A Travellerspoint blog

Walking in a Thermal Wonderland and a Very Kia Ora Evening

Rotorua is a thermal hot spot. If you don't know what this means, basically imagine a town that smells like rotten egg, has warm water, and steam coming out of random streams. I'm sure our friendly geologist Debbie will have more to say about it, so stay tuned for comments below.

As the forecast for the rest of our time in New Zealand is rain, we are trying to be outside as much as possible when it is only misting or grey (not a torrential, sideways downpour like what is happening outside of the coffee shop currently). And so, yesterday when it was only slightly miserable, we decided to go to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which has the "largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone". Wow!

So, this means there's some pretty colours in the lakes and rocks, some boiling mud, a geyser that goes off every day at 10:15 (they actually control it with some kind of special soap, so don't get too excited about that one), and a lovely boiling egg smell to accompany your walk. My favorite were the Oyster Pool, Champagne Pool, and Artist's Palette (that sounds way more romantic than it actually smells).

We were lucky enough to get through our walk there before the rain re-started. Thus began the hunt for Meat Pies. Meat pies are apparently a delicacy in Australia and New Zealand, and although my mother may not be partial to them, Lani and I think they sound lovely. Meat, cheese, puff pastry- how could you really go wrong?! Unfortunately, up to this point, our closest encounter to the pie kind was the "Georgie Pie" from McDonalds- a Kiwi classic is back!

As we set about our drive through town, we kept a keen eye out for any bakeries that might have meat pies. We saw one bakery that we thought might do the trick. It turned out to be more of an industrial bakery, so it didn't do the trick for Lani. I tried a mini-meat pie, which was only 50 cents. Should I be concerned that something containing meat cost only 50 cents when a drip coffee is $3? So far, so good.

We continued our drive through Rotorua, past Lake Rotorua, Government Gardens and the Blue Baths, saw the fancy spas (which generously allow you to pay for the chance to soak in natural hot tubs, similar to the one we were in for free the night prior). Still not a meat pie to be found.

Once back in the "business district" of Rotorua (read: three or four fairly busy streets), we found the Lotus Bakery, which Lani felt would meet her need for an authentic meat pie. It was an interesting little place, full of plastic flowers and ripped up vinyl seating, but we did it! We found meat pies. Lani had a steak pie, while I had the Steak and Pepper, washed down with an authentic NZ Lemon & Paeroa. I can't quite describe this drink, except that it tastes a bit like a bitter Arnold Palmer. Pretty good, and it went nicely with my peppery pie.

After a quick dry-off back at the hostel, we headed for our evening programming, a visit to the Tamaki Maori Village. The Maori are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and Rotorua is a hub of Maori culture. Tamaki offers a "twilight tour" where they pick you up from your accommodations and transport you to the village, where you have a traditional Maori greeting ceremony, experiences in traditional arts, dance, and culture (including the Haka dance and the Poi dance), and then enjoy a hangi meal.

Here is Lani joining in on a Poi dance. She was pretty good- think I could rent her out to the Maori for performances? Might help pay for the rest of the trip...

The Maori traditionally have tattoos on their faces to tell a story of their life, work, and family. Apparently, they also have tattoos on their heinies, although I'm not sure who's reading that story?

Hangi meals are cooked in the ground, covered by Hangi sacks (a fancy term for old potato sacks) and then taken covered with volcanic ash. I think there's a fire too, but I'm no expert. All I know is that we got a pretty sweet feast out of it.

I'll do the run down for you:
Giant Carrots
Kumara (NZ sweet potato but actually yummier)
Mussels (I know I said I couldn't ever again but I had two. We all knew that wasn't going to last anyways)
Sweet cornbread

And for dessert:
Pudding with cream and vanilla custard
Pavolva- a kind of custard/meringue thing that I really liked

Needless to say, that's where you gain your money back.

After dinner, we were encouraged to browse through the gift shop (as if I could move at that point!) and then got back on the bus. I know it sounds crazy, but the bus driver we had (Mark) MADE the whole night. On the drive to the village, he proceeded to translate Kia Ora into 61 languages (some of which were just English but with regional "variances") without missing a beat. For those of you unfamiliar with Kia Ora, it is a greeting that literally means "be well/healthy", but is used like "g'day/shalom/how's it/howdy/hey/how are ya/aloha/whasssssup". On the bus drive home, Mark sang the national anthems of all of our countries. When he was done with that, he sang "The Wheels on the Bus" and went up-and-down, swish swish swish (with the windshield wipers) and beep-beep-beep (with the horn) when the song called for it. While singing "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", we went round and round and round and round the roundabout, which, he informed us, is highly illegal. It's also highly entertaining (though maybe less so after a Hangi binge feed).

When Mark dropped us off at the hostel, he came in with us. I asked if he knew Pete, and he said "Ya, Pete's my cuz! Do you know Pete?".

Kia Ora everyone!!


PS: My running shoes are still not dry from our little mountain climbing adventure. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Flanilandlizard 18:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Light at the End of the Tunnel

For our beautiful, warm, sunny day in Waitomo we decided to make the most of it and head down into the deep, dark, wet, gloomy caves where weather could really make ZERO difference to our activities (Top trip planners right here).

Our wonderful friends Jenn and Keith (Milford Sound) had recommended that we do the Legendray BlackWater Black Abyss tour. Of course this was the most expensive option, but they haven’t led us astray yet so we decided to go big or go home. Now, you may recall how unimpressed I was with Paragliding- this was the complete opposite. A healthy dose of my favourite activities, throw in some hilarious guides, free food and a good group of participants. I was more than pleased.

Before we even got started we got to watch people preparing for the high ropes tour by completing the “fit”ness test, this was more of a fat test as people wiggled through some boxes to make sure they are actually small enough to make it through the caves, then take a breathalyzer. They are nice enough to make everyone do the boxes to be PC.

For our adventure we wiggled into some hole-tattered wet suits, given strict instructions not to pay (pee) in them and were driven to the mouth of Ruakuri cave. First up was an abseil (Kiwi talk for repel) into the cave about 40m through an hour glass shaped hole. Now they don’t do a “fit” test for this part but I can see some larger individuals struggling with this one.
After looking at the growth on the cave walls we flew down the flying fox with all lights off. (This photo is part of their promotional photos they put on your CD with high lighting. We could only see glow worm light)
At the end of the fox they sat us along the ledge of a cliff and bribed us with cookies and cocoa. A running theme in this tour is that before they ask you to do something they think you might not be keen on, they feed you. And thus out came the tubes.

Luckily there is no option other than jumping to make the plunge into the water that you can’t see but 10m later you feel it- and it's “freezing” (about the same temperature as Pine Lake in August). I should note that up to this point we were able to see some glowworms in the cave but they hadn’t been a major feature. And so we sculled through the water in the cave for about 15 minutes looking at the walls, listening to the sounds, splashing about when our guide had us form a human eel.


Lined up, one connected to the other we turned off our headlamps and he pulled us back the way we had come, ever so slowly while we watched the glowworms do what they do best- glow. Actually we learned that females have sex, lay eggs and die within a day while the males have sex with different partners for about 3 days before they die from exhaustion. They lead quite the life.


Once we made it back to our launch point we handed over the tubes, walked over to the “waterslide” and were given the only option of going head first so they could capture our faces on film. Nobody opted to use the cave toilet (crevice in rock) but there was a lot of swirling action going on around it and the water got a bit warmer so I think someone from the previous tour made use. (I'm aware this isn't a picture of either of us but the ones of us didn't work on the slide)


Next we stopped at the “bar” (flat rock sticking out from water) and had to give a verb to describe ourselves after a night at the bar. Once morphed into Disappearing Lani and Happy Sleepy Liz we began the “drunken stumble” portion of our cave tour. The guy walking in front of me only fell twice. The guide told me I was a pro. I haven’t determined if this was a compliment or not.
At the end of this walk we were asked what animal we would like to be if born again. I opted for lion, Liz went for hippopotamus and thus we went through the rebirth canal for more photo ops.

They promptly seated us along another ledge to offer hot orange juice and chocolate (bribery) and had us complete some cave art. (Can you read what we wrote?)

The last activity was probably the highlight for me. We free climbed two waterfalls to get out of the cave. For those who aren’t good with small spaces you may get over that when your options are climb or take up permanent residency in a cave.

After a fantastic five hours we headed back to base for our promised hot (pretty warm) showers, bagels and soup. Our guides gave us some great tips for moving on to Rotorua and I ran into another couple of Guelphies (The count is now 5) and swapped tips before moving on.

We got into Rotorua just before 7. Our drive was clear and we got stoked to see the solar eclipse and the red rings around the moon. Lucky for us (NOT) it was cloudy from about 7:10-9 (The precise times we were meant to be looking). But in that time we made friends with Pete, the hostel guy, who sent us for some delicious sushi, lent Liz his phone charger, and let us ask about 200 questions without telling us we were annoying. When we got back and realized this is another town with nothing to do past 5 pm we spent some more time chatting with Pete. Hannah had recommended Kerosene Creek to us and when we asked Pete about it he suggested we head there when he finished working. And so at about 11:00 we headed through the bush to find the hot springs that look fake but are completely natural. The sky was clear again, the moon was brighter than the sun, the water was hot, and thus ended a perfect day and started a beautiful friendship with Pete.

Posted by Flanilandlizard 17:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

487 Step Program

Ahh, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Described widely as “the best one-day tramp in NZ”. A hike through volcanic activity, steaming vents, and coloured lakes.


We mainly saw a grey cloud and about 2 feet in front of us, as the conditions were not ideal. In fact, the guy who drove us to the drop off point (and also works as search-and-rescue for Tongariro) called the conditions “rapidly deteriorating” when he dropped us off at the Mangatepopo Car Park. He sized each of us up (denim and flip-flops are not alpine appropriate), made sure we had enough water (as if we couldn’t just open our mouths skywards and get a mouthful), and said “see ya in 6-8 hours”!

I don’t have a ton of pictures (IT WAS RAINING), but I do have some numbers to help illustrate this bad boy.

NUMBER OF PEOPLE HIKING IN (soaking wet) JEANS: 20 dumb-dumbs
STEPS WE CLIMBED: 487 stairs
LENGTH OF HOT SHOWER ONCE BACK AT LODGE: 15 minutes of standing in hot water, re-gaining feeling in my fingers and toesies.

But seriously, we had a great time climbing up, up, up, and then sliding down, down, down (there were also stairs down but I did not count them. My brain was very full of numbers). At one point, there is a downhill slide through what I have come to find out is called “skree”, and we were basically "skree skiing”. It was amazing, and I didn’t even fall down.

Just after the skree ski hill, there are the first -of what are rumoured to be many but unfortunately we only saw these three- lakes, coloured bright blues/greens/oranges by the sulphur from the volcanic activity (Debbie- feel free to correct my geography here. I’m flying by the seat of my pants). Unbelievably gorgeous, and give off some nice heat and an even nicer smell. Eau de farts, if you will.

We trekked back down through rain forest, something called a Lahar Danger Area (seriously no idea what that means), and eventually made it to the Ketatahi Car Park, where our friendly guide was there to take us to warmth! He is an experienced climber, and on the way back he regaled us with stories of his most ridiculous ventures, featuring 120 kph winds, thunderstorms, snow fall, and an occasional sunny nice day. He appreciated that we are used to hiking in this weather as we are from Canada. This may be autumn for NZ, but it feels like middle of the summer in Canmore for us!!

Last note: we stayed in the village closest to the Tongariro Crossing drop-off. This village is called Whakapapa, but it’s come to our attention that the “Wh” is pronounced as an “F” sound. I’ll leave it to you.

Sleep time now. Hopefully I’ll be able to walk tomorrow!


Posted by Flanilandlizard 02:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Mediocre Food, Hilarious Company

I can’t exactly recall where Liz left off and I’m much too lazy to go back and check- so I will recount our days in Wellington from our arrival.

We checked into the hostel at 11 something PM and I found myself engaged in conversation with some randoms who were heading for the bar. When I was invited out I tried to decline using my long day travelling attire as an excuse. Unfortunately the girl from NY promptly pointed out that she was also wearing an AA T-shirt, Gap Jeans, and Toms- so with no excuse we headed out on the town. Now Wellington has a higher restaurant/bar to person ratio than NYC and it seems we were staying in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong- I love myself a good club but this was all way too overwhelming even for me. We found a quiet-ish bar and had a lovely time until last call...which is apparently 4am. And thus Wellington began

First up Saturday morning we had our daily dose of rhyming at the Dr. Seuss Art Gallery (That’s right people we went to an Art Gallery). This is where I learned there are all sorts of stories I was never read as a child which I now believe to be the root of all characteristic flaws you may believe me to have. Blame Marla.

Conveniently a trait she provided much training in was shopping and so we headed down to the Underground Market, aptly titled as it was in an underground parkade, to browse the chachka’s and handcrafted goods. We made our way back up over what is possibly a pirates ship, possibly a tribute to the Maori, possible just some weird art along the Wellington harbour- there were lots of questions about this that I can’t say I have any answers to. There was probably a sign somewhere but the roads have really made me sign-ed out

Once we had exhausted all other options we found ourselves outside the Te Papa museum. (Yes that’s right- Art Gallery and Museum all in one morning. I’ve checked the passports, it’s still us on this trip). I would actually describe Te Papa as more of a science centre than museum. There were lots of interactive activities and informative displays. Unfortunately the take-away message for me was basically that NZ is going to fall into the ocean, and it seems that it’s going to be soon. This is not the first place this point has been emphasized. Which is unfortunate because people here are so fantastic (see below)

After the museum it started to drizzle a bit (the weather is never really sure what it wants to do here) so we threw on some coats and began to wander, and wander and wander some more. I think we walked all of Wellington. We visited Cuba street- full of cute shops and second hand stores, up through the business district, took the trolley up a big hill to the observatory, walked down said big hill through an art park, some rose gardens, a cemetery (not sure why this is in the middle of a walking path), through more office buildings, along the water, and finally back home. Which is when the dinner discussion began. It went something like this:
Liz: What do you feel like?
Lani: I don’t want fish or seafood. Let’s go for sushi

So we got some suggestions and headed over to the street with all those loud clubs and restaurants. As we were reading the menu for one recommended restaurant we overheard a tour guide explaining the merits of each of the two restaurants we were deciding between to his group (of 4), so I suggested we just follow their lead and eavesdrop. Once they decided a lady from the group suggested we join them for dinner it went like this:
Tabatha (We think this is her name): Girls come eat with us
Liz: Are you nice?
Tabatha: Of course, are you fun?
Lani: Of course. Alright Dinner it is

About halfway into the restaurant we learned that by no means was this a tour group but a group of friends in their mid-50’s just going out for Saturday night dinner and the “tour guide” is really just the bossy, know-it-all friend. Now don’t get me wrong they were a very warm and friendly group of people and we had a great time with them especially because it meant we didn’t just have to talk to each other but what inclined them to invite two random twenty-somethings out for dinner is beyond us. We were rooting for them to buy our dinner, they didn’t.

After we parted ways we headed to the hostel to watch the much anticipated HIMYM Finale, yes we may be in the future but there’s like a 3 month social delay here, and hang out with some other hostel dwellers. The most fascinating being Danny, a British paparazzi who is here to “Find the Baby”

Sunday was a simple day. We made a quick stop at the Wellington Farmers market which was pretty lame. The fruit wasn’t all local, vendors weren’t that friendly, and there was very little variety. Then we hopped in the car and headed North in preparation for the GREAT HIKE.


Posted by Flanilandlizard 01:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

The Wine Glass is Half-Full

To those of you who think that we have been drinking too much, and to those of you who think we have not been drinking enough: One of you is about to be very happy.

After our mad dash up the coast to Nelson, we quickly signed up for a tour of the best of what Nelson has to offer: Craft Beer and family-owned Vineyards. Our friendly guide, CJ, picked us up right outside of our hostel to start our half-day "Best of Both Worlds" Tour. The van was full of a very international crowd that consisted of: 1 Italian, 1 German, 2 Brazilians, 2 Canadians (that's me and Lani), and 1 Kiwi (that's CJ). Luckily everyone spoke English, and we (mostly) understood each other the whole day. Although, once the wine tasting started, it got a little bit harder to communicate clearly.

First stop: Milcrest Estate. Big winners here were the Gewürztraminer and Roger, the dog. We tried out 7 of the Milcrest wines, as well as a special red blend created by CJ (Conspiracy Theory wines; home made with grapes he gets from local vineyards).

Next stop: Kahurangi Estates. Top picks here were the wood-fired pizzas (even the Italian girl had to admit these were top-notch), and the Reserve Chardonnay, a dessert wine made sweet because of a bacteria or something. You can ask Lani about that; all I have to say is "Yummy"!

Final wine stop was at a small vineyard called Kina Cliffs; it is owned and farmed entirely by one couple and their twin eight-year old boys. The cellar door tasting room is their porch, which was fine by us since it is an amazing location overlooking the Tasman Bay. Winner here are the sheep who were grazing the farm- a local sheep farmer takes them around to all the local vineyards to graze twice yearly. This is mutually beneficial as the sheep get fed, and the lawns get trimmed and fertilized naturally!

After the vineyards it was time for a quick change for our palates: brewery time! We went to the McCashin's brewery, home of Stoke Beers, for beer tasting. It seems we have no pictures from the brewery, and to be honest, I don't have a ton of memories of it either. Here's what I can shake out of my brain: berry cider, apple and honey cider, something called Stoke Bomber, a special Coconut Vanilla Pilsner that tasted like body wash. We also had some chips there that were Rosemary and Thyme- I remember they were quite delicious.

That was the official end of the tour, but we continued tasting the Best of Nelson with the Vic's Bar, where we had a sampling of Mac's Beers with our dinner. We ended the night at our hostel by watching a movie (me) and working on a 1000 piece puzzle of the Colosseum (Lani).

Today, we started the day with a short hike to the Centre of New Zealand at the top of Botanical Hill. It was so humid that my hair slightly altered the actual geographic centre of NZ.

Then off to Founder's Heritage Park. Lani wanted to go to see if it was similar to Calgary's Heritage Park (it was); I wanted to go because I knew that Founder's Brewery is located in the park and they have a tasting platter as well. We were both very satisfied.

We continued on towards Picton, where we would later catch the ferry to the North Island. We stopped in Havelock; the official (?) Green-Lipped Mussel capital of the world. Some of you might know this, but in the summer of 1999, I ate nothing but mussels for approximately 3 months. Today, I demolished a kilo of mussels (that's 2.2 lbs; I forgot about the metric system when I was ordering) and have to admit that I am going to need a break from mussels for a little while. Lani says she thinks I'll be asking for them tomorrow; I'll keep you posted.

Our final stop on the South Island was Hunter Wines, where a very sneaky Gewürztraminer won its way into our hearts and our backpack.

And at last, we bid adieu to the South Island, with our bellies full of wine, beer, and mussels; our minds full of good memories; and our feet ready for some North Island adventures!

Posted by Flanilandlizard 05:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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