Wellington, New Zealand – Tues, Jan 14: Te Papa Mueseum and Botanical Gardens

Written by Teresa

We slept in for a little bit and were out the door around 9:30am. We walked down to Cuba Street and found a café for breakfast. Then we walked to the Te Papa Museum, which is New Zealand’s national museum – and it’s free! We spent about 3 hours there, walking around all the exhibits. The museum was beautiful and very well done – the displays are amazing. Our favourites were:

  • The giant squid
  • The WOW clothing – the World of Wearable Art display
  • Earthquake house (stand in it and it shakes) and information
  • New Zealand animals – kockapoo

We left and walked along the water to Oriental Bay where people were out swimming and enjoying the sunshine. We had a drink at a restaurant that is right on the water.

We walked back to the museum, grabbed a quick lunch at McDonald’s and then headed to the Parliament buildings, about a 25 minute walk away. We meandered along the waterfront to get there. The main Parliament building is called the Beehive since it resembles a bee hive. Unfortunately, it was under construction at the top. The parliament building beside it was gorgeous – all swirly and pigmented marble. Beside it was the beautiful parliament library.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at a backpackers for a happy hour drink and then headed back to our hotel. Kathy, Tom and I headed out in the car to Mount Victoria for an amazing 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding area. It seems to be a popular place to walk/run up and also to bike down.

Overlooking Wellington (1024x189)

We headed back to our hotel, changed and grabbed Mike and walked to the Wellington Cable Car. It was $4 each to take the cable car up to the top where the Botanical gardens are. It only took about 8 minutes to get up. I had hoped the views would be a bit better. At the top, we joined the throngs of people heading down to the Soundshell, which is a permanent music stage. For about 3 weeks, almost every night of the week, the city was hosting a concert with a different band or performer. It started at 8pm and we got there around 7:40 and it was PACKED. We were not expecting it at all! We found a little spot of grass on a very steep hill and watched as the people continued to stream into the area from all directions. We were jealous when we saw all of the amazing picnics that people had brought, including beer and wine in wine glasses. I even heard two champagne bottles pop! If we had only known, we would have grabbed some food and some drinks and headed to the park earlier. The band that night was an Afro-Cuban band, which would have been much better if there were any words to their songs, but unfortunately, it was all instrumental. Many times we couldn’t tell when one song ended and another begin because it all sounded so similar. We only stayed about 40 minutes and then walked back to Cuba Street for a bite to eat. We ate at one of the few places that was open, an Italian restaurant where we had a mediocre meal. Back to our hotel for the night.

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Taupo to Wellington, New Zealand – Mon, Jan 13, 2014: Tongariro National Park and an evening walk in quiet Wellington

Written by Teresa

We checked out of our hotel around 9am and did a bit of shopping at a couple of outdoorsy/camping stores. We then headed to Tongariro National Park. We inquired about doing the Tongariro Crossing – a 20 km hike that is supposed to be one of the best day walks in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed that day due to high winds. We stopped in at the nearby town to go to the info booth to find out about a short walk to do. We chose the Ridge Walk that said 1 hour return, but it only tool us 13 min to go one way! We hung out at the top, hoping to see a glimpse of the snow-capped mountain in the distance, but it was too cloudy and foggy. The temperature was about 10 degrees with the wind making colder. We bundled up (including gloves), but were warm by the top of the uphill climb. Back to the car around one and then continued on our way south to Wellington.

On the way to Wellington, we noticed a giant plum tree on the side of the road that had dropped hundreds of plums on the ground. We pulled over and Mike and Tom did some plum picking from some of the trees further off the road. Kathy went so far as to climb the tree because the majority of the plums were up high.

Once in Wellington, we had dinner in our room of some of the various snacks we had with us. After dinner, we headed out to see the town. We went to Cuba Street, which we were told is one of the popular bar/restaurant street and stopped at a bar for a drink. There was almost nobody out in any of the bars and restaurants, and a lot of those were already closed.

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Rotorua to Taupo, New Zealand – Sun, Jan 12, 2014: On the road with a few stops

Written by Teresa

This morning was a little rough from our night before. But we were out the door by 9:15 to start the day by rolling down a hill. Perhaps not the activity to do with a slight hang-over! We arrived to the OGO hill and watched a couple of people come down the hill – it looked really slow from our view. We paid our $50 each for the zigzag option, and then we sat in waited for the truck to take us back up the hill. We piled into the truck, and drove up to the top with the OGO balls in the trailer of the truck.

Kathy and Tom went first. The worker first filled the ball with some warm water and then with a flying Superman dive, you launch yourself into the ball. They were given a GoPro camera, and then zipped up and sent off down the hill. We didn’t get to watch them much as we were getting loaded into our own balls. We waited for a little bit and we found out later it was because Tom and Kathy got stuck up on one of the sides of the track. We started the trip standing, but that only lasted for about 2 seconds until we fell. It was so much faster inside the ball than it looks from the outside. I was laughing the whole way down and we tried halfheartedly to stand, but it was almost impossible with two people in there. We could tell when we hit the zigzag parts of the track because we would go up, be weightless for half a second and then come back down as we went down the sides of the track. We got to the bottom and were birthed out of the ball on to the ground, where the company took pictures of us. We sat in the hot tub for a about 15 minutes, warming up and reliving our experience. I absolutely loved it; Mike enjoyed it but not as much as I did. Kathy and Tom enjoyed it as well, but it was tough on Tom’s neck he found. I would have done it a dozen more times if it wasn’t so expensive. We decided to purchase the videos and the photos, so we waited around for awhile while those were being burned.

We got back into the car and went into town and grabbed a yummy breakfast bagel. We wolfed those down and then headed south about 25 minutes to where the tourist information booth had told us about a free swimming area, where a hot water creek meets a cold water creek. We found the place with no problems and headed down to the water. It was quite chilly out, so stepping into the lukewarm water was nice. Then we headed up toward where the hot water was coming down and it got hotter and hotter. We could see steam rising up from the creek up for the from where we were sitting. It’s a bit cloudy and dirty, because you’re just sitting on a regular creek bed. But it was so nice to just sit there and move into the hotter section when you were cold and move over into the colder section when you were hot. There was an area in between the two where you could sit and you would have patches of hot and cold water swirling around you. There certainly was a smell of sulfur, but it wasn’t as bad as we expected, and not as bad as we had smelled it in other places. After about an hour, we had to force ourselves to leave. We changed next to the car and then continued on south to Taupo.

We stopped in at Hukka Falls which is one of the fastest waterfalls in NZ; they are not very tall, but wide and fast. We walked around for a little bit and then went for a little 30 minute walk along the river, playing in the trees.

We got back to the car and into Taupo to the info booth. We got distracted along the way by a sale on tshirts – 6 for $30! We found out that we wouldn’t be able to do Tongariro crossing (“one of the most beautiful walks in the world”) because of the weather. We headed to check into our 2 bedroom apartment. We relaxed for a bit and had a snack of apples, cheese, hummos, pitas and carrots. Around 5pm, we headed out to a hike in the woods that came out to the shoreline. It took us an hour to walk along to get to the shoreline and we spent a while there playing on the rocks. We saw a cool little cave and a stone statue. At the very end where we were playing around on the rocks, there is also a Maori warrior carved into a big rock on the side of the woods. We played around on the rocks for at least 30 to 45 minutes, going up to this light at the top of the point.

We headed back into town, stopping at the grocery store to pick up breakfast. We went back to our apartment, and had a drink. We then headed out for dinner around 8 pm, stopping at the Hole in 1 golf, where you hit balls onto into the lake, aiming for platform with 3 holes. Tom bought us all some balls and we took turns swinging. We walked along the little waterfront restaurant area and ended up going for burgers at Fuel Burger. The best part about the meal was the little cardboard containers, called Doofers, that they give you so that you put your burger in it so that your toppings don’t fall over the place. It was quite the cool invention and it really worked. We then decided since it was 9 o’clock at night and we had just eaten 10,000 calories, that we should go for a walk around town. So we walked around for about 30 minutes; the streets were absolutely deserted. We would be on an entire street all by ourselves, with nothing open around us. There are only a few restaurants and bars open at this time on Sunday night. We headed back to our apartment, and we all did about an hour’s research on the south island. Everyone headed to bed around 11 pm.

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Rotorua, New Zealand – Sat, Jan 11, 2014: Geysers, Maori show, a cold dip in the lake and night on the town

Written by Teresa

As we were staying with Kathy’s very welcoming and generous friend Katie we had a nice easy breakfast in today, in preparation for a day of sightseeing around town. We were out the door a little after 9am, and as usual our first stop was the info booth.

Our first real stop of the day was the Rotorua museum. Although we didn’t go inside, we wandered around the grounds including the onsite rose garden. The grounds and building itself were quite nice, but there was something else we didn’t anticipate – the smell of sulpher! As soon as we stepped out of the car the smell slapped you in the face. Rotten eggs! The entire town is built on/around geothermal sites, and this causes a lot of smell. Cool sites to see, but smelly ones.

Next we headed to Te Puia, which is a combination of geothermal attractions (geysers, mud pools, etc) and Maori cultural center. We decided to go on the guided tour, and we were lead around the park by our Maori tour guide William (who was very cute according to the girls). He showed us around to the major spots in the park, telling us some of the history of the Maori people and history of the land. It was surprisingly informative, and the sites were great. There was an ever-erupting geyser, a cool bubbling mud pool, geothermically heated rocks, a kiwi sanctuary where we saw our first like Kiwi bird, and various Maori cultural attractions.

The tour finished just in time for the Maori cultural show. The show began with a welcome ceremony were they pick a guy from the audience to be the “chief” for that particular show. Once the chief was chosen, a Maroi warrior comes running down the path from the sacred temple towards the group of visitors (now with a chief) yelling, shaking his spear, and generally acting very aggressive and scary. He drops a token (a leaf from the silver fern) in front of the chief, an if the chief picks it up it means the visitors come in peace and the show can go on. Needless to say we came in peace, and we all filed into the temple for the actual show. The Maori are well known for their Hooka dance.

It involves a lot of stomping, spear shaking as well as sticking the tongue out and bulging out the eyeballs. The objective was to intimidate the opponent. This dance has been made famous worldwide by the New Zealand All Blacks, the National rugby team. The show was about 35 mins long and included several traditional dances, including the hooka, and songs. It was very interesting.

After the show we wandered around the park a bit more to see more hot springs and mud pools. We checked out the gift shop on the way out and then headed back into town around 1:30pm for lunch.After a longish lunch, we debated what to do and decided to drive about 15 mins out of town to Blue Lake where we (not Kathy) hopped into the cold lake and played with the water ball. It was pretty chilly as it was late in the day and the sun wouldn’t come out from behind a big cloud. Needless to say we didn’t stay very long, and went back to Katie’s where we spent the night planning our next few days and having a couple of drinks.

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Hamilton, New Zealand – Fri, Jan 10, 2014: Lost World Cave Tour

Written by Mike

Today was our first step into the well renown adventure side of New Zealand – a 7 hour adventure cave tour into the “Lost World” including a 100 meter abseil/rappel into the cave. It is officially (and all these words are needed to make it true) the “highest, commercial, hanging abseiling into a cave”.

The day started early in the morning as we had an almost 2 hour drive to get to the tour office. Once registered our group of about 15 were shuttled in minivans to the cave site on a private sheep farm. Here we got fitted in our caving outfits which consisted of wetsuit overalls, a wetsuit jacket, wetsuit booties, helmet, harness and rubber boots. The whole outfit was quite difficult to get on, and snug doesn’t even begin to describe how tight they were. For Teresa, a guide grabbed the front of her overalls and I grabbed the back and we literally lifted her off the ground, shaking her into her overalls. Once all done up we were like a bunch of sausages – there was no hiding the fat rolls in these things!

All geared up and ready to go, we made our way to the mouth of the cave. We did a little safety lesson, practicing clipping on/off our safety harness and getting general safety tips. While waiting for the first part of our group to get into the cave we took a quick look at another opening to the cave, just to get a sense of what we were getting ourselves into.

Now for the scary part – the 100 meter descent into the cave with only a thin rope separating you from the cave floor. If you were afraid of heights, you would pee your pants just walking onto the grated platform. Even the knees of those of us who aren’t afraid of heights were a bit wobbly at this point. One of the hardest parts of the whole process is, before you are actually harnessed in, you must walk to the edge of the platform, and somehow get turned around and get your butt seated on a bar that is 2 feet away from the edge with a whole lot of nothing in between. The next hardest part is once you are actually harnessed in and ready to go, taking that first step off the edge 100 meters high, hoping they strapped you in right and the equipment works the way it should. Luckily for us everything was good! Once everyone was hanging free, it was time to start going down.

The descent was a lot slower and harder than we thought it would be – and while super cool and awesome, it was not quite as enjoyable/exhilarating as I thought it would be. Because all 4 of us (Teresa, Kathy, Tom and myself) were all hooked up to one guide (for safety reasons), we had to go really slow. If any one person went too fast, it would trigger a lock on the guides system and we would all jolt to a stop, and stay there until he reset his safety system. Also, we were all very close together, and the more rope we got, the more we would swing. We were eventually all swinging into each other and kicking other people in the head. You also had to strain to stay upright, which was actually quite tough and tiring. We eventually had to resort to essentially hugging our rope just to stay upright. The final thing that kind of took away from the experience was the fact that they didn’t give us gloves, so the rope started taking a toll on the hands. So the first 50 meters was “Wooooo this is awesome!”, and the last 50 meters was “OK, I’m starting to get really sore and tired, can we go faster and get this over with?”. Overall it was still pretty amazing!

Once at the bottom, we had a quick and yummy sandwich lunch, and proceeded deep into the cave.

We clambered over/under/between boulders, and it wasn’t long before those wet suits came in handy. Most of our 5 hours of trekking though this cave was in frigid water, sometimes so high you actually had to swim. It would take way too long to describe the whole journey, so here are the highlights:

Crawling through some very tight crevices/tunnels. It is during these that being a big guy is a huge hindrance. One of the crevices was actually too small!

Jumping off ledges into pools of water below – one was pretty high and shallow. Everyone hit their asses on the bottom except for Kathy, who didn’t listen to instructions about cannon-balling in and went feet first – lucky she didn’t get hurt!

Climbing up the “impassible waterfall”. Holy crap was this hard! It was near the end and we well getting tired, and you literally need to rock climb up a waterfall while the water is pounding you from above, get up to a little ledge, and then rock climb some more to get to the top. Teresa almost fell once but the guide grabbed her. She did great once she made it to the ledge though. My inflexibility in my hips killed me on this, try to lift my leg up sideways into a new foothold in the thick and restrictive wetsuit with water-filled rubber boots did not work very well. I eventually made it up, but had to belly flop onto the ledge! It was by far the toughest part of the whole experience.

Laying in the pitch black cavern with our lights turned off, surrounded by glow worms. This was amazing! It was like being in space, surrounded by stars. Or looking at cities at night from high above. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. So surreal!

At the end of the cave we were absolutely exhausted. Walking/climbing in the wetsuits for hours in the water really took a lot out of you. Unfortunately we had ventured underground for a few kilometers, so once out of the cave we had to walk back across the farm to the main building. This was by far the worst part. Walking in these waterlogged suits, boots still half filled with water, up and down hills, exhausted, in the heat. It sucked! But we made it, and after undressing and getting a shower we sat down as a group to a pretty good dinner before being whisked back to the tour headquarters.

Our evening consisted of a fairly long drive to our next stop, Rotorua, where we would be staying with a friend that Kathy met while traveling a few years ago.

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