Monday, September 28, 2015

Travel Magic - North Island, New Zealand: Part 2

"It is only until you get out of your comfort zone that you truly know what you are capable of." - Vignesh, fellow Meetup tramper in Wellington

The Pinnacles, Coromandel Pennisula
    This post covers our North Island trip from February 2nd -June 1st, 2015
    Anyone who has traveled hard experienced some form of travel magic. Travel magic is the term I use for moments that are so incredibly lucky to have happened. Maybe it was meeting the right people, the weather was gorgeous when you needed it, or a moment you thought was bad turned out to be advantageous. I know these moments well from past travels, but I still find myself surprised and humbled when they happen.

    From finding ourselves at a Maori food festival to meeting the bandmate of a personal musical idol, to being put on the guest list to see that idol perform in Auckland, to meeting an amazing couple who invited us to a ukulele concert on their farm, to these folks becoming great friends and introducing us to further friends further along in our travels. This is just one example of luck infiltrating our experience here in New Zealand and it never ceases to amaze me how incredible people can be. 

    Given I have only posted one blog about this trip and I am extremely behind on updating, I will post a few bits at a time, each entry with a few stories from the things we have done. 
The North Island Journey

    It would not be a proper visit to New Zealand unless you have gotten a chance to bask in the light of glow worms. The species of glow worms here are only found in New Zealand, despite there being glow insects else where, like Australia. These worms are not worms, but larvae. They only grow up to about an inch long over the course of 9 months. They cast down fine threads off their bodies that have sticky droplets on them which are meant to catch insects and flies that they eat. They glow brighter the hungrier they are. The Waitomo Caves have some of the best collection of these worms in the whole country, even though you can find them just about anywhere dark near water. When you illuminate the walls of these caves with a torch it looks like there is long fine hair everywhere, with evenly spaced tiny dew drops on each one. Turn off the lights and you are rewarded with something reminiscent of the night sky, only the tiny dots of light have a blue color to them. When these young little glow kids decide to become adults, they turn into flies that only live for a few days. With no mouth or digestive system, having gotten all their eating on as an adorable larvae, their only job now is to get funky and make more little glow babies. Ironically, I bet many of them fly into their kid's silk thread traps and become food for the next generation. Oh nature, you're so beautiful.

   The adventure I went on involved a repel into one of the caves that make up the Waitomo system, some horsing around in water, crawling through cave walls, and a rock climb out. I enjoy caves a lot, so the experience over all was pretty wonderful.

John makes friends everywhere he goes - Waitomo Caves glow worm adventure

   Coromandel Pennisula is a hot spot for Auckland vacationers as well as us foreign folk. This area is covered in Pohutukawa trees (aka the Christmas tree) that bloom incredible ruby red flowers in December. We missed the peak of their blooms, but relived the season by being pummeled with art and photos in ever shop we visited. Our hike up the Pinnacles was our first experience in the amazing huts that the Department of Conservation (DOC) have in their parks. This concept is incredible. You have the choice to tent camp, they have designated camp sites in all parks, but they also have these rustic huts that range in size, capacity, and services (like a stove or wood for heat) that cost between $5 and a ridiculous $54 a night (Fiordlands man, paying loads to sleep right next to a snoring dude). We ended up in the hut for the Pinnacles walk without realizing this was the mother of all huts with the ability to accommodate 88 people! Yes it does get completely full in the summers on weekends. It had a huge kitchen with supplies for cooking and stoves. No other hut was as massive or luxurious as this one, but the charm of each one makes you want to hike places just for the hut alone. Luckily there were only a few of us taking over the 88 person space, and after the grueling steep elevation hike to get there were happy to relax and go to sleep early.

    The following morning we got up before sunrise and walked in the dark towards the summit. I love night hiking. There is just something about it that is so peaceful and mesmorizing. When it is close to sunrise like we were, the sky is not pitch black, but shows signs of the sun determined to rise but not quite close enough causing the surrounding mountains to become humbling silhouettes poised around you. Your breath catches in the light of your head lamp reminding you that it is quite cold, even though you're sweating from the ridiculous amounts of stairs, turned ladders, turned rock climbing to get to this peak.

    Once there, the clouds moved in and decided to hang out and block our view. We waited in the cold, finding nooks in the rocks to sit until finally, after over an hour, the sun's warmth won and melted the clouds away rewarding our patience with gorgeous rock faces and the ocean beyond. 

   We spent some time in the Karangahake Gorge, also in the Coromandel, exploring mines, bridges, tunnels, and a choo choo. The gorge was pretty cool, but what I took away the most was this train tunnel over a half mile long that you could walk through. The acoustics were incredible. Sounds bounced off the walls for up to ten seconds. That's a very long time for an echo. So, being a musician and loving acoustics I sang out multiple notes consecutively and listened as the tunnel sang back to me a choir of sound. I made a three note chord, which continued to ring for a few seconds after I stopped singing. For a music nerd, that was pretty cool.  
Karangahake Gorge

A window in a mine in Karangahake Gorge

Very long tunnel

  Beach in Coromandel

     No trip to New Zealand is ever complete without the obligatory visit to Hobbiton. You know, where the hobbits live? The Shire? We were on the fence about going. It was spendy and touristy, but what the hell, looks cool in the movies, probably cool in real life right? Actually yes, it was pretty cool in real life. They do an amazing job of keeping this place looking like a paradise we all want to live in. The grass is green and kempt (while the surrounding hills are brown from drought), the trees look perfect (one is actually fake cause, you know, movies), and the garden produces real vegetables that look healthy and delicious. To add to the affect of perfectness there were freakin' butterflies EVERYWHERE. Genuine fairy tale land here. I actually got a little sad that this place wasn't real. It needs to be real!
    We were taken on a tour through the area being shown 44 hobbit doors of all sizes. Different ones were used depending on if you were filming a hobbit or a Gandolf. Some have storage behind the doors, others had nothing. We cross a perfect lake on a perfect bridge with a fake Smaug chillin in the tall grass and head to the Green Dragon Inn to have a Hobbiton beer (part of the tour). I, of course, befriend the pub cat Pickles. Everyone wanted her affections, I am the only one who got it. (I fed her some muffin for that lovin). I bought a few of those beers for gifts. One successfully made it across the sea, one successfully made it into our bellies, and the third gift exploded in the car. :( Expensive beer with the worse quality bottling. Sorry Sean Brown. 
Bilbo's House with the perfect fake tree behind it. 

    Rotor-Vegas... a reference the ever popular adventure city tourist overload called Rotorua. We were pretty sick the whole time we were here, but we did manage to soak in a fake hot pool (despite there being real ones everywhere else, the whole area is built over thermal pools). I was pretty excited for an opportunity to visit the living Maori village with the 2nd longest New Zealand name: Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao which means "The gathering place for the war parites of Wahiao." We learned about their culture, how they utilized the thermal pools, ate thermal pool cooked corn, and enjoyed a haka.  

Most of getting around New Zealand pertains to a lot of driving. The road trips were half the experience seeing the country side and falling in love with the geological formations of this amazing little country. Then you have Mt. Taranaki, the tall volcano that seems completely out of place to all the low lying features around it. She's almost too perfect in shape in my opinion, and provided an amazing area part way up to sleep in our van, high above the tiny towns below. Two nights in a row I marveled over the rise of what looked like a harvest moon to the East. She looked comically gigantic as the orange orb breached the horizon. I didn't have my fancy camera to take photos of this, but it will be a memory etched in my brain. The first night I was frightened before my brain pieced together what I was seeing. Not an alien, just nature. When we woke to the morning sun, the towering point of Taranaki commanded the view to the west.
The bush around Mt. Taranaki
Most incredibly built trails and bridges I have ever seen. 
Good morning Mt. Taranaki!
Somewhere on the Lost Highway
Borrowed a bike in Whanganui, went for a ride, found a piano. My two loves.

Smallest Republic?

Found an extra for the Lord of the Rings! I think I pissed him off. Note the faces in his loin clothe. eeewww.

That's all for now folks, I will post a few more later for those still interested in reading about my tales!

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