Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NZ Kiwi Experience #2: Rotorua

Rotorua (row-toe-roo-uh) is the cultural capital of NZ, and also the stinkiest place in the country. There are many Maori (indigenous people) cultural shows and museums throughout the city. There's also a lot of geothermal activity because the Earth's crust is thin here which gives the city a sulfur/rotten egg smell. Some people call the city Rotten-rua.

Our first stop was a Maori Museum/Georthermal Park. They demonstrated how the Maori people carve and weave (it's actually a school for Maori people to learn). Then, the guide took us to see some geysers and a boiling mud pool. We wrapped up the tour with a kiwi bird exhibit. It was the only time we saw a kiwi bird while in NZ. They're actually quite rare and slowly becoming extinct because of possums and rats.

Stop two was our hostel. By far, this was the worst of all the hostels we stayed at. A freshman dorm Sunday morning after a night of partying would have been cleaner.

Stop 3 - The Luge. You ride a gondola to the top of a huge hill/small mountain, strap on a helmet, and ride a little cart down a cement path. At the bottom of the hill, a ski lift takes you and your cart back to the top.

Stop 4 - A Maori Cultural Show/Dinner. A Maori village has been recreated in the woods outside of Rotorua. While on the bus there, the bus chose a chief of our tribe/bus. It was his job to approach the chief of the village and show no fear while the Maori chief put on a show of strength. the Maori custom is to dance, stick out your tongue, and try to instill fear others to prevent an attack.

After the chief allowed us to enter the village, we were treated to a musical show of traditional Maori songs, then we ate dinner. The meal is called a Hangi; they dig a big hole, put in the food, and cover it with hot coals to cook (kind of like a Hawaiian luau). The food was terrible. But the dessert was great.

We went back the hostel afterward. We started the next day with s sheep-shearing show. It sounded a little lame, but ended up being fun because of the announcer. There was one of every type of sheep on stage (merino, leicester, etc). the announcer energetically introduced us to each one, then brought out a separate sheep to sheer. It took him about 3 minutes to watch him sheer the whole thing. Next up, he brought out his sheep dogs and demonstrated how they direct sheep just by using their eyes (demonstrated on ducks). Outside, we watched a dog move three sheep through an obstacle course to end the event.

We got on the bus and made our way to our next stop: Waitomo.

NZ Rotorua

Monday, May 18, 2009

NZ Kiwi Experience #1: Whitianga

We started the Kiwi Experience in Auckland atop a dormant volcano, and made our way to Whitianga (pronounced Fit-e-anga). It's a town on the northeast side of the island with beautiful beaches. It was a good introduction to the Kiwi Experience - the first clipboards came around. We signed up for a hostel and for a kayak trip through a marine reserve.

The kayak trip was a two-parter. Kayak to Cathedral Cove, get out and have hot chocolate and tea, and kayak back. When we got to the cove, our guide literally busted out a backpacker stove, filled it with water, and took our drink orders. It was the most beautiful beach we visited all trip.

NZ Kayaking Whitianga

The NZ Adventure

We left Steph and Lance's farm to spend a little over a week touring the country. NZ has a "backpacker" bus called Kiwi Experience. It's a "guided bus tour" of the entire country on your time schedule; the bus drops you off and picks you up when you want. Ex. when the bus gets to Waitomo, you can stay the night there, or stay a week. When you're ready to continue the trip, hop back on.
The bus also helps with accomodations and activities along the route. The driver passes along a clipboard so you can sign up for rooms at hostels (you don't have to book anything in advance, you're guaranteed a night's stay). And, the driver passes along a clipboard to sign up for skydiving, caving, etc (they make the "reservation" for you but don't cover the cost.
The bus and hostels were full of "backpackers;" recent college grads exploring the world on daddy's dime with backpacks. We didn't quite fit in with our roll-ie luggage. We chose to go to bed around 11, not stay up until 3:30 running the halls and partying at the bar. And, we weren't on a fied budget trying to travel the entire country, just the northern half to see glowworms, hot springs, and do 1/2 day hikes.
So, as we leave the farm, our adventure truly begins.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

NZ Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand. Reinga means underworld. The Maori people believe this where your spirit goes when you die - it leaps off the land and either ascends to the afterworld or sinks.
We took a day-long bus trip to the Cape - there were three highlights. One was the view walking to the lighthouse on the cape. You can see where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific.

Another highlight was driving down 90 Mile Beach (it's really only 60 some miles long). It's a national highway; the bus literally drove on the sand!
But the big highlight was sandboarding. We walked/hiked to the top of this huge sand dune with a boogie board, laid down on the board, and road it to the bottom. At the bottom of the dune was a lot of water - when you hit the water, you hydroplane because you're going so fast.
I took some pics of Mary coming down the hill, but they don't do the thrill-of-the-hill justice.
From NZ Cape Reinga

NZ Hokianga Harbour

Steph and Lance live in a region of New Zealand called Hokianga (you may remember the biggest tree in area is called Hokianga). From one of their high hills, you can see Hokianga Harbour; it's a huge inlet of water that reaches the ocean.
The Olivers have a boat we dropped in the harbour and drove out to where the harbour water meets ocean water. There are sand dunes there you can board down (we'll talk about that later). While Rob and Lance tried their hand at fishing (it was a bust), Mary and Steph wrote some graffiti in the sand.

It says "Mary + Steph were HERE."
Using her feet, Mary wrote the "Mary + were." She tried to write the same size as Steph, and thought she was. These are huge letters, eight feet tall; you can see them from the other side of the harbour!

More pics from our harbour trip are below.
NZ Hokianga Harbor

Monday, May 4, 2009

Today I'm A Man (by Rob)

Or, at least, I feel like one.

Today, I did a small plumbing project.
All by myself.
And it was a success on the first try! (which is pretty rare)

Shhhhh. Don’t tell Mary I drilled a hole into a cold water pipe to attach a saddle valve to increase water flow to the fridge. She might think I was in over my head ;)