North Island Part 1: Remembrance, Bubbling mud and geysers, Maori culture and more

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December 4th 2018
Published: December 5th 2018
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10 to 15 November

Jenny only has 8 days in the North Island so we are on a quest to see as much as possible and as we arrive in Wellington on a very early flight ( thanks Diane for taking us to the airport at the crack of dawn) we actually had picked up the rental car and were at Zealandia almost as it opened 9.15 am. This is a dammed valley in the city of Wellington which has been fenced off to be predator free and eventually will be replanted with native trees and plants and provide an environment for New Zealand birds and native anilmals to thrive. In evolutionary terms New Zealand‘s land mass was split off from rest of Gondwana before mammals evolved so birds had a free rein and many were flightless. That means of course when Pacific Islanders arrived followed by Europeans centuries later they brought with them rats and mice and stoats and weasels , dogs and cats etc and the native birds were threatened and some became extinct like the huge Moa, bigger than an ostrich. We took a guided tour and spotted many quite rare birds but as it was cool and had rained the native toatara ( a sort of lizard ) was nowhere to be seen. There is a concerted effort by the government and environmental groups to support a program for trapping and poison and the aim is to make NZ predator free in the next few decades. Domestic cats and dogs are also a problem with kiwi being particularly at risk.

With only one day in Wellington we tried to see as much as possible walking along the quayside and a couple of hours in the wonderful Te Papa museum which gives you great background on Maori culture. So walking in to a special Gallipoli Exhibition about the ANZAC forces I was gobsmacked .... here were models of real soldiers made by Peter Jackson ( Lord of the Rings producer ) , and they were gigantic , about 3 times human size they were so realistic could see the veins and hairs on their arms, sweat on their brows ,tears in their eyes. Apparently they read something like 600 accounts and diaries to choose the soldiers to depict and their stories and along with photos they made these men and women so lifelike you could feel their pain as you looked on. It was Remembrance Sunday the following day and we were privileged to arrive at the town of Featherston just before the ceremony at 11 am and we joined the local community there in commemoration. Featherston had been a huge army training camp and a new war memorial had been erected was all very moving.

Meeting old friends has been very much on the agenda this trip and it was great to catch up with Brigit and Peter who took us out for dinner in Oriental Bay -delicious Asian food and a fabulous view of the bay was topped off by them driving us up to the peak of Mount Victoria with 360 deg views all round Wellington and a beautiful sunset.

On next to Hawke’s Bay driving through beautiful countryside , rolling hills ,farmland and crumpled hills and mountainous roads and gorges the landscapes are so varied here ....if you are travelling this way stop at Greytown ...pretty houses on the Main Street and old church halls now selling a range of furniture and chic homewares. Some sort of open garden exhibition was on and we sneaked it to see what was on offer and as always there are some great ideas for Jenny’s metalwork projects. Stopping again at an eco park at Mount Bruce would we be lucky enough to see the famous white kiwi ...the bird not the fruit and yes here it was in the dimly lit enclosure pecking away at the undergrowth right next to us ( through the glass). What a great encounter , and then on our walkabout in the reserve we saw many other birds , in the river lots of eels and also the Toatara which which we hadn't seen at Zealandia. All boxes ticked for wildlife sightings !! Jenny has fallen for the Fantail which flits about and shows off its tail and my favourite is the Tui bird with its dark blue petrol plumage and white throat , and it sits in the tops of trees and sings away.

Thanks Jocelyne for being our tour guide and driver as well as cook !! Mountain views were denied us as the clouds and rain rolled in at Te Mata ,a Hawke’s Bay landmark , but on to Napier we wandered the streets of art deco buildings. The town was rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1931 and the style of architecture favoured was Art Deco as well as Spanish / Californian. Wineries abound here and if you are wondering like we did what was the difference between a vineyard and a winery we were told that in a winery the actual wine production takes place whereas a vineyard produces the grapes only. Now we know a cidery produces the cider as well as grows the apples !! Near Hastings we stopped to admire the Maori Celestial Circle, Atea A Rangi , this shows how the Pacific Islanders could navigate their way across the oceans and settle in NZ. In the Hastings Civic Square Maori Sculptures took pride of place. We were to see many more of these as we traveled into the Maori heartland of Rotorua.

This was my third time to visit here and I had picked 3 different locations for Jenny to experience the GeoThermal activity here in this area. After a stop at the Great Lake Taupo we headed to see the Waikato River as it thunders through the narrow rocky gorge at the Huka Falls ...spectacular ! Then on to walk at the Craters
Gallipoli Exhibition at Te PapaGallipoli Exhibition at Te PapaGallipoli Exhibition at Te Papa

No photos allowed which was appropriate... google is you want to find out more .
of the Moon.... here the boardwalks take us round fissures and cracks in the earth where steam and gas are escaping ( fumaroles) and you can hear the bubbling and hissing very loudly in the earth below us.

Waimangu valley is next on my list- back in 1886 was a massive eruption of Mount Tarawera - this valley ( a rift 10 Miles Long ) is the only hydrothermal system in the world which has been created within historic times. 153 people were killed -this place is dangerous country !! You walk down the valley to a lake (about 90 mins ) past different geothermal features ...there are submerged silica terraces , the temperature of the water in the lake can reach 80 deg C and water levels rise and fall by 8 m. This place feels like you are walking in Jurassic times and you would not be surprised to se T Tex round the corner . After the walk down to the lake it’s good to get the shuttle bus back especially since we have to get to our motel in Rotorua and out again to experience a Maori cultural evening at Mitai Village . I must like this event as it’s now my third time !

We are picked up and taken to the village, we are allocated a table and after a drink and an introduction to Maori customs and traditions we follow our guide to the river which runs through the forest and there we hear first then see the MaorI warriors in their Waka ( canoe) as they come and greet us. Following that grand entrance we go to be seated at the village and are entertained by Maori men and women in their traditional costume ... cannot fail to be thrilled to see the Haka performed live a couple of meters away from you , and you wonder as skills like stick throwing and poi twirling are performed. We are introduced throughout the evening to Maori myths and legends, art , weaving , food and health , weaponry and warfare and topping that we have a tradional feast... a Hangi... where we see chickens and lamb , potatoes , kumara have been cooked in baskets over a heat Source in the ground. The evening isn’t finished as it gets dark we troop out down by the river ,with torches , and learn about the lifestyle in the village and when we switch off the torches we see glow worms sparkling in the foliage , rocks , trees and by the river side and then they switch on a light in a pool there’s a massive eel wondering why his sleep is disturbed ! It’s quite an evening and as we are taken back to our motel and we smell the familiar hydrogen sulphide geothermal scent we wonder are we getting used to this smell , how do people cope with it all the time , does your washing on the line smell too ?

We sleep well but we get up early to enjoy a full day and as Te Puia opens we are some of the first visitors at 8 am and as we walk around the extensive and very popular Geothermal Park it feel like we have got it to ourselves doubt the hordes will arrive later. Te Puia is on the edge of the town of Rotorua , no matter where you go in the town you are reminded of what is going in under your feet..... the smell of the escaping gases, steam rising from cracks here and there. Warning signs not to step here etc. Walking around this extensive geothermal complex we see the Pohutu Geyser is performing almost constantly for us , the eruptions up to 30 m high’s spectacular and we look at fantastic bubbling mud pools , hot steamy rivers , terraces of sulphur, and other deposited silica minerals’s like being on another planet. In 1 km sq called Geyser flat there are more than 500 thermal features . On site there is also a Maori meeting house the Marae, where there are traditional performances and also schools for carving and weaving where we saw some amazing skills being demonstrated as we could see right into the workshops.

A quick visit to St Faiths church is next... a mix of Christianity and Maori culture is evident here with Maori carvings and woven panels decorating the walls...and a wonderful etched glass window depicting Christ wearing a Maboriginal chiefs cloak he appears to walk on water as you look out of the window to the lake beyond. The cemetery here is of special interest as those buried are Maori veterans of a guerilla fighting unit who fought for the British in the New Zealand wars. The dead are buried in above ground vaults to keep them out of the steaming earth.

Before leaving Rotarua I say Jenny has to experience the thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa and we spend some time in these , open air pools of varying temperatures , 38 to 42 deg ,by the side of the lake ....most relaxing.

Next stop Whakatane On the Bay of Plenty .

Additional photos below
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5th December 2018

Having come home to dark mornings and nights, it's good to remember the lovely times we had together!
29th December 2018

360 degree views and a sunset
Travel enriches the view! You've arranged an amazing trip and have been able to travel with lots of family, see friends, acquaintances and locate local wildlife. I hope you had a sip of wine for us. Glad you were up early for those steamy waters and geysers.

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