NZ Land Logs 29, Year 2: North Island—Return to Whangarei

NZ Land Logs 29, Year 2: North Island—Return to Whangarei
Date: Monday, March 19, 2007
Weather Today: Absolutely Gorgeous
Location: Whangarei, New Zealand

Blue skies with lots of puffy white clouds and sunshine dominated today. It was a great day for heading north to Whangarei. We had one more stop to make in Auckland before heading north, however. We went back into the city to go to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World. Our main reason for making this stop was to see the King and Gentoo penguins that are housed here. This combination aquarium and Antarctic showcase is housed in old storm-water and sewage holding tanks right on the waterfront. You enter and descend in order to enter the ‘experience.’ Once inside, You ride through a transparent tunnel on a conveyor belt in order to view the sharks, rays, green turtles, and large New Zealand fish swimming all around you. You can also get on a snowcat tractor to ride through the Antarctic Encounter. This is where you view the penguins living in a simulated Antartic world. The tourist information says this is great place for families with children, so we must quality. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see the penguins in their simulated environment. After riding the snowcat at least four times through penguin land, we then headed to the aquarium side. Riding on that conveyor belt with stingrays, shark, and umpteen fish swimming all about was quite exiting.

>From here, we headed north to Whangarei. Mark and I had forgotten just how many curves and twists there are on this road, but despite the driving challenges we found ourselves back in Whangarei and aboard Windbird in a very short time period. It was great to be back home after three weeks of fantastic adventure. We will have a day’s rest here and then head on north to see the wonders of the north of the North Island.

070319 Web Pics–Auckland to Whangarei

NZ Land Logs 28, Year 2: North Island—Auckland’s Rangitoto Island

NZ Land Logs 28, Year 2: North Island—Auckland’s Rangitoto Island
Date: Sunday, March 18, 2007
Weather Today: Sunny with Clouds AM, Overcast with Sprinkles PM
Location: Auckland, Takapuna on the North Shore, New Zealand

Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf was our goal for today. We took the 9:15 am ferry for the 30 minute ride to this volcanic island and spent the rest of the day exploring. Rangitoto was formed 600 years ago when the volcano erupted from the sea. This makes it a ‘one of a kind’ in Auckland’s volcanic field of about 50 cones and craters. The other volcanoes are dormant, while Rangitoto is extinct. This means that at sometime one of the other 49 volcanoes in the Auckland area will probably become active again–not a happy thought for the two million people who live in this area. Rangitoto, and its neighbor, Mototapu, are now joined by a causeway although there is no permanent population on either island. They are managed by the Department of Conservation and Rangitoto is studied for its botanic significance. At only 600 years old, it is home to some 200 different native species of plants and 40 different types of ferns.

We arrived at the Rangitoto Wharf at 9:45 am and took the walking track to the summit. This volcano is only 253 metres high which makes the walk to the summit a fairly easy one-hour walk. At first the track goes through A’a lava which is broken and rough, and then closer to the summit we found ourselves walking over Pahoehoe lava which is solid and flowing. There were lots of lookouts along the way with great information boards. We were all amazed at the amount of vegetation on this relatively new volanic island. I was particularly taken with the kidney ferns. They have a flat leaf smaller than the palm of your hand that curls up when it is too hot to conserve moisture. They are very different from the ferns that we are used to seeing. Once we reached the summit and took in the views of Auckland, we walked to the lava caves that were just down from the summit. We explored a little and then walked back through the lava fields to the wharf. There were many students on the island today surveying the fields. We asked them what they were doing, but even when they told us, we were not totally sure of their task. Regardless, they seemed to be enjoying the day. By the time we were nearing the bottom of the mountain, afternoon sprinkles set in and we needed our jackets. The rain was light and short, and soon the sun was shining once again.

We returned to Auckland on the 3:30 pm ferry and found ourselves on the waterfront which all of four of us love and enjoy. There was a big and beautiful yacht on one of the quays–90 metres or 180 feet. She was beautiful and her name was Athena. While walking down the dock looking at this beauty, we walked by the waterfront restaurants tauting their specials for the evening. We hadn’t planned to eat in Auckland, but the Y Not restaurant caught our attention with they seafood platter for two. We ended up eating here and meeting the owners, James and Lisa Hendry. James is an ‘old’ rugby player and Lisa was a most welcoming host. They were playing the music of what they called an up and coming musician, Patrizio Buanne. It was a delightful stop for dinner.

Tomorrow we will be going to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure in Auckland to see Gentoo and Emperor penguins before heading north to Whangarei. Yikes! Can’t believe we will be home on Windbird tomorrow night.

070318 Web Pics–Rangitoto Island and Auckland Waterfront

NZ Land Logs 27, Year 2: North Island—Back to Auckland

NZ Land Logs 27, Year 2: North Island—Back to Auckland
Date: Saturday, March 17, 2007
Weather Today: Party Sunny
Location: Auckland, Takapuna on the North Shore, New Zealand

First of all, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. We are back where we started three weeks ago. We arrived in Auckland in the late afternoon and went across the harbor bridge to the North Shore of the city to a suburb called Takapuna. This is the location of the only Top 10 Campground in or north of the city, so we had made reservations to stay here. It was the right price, but not a Top 10 that was up to the standards to which we have become accustomed. The first apartment they put us in was just not going to work, so we tried for a second one. The problem with the first one was that one couple was going to have to sleep in the living area on a pullout sofa, but the pullout was made of a light-weight metal that had bent and sagged terribly in the middle. It was so bad that you couldn’t even sit on the sofa. The second motel unit they offered us was much better. We didn’t have separate bedrooms, but after three weeks of traveling together, that was not a problem. The second disappointment here was that there was internet, but it was not working. We explored the area around the Top 10, but we found no internet anywhere. We thought that now that we were back in a city, internet would not be a problem, but obviously we thought wrong. Mark and I actually got in the van and drove all the way out to a seaside town called Devonport. We found lots of great restaurants for dinner, but still no internet. So we decided we would have to send a log the next day and just go back and get Alan and Helaine and head to dinner. After all, it is St. Patrick’s Day and time to celebrate the Handley Irish heritage.

Now back to Waitomo Caves and the beginning of the day. Alan and Helaine went for a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and then we drove a short distance to the next town of Otorohanga. This is a cute little one street town that is very representative of small New Zealand communities and the home of the Otorohanga Kiwi House. This was our stop to see live kiwis. They have escaped us in the wild, and we just couldn’t end our tour of New Zealand without seeing one of these little guys. We went in and immediately a guide ‘took us under her wing.’ The kiwis are kept in a dark room and you observe them from behind glass. We got to see a Great Spotted female named Atu and a Northern Brown male named Ipo. Both kiwis were born at the Kiwi House in captivity. Ipo, the male, was born on September 14, 1990. He shares our son’s birth date, just not the same year. Ipo is 17 and Justin is 29. Atu, on the other hand, is a just a young one. She was born on December 2, 2001, and has been on display long enough that she was not shy about coming right up to the glass close to us. Ipo has only been on display for a short time and was very shy. He kept his distance, but we could still see him and it was wonderful to watch both birds as they busily poked their long beaks into everything looking for a grub for breakfast. We were not able to get pictures of the kiwi because it was so dark and flash was not allowed. We took them anyway and just got bare shadows of the birds, but at least we got some image to remind us of our experience. Alan’s digital camera has a way to set ASA speed, so he was able to get some decent pictures. I haven’t seen those yet, but will be anxious to ‘borrow’ one to put with the pictures we upload on the website. In addition to kiwis, we got to see a huge number of New Zealand birds on display. Most were on display behind wire mesh, so again pictures were a little tricky, but we did capture some great photos of Kaka, Kea, and Pukahe, among others. We have truly enjoyed learning about and seeing many of the species of birds endemic and native to this country.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the volcanic island of Rangitoto just off the coast of Auckland. The volcano on this island is not longer active, unlike many other volcanoes in the Auckland area that are only dormant. More about that tomorrow.

070317 Web Pics–Waitomo Caves to Auckland

NZ Land Logs 26, Year 2: North Island—Waitomo Cave Glow Worms

NZ Land Logs 26, Year 2: North Island—Waitomo Cave Glow Worms
Date: Friday, March 16, 2007
Weather Today: Partly Sunny
Location: Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

Our day started in New Plymouth, but as suspected, there was still no Mt. Taranaki. The low clouds completely veiled the “massive cone of Mt. Taranaki that dominates the area”. It was as if someone had taken White-Out and erased the mountain from sight. We had to drive on and count our blessings of having great weather on this trip that has allowed us to see so much everywhere else. We drove north up the coast from New Plymouth and explored the area called the Northern Taranaki on our way to Waitomo Caves. Unfortunately, it was too early in the morning to stop and taste test the organic beers at the White Cliffs Brewing Company, but we did stop to see the White Cliffs. Again, our efforts were thwarted–this time by high tide, not clouds. We saw the cliffs in the immediate area, but we could not walk out on the beach to look up the coast and see the main cliffs. We had learned in the Information Center in New Plymouth that tide was not going to be on our side today, but we made one more stop on our trip north to see the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock. We thought we might be able to somehow circumvent the high tide. We could see Elephant Rock, but the three rocks (really only two and a ‘bit’ after a storm a couple of years ago) were not visible from the car park and high tide did indeed keep us from walking out to view them. We did catch a glimpse of the ‘sisters’ once we were back on the curvy road, but there was no place to stop and take a picture. We had a wonderful time in the Taranaki region, but we don’t have many pictures to show for it.

Highway 3 turned inland and we drove through the Awakino River Gorge. This gorge was much greener than others we have seen and there were not the sheer cliffs of other gorges we have viewed. This made it not as dramatic, but the giant ponga tree ferns that filled the mountain sides were beautiful. We stopped at a pull off to take pictures of the giant ferns and were delighted to find an insect camouflaged on the fern frond we were photographing. It looked like a green Walking Stick and when we examined the frond further, we found more of these insects. Nature is amazing. From the gorge, we went over hill and dale, up and down, around and around curves, through beautiful farm country. And on the other side of the mountain, we found ourselves in the Waitomo region. We drove to Waitomo Caves and checked in at the Top 10 Holiday Park. Our cottage here was really delightful. This is a new camping park and everything is still sparkly new. It was mid-afternoon by now and time for cave explorations. We decided to just go to the Waitomo Glowworm Cave, but Alan and Helaine went for a package deal to visit both Ruakuri Cave and the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. They had a wonderful time in the Ruakuri Cave, got to see some glowworms there as well as examine the beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and they were allowed to take pictures. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves does not allow any photography. While they did this, Mark and I relaxed and did laundry and then went for a late afternoon tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Wow! Those little glowworms really do glow. We explored the cave and found deep tubes that have been formed by running water. These shafts went from the cave floor staight down to the river below and were totally fascinating. We went into a chamber called the “cathedral” which was also beautiful. The acoustics here are fantastic and many famous singers have come here from all parts of the globe to exercise their vocal chords. From the “cathedral” we walked down to a place where we could examine the glowworm threads up close. The female glowworm lays eggs and when the eggs hatch the larva builds a nest on the cave ceiling and sends down sticky threads. The purpose of the sticky threads that hang down about a foot from the cave ceiling is to catch insects. This is how the larvae feed themselves and it is during this feeding time that the tail end of the larvae glow. In about nine months, the larvae are about the size of wooden match stick and they then go into the pupa stage. This is the same as forming a cocoon. This lasts about two weeks and then the adult glowworm emerges looking much like a large mosquito. These interesting insects have no mouth and their only function in their short three to four day life is to reproduce. As I said previously, it is the larvae stage that glows, not the adult. The hungrier the larvae, the brighter the glow. And in the glowworm cave, there are hundreds of these little guys in masses that emit the most magical natural lights we have ever seen. After observing the glowworm threads up close, we walked back through the cave and went down some steps that have been built that lead to the river that runs through this cave. Glowworms need a moist environment and the river provides the level of moisture necessary to keep glowworms healthy and happy. We got in boats and truly enjoyed the ride observing the masses of glowing lights. It felt like a Disney ride, but it was just nature working its magic.

When we returned to our cottage, Alan and Helaine were back from their cave exploration and we traded stories of what we had seen. They will have to go through the glowworm cave in the morning as time ran out today. Helaine fixed a great dinner of red cod, mashed sweet potatoes, known as kumara here, and a green salad. It was delicious. Tomorrow we will drive to the next town north of here, Otorohanga, to see the Kiwi House. This is a bird sanctuary that houses kiwis and many other New Zealand birds. We have not been in areas to observe kiwis in a natural setting, so we want to take this opportunity to see them before returning to Auckland. From Otorohanga, we will drive north to Auckland. We started our adventure there three weeks ago today, but we will not end it there. At least not tomorrow. We will stay there for a day to explore the volcanic island of Rangitoto and then head to the Northland to explore that area. Hang on for more adventure.

070316 Web Pics–New Plymouth to Waitomo Caves

NZ Land Logs 25, Year 2: North Island—New Plymouth and Mt. Taranaki

NZ Land Logs 25, Year 2: North Island—New Plymouth and Mt. Taranaki
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2007
Weather Today: Windy, Rainy, and Cool
Location: New Plymouth, New Zealand

Yesterday’s winds were strong and they continued into this morning. The reported winds were 50 to 60 knots which is somewhere between 57.5 and 69 miles an hour. That’s almost hurricane force and people around here act like it is just normal. We checked the newspaper and found that winds like this blow here three or four times a year, just not at this particular time. If there are winds over 50 knots at this time of year they are usually associated with cylones in the South Pacific to the north. These winds came from the south and winds this strong from the south are usually associated with winter storms. The problem is that it is not quite fall yet. Oh, well. I guess the strange weather conditions we had last season are going to continue.

We actually got a good night’s sleep in our little chicken coop last night and got an early start this morning. I didn’t get to see the Otaki Gorge, but life will go on. We are trying, but we can’t see it all. We drove for about an hour and a half and made an internet stop in the town of Wanganui. We first stopped at the Information Center where a very nice woman gave us some ideas for how best to see Mt. Taranaki. We then went to the internet shop and sent yesterday’s log. Alan had them take a look at his computer which will not boot, but after an hour and half of trying, his computer was still refusing to budge. It was almost noon by this time and the clouds were getting heavier and heavier. We were getting intermittent rain and had a sinking feeling in our stomachs that we were not going to see Mt. Taranki on this day. As we drove closer, we could see the base of the mountain, but that base was only climbing into a total cloud cover. We stopped and had lunch in hopes that the clouds would blow away, but no such luck. Still not willing to give in, we decided to drive up to Dawson’s Falls at the base of the mountain and see what we could see from there. The woman at the Information Center in Wanganui had told us that the drive up to Dawson Fall’s at the base of the mountain would take us on a road with overhanging trees forming a canopy. At first we were traveling through farmland, but then the canopy overtook us. It was quite charming. When we got to the end of the road, we found the Dawson Falls Information Center. The young woman inside was very nice, but she gave us the bad news that we probably wouldn’t see this mountain today and probably not even tomorrow morning. We were disappointed, but we do have to remember that we got to see Mt. Cook on a stellar day and those don’t happen often. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for Mt. Taranaki. We climbed down to see Dawson Falls and then headed for our next destination. Helaine and I had read about the little town of Whangamomona and we wanted to see it. There is actually nothing there but the old Whangamomona Hotel which is now just a pub, but this is a little town of distinction. With a population of only 30, Whangamomona became an independent republic after disagreements with other local councils over who could play on which rugby team back in 1988. There is a ‘border guard’ when you enter the town, but it happens to be an outdoor toilet! Every other year in January over 5,000 New Zealanders descend on this little town to celebrate its independence as New Zealand’s’other nation.’ On the road to Whangamomona we also planned to take a detour to see the Makahu Tunnel. This tunnel, like many others in New Zealand, was dug out with pick and chisel in the early 1900’s and is still used today as a one-lane road tunnel. If our information is correct, this tunnel was also used in parts of The Lord of the Rings. Our Lord of the Rings Guide Book doesn’t mention it, but the woman at the Information Center in Wanganui was definite about this. The other thing she told us was that if we went all the way to Whangamomona, on the return trip we would have great views of Mt. Taranaki if it was clear. We started on our journey and found the Makhu Tunnel. It has been reinforced with concrete, but it is tiny. We drove through and then turned around and continued on the VERY curvy “Forgotten Highway” to Whangamomona. We were 18 kilometres from reaching our destination when time and patience ran out and we turned around to head to New Plymouth for the night. Alan really didn’t want to continue and I was the only die-hard who really wanted to go all the way, we we made a group decision to turn around. Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and we had no great views of Mt. Taranaki on the return trip. Maybe tomorrow morning . . .

We reached New Plymouth, a town on the far West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and checked into the Top 10 Campground for the night. Our cottage accommodations are a little nicer than last night. We took time to walk down to the beach before going into town for a great Indian dinner. Tomorrow it is on to Waitomo Caves to see those little glowworms. The trip there has some great scenery and once there we hope to see the caves, go to the Kiwi House in Otorohanga just north of Waitomo Caves to see live kiwis in the native bird park, and possibly watch sheep shearing in Te Kuiti just south of Waitomo Caves. This town just happens to be the “Sheep Shearing Capital of the World.” After that, it is back to Auckland to do some more exploring in that area and then on to the Northland.

070315 Web Pics–Otaki to New Plymouth

NZ Land Logs 24, Year 2: Back to the North Island–Otaki

NZ Land Logs 24, Year 2: Back to the North Island–Otaki
Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Weather Today: Beautiful Early Morning, Midday Rain, Clearing Afternoon
Location: Otaki, New Zealand

In parts of New Zealand they claim to have four seasons in one day. Well, today was almost one of those days. I saw ‘almost’ because we didn’t have snow and for that we are most thankful. We had a lovely sunrise in Kaikoura and enjoyed our ride up the coast with the Seaward Kaikouras to our left and the ocean to our right. We intentionally did not eat breakfast before we left as we had read about a place called The Store at Kekerengu. The Lonely Planet advises stopping there even if you don’t need anything to eat, and we are glad that we followed their advice. In the middle of nowhere, this lovely restaurant appeared on the ocean’s edge. We had Eggs Benedict, Mark’s favorite, and topped that off with a blueberry and pear muffin, all made with local fruit. It was delightful and at this point the sun was still shining. Shortly after we left Kekerengu, however, the rain started. At first it was just a sprinkle, but by the time we reached Picton, it was pouring. Shortly after we got on the ferry, the rain did subside and the sun was shining brightly as we neared Wellington on the North Island, but once again the rain came pouring and blowing down. The winds were blowing about 60 knots today, so in addition to sun, rain, sun, rain, we had lots of wind and a bit of chill at times.

We made the reverse trip to the South Island fifteen days ago and we certainly have enjoyed each and every one of those days. The landscape is beautiful beyond words and I loved getting to see the Yellow-eyed and Little Blue penguins. What a treat it was to see these creatures come home from the sea. It is a sight I will never forget. The rain in Milford Sound is something else I will never forget. I’m not a lover of rain, but the waterfalls that were generated by the rain that day were just gorgeous. And then there were the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, and Mt. Aspiring and the rides along the narrow roads between mountain and ocean. Wow! It was a great two weeks. And now we are off to explore more of the North Island. We have chosen to go back up the more rugged west coast on our way home. Our stop tonight is in the town of Otaki about an hour and a half from Wellington. Tomorrow we will be on our way to see Mt. Egmont, the Mt. Fuji of New Zealand. But back to today. We chose to stay in Otaki because the Lonely Planet guide we are using had nothing else listed between here and Wanganui. Wanganui was too far to drive, so Otaki won. There were only two places listed to stay, so we booked the Otaki Oasis Backpacker for the night. It sounded delightful–hobby farm, pick all the fruit you can eat, etc. But this one was not as advertised. Our room looks like a chicken coop stuck on to the side of the main house. Two rooms with a bathroom between meant two rooms with a bathroom at one end. And the price was higher than anything we have paid for in days. Since one of the rooms had three beds, we talked the guy into letting us stay in the one room. He is still charging us more than the place is worth, but since the winds are now blowing about 55 to 60 knots and it is getting late in the evening, this will be home for the night. The only internet in this town is in the library which is closed, so this log won’t be sent until tomorrow. If we survive Otaki, we’ll send the log from the first town north.

070314 Web Pics–Kaikoura to Otaki