One to Grow On

December 11, 2009

Words to go with the pictures

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 6:40 am

I thought I’d try loading the photos, then filling in with the writing.  Total disaster.  I couldn’t even make the captions stay put.  How do others do it?   And, the photos got way out-of-order when I loaded them.  Anyway, here’s the story for the pics, but in order.

We left Rotorua and the camp on the Blue Lake (sounds like a Little House installment) heading down to our friends’ house by Tongariro National Park.   We knew nothing about the area, except that Esther said we would love it, and that was good enough.

On the way we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu (“sacred waters”) to check out some of the geothermal activity.  Well, it was fire, brimstone, and boiled eggs all the way.  The kids loved it, then hated it, then walked for another 30 minutes.   Everything was named things like “Devil’s Paintbox” or “Devil’s Bath”,  in case you hadn’t noticed that you’d wandered into the latter parts of Revelations.   And the smell…  lots of green and yellow sulphur crystals clinging to everything.  Rory definitely got his Homeschool Chemistry out of the way for the week.  As dorky as it sounds I was really excited to see the Lady Knox Geyser go off.  Okay, I have never, ever, ever seen a geyser, and I think the idea of hot water shooting up from under the earth’s crust is cool.  So, at this place they coax it along with dish soap, and it shoots off every day at 10:15am.  Man, I packed that campsite like a fiend (Hummm).  We arrived at 10:31.  Missed the start, but it was still going when we got there.  I have high hopes for Old Faithful now.

Heading south we came eventually to Taupo.  Steve, Esther’s husband and a former NZ guide, had recommended Huka Falls.  Man, they were huge.  THe river comes into this narrow gorge, which by itself is stunning, then plummets over a good size drop into a rushing crystal clear river.  The color of the water glows- such a clear blue, but it doesn’t photograph well, unfortunately.  I could have stood there all day, and could have, since Rory and Nora found an impossibly steep dirt path that led to nothing.  They loved it, and climbed it from every direction, over and over, then Nora got the idea to slide down it.  Rory found one ascent (we’ll call it the Northwest Face) that was so steep with so few footholds that he improvised a forked stick he used to hook tree roots higher up and haul himself to the top.  Pretty fun to watch; not so fun to wash up (especially in a sink, by hand!).

Driving into Taupo I saw a sign, “Bicyclists ahead- Road Race.”  Okay, I thought.  Now, this is the main North-South artery in New Zealand, a country that larger runs north to south.   Still, it’s one lane in each direction, with the speed often dropping to 55 Km/hour (maybe 30 miles?) on the steep mountain curves.  When I saw the signs I thought, Well, this will be fun.  Closer to town a sign reads, “Thousands of Cyclists ahead.”  Yep, thousands. Right after that the highway was closed.  The whole thing, in both directions.  For a bike race.   I can’t decide how I feel about that.   Then I hit the Detour, the one from underneath the earth’s bubbling crust, the place of fire and brimstone.   The detour that was missing the last signpost.  Twenty five kilometers later we pull into Reporoa, a town with two shops and a defunct gas station.  Turns out we were halfway back to Rotorua.  They did have public toilets, which both the kids used.  I had to wait in line at one of the shops behind 6 other lost drivers to be told that we had missed the detour by 24 kilometers.   And the closest gas station was back in Taupo.  Ugh.  So, back in the car, back toward Taupo, and we realized the reuseable metal water bottle that Brandon gave me for this trip is back in the public toilet.  Weighing sentiment against the thought of running out of gas, I turned the car around.  Water bottle in hand (yea!) we were on the road agin for maybe 4 minutes when the gas light came on.  So much for sentiment.  I drove maybe 25 miles an hour, coasting down every hill, cursing the bottle and praying we’d make Taupo.  We coasted into town to find the closest gas station shutting down for the night (I mean, it was almost 6pm, after all).  They let me in, gassed me up, and gave me a good map to finish out the detour.  Turns out we had stumbled upon probably the biggest bike race in New Zealand.  They ride around lake Taupo, the lake that looks like a huge fish eye in the center of the island.  That’s one long ride. 

We pulled into the house in Raurimu in pouring rain.  In fact, it rained the last two hours of the drive, with clouds and mist almost touching the road.  We couldn’t see a thing.  But we found the house okay, and we were thrilled to be inside.  We woke up to a drizzle, with low clouds wrapped around the house.   The rain started to dry up, and Rory and Nora went outside to find a kid wonderland.  In one back corner was a creek, in the other a swing set and the coolest hidden tree fort.  They had a blast while I cooked and cleaned and did laundry.  Then, lo and behold, I paused in my labors over the kitchen sink to look up.  I gasped.  I cooed.  I was speechless.  A series of massive snow-covered volcanos loomed right outside the window.  Within minutes (maybe 59 minutes, but still…) we were dressed for anything, toting sandwiches and beverages and headed for the hills.  We checked out the Tongariro National Park visitor’s center, learned some cool stuff about volcanos, and hit the trails.  It was, all in all, a glorious afternoon.  Rory and Nora hiked for 2 1/2 hours with almost no whining (popsicle bribes are very effective).  We laughed and played and got enough sun to last a few more weeks of rain.  It was just what we needed.

So, on to Wellington.  We were catching the ferry in 2 days, so we stayed at a huge, brilliantly run hostel right at the harbour.  In our one day there, our one rainy day, we did the two best, most important things in Wellington:  we went to Te Papa, the national museum, and we drank great coffee in a beautiful coffee shop.  It even had gluten and dairy free cake- what a town. 

Te Papa gets a lot of hype, but I think it is even better than it sounds.  For starters, it’s free.  That’s cool.  And, then, they have the only colossal squid on exhibit in the world, although it’s decomposing in front of everyone’s eyes and will only be on exhibit for maybe 6 more months.  Phew- glad we saw it while we could.  The story behind the squid is pretty good.  Commercial fishermen were, well, fishing, off the coast of Antarctica, when they caught a huge fish who was in the process of being eaten by this colossal squid.  As they reeled the fish in, the squid DID NOT LET GO.   Stubborn.  So, they haul in this creature from the dark depths of the antarctic waters, who can never survive on the surface.  They chuck it in the deep freeze and donate it to the museum.  It’s huge, but they know there are bigger ones out there.  How do they know?  Because they have found larger squid beaks in the bellies of whales.  Ooooohhhh.  I love this stuff.  And, one more squid fact before we go, a squid’s beak is the sharpest thing in the world.  Wow.

Okay, more cool stuff about Te Papa.  They have a house rigged up so you can experience an earthquake.   There I stood, inside a museum, totally safe, a little blase but still interested.  Then the quake started.  Nora tried to bolt for the door, but could not put one foot in front of the other.  It was terrifying.  When it was over I asked the kids if they wanted to do it again.  They looked at me sadly and walked off.

I could go on and on about the museum, but I’ll limit myself to mentioning the Maori carvings (very cool) and the 4 (count ’em,  four) kids’ discovery rooms to complement the regular exhibits.  Each one was like a kid’s museum in its own right, fully staffed, with reading corners and crafts and dress-up.  And so we passed 5 happy hours inside on a rainy day in Wellington.

And so concludes the North Island Adventures.  Stay tuned for the South.  Yee-haw!


1 Comment »

  1. What a great adventure this is! I am sure each of you will remember the earth quake forever. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and “saving” the water bottle. You three must be very brave climbers and explorers! Love, Grandma Barbara

    Comment by Grandma Barbara — December 11, 2009 @ 10:58 am

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