Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NZ Kiwi Experience #4: Taupo

Taupo is an amazing city. It's right on the largest lake in NZ - Lake Taupo. The lake is so big, Singapore could fit in it. If you had a string and pulled it tight from one side of the lake to the other, it would be 15 feet below water in the middle because of the curve of the Earth. The lake is actually a volcano. It erupted back in the day (Romans documented seeing the red ash when it happened) and filled with water (like Mount St. Helens).

We had planned to go back to Rotorua to complete our trip, but we stayed here until the day of our flight back to America for a number of reasons.
1- so beautiful
2- great shopping
3- had to wait for perfect weather to hike Tongariro Crossing
4- the hostel was 1000x nicer than the one in Rotorua

On our first day, we shopped and relaxed.

The second day happened to be Ironman New Zealand - and it was held in Taupo. It was really cool to watch! The competitors swam in the lake, which was a block away from the hostel. They biked and ran at the end of our street. We couldn't be at a better spot to watch them swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles. It was the 25th anniversary of the Ironman in NZ. We were cheering on Jo Lawn, a NZ woman who had been champion for 6 years in a row. She lost. We did see American's competing, which is crazy. They had to bring their bikes with them on the plane!

While these people were running, we got massages.

Day 3 - We hiked the Tongariro Crossing (more on that to come).

Day 4 - We went to a thermal pool. Because the Earth's crust is so thin, water is heated by the core of the Earth and it comes out warm. We went to a YMCA-like place that had hot baths - it turned out it was lukewarm water in hot tubs. Luckily, there was a natural hot spring three blocks away.

The hot water poured down a waterfall and into the river. It was wild to be at the spot where the hot and cold water met - there were hot and cold pockets. But where the water poured over the waterfall - it was scalding hot! Of course, while at this park, Mary wished we had the camera - it was two miles away back at the hostel. Luckily her husband enjoys running (and was looking for an excuse to get in a run). Mary read some chick-lit while I went back to get the camera to catch some great shots of the area.

It was such an enjoyable place, it's where we would move if we could. Only two complaints about Taupo - our room at the hostel was above a bar that partied until 3am and I did laundry and turned everything pink.

NZ Taupo

NZ Kiwi Experience #3: Waitomo

Waitomo is famous for their caves. Basically, all that's there are some caves for you to explore. A couple different companies offer caving experiences. We went all out: We went on "The Black Abyss" with the Black Water Rafting Company. It was as cool as it sounds.

After suiting up in wetsuits, we were taken by van to the entrance of the cave. We practiced abseiling (rappelling) on the side of a hill before abseiling about 100 feet into the cave. The opening into the hole was just larger than my shoulder width. This was the part of the tour that really worried Mary. There are no lights in the cave. You wear a helmet with a little light on top, but as you abseil, you can't see anything beyond your light. It was quite a rush.

Once at the bottom of the cave, we moved to the next feat - zip-lining in the dark. All headlamps were turned off. One guide strapped you in. The next caught you at the end. There were no indications of how far it was, how high you were, how dangerous it was. The guides had a little fun. They yelled things like "Send him over on the right." Then, when a guy ziplined, the guide at the end yelled "The other right!" and screamed.

Once everyone was done zip-lining, we moved to the end of a cliff and sat down. We drank tea and ate cookies while the guides prepared the rest of the tour. The plan was to jump off of the cliff into the river that runs through the cave below and tube for a while. We had to jump and land on the tube, since the water was so shallow. This actually scared Mary more than the abseiling! You could hardly see the water it was so dark and you had to be precise when jumping. The water was freezing, even with the wet suit.

We pulled ourselves upstream with a rope attached to one of the side walls of the river running through the cave. After a few minutes, we killed the lights and floated back where we came from in the dark - enjoying the main attraction of the cave - glowworms.

Glowworms are worms that attach themselves to the ceiling and walls of caves in NZ. They basically vomit mucus strings that dangle down like fly traps. Then, from the center of their body, they emit a light that attracts bugs and then catch them in their mucus. They reel up the bugs and eat them. The worms do become flies, but they're born with no mouth and no stomach. They live about 3 days before dying. They're purpose is to procreate, lay eggs, and create new worms.

We walked down the rest of the river; it was shallow. We stopped to cannonball into a deep side pool. We rested and drank some warm orange drink while checking out an eel living in the water. Then came the most fun part - we climbed out of the cave up a waterfall. As the water waspouring over us, we climbed up and out of the cave through a hole about the same size as the one we came in.

Total trip time was about 5 hours. It was totally worth it. We ended the night at a clean hostel. We had dinner at a bar nearby. I had a burger called the Clyde, as I recall. It was a burger, with a steak on top of it, with bacon on top of that. DELICIOUS.

The final activity in Waitomo was the next day on the way to Taupo. We stopped and watched angora bunnies get sheared.

NZ Black Water Rafting