumpy, filled with muddy potholes, and steep inclines. After navigating my rental car through a few of them, I realized that I must be heading down the off road path. I found a place wide enough to turn around and backtracked to the fork. Once I finally made it to the main building, I was met with hearty laughs and good natured ribbing. The guide that drew the short straw took me out. We both survived.

New Zealand - March 2004 - Coromandel

North Island
March 2004

Land of the Kiwis.....
After I finally navigated my way out of Aukland, I headed over the the Coromandel Peninsula. Before heading up the peninsula, I broke the drive with a stop at Kauaeranga Forest for a few short walks.
Swing bridge over the Kauaeranga River on the Tarawaere Dam trail. At the foot of this bridge, was a warning that the bridge capacity was 1 person. I wasn't sure if that meant one "normal weight" person and if I would plunge to my death if I crossed it. I decided to tempt fate and cross. When I got across, the end of the bridge was bolted into a cliff, and I had about a 2.5 foot drop to the ground. I wasn't sure I would be able to get back on the bridge on the return trip and contemplated turning around, but decided to "cross that bridge" on the return trip. Since I'm able to post this story, it must mean that I made it out ok.
View of stream from the Hoffman's Pool trail at Kauaeranga.

Much of the Coromandel Peninsula consists of narrow, unpaved, curvy, mountain roads where you meet very big, fast, scary logging trucks.

My car rental agreement prohibited me from driving on unpaved roads, because they are so narrow and full of logging trucks. It took me a whopping 3 hours before I decided to break the rental agreement.

And this is the result of all the logging

West coast of the Coromandel Peninsula

Rolling hills on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula
(another example of a "prohibited" road)
Driving Creek Railway near Coromandel Town
This railway is owned by an artist who built the railway to bring clay and firewood for fuel to his pottery workshop. He's turned it into a tourist attraction. His pottery wasn't to my taste, but the railway provided some spectacular views of the bays and harbors along the east coast of the peninsula.
Moving statues at Waiau Waterworks
Giant spider along the 309 Road
Twin Kauri trees at the Waiau Kauri Grove

Waiau Falls
Waiau Falls without me blocking the view

The east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, overlooking Hahei beach and Mercury Bay on the hike to Cathedral Cove. I spent 3 nights at a bed and breakfast at Hahei. I selected this location for the proximity to Cathedral Cove. In fact, I planned the entire New Zealand trip based on seeing a picture of Cathedral Cove. I decided it was someplace that I wanted to see. I wasn't disappointed.
From Hahei Beach, the walk to Cathedral Cove took you over several ridges and down to a couple of different bays. This picture is taken from the first ridge, looking back at Hahei Beach.This picture is at the top of the second ridge, looking towards Sail Rock on walk to Cathedral Cove.
Once I came down from third ridge, I arrived at Mare's Leg Cove. You can only go through the Cathedral during low tide.

This view of Cathedral Cove and Sail Rock was the whole reason I decided to visit New Zealand. This was a perfect day too (considering it rained for the previous 2 days).

I spent a couple of hours on the beach enjoying the view and relaxing. It was very strange to me the number of people who made the walk to the beach, took 2-3 snapshots, then hurried off to the next site to visit.
Mercury Bay Island
Shags on rocks
Not too far from Hahei beach was Hot Water Beach. During low tide, you can dig in the sand to find the hot springs beneath and sit in a sandy hot tub. I thought about trying this, but it was cold and rainy during most of the days (and used the nice low tide day to visit Cathedral Cove). These crazy German tourists didn't seem to mind that it was rainy and only 65 F degrees out.
Sunset at Whaler's Cove


From the moment you arrive in Rotorua, you know you're somewhere quite different.
The scent of sulfur permeates the air, nearby geothermal hotspots spout geysers, acrid-smelling mud pools bubble and belch, and warm geothermal ponds create a kaleidoscope of color.
I think he caught a whiff of the town....
Downtown Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is located about 25km south of Rotorua. One of the more popular features, Lady Knox Geyser, erupts daily at 10:15am reaching heights of up to 20 meters and can continue to erupt for up to one hour. I arrived at the park when it opened at 8:30am, so I would have plenty of time to view the park and then head over to the geyser. I was on the orange path around 9:15, when other tourists in the park started racing off the paths to see the geyser.
I thought it was insane to save a seat for an hour, so finished the orange path and started on the yellow path. After finishing the yellow path, I headed back towards the visitor's center. By this time it was 9:20. Oops. My watch stopped. It was really 10:45 by the time I got to the visitors center, then it was to my car to drive the road to the geyser. As I was heading in, the hoards of other tourists were racing out, trying to be the first back to the main park. Above is the tail end of the geyser. No wonder the park was so empty and relaxing while I was there :-)

Try to stay on the path while walking through hot sulfurous gas. The smell stays on your clothes, too. Woo hoo.
{Interesting sidebar ... If you use the British spelling "sulphurous", spell check recommends "sumptuous". Can you think of a worse-fitting alternate word? }
Champagne Pool
Devil's Bath. Makes you wonder if he was bathing in radioactive waste
Boiling pools of mud... up close and personal

Rotorua is the spiritual home to the Maori. No trip to this area would be complete without visiting the ultimate tourist trap... the Maori Hangi (similar to a Hawaiian Luau). It's a bad buffet and cultural show all rolled into one very large price.
I hoped to meet the Maori model who posed for this statue!

No such luck... :-P
The Buried Village shows the history of Te Wairoa, a village buried when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886.

According to local legend, the Maori High Priest who lived in this whare (dwelling) was 110 years old. He prophesied the eruption, to then have his home smothered by mud and ash. However, after four days buried beneath Mount Tarawera’s debris, he was unearthed alive!
Trout stream

Te Wairoa Waterfalls is about a 20 minute walk from the museum

small rapids below the falls
View of Lake Tarawera
Fern by Lake Tarawera Taking a drive through the bush.
No wonder my rental agreement prohibited me from driving on unpaved roads! :-)

Taupo to Napier

Lake Taupo is the largest lake on the North Island and is known for trout fishing.
North of Taupo is the Aratiatia Dam, which opens several times a day to generate hydroelectric power. When the dam opens the Aratiatia Rapids fill with water. Tourists then have the opportunity to ride a jet boat beneath the rapids. I took the ride and it was a lot of fun.
The dam releasing water
The rapids filling....
A black swan on the lake above the dam
South of the Aratiatia Dam is another high volume flow of water. At Huka Falls, the falls aren't big, but the volume and speed are quite high.

Waipunga Falls can be seen on the drive from Taupo to Napier

Napier is known for its Art Deco buildings.A view of the downtown from the porch at the bed and breakfast where I spent the night.

Sunrise over the ocean, taken from the porch at the bed and breakfast.

Flowers in the Napier Botanic Garden