Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pt 20 Back to Auckland; Molten; Alberton; Home and Post Mortem

Thursday 4 March – Back to Auckland; Molten and Alberton Historic House

Thursday dawns clear and windy after several days of passing showers and overcast skies. Pacific Blue has changed the time of our flight tomorrow. We become rather nervous about the time we need to be at the airport and potential delays en route so we have booked a room in Auckland for tonight. Using a mystery deal we have landed a room at the Langham for $120 plus taxes etc (final price $149 plus parking and internet charges). We’re really looking forward to having some more time in Auckland. :o)

As it turns out neither of us slept very well, also although we are tired we are not too bad on the getaway. By 8:30 we have stripped the beds and removed garbage and done the various tasks required before leaving time share. As hubby heads to reception my phone rings. It’s the scenic flight people. It’s finally clear over the volcanoes for a scenic flight. Hmm. It’s in the opposite direction to Auckland and we’re tired. Although they can meet us at Turangi we are loathe to add to the driving to the degree that would be required to then get in to Auckland, so in the interest of minimizing the fatigue risk we reluctantly say thanks, but no thanks. ..of course we have belatedly become very attached the money in our bank account too..LOL well it had to happen some time..LOL

We are quite pleased with our departure time, and between periods of watching the scenery there’s some napping going on. Nothing much to report until we get to Cambridge. On our tour of the Ruakuri Cave one of the group was asking about horse racing in the area and was advised that Cambridge is the closest centre to Waitomo for sport of kings. We decide to take the first Cambridge exit from the highway and have a quick squizz and take a stop revive survive break.

We cross a high bridge over a steeply sided river gorge and as we cruise at town speed down the main drag we find that Cambridge is an attractive, prosperous looking town. Not unexpected if the racing industry is big here. A welcome surprise to find a little strip of antique stores and some easy parking on the street nearby.

One thing I have been a little regretful of as we’ve travelled around is that we haven’t had the time (or energy, or, after our efforts on glass buying – the money) to spend much time pottering in the antique stores we’ve seen. So first things first we decide to have a bit of a browse. I’m on the lookout for more interesting glass.. black carnival glass to be precise and even more specifically an Australian piece with emu motif! Yeah, odds not good I know, but the only one I’ve seen for sale on line was an old add for one in NZ so you never know your luck! LOL It’s an interesting exercise wandering through here and not for the first time I am struck by a sort of “English” feel to the place. There’s a cheap glass platter covered in gum leaves and blossoms, but we’re pretty worried about luggage weight and it’s not that irresistible. I admire some bohemian cut glass that I think daughter would like.. but we’ve already got her wedding pressie. .a pair of Peking glass vases each ornamented with a green phoenix on the white base glass that we found in an antique store in Strathalbyn South Australia.

Hubby’s not that thrilled with the antiques browsing activity by the look of him, and we have things we want to do in Auckland, so within a very short time we’re heading back to the car. We’ve parked outside a bakery.. hubby’s heading on in..sigh.. it’s another one in the style of the one in Taupo where you self serve. Again some very nice savouries. Hubby tries a sausage roll too and a cream donut. Tsk tsk. Geez that wii is going to be cross with us when we get home!

I have to confess to having been quite slack on the sausage roll sampling this trip. This is a bit of a hobby of daughter 2 and mine when driving in the country at home..yes that’s right, it’s one extreme or the other for me. LOL Fine dining or sausage rolls! In a belated effort to lift my performance on the sausage roll research front I request a closer examination of hubbys purchase. My expectations are not high. This bakery is operated by some asian folk. … this sort of place does some things extremely well, but they don’t tend to do sausage rolls the way we like them… The sniff test confirms my expectations and I hand it back. My duty is done!

Time to hit the road once more and we are indeed feeling somewhat refreshed. It’s an uneventful drive and despite a pretty reasonable departure it’s about 1 or 1:30 by the time we make Auckland. Lunch time and we’re in just the place for it! As we have the car we decide we will head to Mt Eden and lunch at Molten. It’s a bit of a muddle trying to follow the directions in the street directory then finding a parking spot, but with tummies grumbling we walk through onto Molten’s polished concrete floor to a friendly welcome.

We take our seats and start our indulgence with some house made bread with olive oil and avocado aioli. ($8.50). This involves two slices of delicious onion bread and two slices of plain bread. The onion bread was particularly yummy with beautifully caramelized onion generously spread onto the dough then the whole thing rolled up to give a swirl effect.

Hubby is making the most of his remaining time in the country with a stubby of Hawkes Bay Amber Ale. When we get home the beer consumption will pretty much come to a screaming halt! This drop is brewed by Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery, whose stated goal is to “brew beers ecologically sound by brewing locally and using the finest New Zealand ingredients”. The Amber Ale doesn’t disappoint. All the beer has been good. You don’t get anything more effusive than that from hubby. That a beer should be “good” is the expectation.

Obviously taking pity on those of us who are of limited capacity on the self control front, Molten is offering their lunch menu which includes things of suitable magnitude for a lighter meal. Confit duck is on the menu. Hubby usually wins with his unconscious strategy of always ordering the duck. Today it is accompanied with pumpkin and orzo pasta with rimu smoked bacon and shredded rocket ($24). I am left to either concede the battle by ordering the same or chose an alternative. I go for the house cured pork rashers with spicy tomato gnocchi and charred summer salad (also $24). Both meals were very nice but Gasp! I won!!

The need to face the wii with nought a stitch of clothing for protection draws nigh.. we decide we will SHARE dessert LOL. Banana Tarte Tatin with wattleseed icecream, spiced coulis and peanuts. $15.50. Lets say $7.25 each LOL It was yum.. probably would have been even better if the bananas had been a bit riper when cooked. Wattleseed icecream we are familiar with of course. Always delicious.

We’re pretty keen to spend some more time in Auckland and we discuss what we should do when we arrive. I’m tempted to head back to the Museum, but it’s Thursday and we have a car and Alberton is open this time. It was shut on both our previous stays in Auckland. I’m struggling on the navigating a bit (fatigue and aging eyesight grr), but we find our way to Mt Albert, Park across the road from Alberton and wander over and down the asphalt drive to the side entrance of this fabulous white weatherboard mansion. We are met by the manager, pay our ($8?) entry fee and get a brief run down on the house and its history. The Manager asks where we are from and comments that it's a while since they had an Aussie through. Quite a few through in the January school holidays, and also more Aussies choose to visit Alberton than Highwic. Which seems odd because the location of Highwic would seem more convenient for people staying in Auckland. The Manager puts this down to Alberton having been a farm house and Highwic a town house. I think it's probably that Alberton looks more like a mansion on the website rather than a cute cottage!!

This property is being managed as is the current fashion in such things by preservation rather than restoration. Though there are parts of the house that have been refurbished/ stripped back to how they were at certain times in history. Like the other historic homes we’ve visited this one again has been acquired by the nation complete with much of the original family furnishings. It is a fascinating place, as alongside the antiques and original finishes or furniture from the times when the building was constructed there are modern touches, like some furniture some of the grandkids painted blue when they were staying in the house. Trivial little details like that really make the finishing touch to our enjoyment. Like so many houses of the period the house was extended over time and the signs of this are evident most on the inside and the varying levels within the house.

Over the better part of the next hour we explore this fascinating national treasure trove from the grand public rooms to the attic space where the servants slept, from the study to the kitchen and laundry. Each room has an interpretive notice for us to read. Well worth staying awake for!

Having explored the grounds and admired some… well I guess after Te Manua Ngahere I should describe them as young trees… Californian sequoias and others, and observed some sweet local silvereyes (waxeyes) in the old fig tree, we head back to the Aurion (we’re enjoying the Aurion) and take a slow drive into the city center and the Langham.

I wonder what the staff at this hotel are thinking as we, shameless peasants, reasonably disheveled, pile the trolley with all manner of travel detritus and miscellaneous souvenirs. We thought we tidied things up fairly well leaving Taupo, but still it makes a pretty incoherent pile on the faux gilt luggage trolley for the liveried….… ??? Do we call bell boys down under? Seems so lacking in dignity as a title for these confident, mature men, who have no hint of subservience about them.

Deposited in our room, hubby asks about dinner and is appraised of the fact that it will take a nuclear holocaust to get me out of this room again before we leave for the airport tomorrow! Gina’s or …oh god… what’s the name of that french place…drum your fingers for a bit while I go look up Zappers reminder….tap tap tap.. Pastis. Gina’s or Pastis are a nice idea but only as an abstract, some time in the future sort of concept. In house movies here we come…. Until we get distracted by Doubt on pay TV. Well named movie. I doubt I really get what the heck they were trying to say with it, but perhaps that was the point.

Friday 5 March - Home, Dinner at Ata in Maroubra Sydney

Theoretically nothing could be simpler than spending an easy morning and heading to the airport.. we leave, we think in plenty of time. But Google has a joke in store for us. Having looked up Auckland International Airport for where they reckon we should be going, they send us to a military airbase. A little bit of route correction as I check the road atlas and we are back on track. Along the way I notice another strip of antique stores. Heritage House Antiques specialise in porcelain, silver and glass. I must look them up online..

We arrive at the airport just in time. Fortunately we beat some large groups heading to the check in counter. It’s a slow process, but eventually we get through checking the baggage – delighted that we are within the weight allowances, even with our bags full of books, and the heavy wooden game. We head off to weigh our carry on baggage before heading through the duty free area. Great, we have a couple of kilos spare on that score as well. Not that anyone tried to weigh our carry on stuff.

With some weight we can still allocate I ring the daughters to see if there’s anything they want us to get. Daughter 2 asks us to bring back some L&P. I guess her sister’s reports of it must have carried some weight. Funnily, no one seems to have thought of stocking soft drink at the airport duty free stores LOL. Hubby decides the twin deal on Baileys looks like a goer. I wonder how on earth we'll consume so much of it. Visions of Baileys flavoured panna cotta or crème brulee flash through my mind before guilt waves start emanating up from those parts of my anatomy that have been getting a bit, shall we say, voluptuous…. No? Ok Fat (ter). I hope the Baileys keeps well. Maybe we can experiment in a few months if we're very very good.

We board our flight. Not right down the back this time. We’re in row 10. No window. Grrr. When you’ve become used to Air New Zealand, this Pacific Blue plane seems old and shabby. This flight was booked before our trip to the South Island last year. Before I had experienced Air New Zealand. Oh how I wish I was travelling with Air New Zealand again.

Hubby pulls out the menu from which we can choose to buy some food. Uggh. We make a selection out of sheer desperation. Neither of us has had brekkie and it’s after lunch now. Hand over our card to pay. The food is just tolerable. I think of that guy that wrote to Richard Branson to complain about the food and was given a job making sure Virgin food was OK. Where is he? Not on this route. Uggh. Oh how I WISH I was travelling Air New Zealand.


Home. It was raining when we left. It’s raining when we arrive home. This is Brilliant! There’s still floods in Qld. There’s still hope for the Murray Darling. It’s still raining! :o) Daughter has been running an errand and is stuck in Sydney traffic… ah. Yes. Home. LOL. We wait around and as it’s pretty much bang on peak period we decide we’ll have dinner locally before heading the deepest darkest culinary wasteland that is the south west. We give Son2 a call and see if he wants to come have dinner at Ata in Maroubra with us. We skip merrily across to Coogee. In hops son and we end our last travelling day for a while with a most satisfying and very cheap meal at one of our favourite bargain eateries. Some mixed dips with freshly baked Turkish bread, chicken iskander, and a mixed grill. I honestly don’t know how the Turkish places can put out such food at the prices and quality they do and Ata is as good as any you’ll find. Sultan’s Table in Enmore is all very well, but it’s really no better than Ata and at Ata it’s SO much easier to find a parking space!
We’ve really enjoyed our trip but it’s good to be home.

Post Mortem
We have had some marvelous experiences in our journey around the North Island as well as some challenging moments. I think perhaps we have learnt as much about ourselves as about New Zealand. So what was our favourite? What would we skip or change? I would comment that the North Island was set quite a challenge. I wasn’t in need of a holiday when we set out, having only had about 4 weeks or so back at work after several months leave before buzzing off again.. and it’s not long since we did the South Island also. South Island is a bloody tough act to follow. I would say that I at least was a pretty tough audience as a result. Hubby is a tough audience because he basically isn't into travelling that much.

Could we skip any particular stop we made?
No. We enjoyed pretty much everything we did and wouldn’t go back and not do any of it. We wouldn’t stay so long in one place again though. I had been thinking that mum and I drag hubby from pillar to post, but it turns out he feels even stronger about it than I do. To some extent in Taupo we just got itchy feet, we wanted to be heading somewhere new. Nothing against Taupo particularly, that is simply our style. We loved all our time in Auckland, but I’m sure it benefited from being split into three sessions. You won’t see us stopping in one place for 7 days in future trips. .. unless it’s somewhere like London, or Chicago or New York or somewhere like that..then again, even in Chicago, which I absolutely loved, I was sorry to leave after 5 nights but even then I knew it was time.

How about the weather? Yeah, the season for the trip was a mistake. If I would change one thing it would be that. Times when we were tired and over it, heat was a major factor. Yeah, I know as an Aussie I’m supposed to just shrug away the heat and scoff at the cool summers of colder countries, but god I hate weather over about 22 or 23 degrees max if I am on the go…. And when I travel I like to be on the go all the time. I feel exhilarated when the weather needs a jumper. I think of running around in the rain and wind at Aoraki, it was thrilling. Or being blown and buffeted in the wind and rain at Nugget Point, it was exhilarating and funny. It gives me energy. Trudging around anything in 26C makes me feel sluggish and apathetic. April is coming up and that’s usually when I start to come alive. I go back into hibernation by about chrissy time.

So to the lists:
Mr Snodges faves…and he intends the numbers to be a ranking:
1. Jetboat – we went with Rapids Jet.
2. A Perfect Day at the Poor Knights (in perfect weather LOL) It is so ironic that these are his top two favourites. He usually gets sea sick so he tends to shy away from boats… I basically dragged him on both these activities!
3. Napier
4. Glow worm caves and thermal stuff comes in equal.
5. Cape Reinga – this is amazing given how sick he felt all the time on the plane! Geez he must have loved the time on the ground a LOT.
I said to him “but you haven’t mentioned food or beer at all”. His reply: “we ate and drank every day”. Yes. That’s right we did. I think that this response just shows that generally the food was consistently good overall.
Mr Snodges things he’d change.
1. Not stay a week based in Taupo (or anywhere else).
My faves: I just loved experiencing everything so a few generalizations:
1. North Island for me is about culture and history. I am SO glad I did the trip pre-reading.
2. You just can’t do too many Maori shows or cultural tours. Simply not possible. Maurice’s tour in Kaikoura is the best cultural experience. Rankers is right about that, but it’s not a substitute for the Nth Island shows and cultural tours. They each teach you something new.
3. The most romantic places I have been in NZ are Russell and the Hermitage at Aoraki/Mt Cook and Napier, oh and Clooney Restaurant in Auckland.
4. The two most spiritual places so far: Cape Reinga and Aoraki/ Mt Cook- both awesome.
5. I love the unbeaten track. I have to have some of it in any holiday anywhere!
6. Scenery I can pick favourites: probably equal faves: Hokianga, Mt Ruapehu scenic driving, Napier, Cape Reinga, and virtually everywhere we went on the South Island! LOL
7. And no I wouldn’t stay a week based in one place again either. Odd thing is, we could cheerfully have stayed a couple of nights in Napier, A night down around Waiouru or further, still had the same amount of time actually in and around Taupo/Rotorua and just enjoyed ourselves more. Yeah. Irrational, but there you go. That's how we are.

and remember when reading our Post Mortem.. this is Mr Snodge's only trip to NZ. I've only done about 6 weeks and I reckon it will take another 6 weeks at least to have had a really good look around the whole country... so our faves are only of what we've seen - obviously.

Thanks again New Zealand. Another fabulous holiday. Hubby's and my first proper holiday just the two of us. You've taught me something about myself and my own country too along the way. It's been a privilege and we really look forward to coming back... At the airport we were discussing whether to spend the remainder of our NZ cash. Hubby's decision. "Nah. Hang on to it. We'll need it when we come back." :o)

pt 19 - Taupo Museum, dinner at The Brantry and some lazy cricket watching

Wednesday 3 March – Taupo Museum and pottering

We’re badly in need of a down day so today we are just going to potter about, pay a visit to the Taupo Museum and get ourselves organized for the flight home and departure. I’m also quite keen to catch up with the journal and have a nice restful day and early night so that we can get a really early start tomorrow and make the most of our opportunities in Auckland.

Late morning we head over the museum and pay our $5 entrance fee. We mosey around the galleries looking at the carvings. There is a nostalgia display of an old caravan complete with sign saying please feel free to step inside.. the caravan is pretty cool, daughter 2 would love it.

Nearby there is a section on forestry, and a whole stack of info about huge trout that have been caught in the past. These days the trout seem to be smaller which is probably good for meal size etc.

I look with interest at the Maori carvings and the meeting house that is progressively being completed by the local people…however there’s no particular differences I can identify with the other carvings we have seen and the interpretive panels don’t interpret the symbolism of the carvings to that degree. For the uninitiated if you’ve seen the carved meeting houses elsewhere you really don’t need to make time here. The Taupo museum is only small and not a must see really. I would say all in all you’re way better off heading to any of the other museums we’ve visited on this trip.

For lunch we still have a passionate desire to avoid the busy tourist strip, so we’ve used trusty Google to track down a local bakery. This one is in Rifle Range Road. We have no trouble parking in the spaces outside the small local shopping strip and head on into the bakery. It’s quite a different set up to bakeries at home, or others we’ve visited in Northland. Here there are heated display cabinets arranged around the room in a U shape. Rather like an Asian cake shop at home, with tongs and sliding doors and the expectation that you will help yourself and take your selections to the attendant on the register. They must sell a lot of pies to make so many heated cabinets necessary. There’s also a small cake display with slices and such but these are not self serve.

Once again, there are “savouries” as an option. These are what we would call “party pies” at home. They look great and have been great elsewhere so I can’t resist trying those. We decide to be a bit adventurous and sample the chicken, camembert and apricot pie; bacon and egg pie; and hubby got a seafood pie. They want 50 cents for a little sauce sachet that was only 20 cents in Russell! I continue my investigation into afghans and get one of those as well. Overloaded with food we head on back to our apartment for some lazy cricket watching and blogging.

The savouries are, once again, delicious. The chicken pie was the best of the others, but a bit light on meat or apricot, being mostly gravy. I think hubby said he got a small piece of apricot, but I could detect no trace of it at all in my sampling. The bacon and egg pie was pretty ordinary. I was happy to hand both these full sized pies over to hubby after a few bites. I did very much enjoy the savouries though. They were delicious with lovely pastry. Hubby says the seafood pie was also not real great, but I had less than no desire to try that one.

The cricket was great. We are in the midst of Aussie v Kiwi cricket fest. The game on Sunday was Twenty20. The second of two. The first match, Australia flogged NZ and won by 6 wickets (ie 6 batsmen not out). Second match the kiwis came back with a vengeance resulting in the most entertaining game we’ve seen in years, as noted in an earlier blog installment. It was brilliant match ending in a narrow kiwi victory in “super over” ie they had to play another over to decide a winner. Todays game is part of the Chappell Hadlee Series which consists of 5 one day international matches.

For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with cricket, Twenty20 means that each team has 20 “overs”. An over is 6 balls bowled and the winner is the team who scores highest number of runs. A one day international has 50 overs. Basically these limited overs games are fun to watch because they tend to be a “slog fest” with batsmen taking more risks than is typical in “test” cricket. Limited overs is a totally different game strategically to test cricket. Naturally you can also see the conclusion of the match in the set period of time as well.

In test cricket basically one team is batting until either the opposition gets all the batsmen out, or until the batting team “declares” ie voluntarily surrenders the field to enable enough time for the other team to try to better the runs that the declaring team have scored. If one team just bats forever there’s no chance of either team actually winning. When this happens viewing is pretty boring. A test match can go for 5 days by the time each team has taken their 2 innings.

Anyway, the commentators on both sides of the Tasman don’t expect another match like the second Twenty20 thriller. .. but the odds are defied and this 50 overs game is pretty thrilling and a very close result. We have a very pleasant lazy afternoon, until it’s time to head to dinner at Brantrys in Rifle Range Road - just around the corner. If we weren’t so lazy we could stick to the original plan and walk, but the Aurion is feeling like a run and the cricket kept us busy.

We start our meal with some really lovely bread rolls. Then we are delighted by an amuse bouche of chorizo with Onion jam. After such a large lunch we summon a tiny modicum of self control and skip the entres (starters). For mains Hubby had steak with pumpkin gnocchi while I had pork belly with apple aioli and prawn ravioli. The mains were delicious but very large portions for a restaurant of this class. We were glad we did not order entres tonight! Now for those who followed our pork belly adventures in the South Island late last year.. let me just say that this was easily the best pork belly we have had in New Zealand! LOL

Both mains came with a decent array of vegetables which on top of the portion sizes makes this venue very good value indeed. Though not realizing this we ordered a side of seasonal vegetables as well. The extra vegetables were $7 and more elaborate and with a greater range of veges than you usually see for a side dish. Most enjoyable.

Hubby can never resist dessert. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. He leads me astray with an order of panna cotta with a tiny pear alongside. Not wanting him to feel too greedy ( ;o) ) I had a plum trio. This was a stylish narrow rectangular plate neatly arrayed with a small Plum Tarte Tatin, a neat little pod shaped scoop of plum ice cream and another cakey thing (what a scandal their menu is not on their website for a memory jogger) I can’t remember what it was called. Hubbys panna cotta very rich and thick and creamy. Beer selection tonight was Steinlager pure. No preservatives etc. A very nice local drop. I’m wondering about the ownership of Steinlager.. when I got back home a visit to the local bottle shop revealed an extremely similar product, similar bottling and marketing, also named Pure from one of the local Aussie brands.

pt 18 - Wai-O-Tapu; Lunch at the skyline restaurant; Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre; Rotorua Museum

Tuesday 2 March 2010 - Wai-O-Tapu; Lunch at the skyline restaurant; Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre; Rotorua Museum

Departed 8:30. The countryside between taupo and rotorua is green and pretty farmland. A coherent landscape and soothingly cool under an overcast sky today.
We arrive at Wai-o-tapu just before 10 past 9. A few cars here already but not huge crowds. Plentiful steam rising from the thermal area. This is looking promising. We head in to buy our tickets and are advised by the ticket lady to head in and do walk 1 before heading up to the geyser at 10 am. I ask whether there’s any need to get there to get a good seat and she says no as it’s pretty quiet today and there’s plenty of seating over there. We decide we’ll follow the advice and head on in.

This site is more like what we expected coming to a thermal area. It looks more like a wasteland. More apocalyptic. We pass a crater lightly encrusted with a greenish yellow oxide that our guide map says is Colloidal sulphur/ferrous salts… it is accompanied by a sign saying “the Devil’s Home”.. well I guess that’s one way to keep people on the path!

A treacherous landscape of craters is soon followed by a group that has been christened “the devil’s ink pots”. In each of these craters is a lot of black inky liquid. ..we decide this area is well named.

An impressive amount of steam is rising from the Artist’s Palette.

The Artist’s Palette is a large flat area of overflow from the Champagne Pool and that leads onto the “primrose terrace”. There are some yellows and oranges in sprays of colour in the palette, but the terraces just look grey to us, with a bit of additional colour from the “Opal Pool”. This doesn’t look much like opal today.. just a more intense yellow... but it is pretty.

There are a number of interesting interpretive signs placed at strategic intervals along the path. I find geology generally intensely boring, but these signs are really rather interesting. We enjoy learning about the placement of the various thermal features across the region and out into the Bay of Plenty... and hoping like hell that they don't choose the next few days to blow their stack!

We are obliged to walk through a thick cloud of sulpherous fumes as we head around the Champagne Pool. We don’t find the smell particularly offensive, but the fumes are thick and we’re not keen to be breathing them. As we walk past there is a continual fizzing sound coming from the pool where masses of small bubbles are breaking the surface… this effect is obviously the inspiration for the name.

The Champagne Pool is held by a substantial encrustation of deposits which must have been developed over a long long time. Here and there are occasional brightly coloured fumaroles that add some life to the mostly drab colours of the volcanic deposits under foot. They are interesting but not terribly spectacular.

Heading back around the loop to the visitor centre now, we come to another crater called Inferno Crater.. there is also a feature of this name at Waimangu Thermal Valley.. this one my guide map says has a bottom of violently boiling mud… Ok.. but the crater is deep enough that we can’t see it, so that’s a bit of an anticlimax isn’t it.LOL

The Birds nest crater apparently hosts nesting starlings and mynahs (oh great! LOL) and swallows (well at least someone local is getting some use of it LOL). The heat of the ground helps to incubate the eggs. There are no birds hanging around today though. While this is interesting to know, visually this is like other craters. A bit bigger perhaps.

The most spectacular feature of the day is soon upon us. The Devil’s Bath. Wow! It’s a large and bright yellow pool, shaped a little like an old fashioned bath. haha no photo.. got to leave you some incentive to visit for yourself!

We finish walk 1 at just the intended time ie about 5 to 10, and make for the car to relocate to the geyser site a few minutes up the road. Visitor activity at Wai-o-tapu is increasing dramatically as people arrive in time for the display. I have an anxious time as we relocate in a steady stream of traffic, but find on arrival that there are indeed plenty of seats for today’s crowd. Phew.

The site is arranged with a low fence around the geyser and an amphitheatre of bench seats and steps arranged so as to maximize viewing opportunity for everyone.
Slightly after 10:15 the presenter emerges and primes the geyser with surfactant (soap). He goes on to explain what the geyser is, how it was found, why they prime it and how the priming works.. it’s all very interesting. As usual he is also rather amusing with several jokes along they way. I read on a sign earlier that they shoot any kiwi who is not at least mildly amusing. ;o) (for the gullible among us... that's a joke joyce... as my father would say).

The geyser starts to bubble and froth and finally with a rumble and whoosh of escaping pressure, thar she blows! The Lady Knox Geyser is not an enormous geyser, but it is amusing to watch and we have learnt a thing or two along the way. The display keeps up for quite a while, at times it ebbs a little then picks up steam again and continues on.

When we have had our fill of the geyser we head on up the road to the boiling mud. Hubby is very keen to see the boiling mud. This pool is not entirely what I was expecting. Not like those post cards with lots of colliding rings in the mud where the bubbles have erupted. It’s much runnier, mostly a pool like the others, and with only some spots where the pool has accumulated thicker sections of gloopy mud. I guess it stands to reason that the thickness of the gloop is going to vary according to the weather and other factors. Europeans named this pool the frog pool or something like that because the gloop as the bubbles erupt from the mud is like a frog leaping. It really is too! It's seriously nifty. We play for a while taking video and trying to capture the motion in some stills.

From here we opt to defer a return into the walk through the thermal area in favour of heading into Rotorua so we can visit an information outlet to sus out the tours to white island. We find the white island brochure again, but hubby has gone cold on the idea afterall. We decide to head back to the Skyline gondola and the Skyline Cableway Restaurant buffet for lunch. We have just the right amount of time to complete lunch and head to the raptor centre which isn’t far from here.

We have timed our arrival well. The crowds from the tour buses have yet to arrive and we are able to take a seat by the windows. The buffet is $25. I am far from a fan from buffets, they are generally places are designed for people more concerned with quantity than with quality, but I guess I’d have to say this one is a bit better than average. Not fabulous, but better than you often find. The dessert table is pretty reasonable with a good range of choices, most of which look OK.. though the pavlova looks as plain and horrid as pavlovas in similar locations at home. This and a few other things show that they have been in the fridge for a while. I select a small frangipane tart, a scoop of berry compote and a tiny piece of carrot cake. All pretty safe selections. All the serves are small enough that you can try a number of things. My selections are pretty good, if a bit colder than would be ideal. The berry compote was very nice.

The good thing about a buffet is that it is quick. By 12:45 we are on our way back down the gondola admiring the views over the lake as we head to the car, and feeling satisfied that we got our money's worth out of our annual pass! The Wingspan Birds of Prey centre is in Paradise Valley Road, just around the corner more or less. Apart from a couple of banners out the front it looks just like a suburban house so it would be easy to miss.. something we demonstrate before chucking the traditional uey! Uey's and round and round the roundabout are a something of a typical feature of family drives over many years... especially when we are in convoy! LOL ..and believe it or not it's never on purpose, but we always seem to do it.

We are delighted to find that the entry fee at the Birds of Prey Centre is only $20 pp. We’d already put a limit on what we’d pay to go in, but it was higher than that! Everything else around the place costs a lot, so this was a pleasant surprise. We buy a few souvenirs while we’re in the shop. Some anti-bird strike decals for our windows, some fridge freshener mushrooms. One for me, another for a friends’ birthday. Hubby surprises me by buying a haka pen.

With half an hour or so until the flight display we head into the small museum for a quick look. They have a few stuffed birds and a few skins of birds. One of the stuffed birds is called a falconet. It hails from Indonesia and is a tiny sparrow sized raptor! Wow! I had no idea you got birds of prey so small!

The skins are interesting too. I have heard talk of acquaintances accessing skins for this reason or that from the Australian Museum in Sydney. It’s great to finally understand how these are presented.

In another display there is a whole stack of stuff about falconry. Books, hoods, and so on. A poster for the 2009 International Festival of Falconry.. now that would be cool to visit!

Next we wander through the aviary area. Several NZ falcons fly over to us as we pass their enclosures. Beautiful, beautiful birds. One beautiful young captive bred female is named Atareta in honour of the late Atareta Maxwell of Te Arawa Rotorua.

We say hi to an Australian barn owl. A vagrant who had a damaged wing that required partial amputation, it will never fly again and is the only known caged bird of it’s kind in the country… lots of moreporks. A couple of harriers. It’s a really clean well kept facility. Several of the enclosures have information about the most recent hatchings and the history and names of the occupants. It’s all very good.

As time is approaching for the flight show we take our seats outside. There is a small group assembled waiting. With us included it was approximately 10 people. After a while the falconer comes out and explains what he has in his tool belt and what is about to happen. He needs to go and get the bird and he needs us to keep quiet as she comes past. This turns out to be Atareta who we happen to have photographed. That’s convenient for the blog!

The show is a demonstration of the training that is given to the birds. The NZ falcon is a threatened bird and captive breeding is undertaken here. Although not enough is known about their genetics to identify species or perhaps subspecies there are three recognized sorts of NZ falcon. Atareta is a bush falcon which is found on the north island. The dialogue accompanying the demonstration is really informative and interesting. We learned so much while having a fabulous time watching this awesome raptor demonstrate her skills.

After a while the opportunity is given to have Atareta sit on your gloved fist. Anyone like a go? It takes all my self control to wait a polite 2 seconds then YOU BET!! Says I as I leap to my feet inwardly thanking whichever deity is paying attention, that others are either more polite or just plain crazy!!

I don the glove and make a fist and the falconer puts some meat on my fist. Over Atareta flies. This is SOOOO awesome. After a generous period I surrender the glove and others are offered the opportunity. Another older man is fairly quick to volunteer. Several others also end up having a go, but seem strangely reticent. I can’t understand why people aren’t climbing over eachother for an opportunity like this! None the less, those who have a go are clearly loving it. This was a brilliant use of $20! Highly Recommended.

We thank the falconer wholeheartedly and we’re off back to Rotorua. First stop is the lake front near where the flights and tours depart. There are literally hundreds of waterfowl arrayed on the lake near the shore. We park for a better look. Good Lord, the smaller birds are all NZ scaup. Hundreds of NZ scaup. Wow! And black swans. Hundreds of black swans feeding! Many look just like black blobs floating in the water, but sure enough if you watch, inevitably the long snake like neck emerges. There are swans as far as we can see. Well, we know where to come if the black swan becomes endangered at home!

After a time we hop back in the car to head across to the government gardens and the Museum. As we drive the view of feeding swans continues, we just see more and more off into the distance. Amazing!

The Rotorua Museum of Art and is a very striking building. No trouble parking out the front and we head in to pay our $12 entry fee. First up I mosey around the gift shop while we wait for the movie experience to be due to start. I check an afghan recipe in one of the books.. yep.. that’s granna’s biscuit slice or extremely close to it. Same ingredients at least. Interesting.#

We enter the cinema with quite a few other visitors and sit… and sit… turns out the system is malfunctioning and eventually we are advised they are aiming to have it up and running again in half an hour. We head instead into the Moari Battalion gallery. It is mostly a lot of panels with photos of all who served in the battalion, with just a few panels explaining what they were involved in during the war. There is a separate cinema in this area for the screening of a short video on the battalion. This concluded we wander about in the Maori section where a tour is in progress by a local lady. All very interesting, but it’s not very big.

Time now for the cinema experience. We wander in and take our seats. The movie is very well done.. well perhaps except for one character who is wearing perhaps the worst fake beard I’ve seen for a while.. This movie experience is really great… we found it a very moving experience.. ;o)

By the time we’ve concluded all these our energy is flagging so we decide (after buying a couple of very poor afghans at the café) to head on home.

We’ve had a bit of an epiphany today. We have been getting itchy feet and a notification of a flight change has driven us to all sorts of rethinking. We had been enthusiastically looking forward to going to some more shows and things. Then the penny drops… you know if we add up all the stuff we’re thinking we’ll do… it’s enough to pay for flights back to NZ for another trip! We mentally weigh our options.. on the one hand, more, probably very enjoyable entertainment now..but probably not radically different to what we’ve seen… on the other hand another break when we need it…. not a hard decision really! We opt for a quiet night!

Hubby has announced that he has decided to initiate a tradition of having KFC in every country he visits. Hubby is a huge fan of KFC as you have no doubt deduced. So tonight we wander in to check out the differences here to at home. Mostly the same.. but gasp.. they still have bean salad on the menu.. OK not exactly the same as the original, no squeaky beans.. but it was very good anyhow. Why oh why did KFC Australia dump the bean salad!!!!! God Bless you KFC NZ!

# PS: Late in 2010, as a future blog entry notes, I started looking into my family history. Turns out I'm part kiwi. Specifically, my grandmother's mother was born and raised in Dunedin. I have concluded that Granna's biscuit slice is really an Afghan slice and there's a good chance she got it from her mother. As it turns out I still have rather a lot of kiwi relatives. Although my great grandmother and her siblings and mother moved to Sydney, Great grandmother's husbands brothers and their families stayed put in NZ. My great great grandfather is buried in Dunedin. An added incentive to get back there for a better look some time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pt 17- Army Museum; Mt Ruapehu; Tawahi Falls; Lake Rotopounamu; and more

Monday 1 March 2010 – Army Museum, Mt Ruapehu, and the sights back to Taupo

It’s just after 10 am we are pulling out from the petrol station and heading south. Heading for the Army Museum at Waiouru. Much to our delight we aren’t long out of Taupo township when the views of the lake move from pleasant to quite spectacular. This is a totally delightful drive and we are so glad we needed to head down this way. There are very few opportunities for places to pull over and take in the views, but eventually we see a sign foretelling just such a spot and we turn off. Unfortunately the rest area is right down at water level and not at the higher level of the road. The views are still lovely, but not as good and it is one of those situations that photos don’t tend to capture well. Looking out towards the lake your whole field of vision is a palette of blues.

We move along and turn down towards Waiouru from Turangi. As we progress southward we start to see Tongariro National Park across the farmland in the foreground. Then all of a sudden the view becomes overwhelming. Tussock grasslands with plentiful pink flowering heath of some sort and a clear view of the volcanoes strung out along the west of the road. Wow!! Fortunately it isn’t long before we see a spot where we can safely pull over and we take the opportunity to try and capture the spectacle.
The cones of the volcanoes are clear of cloud. It’s a truly grand sight. Hopefully the weather will stay clear until our potential scenic flight over the cones this afternoon. We continue to enjoy fabulous scenery pretty much all the way to Waiouru. I have read that Tongariro National Park is really awesome, but I had not appreciated that it would be this spectacular!

Turns out that as well as the video I thought I took, I have outdone myself in the comedy stakes and taken a lengthy and hilarious blooper video! Reviewing the shots with hubby we are both in stitches before we pull ourselves together and move on.
The Army Museum is easy to find and well signposted for a number of kms before it’s actual location. It looks a bit like a castle and has guns and tanks outside so there’s no excuse for not realizing what it might be. Parking is easy with plenty of spaces available. We are pleased to find the outdoor displays include a bofors gun and a centurion tank both with interpretive boards. Hubby recognizes the tank, as apparently he had a model of a centurion when he was a kid.

Before we pay our entrance fee ($12) we have a spot of lunch in the café. Hubby has lambs fry, bacon, tomato and mushrooms (16), while I just go for a chicken sandwich (5). We finish with an Afghan biscuit ($2) which turns out to be virtually identical to a chocolate biscuit slice my grandmother used to make only shaped like a biscuit (cookie). Clearly home made. Oh how that Afghan hit the spot!

While hubby eats his meal, I cut to the chase and head on into the shop. I’m pretty confident they’ll have some irresistible books, and indeed they do. Conscious of the likelihood of excess baggage, I limit my choices to a book about a kiwi conscientious objector from the Great War and another which is self published by a Korean War veteran and relates stories of his experience in that conflict. I also can’t resist the video actively promoted by the banner in the entrance about Anzacs in Vietnam so it being only light, it also finds a spot in our luggage.

The lady behind the counter is very friendly and we have a nice chat about pronunciation of place names. She impresses me with her correct pronunciation of Cairns! Mum would be proud of her! Her grandkids are teaching her the correct way to pronounce Maori things, as they are part Maori, and when I ask she helps me out with how we're supposed to pronounce Taupo. Apparently it is toe-poo... but this is a bit at odds with the books, whose advice would suggest tah-oo-po, with the final po beign like pot without the t. I think this latter is closer to the way the person on the end of the phone for a Maori show said it..Sigh..

On into the Museum itself. The first thing you come to is the Tears on Greenstone (Roimata Pounamou) Memorial. It is a very beautiful memorial and very touching with the continual intonement of the names of the fallen. We move into the upper area of the gallery and spend some time in the Boer War gallery. I know a bit about the causes and course of the Boer War so I skip along to a section that deals with the concentration camps the British established for internees from the civilian population. It’s a shocking tale of abuse and starvation of women and children. A nearby panel covers the activities of kiwi nurses and teachers that volunteered to care for soldiers and teach the children in the camps.

The natural route through which the layout takes you travels chronologically through from the time of the NZ wars. I have decided that I will try to prioritise things I cannot learn through books, especially considering the info provided is necessarily kept to a high level overview.. if you were to read each display you’d need a lot longer time than we have available to us today.

There is are a lot of interesting little facts around the place.. for example the New Zealand Cross.. established by Governor Bowen in 1869 on his own initiative as a reward for valour given that the processes involved in getting a Victoria Cross pretty much meant that you had buckley’s when you were a volunteer out in the colony…. The “home” authorities didn’t approve, but pretty much had to just go along with it for political reasons.. Nice one Governor Bowen!!

Then there is the history of the NZ Army.. going back to the armed constabulary… a very different arrangement for civil defence than we had in Australia.. I wonder if NZ also had a citizen soldier program. There is a mock up of an armed constabulary blockhouse and a section to show how the hollow walls were filled with rock rubble to defend against bullets.

A temporary exhibition is also located on this floor and at the moment it is works by the official New Zealand Army Artist Matt Gauldie. Some of his official commissions and some of his own private collection. He is excellent. We really like his work. What a wonderful legacy is being created for future generations. As we check out the labels I note the motto of logistics regiment “by our actions we are known”. Good motto.

This concluded I head on through the galleries relating events of the Great War. I do a bit of reading here and there, but only skimming… I’ve read a lot about the Great War and most of the time the Kiwis and Aussies where pretty much operating with or nearby eachother so the Australian histories usually cover what the kiwis were up to.. I’m just looking for things from the kiwi perspective. There’s some great dioramas and mock ups of trenches and so forth but we move along.

World War II Aussies and kiwis were again mostly doing similar things at the beginning.. North Africa, Greece etc, then of course we diverge rather greatly when Australia was facing invasion by the Japanese and the Australian troops were almost all ordered home from Europe pronto… not entirely of course, but the Australian histories tend to focus from that point on the dramatic events in New Guinea.. Kiwis stayed on in Europe.

My attention is drawn by an exhibit entitled “The Featherstone Incident” another unfortunate set of events involving Japanese prisoners of war and the severe culture clash this involved. Controversy to the max when a “mutiny” by prisoners is quashed..

In the same general area there is a stand of audio recordings with headphones of interviews with veterans. I sit and listen for a while to a fellow that was a POW of the Germans.

Naturally, there follows displays on Korea and Vietnam. I’m particularly interested to read the entries on Korea.. I already recalled very well that the kiwis sent artillery, but I am reminded that they also sent other support units .. transport I think it said, and of course a couple of Naval ships. Troops from all over the British Commonwealth operating together in Commonwealth Division. ..One story that I read in a Korean War history by an English historian, involves the NZ Artillery.. The Australians, whose units were constituted of very experienced veterans of WWII, and who were consequently damn fine troops (according to the British commander), were being given a tough job to do and as a sweetener they were offered some high powered high tech artillery support by US units… now it’s important to understand that the poor US guys were in a bit of a bad way morale wise. MacArthur had let the occupying forces in Japan get in a dreadful state before they were suddenly dumped, poorly trained and ill prepared, into Korea where they caught what was known as “bug out fever” ie when things got hot they tended to drop everything and run away leaving their armaments behind in working order for the enemy to use (no wonder Korea is the forgotten war!)... anyway to cut to the chase the Aussies had been working with the NZ artillery as support. NZ artillery wasn’t so high tech, or powerful on paper, but the Aussies had absolute confidence in them and that when they were fighting for their lives they wouldn’t suddenly find they had no artillery support behind them. So they said “ah, thanks but no thanks. We’ll stick with the kiwis”. The historian reported that this caused much puzzlement among the powers that be. I find it more puzzling that people were puzzled given what was going on or had gone on re “bug out fever”! ..anyway if memory serves the Aussies and Kiwis went on to achieve extraordinary things working together, but I don’t notice any specific reference to any particular battles in the Korea section here in the Army museum.

The more recent displays in the museum relate to peace keeping operations and then we arrive at the hall of valour. An interesting display of all the types of medals that have been awarded to NZers… examples of course not the actual medals awarded.

On the opposite wall a long recess with VC recipients photos and citations. It is an inclusive collection. The first recipient was a fellow who won his VC while serving in the British Army… years and years later after he retired from the Army and at a fairly advanced age he moved to NZ and died in NZ. Seems an odd inclusion on this wall to me. There are also some recipients who would also be listed in the Australian hall of Valour. VCs won by men who were NZ born but serving in the Australian Services. In one case it was a guy who left NZ as a young adult and never returned going on to be a prominent figure in Australia.. in legal field I think it was. Sometimes the line between kiwi and Aussie is kind of blurry.. just look at Russell Crowe!

Yes this is a very inclusive display and it prompts some mulling over on my part. How should you define such things? At what point do you start or stop being a kiwi? .. or an Australian? or whatever? I think of the gallery of holocaust survivors in Auckland.. and the tone of the presentations all through the military museums. It seems to me that enormous care has been taken to present the history and acknowledge the sacrifice and valour without glorifying combat in any way whatsoever. There's an obvious effort made to promote examples of the horrid things done by kiwis and their allies in time of war and to honour the sacrifice of the enemy soldiers too. This is the way to put things in perspective isn't it. It's never good for a nation to only hear about the good things they've done and the bad things the enemy has done. The Army museum and the War Memorial museum in Auckland both handle this issue very very well. It's quite an achievement and I think must say something about the national character.

These places of memorium are vitally important. My own view is that if we, as citizens of a democracy are going to have military forces and deploy them we have an obligation to understand what they've been asked to do and go through for us. And what they have done in our name, both good and bad. The highs and the deepest lows as well. But when you do that it's a challenge to be proud and yet keep the tone free of jingoism. It's an issue which requires constant vigilance. I think the kiwis have succeeded in doing that in their military museums. I've said it before and I'll say it again.. the kiwis are an impressive bunch of people..

Time to head off we pick up another couple of Afghans and head for Mountain Air, the local scenic flight operator. This involves travelling through Ohakune, a small but upmarket looking ski resort; then on to National Park which is similar. The country side is pasture land fairly comprehensively cleared, just a few trees here and there of a consistent type. It’s quite a pleasant pretty drive. On the corner of routes 47 and 48, ie just before you make the turn up to Whakapapa we find our destination.

There are a few people milling about, but the office is unattended until a couple of operating flights return. The sky has clouded over and it’s looking a bit iffy for seeing what we would be wanting to see. Eventually when the pressing tasks are out of the way a young pilot comes over to give us a weather briefing. She tells us that it’s bumpy up around one section down towards Mt Tongariro, this cloud we can see in front of Ruapehu is being pushed over it and we likely wouldn’t be able to fly over to see the craters. All things considered we decide to give it a miss for today and hope the weather clears during our stay. We check they have correct contact number for us and get some advice on what to see on the ground on the way through, before heading off in the general direction of Taupo.

The route continues quite scenic and we make a stop at a lay by where hubby admires an old trestle structure. Then we are making the turn up the road to Whakapapa. Almost as soon as you turn and head into the park the scenery becomes striking. This is great stuff. We decide we will head right to the top of the road and then work our way back down. It is a winding road with precipitous drops and few guard rails as we climb the mountain. You really feel like you are climbing up a volcano too. It’s an almost post apocalyptic sort of scene. There is white stuff all over the place and we can’t see from the distance what it is.

We take our opportunity for a photo stop to admire and capture the spectacular scenery and views. This has to be a must do when in the general area. What a spectacular place. Close inspection reveals that the white stuff is a sort of alpine plant. It is accompanied by a range of other tough as nails little plants growing in the looser material between the rocks.

Well before you reach Chateau you can see the imposing edifice of the building standing apparently alone on the mountainside. It is fortunately a very attractive building, and yes, very much like a French chateau. Looks like an awesome place to stay. There are other buildings around about but they are more subtle and in sympathy with their surroundings so not so noticeable from a distance. There’s a few people around but I wouldn’t call it crowded.

Up to Whakapapa where there is an info centre and a small cluster of buildings and visitor faciltities, but we don’t’ stop. It’s on up and up until we arrive at the ski resort. Little lodges clustered on the rocks. It’s a very barren sort of place with large parking areas. There is a chair lift operating. Unfortunately we are too late. Last upward departures are at 3:30pm $23 for an adult return, the trip takes about 40 mins. At the top you have the option of hiking to the crater rim, which we are told takes 2 ½ hrs up and 1 ½ hrs coming down. Hubby enquired about the clothing required and is informed that his t shirt and rainbird would be fine for the chairlift. Maybe we’ll get back here if we end up on that scenic flight.

We start working our way down the mountain slowly, taking our opportunities for brief stops in the viewing areas. However we make no longer stop until we reach the recommended walk at Tawahi Falls. There is now only one other car in the car park (there had been two when we passed earlier). We head along the path which commences quite level, but comes to some stairs in several distinct flights… 45 steps in this section, though they are low risers and very easy as far as steps go. The path then follows a slight downward incline until another set of 19 small stairs brings you to the viewing platform for the top of the falls. It is only a low waterfall but pretty and extravagantly full of water… to our Australian, drought acclimatized eyes anyway.

Back up the stairs from this viewing platform the path continues down through native forest with a lovely fresh aroma until we come to more stairs. 51 steps this time and you are at the river. It’s a beautiful spot and lovely to be in some native bushland. Quite a different vegetation community than we have explored before. Still with the pretty flowering pink heath. Definitely worth a stop. Although there is a total of 230 stairs, they are easy and they give my knee no problem at all.

I pause on the path on the way back where it is quite still, to exercise the macro zoom and try to get some close ups of the tiny little heath flowers. Among the wildflowers is a white flowering hebe. Nice to see this common garden plant in it’s native environment. It’s been a delightful interlude here at Tawahi Falls.

We head along the road towards Lake Rotopounamu enjoying western views of the mountains and come across a sign to a lookout. We’re pretty much just taking our opportunities as we head along. The Lookout gives views across Lake Rotoaira and bush clad hills. We’ve hardly set off again before a sign comes up to another notable spot. The pointer was too sudden for us to make the turn safely so we chuck a uey and head back.

We hop out of the car and wander over to the sign. This is one of New Zealands historic places. The site of a Maori village (kainga) from about the 15th century. There are some kumara pits excavated by archeological digs undertaken in the 1960s. I have read about kumara pits so it is very interesting to see one and read the accompanying interpretive sign. We wander about the grassy headland and read what information is provided. One information board points out an island in the midst of Lake Rotoaira. This is Motuopuhi and it is now wahi tapu so access is prohibited. It was very interesting to learn that it was after being hidden on this island from enemies that the chief Te Rauparaha wrote the most famous Maori haka with which so many in the world are today familiar . Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! ka ora!

Congratulating ourselves for deciding to stop here we head back along the path bordered with a traditional Maori fence to resume our travels. Just another corner or two and we have arrived at the angle parking for the Lake Rotopounamu walk. The sign tells us that the walk will take about 2 hrs. Someone has added further information in white scrawl “3+ if you have lunch”. LOL. The walk has been described to us as uphill to here (pointing to what we interpret as the junction of the loop walk around the lake.. then it’s a level walk of about an hour.. We head on in taking care to lock the car as is encouraged by the signage. Reassuring to note that video surveillance may be operating in this area.

Immediately we head in from the sign, we have entered the deep green of what looks to me like a rainforest. Mature trees and what’s that crashing in the canopy above? We look around and blow me down if there’s not at least 7 kereru foraging overhead! There is an intensive feral mammal baiting program on this reserve. Clearly the kereru don’t object!

The path is decidedly uphill as we expected. Perhaps a little steeper than one might hope but it is a very beautiful walk. Twittering draws my attention and stopping to look about I find a sweet little tomtit and a couple of fantails flitting about in the trees overhead. The fantail drought seems to have broken. We saw several at Waitomo at a couple of different sites.. I think on the Ruakuri walk was one, and now these two here. Good stuff.

Breath caught I set off again, glad to be getting some decent exercise. It’s about 20 mins before we reach the junction of the loop walk. Two beaches are illustrated. It’s getting pretty late and we’ve had a busy day, so we decide that we will walk to the closer of the two and then head back.

Along the way now we find name labels for plants and trees with interesting information on them. I am pleased to note the horopito which has been used to flavor the olive oil I bought at the farmer’s market.

It is important to note that kiwis seem to have a different interpretation of the word “level” than most Australians I know. The path heading to the right from the sign at the junction is level very briefly then heads up, then down, then rather steeply down. Looking through the vegetation we see glimpses of water far below. .. this is level? Maybe by level, they actually mean no stairs..Never mind… then we head up for a bit then down again and finally we reach a grey sand beach overlooking this lovely isolated little lake which is entirely surrounded by bush. There are patches of reeds over to our right and just a few water fowl determinedly paddling away from us.

A seat has been provided under an arbour of branches. There is an abundance of twittering coming from the bushes near about. A group of small birds is quite close. Tiny little things. No particularly noticeable tails, keeping in constant contact with eachother as they forage. The light isn’t fabulous so colours are hard to discern with confidence. I wish I had brought my bins from the car, but I don’t tend to when I’m with hubby as it’s too distracting. We both admire the birds while they are nearby then sit companionably on the seat for a few minutes. Wander down to the water.. quite cold.. then, picking up a stray snack packet someone has left behind, we figure we’d better head back up.

It’s hard going back up the steep inclines. We are tired and hungry, but we are enjoying the walk. It’s taken 25 mins down to the beach and back including rest stop. It should be easy heading on the long downhill to the car, but my knee starts to complain. Those blinking stairs at Waimangu Thermal Area!! When my knee is a bit annoyed it’s the downhill it hates. As I walk I notice an abundance of hollows in the bases of mature trees in the forest close by. These seem tailor made for kaka breeding holes, if the one we were shown on Ulva Island is anything to go by. If only the predator situation can be kept under control.

Our walk has taken us about 55 minutes. Checking our sketch itinerary, today is working pretty consistent with my tentative plan for the day when I was researching the trip.

In another 5 or 6 minutes we are again pulling up at another lookout. This time it is for sweeping views across Lake Taupo. The parking area is looking a little battered, but there are a couple of metal picnic tables where you could picnic while taking in the views.

It’s a straightforward drive around the lake as we head back to town. It really is a beautifully scenic drive all through past the lake and around the volcanoes. Again another uey when I notice a huge licorice allsort on top of a café at Motuapa. Daughter2 would absolutely love this place.. snap..

Closer to town we duck again into another lookout over the lake that we had passed on our outward journey. It’s nearly 7:30. As the light starts to fade the views across the lake fade again to a palette of blues. The sun threatens to break through the clouds but is slow about doing it. It is interesting that when the light is fading in fiordland everything turns black and white.. here in Taupo everything turns blue. Photos aren’t doing the scene justice, but we make our attempts just the same.

Time for dinner. We notice for the first time that there is a restaurant right next door to where we are staying. Jolly Good Fellows is the name. We’ve been looking at various dining options online, but none sticks out in the reviews and close to home has a definite appeal tonight. We park at “home” and walk over. It’s a nice cosy atmosphere. Obviously going for an “English pub” sort of theme. We are seated and hubby orders a tui.. notwithstanding the large range of English beers available. They’ve listed a couple of other New Zealand beers under other locations like “just over the hill” and he is slow to twig that this means seriously local.. oh well.

I decide to take the opportunity to try a Toad in the Hole. Hubby goes for a mixed grill. First of course he has to try the chowder. I guess the tone for the food is set when the chowder arrives and it includes seafood extender. Hmmm. Hubby’s not fussed though.. he’s nowhere near as fussy with his food as I am. We were warned that there is a half hour wait for the Toad in the Hole, but it arrives a little earlier than expected. It is simply humungous. Ridiculously enormous. Good grief! Hubby’s grill is large also but not as big as my meal. We have a go. Neither of us enjoys our meal. Neither of us finishes it, though we probably couldn’t have even had we really enjoyed it. The Yorkshire pudding that is a prominent ingredient of my dinner is simply burnt. Exterior tough rather than crispy. Gourmet sausage a bit too spicy so all you taste is spices rather than the flavor of the meat. Very disappointing. I would say that this place is aimed at a demographic that is more interested in quantity than quality.

Off to some inadequate attempts at journaling then bed.

Pt 16 - Napier, Tour with Packard Promenades; Mission Estate for lunch

Sunday 28 February . Napier, Tour with Packard Promenades; Lunch at Mission Estate

We’ve decided thismorning we’ll head off to Napier. 8:45 am we are on the road, and passing rapidly through pastures and forestry. As we crest a hill and start the gentle downhill a beautiful rural scene is laid out before us. The sky is leaden but the clouds are inconsistent in density. The light is filtering through in subtle beams to the verdant land below. On the long straight we find a safe spot and pull over to soak it up. Beautiful!

Back on the road, suddenly a brown sign. Scenic Lookout ahead. Thinking as one we decide to pull over, wondering what exactly we might be looking out at. As we turn into the viewing area we are none the wiser as to what the spectacle might be. There are a number of cars and vans here and a cluster of people over by a low rock barricade chatting animatedly. The hills around are wrinkled and scrubby. We look a question at eachother and open the door.

A clue. The roar of water. We stand on rocks here and there but the shrubbery is obscuring the view. A man nearby says, gesturing to his companions “just tell them to get out of the way”. In the small gap where the group was standing is a view of a particularly lovely waterfall. It’s a bit of a distance away but it is mighty and beautifully draped in three main strands across the tumble of rocks down into the valley. It is worthy of greater notoriety than it seems to have. We are very glad we stopped… I note that the problems discussed on TripAdvisor in respect of freedom campers are evident in this parking area, notwithstanding obvious attempts to clean it up, some minor detritus remains. As we depart we take more careful note of the signage. Waipunga Falls. Beautiful.

Back on the road we sigh with relief and pleasure as we get to a patch of hilly country shrouded in native forest. This is the stuff! All too soon we are back in amongst the endless pine forests, but making steady progress down to the coast. We approach Napier from the back door. As we drive along our first stretch of waterfront our view is obscured by the railway lines that run between the road and the beach. Through an industrial docklands area we wander about. I know we’re looking for something quite different to this and we persevere, dig out the Napier road directory, and eventually we find ourselves on beautiful Marine Parade.
We cruise slowly down the parade noting the ocean baths, gardens and landscaping and excellent mini golf circuit. Oh how our kids would love this place! The ocean is shining bright blue. Everything is immaculate. The weather is idyllic. What a stunning place!

We find a park (parking space) outside the info centre and head in to check the art deco walks out thinking we’ll book one of some sort. We make a comfort stop at the public facilities. A small cost to use the services which have an attendant and are all beautifully clean.

Hubby ventures to the i-site personnel. Smart day to head to low lying beachside. Tsunami alert and the deco tours are cancelled today. The tours in a vintage vehicle might be available though.

While we procrastinate, we take a leisurely stroll down onto the beach.. Tsunami be damned… the water is very calm with an edge of nasty looking dumpers pounding on the shore. Here it is again. Black pebbles, white breakers and brilliant blue sea. Stunning. Driftwood is artistically arranged along the beach here and there. Hubby is intrigued by the pebbles. “how is it on your feet?” he asks. I slip off my thongs (aka jandals .. flip flops.. ie footwear) and walk around barefoot.
“OK” says I. “At least you wouldn’t leave the beach with pebbles stuck to your feet!” I am not a huge fan of sand!... especially with a stiff north easterly blowing… ah, does my childhood baggage show? LOL

Hubby is intrigued. “take a photo of it”…
“of the beach?”
“no the pebbles”.
Here it is… with shoes to give scale!

Hubby wanders down to the water to check out this extraordinary beach material.. he returns with a hand full of tiny pebbles. “It gets finer down near the water”. “Take a photo” he says. "I did" says I. "No take a photo" he repeats waggling his hand to clarify the instruction.

Indeed there seems to be bands of pebbles of different sizes running across the beach… I never would have noticed if it weren't for hubbys' enthusiasm. You see… there is no end to the strange things tourists find engaging! We’ve never seen a beach in Australia that wasn’t fine, usually golden, sometimes white, sand. A beach that doesn’t have sand is something of a natural wonder to us…

New Zealand has such a broad array of beach materials.. sands of various colours.. large pebbles, tiny pebbles.. never a dull moment. Here again the black, white, blue combination. I am nostalgic to see it again and I enthuse to hubby about the beautiful black sand beach at Kaikoura and the palette of Doubtful Sound all black and white and then flashes of blue sky between cloud breaks. I’m quite tickled to find it here again in the North Island and with it’s own special twist adding an extra novelty to lovely Napier.

We head up and take a leisurely stroll along the promenade. Past the sound shell, past beautiful gardens to the Tom Parker fountain and Pania of the Reef with a gentle zephyr under the Norfolk Island pines. Promenading weather and what a promenade this is!

We admire the floral clock and turn to head back down towards the i-site taking our time admiring a corrugated king kong above the cinema and making a quick detour across the road to pay respects at the war memorial.

The Bay Cities Symphonic Band are tuning up and commence playing. The finishing touch to a magnificent Sunday morning in the Deco capital of NZ. Hubby heads into the i-site to confirm that the vintage vehicle tours are indeed available. We mull over our options in the shade of a wisteria draped over a pergola in the sunken garden. We decide we’ll do the tour. $130 for up to four of us for an hour. It takes a half hour for Graham to get in to pick us up, so we amuse ourselves and stave off hunger pains by sampling the gelato from the outlet across the road. Hokey pokey and vanilla bean for me and hokey pokey and tiramisu for hubby. Seems distressingly low in fat content compared to Sydney gelato LOL but has delicious fresh and delicate waffle cones.

We’re still gobbling our gelato when Graham arrives with his beautiful old Packard, but naturally we finish before getting in the car. Our first stop is the Napier Municipal Theatre. Before alighting from the car we get a bit of a run down on Napier before and after the 1931 earthquake. We are parked with a view over the relevant landmarks relating to the devastation. A treat is in store. Graham has a key to the Municipal Theatre and we are heading on inside for a look and a run down on the art deco features and history of the building. It’s awesome! Like deco everywhere it’s had a struggle to survive the zeal of persons who appreciate a different aesthetic.

We head around the corner for a look at Louis Hay’s first building. Currently a budget accommodation option, restoration works are to be undertaken as a mandatory consequence of a heritage listing.

I don’t want to give too much of Graham’s excellent tour away, so I will simply say that for the next hour or more we get a fascinating tour around the significant sites of Napier in relation to the earthquake as well as the deco suburb of Marewa (which means gift of the ocean) and other significant deco sites. A highlight of the tour is the National Tobacco Company building of course and here we have opportunity to pose for photos with the building and the car. It being Sunday today the building isn’t open, but if you can make it during the week between 9am and 5pm you can go inside for a look. It’s been a brilliant tour. Well worth the time and the cost.

As we’ve travelled around, just as Graham reported, people wave and one guy even comes over (with an apology) to make an enquiry for his upcoming wedding. The Packard is such a hit, and it’s the perfect way to get around and see Napier’s deco heritage and ongoing deco enthusiasm. We enthusiastically recommend Packard Promenades.

We say our farewells and jump in the Aurion to head out to Mission Estate for lunch. It’s almost 2:15 when we pull up in the carpark next to a red Mitsubishi that has been parked really poorly by its driver. It’s such a woeful job, we laugh and take a photo, taking care to get the rego number… if there’s any red marks on our car when we come back we’ll know who to go after! Clearly this persons driving prowess cannot be assumed.

We are just in time to be able to lunch at this wonderful venue. There are historical tours of the building. It’s a beautiful building beautifully maintained. The restaurant today is garden seating out under a canopy of grape vines on the patio bordered by lush green lawn on which more tables are selectively placed in small numbers. Across to the right there is a beautiful and large gazebo draped in white. What a perfect wedding venue!

As we wait we are pleased to note many years of consistent awards from the lamb and beef mob. Bodes well. The service is efficient and staff seem to be plentiful. We make our selections and it isn’t long before we are enthusiastically tucking into delicious morsels from the kitchen.

I start with the Duck and Pork Rillettes, lavoush wafers, poached stone fruit and spiced wine reduction. Half way we swap and I tuck into the remains of a serve of warm garlic prawn cocktail, slow roasted paprika tomatoes, avocado , dressed leaves and sauce aioli. Both $17 and both very tasty.

We do not have to wait long before out comes Hubby’s beautifully cooked Beer Battered fish with seasonal salad, fries and tartar sauce ($24). Today the fish is gurnard. I have gone for the Char grilled fillet of beef with wild mushrooms and pancetta, sautéed kumara, potato and rosemary. $32. Not too big in portions after the entrée. I do like a restaurant that gives portions suitable to actually have the three courses without being completely ridiculously gluttonous.

We forgot to look at desserts when we were ordering so are happily anticipating what they might have in store for us. It’s a no brainer.. the two desserts I always have to work very hard to resist are on the menu. It’s a tie I announce after we eat hubbie’s selection of Butterscotch Crème Brulee, with seasonal fresh fruit and brown sugar straws and my Vanilla Panna Cotta with fresh peach sorbet, fresh peaches and summer berries. Both $13 and both truly excellent, light summery, a perfect match for this glorious summer day. It doesn’t get much better than this. What a delightful day we have had in Napier!

There’s so much more we’d like to do in Napier. We’d both like to return for a longer stay here, which was actually our original plan before being gifted a week of accommodation in Taupo. A sketchy plan of another North Island trip starts to form in my mind.. in Auckland, around via Coromandel, Bay of Plenty (pop in and say high to Zappers in Tauranga), East cape down to Hawkes bay for a few days and on to Wellington..If time available then across to Abel Tasman and the aviation museum at Blenheim… ah.. that would be awesome…

We’re both not really up for too long a day today after such a big day yesterday so we just take a quick spin down historic Oaks Ave in Hastings, then hit the road home before the sun gets too low in the west. Graham has warned us about sun strike if we leave it too late to head back. Good point!

Back in Taupo we head for Woolworths briefly then home to settle in for some journaling and watching the amazing 20/20 Cricket match between Australia and New Zealand in Christchurch. Yes. A rare rare match indeed. A knife edge victory for the kiwis in a high scoring match. The spectators at the ground and around the world on the edge of their seats, and we are no exception. An absolute treat of a game. The third in the series is in Napier on Wednesday. We’re tempted to see if seats are available, but as the Australian captain said, a game like todays game is a once in a career event in any form of the game. It’s not likely Wednesday’s match will be on the same par.. and we have a lot to do!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pt 15 - Rapids Jet; Waimangu Valley; Gondola & Luge; Mitai

Saturday 27 February –, Rapids Jet, Waimangu Thermal Valley, Gondola and luge and finally Mitai

It’s just as well our booking for the Rapids Jet doesn’t require us to be out and about until after 9:30. We are supposed to rock up at 9:45 am. The trip is supposed to start at 10am, but we are a little late departing as we wait for some people to show up. We have supplied our own waterproof jackets, but others take advantage of the longer, black rapids jet coats which were being washed when we were here yesterday. Noone seems anxious to leave to see the rush of water when the flow from the dam arrives.

We don our life jackets, sign our “yes we understand we might die” forms then it’s photo time before jumping on the jetboat. We speed upstream with the wind in our faces to check out the wall of the power station and do a few 360 degree spins. The ride starts out with a few manouvres and then our skipper checks everyone is doing OK and the thrills gradually increase, jumps and such downstream across some mild rapids. It’s great fun. Similar to what Dad used to do in his speed boat on Pittwater/Broken Bay when I was a little thing of 6 or 7. Back before Pittwater was too congested. I spend a goodly amount of the time thinking about my Dad and the fun we used to have in his speed boat when I was little, as I grin into the wind which sends my hair streaming back and whipping up a mass of minor tangles.

The rapids jet photographers are standing on the banks of the river during the fun. We take a jump through the rapids and land with waves of spray enveloping the boat.

We head back up stream and make multiple passes through the rapids, narrow passes to obstacles and last minute swerves to avoid trees or rocks. It’s awesome fun. Hubby’s loving it! When we come off the boat we go and look at all the photos they’ve taken. There’s some pretty awesome shots. You can have the whole set on disk for $35. A nice little earner there though most on the boat leave without buying today. The jet boat ride was $90 pp. What a great start to the day. We are wet of course but the day is warm and fine and we’ll be dry in no time.

From the jetboat we head straight on to Waimangu Thermal Valley. It’s midday by the time we arrive, so first things first we grab some lunch at the café. A bacon and egg pie with an accompanying organic cola drink for hubby and a zucchini slice for me. Hubby wins yet again! His was probably the healthier option and was quite nice. Mine was a bit dry.. the zucchini slice I make is way better!

It’s 12:35 by the time we are setting off down the path. Paved at the start, the path as you move down the slope is level but rough. Loose stones make it a little slippery if you aren’t careful. Good walking shoes are recommended and I would agree with that. I'm glad I'm not wearing the flimsy footwear many others seem to have chosen today.

We have been booked onto the 2:50 cruise and advised that we have oodles of time. Oodles of time. The later cruise departure will make sure we don’t have to rush the last bit. Working on this advice we take our time over the features.

The path is consistently downhill except for some mild short inclines. The main features are located from 1 to 18 on the provided map which also serves as our ticket. Our route starts with views over frying pan lake.

Frying pan lake is awesome with the vapours rising from the surface and drifting about in eddies that morph and dance. Down the hill closer to the water you pause to listen to the sound of the gurgling and chuffing which sounds like a steam train. Plumes of steam consistently emanate from a striking rock feature. It’s quite fascinating.
We spend a fair bit of time pausing at the various stops on the map. Reading the information on the guide and on interpretive signs along the way. There are many features pointed out that relate to the famous volcanic eruptions, a small silica terrace, gurgling and spurting hot springs with intense colours, profiles of volcanic deposits that are cut away near paths.

Other than the frying pan lake much of it seems quite small, and while there are some intense colours here and there it’s not on the scale you might expect from the colours on the websites for various thermal features.

As suggested we go as far as location 21 then back track slightly to head up the stairs to the inferno crater and the longer Mt Haszard Hiking Trail. The inferno crater here at Waimangu Valley is a similar colour to Lake Tekapo, just way way smaller. It’s very pretty, but nowhere near the visual impact of the awesome eyeful Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki provide.

We have been warned that once we get to a one of the features along the hiking trail there will be 200 stairs to get back to the bus route. Odd that there should have been no mention of the large number of stairs and steep incline to reach this point where the stairs then take you back down the slope. Features along the way aren’t too thrilling really. Old craters that are now forested bowls in the landscape, or a view over a thermal feature that used to be huge, until it just stopped… LOL reminds me of the story my mum keeps teasing me about.. when I gave her directions “get out at the red building that isn’t there any more”… along the Mt Haszard Hiking trail and indeed along the Waimangu Valley trail and cruise you spend a fair bit of time in the appreciation of things that aren’t there any more LOL.

Back to the trail.. the only site we figured could even vaguely justify the hiking was some views across lake rotomahana… but they are just average views. Nice enough, but perhaps I’ve done the South Island too recently! The scenery there simply ruins you for average lake views! On the downhill stretch the stairs are not designed to be easy. The risers are very tall, and the path is a bit rough. After a while my knee decides it’s not well pleased with the effort required with these downhill steps. Uh oh. How I wish I had managed the mental energy to keep up the physio in amongst all the house stress and hassle over the last months! I manage OK but it’s clear my time on slopes is really going have to be of short duration from here on in. Knee aside I probably would have enjoyed the walk a vast deal better if we’d come at a cooler time of year!

Hubby has been pushing the pace some as we've been heading up the hiking trail. He’s paid closer attention to the information about the time various walks might take. He’s right to be concerned.

By the time we regain the bus route, we’ve missed the bus down to jetty at Lake Rotomahana, not that we had planned to take it. However we are now obliged to take a very quick walk along the nature trail section of the walk. I didn’t realize there is a bird watching spot by the lake. There’s heaps of water fowl. Plenty of black swans among them too.. but that is for other’s to appreciate. We’re in a mad tearing rush for the boat.
Luckily we do make it in time for the cruise.

There’s a reasonable number of people aboard a very small and, frankly, inadequate vessel for the purpose of a well populated sight seeing cruise. Plenty of seats inside windows that don’t open and aren’t very clean. It’s hot inside too. Out the back is pretty much a shade free zone. Commentary is piped through the boat, but It’s far from easy to hear and we find ourselves needing to refer to the site guide we were provided when we paid our money. We cruise across the crater lake to take a spin in a tiny crater bay….ho hum.. we pass the sites of the famous pink and white terraces that aren’t there anymore but would have been many metres below us. Oh. There’s trout in the lake and their isolation keeps the breed very pure. OK. On the way back to the jetty we make a lengthy pause at some pretty nifty fumaroles which chug and puff and splutter water in a most amusing fashion.

Everyone aboard is photographing like crazy and videoing, but the fumaroles are pretty small individually and collectively. Before going we had really expected things on a larger scale.

The steaming cliffs put on a good show as we make the final run to the jetty. Finally getting a few moments to capture the lake scenery.

I toy with the idea of heading around to the bird watching spot and sitting there until time for the next bus, but hubby is over it and wants to go. Not much argument from me, or rather not much argument from my knee at any rate. It’s really rather sore now. The bus is hot and not air conditioned. It’ll do for the short ride up the hill.

We have enjoyed our time wandering through Waimangu, but we did feel it was pretty expensive for what is provided and much of the place relies on an appreciation of the history; imagination; and comparison of the bush clad hills and craters with photographs of the post apocalyptic landscape shown in historical photographs taken not long after the 1886 eruption.

By now it’s 3:30. We need to congregate at Mitai about 6pm to avoid the crush from the arrival of tour buses and the Mitai courtesy bus that collects folk staying in Rotorua. Not enough time to go back to Taupo and we’re too early to head over to Mitai. So we decide to find where we have to go before deciding on how to entertain ourselves. It’s ever so convenient that Mitai is just a couple of doors up from the Rotorua Gondalo and Luge.

There is a lot of cars in the car park but we have no difficulty finding a spot, changing our clothes discretely and wandering into the foyer. The whole installation looks fairly new and imposing and there’s a steady flow of visitors arriving and paying their fares. We browse the board of prices and discover there is an array of packages and options, so we step aside to consider what to do. Everything is pretty expensive. We ask how long it would take to get up to the top and to take a luge ride. The luge ride is estimated at about 40 minutes once you get down to the bottom and then take the chair lift back up. If memory serves the Gondala was about 20 minutes. Only time for one luge ride just now.. hmm. We end up opting for the annual pass which also gives us luge rides for $5 instead of the normal $9 plus of course as many trips on the Gondala as we like. We’re pretty confident we’ll get time across the week’s activities to come back for more rides

The view from the Gondala is pleasant and expansive taking in Lake Rotorua, the town and countryside round about. It’s quite relaxing just sitting slowly rising up the mountain. It doesn’t feel like long before we are alighting at the upper terminal and getting our bearings. To the left as we emerge there is an interesting contraption that we gather is the “Swing” for which we saw price options. Business on the swing is pretty slow by the looks. Around to the right we approach a large gift store which has closed for the day and through a set of glass doors there are crowds of people who must surely be taking luge rides.

First things first we grab ourselves a helmet (hoping like hell that whoever has worn it before us doesn’t have head lice) and take our place in the queue. It is an indication of how rusty we are at using amusement rides that we fail to realize the two queues are to direct people onto the various luge tracks which are graded in three speed tiers: scenic, intermediate and advanced. We chill in the queue doing a bit of people watching. There’s clearly folk from all over the world and a good smattering of young local men. One little girl who can’t be more than 6 or 7 has either done this before or has been watching and learning. She expertly gets her sled, hops on and demonstrates the brakes for the attendant and takes off down the scenic track.

In good time it is our turn. I’m in front and head off down the intermediate track just to get the feel for the layout here. Changing tracks is apparently not something you’re supposed to do and hubby is firmly directed down the scenic track, though it doesn’t cramp his style too drastically as he hardly meets anyone else on his way down. The sleds are capable of going very quickly but the track is concrete and there is a massive amount of vibration coming through into our arms. In this respect it is not at all like the luge at Jamberoo near home. Jamberoo’s luge ride is on a smooth stainless steel curved track. The sleds don’t go as quick, but it’s a silken ride down and you can lean into the corners as you slide up the wall of the track.. anyway the vibration on this concrete tracked luge detracts from the ride experience quite substantially for us both. Aside from the distraction of adjusting expectations, the vibration is not good for hubby’s arms at all due to a chronic condition he manages so I spend most of the trip worrying about what it’s doing to him. Arriving within close succession at the bottom we chat about the experience.. hubby’s arms are OK so far but he’s not planning to ride again. We place our sleds as directed by the signs and jump on the chairlift.

Chairlifts are such fun! As we glide and bounce up the hill, I observe some unfamiliar conifers of some sort. The orange of old leaves evenly hanging on all over the tree are a great mimic for a flowering silky oak. Interesting. Someone has dropped their helmet. No wonder there are signs saying to keep helmet on until you return to the top. We watch the riders on the tracks below and try to identify which tracks we took. All too soon we are scooting off the chair and out of the way of getting belted by it. Fun, but we wonder if we actually will get our money’s worth from our annual pass after all...

It’s time we left but I am keen to do a reccie (reconnoitre) of the café and the bistro. A sign invites us to wander in and check out the bistro so we go ahead. Now setting up for dinner there seems to be a good array of mains and deserts. Above average for a bistro we think. .. but it’s time for Mitai.

It’s a bit after 6 by the time we arrive. Hmm, buses are plentiful in the drive, but we manage to park and make our way to the queue of people being received. Turns out there are 300 people seeing the show tonight. The queue moves very slowly and we take our seats in a large marquee. A couple already seated don’t show any interest in us, so I choose a seat at the far end of the table so that others coming in don’t have to climb around us. Soon another couple rock up look friendly, so I introduce myself. They are from Switzerland. We have a bit of a chat as hubby wanders off to the bar and is successful at last in his quest to try the local tui’s …..

Pretty soon another couple come up and ask if the seats opposite us are taken. He’s clearly a kiwi so I acknowledge this as we exchange introductions. Turns out his wife is an American. The couple down the end are Canadian. Our kiwi companion is a turf farmer who lives just out of Christchurch. He seems really pleased to find we are Aussies and is keen to chat to us throughout the evening… as we are with him too. He’s had a fabulous afternoon at the Caterpillar Experience. I had thought you must ride on a tracked vehicle around the displays, but this confusion is cleared up as our kiwi friend tells us it’s a series of static displays of all sorts of vintage caterpillars (earth moving machinery) and he’s found it fascinating. Apparently his missus didn’t find the idea so thrilling, so she amused herself elsewhere.

It’s almost an intrusion as the evening’s formalities get underway. Our marquee host goes through a long process of identifying all the “tribes” from which we have come. Anyone from the US? Yay….everyone welcome our guests from the US! Thankyou United States, we got our trout in our spring from the US, but they are ours now and you can’t have them back.. everyone thank the US for our trout….. We mutter to our kiwi friend … “Where’s our thanks for the possums?” He cracks up and says.. “and to the Brits for gorse and broom?” Hehehe .. so nice to share a joke and know it will be understood LOL How about the UK? (Thank you to the UK for teaching us to make stuffing…) Yay… Japan Yay, Aussie? Yay…. The list grows and grows.. Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia, Georgia, South Africa, East Africa, South Korea... We have people from 18 different countries in our Marquee alone.

The inevitable safety briefing, location of amenities, agenda for the evening and now, an important item of business. A volunteer is requested for a chief for the evening to represent us all. There is a studied silence as men all around the tent try to look as invisible as possible. Finally a gent from the UK sticks his hand up…yaay! The enthusiasm of support from the other men folk is palpable! LOL.
Time has come to head out for the waka viewing… past the hangi pit for a look at dinner being unveiled. With so many people we’ve got buckley’s (ie no chance) unless we wait for the crowd to thin so we hang back to see dozens of chickens and legs of lamb, trays of kumara and potato and stuffing….

Then we head off down the track. It’s a bit like a circus as people try to find a pozzie (position) along the stream where the warriors in their waka will soon be appearing. The warriors duly appear and seem skilled and in deadly earnest as they chant and tap the sides of their oars on the waka. They do a couple of passes, we take some video. .. It’s pretty cool and interesting, but looking at the gawping crowds I’m thinking perhaps Mitai has become a victim of their own success.

The waka viewing over we file as part of a long snaking procession and head back to our marquee. Past the other smaller marquee… $100 bucks or so a head.. not a bad annual turnover by the looks, though I guess numbers vary day by day. They have to have grossed 30K or more tonight alone.

It’s a slow amble back up and before we have our dinner we move into the performance area where there are chairs laid out in front of a stage with what looks rather like a set made to resemble a village. We take a couple of unoccupied chairs and discover why they are still unoccupied. The view is partially obstructed from them.

Around the village maidens and warriors are hanging out. Our chief and the chief representing the other marquee (the “other chief”) head on up to the side of the stage accompanied by our host guy and are duly confronted by the challenge from a sprightly and intimidating young warrior. First to front the challenge is the other chief. He calmly stands his ground but when time comes to pick up the verbage dropped he looks aside to another warrior and then as he reaches for the greenery he looks at the ground. Oops. Our chief takes his turn as another young warrior struts his stuff. The herbage is dropped and our chief, of whom we are duly proud, steps forward and collects the greenery appropriately eyeballing the challenging warrior the entire time. We are pleased with his performance. Our chief also gave a very satisfactory speech in response to the greeting from the Mitai chief and this is pronounced to be overwhelming and deeply appreciated by the Mitai chief later in the course of our dinner. In my head I’m putting together info provided by a combination of prior tours .. thanks Maurice … thanks Kena!! I don’t know about other people, but I find the repetition really helps me remember as well as understand!

The show proceeds and is lead/MC’d by the Mitai Chief. There are the usual songs and explanations of cultural significance, introduction of the traditional “drum” constructed from a wooden log. A young pregnant woman demonstrates some cool percussive use of the poi, including horses galloping and other recognizable rhythms. She was truly mesmorising. Beautiful and highly skilled. My favourite item of the night.. and indeed of all the Maori performances we have seen, was a song that used the drum and percussive poi along with the singing. It was totally awesome.

As things proceed and the Mitai chief explains stuff relating to the combat skills the young warriors are drilled to demonstrate how training would proceed. There is a fairly detailed explanation of moko telling us more to refresh our memory and add to the detail of what we heard at the Auckland Museum. The facial moko is patterned to represent four birds and these birds in turn represent the various areas of knowledge.. genealogy and so on. Areas of knowledge in which Maori were expected to obtain proficiency, as we were previously informed. The three birds I can recall were owl (on the forehead), parrot (on the nose); kiwi (on the lower cheeks).. at least I think this is what he said. He told us more about what each bird represented I think, but that knowledge has long since departed my skull! Blowed if I can recall the fourth bird! .. maybe a falcon???

Throughout the course of the show the audience is taught to say some things in maori with regular jokes being made. At all times the mood is light hearted. The Mitai chief is extremely charismatic and funny. Our concern at the high volume of attendees tonight has long vanished. The Mitai chief has worked the crowd in expert fashion. The young women and warriors are extremely proficient at all that they demonstrate. The show was totally awesome and we left feeling not like one of 300 nameless faces but as privileged guests. Honoured to have the opportunity to share some cultural learning with these beautiful and hospitable people.

We head on back to the marquee and collect our hangi meal from the bistro. It was nice, but I’m not sure how wonderful I would have found it if they didn’t have some pretty creamy potato bake included. Without that it would have been pretty much steamed meat and steamed vege! We’re talking too much with our kiwi friend and almost miss dessert! No huge loss, it’s ok but hardly gourmet. Not like we’ll be fading away to a shadow any time soon!

Some of the audience have opted to pay for discounted entry to Rainbow Springs next door, and these people depart when dinner is concluded, our kiwi friend among them. We stay put at Mitai and head off on a guided walk around the property. Small groups are lead by various warriors while we, being the last group out, stick with our marquee host. By torchlight we learn the uses of various plants. At times having to wait on the path for the previous group to finish that stop. The final stop is at the sacred spring from which we have been drinking tonight. Absolutely pure cold water pours forth from this spring and it is extremely important in the identity and good fortune of this Maori family.

With the end of the guided walk the evening is at an end and we hop back in our car and head off. It’s been an awesome show.. but I do still feel that Mitai are verging on being too much of a circus act at times during the evening. They really need to draw a line in the sand on numbers, assuming they haven’t already of course. At the moment the show itself is so good that it makes up for the numbers present, but it would be better with a good deal fewer attendees. We have no regrets about choosing to come to Mitai, but we are now so curious to see the competition! It’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it!