Sunday, March 27, 2011

In Which We Get Into Hot Water, And Then Get Out Again

Hot Water Beach is well known - our hotel posted the times of low tide so that you could plan your trip accordingly. The thing to do is to bring or rent a little spade, come to the beach at low tide, and dig a hole.

The beach has thermal springs below, and at low tide they permeate the sand. All you have to do to enjoy a natural spa is to dig a hole and get in.

Of course, when they say hot water they ain't foolin. It was really hot! We failed to bring a spade but found that we could take over abandoned holes and sit without effort. We couldn't sit comfortably for very long, so after about fifteen minutes we were ready for the next thrill.

Here's the gorgeous beach, with suitably cold water lapping at the steamy shore.

From here we drove along to the entrance to Cathedral Cove.

This was on the list because it's said to be a short but beautiful walk along the shore and through a hole in the rock. We got to the starting point here, where we had beautiful views.


But we weren't really in the mood for a walk, partly because access was partially closed off, and also because a friendly returning couple told us it was a rocky trip and you couldn't quite get to the lookout point. So we put it on the list for next time, and enjoyed the views from where we were.

Cabbage tree, sea, clouds, beach

Pottery in the garden


Our last day was a leisurely one. We were headed for Hot Water Beach but decided to take a detour and stop at the pottery we had noticed on our way to Coromandel Town.


Alan Rhodes Pottery uses local clay for their pots, and we bought one for [redacted until March 29]. Sharing a driveway with Rhodes is another pottery, this one featuring a hand-built adobe house and playful gardens. Julie invited us to look around and told us a little about the place.

Here's a look at the outside. Inside the colors are strongly reminiscent of New Mexico, with lots of bold turquoise and burnt orange.

You can see lots more about the house and the story of the artists in this article.

We loved the birds dotted about the garden, and I had to get one for my own.

Another part of the garden had these interesting statues standing guard.

Here's a pokeko peeking out between the leaves,

and here's another one in a bird bath.

We stopped for lunch at Colenso,

which had been recommended by our fellow hikers the day before, and we saw more of the birds for sale in their garden.

We had a pleasant Sunday lunch outdoors, including a delicious salad - but why do the kiwis always serve them in these little bowls?

A most delightfully serendipitous interlude. Next up: we get into hot water.

Searching for kiwi


We heard a lot about kiwis on our trip, but they're very hard to spot. Ellen went on a kiwi hunt on Ulva Island before joining us and managed to see some AND get great photos. But we merely heard about them everywhere we went: how they are nocturnal, how they are endangered, how people remove chicks from the fathers (who apparently don't notice their disappearance) and raise them in hatcheries, then return them to the wild once they are old enough to withstand the rampaging stoats, weasels, rats, cats and dogs.

So when our Rotorua guide told us we could see kiwis as well as other rare creatures at Rainbow Springs, we decided to stop there on the way out of town. It's really a sort of zoo, with aviaries where you can see all kinds of birds that might be hard to spot in the wild. We had already seen New Zealand pigeons and keas but were glad to see them again. The morepork and the millenia-old tuatara were treats, although each was tricky to spot and I have no decent pictures.

The introduced brown trout made beautiful patterns under the water.

Here's an iconic fern unfolding.

EAP got to stand next to an extinct moa.

Paradise duck

A very friendly, not to say manic, young shag

New Zealand pigeon high up in the aviary

At last it was time to visit the kiwi hatchery. No, the sign is not to scale...

Of course, you can't take pictures inside, so you'll have to take my word for it that this was fascinating. The chicks are brought here (from Okarito among other places), checked in and weighed, fed regularly, and handled as little as possible. We watched through big windows as the kiwi technicians picked them up out of their little bassinets and put them on the scales. They fed them a special kiwi mixture until they were old enough to pick it up themselves. Yes, the chicks were darling and fluffy, but it's also clear that they are not social birds (unlike the kea) and don't really give much back, unless it's a kick with their powerful legs.

Beyond the hatchery they've provided a habitat complete with low lighting (they're nocturnal) so that we could watch them in something closer to their native conditions. A great treat to see them so close - next time, let's go to Ulva Island!

Hokey hangi

I don't really know if it was hokey or not, but the setting certainly was. Our hotel in Rotorua, the least attractive one we encountered on our trip, was a tour bus factory, where big buses disgorged and then loaded up dozens of tourists. Some were students but most were Brits of a certain age. The hotel offered a Maori hangi that evening, which we had to book within 45 minutes to get a good price. Silly, but we bit anyway.

Before dinner, we walked around. Our hotel was on the sulfurous (read, stinky) lake and right next to the Polynesian Spa, which has been in existence in one form or another since the late nineteenth century. We grabbed our suits and booked a dip. The pools were deliciously hot, and people moved from pool to pool, gently soaking and looking at the gray sky. It was very relaxing.

On to dinner! We were greeted in the lobby, where the crowd was enjoying half-priced happy hour, by a European-looking man who greeted us in Maori and proceeded by both celebrating and mocking Maori traditions to work the crowd into a good mood. We surged into the dining room for a buffet dinner that featured pork, chicken and lamb, all cooked on hot rocks in the old way. Not bad, though EAP was a bit taken aback by the greed shown by some of the guests who had to elbow her out of the way so they could get their second helpings.

After dinner came the Maori dancing. Here was our leader.

The group danced the haka together.

This man was small but had great stage presence - you couldn't take your eyes off him.

Here he is dancing.

The women did the poi dance, with musical and vocal support from the men.

Some of the dancing included the famous tongue-sticking-out gesture meant to scare off warriors.

I wish I knew how authentic it was - probably a fairly true representation of the culture, but in a terrible setting. On the whole, something we could see and then cross off our lists forever...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More videos

I know you've seen waterfalls before, but I couldn't help it. Here's one from the Whirinaki Forest walk. The waterfall fed a trout stream. (You'll also notice that I got the name wrong on the video. I have a terrible time keeping the Maori names straight. Could never quite pick up the knack of how the consonants and vowels went together.)

The thermal landscape is so compelling that I couldn't help filming it. Here's a short clip that shows a baby geyser erupting.

At leisure in Nelson

After our day in Abel Tasman Park, we decided to cancel the following day's trip in favor of a relaxed day in Nelson. No getting up to catch a 7:30 bus! Instead, we slept late (something we can never manage at home) and took our time finding breakfast. We wandered outside at around 10:30 to find a bright, sunny day filled with possibilities.

We walked around the corner from our hotel and headed down historic South Street. Cottages originally built for tradesmen around 1861 are now preserved and used as B&Bs, though a few are still private. This is the oldest preserved street in New Zealand.


We poked around in this pottery shop and ended up buying a few presents. Several local potters were featured, ranging from brightly colored, playful designs to more earthy ones. Plus, they ship, so it was sooo easy to buy.

Next up was a fiber shop - EAP was done first so she went outside. Not sure where to find her? Look for a seat and there she'll be with a book.

A ramble through a bookshop, then lunch outside at a Middle Eastern place. We stopped on a whim at a yarn shop, and I only wish I had pictures of the owners. Luckily, a knitter has blogged about it here.

Cruella's had just moved downtown a few weeks before, and we would never have found it in its old location. The owners are huge extroverts and have a great knack for draping you in their hand-knit sweaters, many of which can be worn in several different ways. The experience was the thing, but we all ended up buying something. EAP bought several lots of yarn with promises to knit sweaters for Sarah and me as well as herself. Ellen bought a beautiful sweater for herself and probably some other things which I've now forgotten. It was a delightful hour, and I'm not even a shopper!

Here we are afterwards, having just enjoyed an ice cream at Cocoa's. EAP, of course, had the famous Hokey Pokey ice cream, which she so dutifully sampled everywhere we went.
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After this orgy of shopping, we took a leisurely stroll along the Maitai River, which winds though the city and the leafy neighborhoods nearby. Soon enough we came upon a swimming hole, that kiwi tradition, with kids swimming and splashing.

This was mid-afternoon, so I guess they came here after school. Tom and Huck, look out!

Ellen dipped her toes into the cold, clear water.

This green water with a stony bottom was typical of NZ rivers (when they weren't braided or glacial).
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The next morning found us at the Nelson Airport, where Ellen left for Auckland and we headed to Rotorua. If you want to have an easy airport experience, head to New Zealand. Domestic flights feature no security screenings and you check your own luggage. What a joy!

Sad farewell to our beloved traveling companion... We had such a wonderful time together and hated to say goodbye.
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NZ mailboxes

As we traveled about, I began to notice the NZ mailbox style. For one thing, people often posted notices requesting no junk mail, which I assume were honored. Here's an example from Sumner.
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This is a good example of the house style of mailboxes, spotted as we biked between wineries.
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People clearly have more fun than we usually do in creating their mailboxes. Here's a collage of what they looked like in suburban Nelson. (Click on it to enlarge.)

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The top left gets high marks for its minimalist style. We dubbed the one at bottom left the Weber Grill mailbox.

Volcanoes and Rainforests

Our day trip out of Rotorua turned out to be a personal tour, since we were the only ones signed up. Our guide drove us southeast out of town and we were soon on a long, straight road through monoculture forests. This is timber country.

After almost an hour, we were in the Whirinaki Forest and back in the bush. This park is known for its podocarp forest and its amazingly tall trees. We took the Forest Sanctuary loop track.

Robbie knew a lot about plants and pointed out a few that we might have otherwise overlooked. This is an umbrella moss.

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This is a royal fern. If you look closely you will see that the fronds come out from a base that looks a bit like a crown.

This fern has baby ferns growing out of the fronds. I wish I remembered what it's called...

And this is the iconic nikau palm.
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We spent a fair amount of time listening and watching for birds, and we did hear lots of keas. We even saw one flapping from tree to tree, but I don't think I got a good enough look to actually claim it. Otherwise we saw robins, fantails and grey warblers (I think).

After walking for an hour plus, it was back in the van to head to thermal country. Here's Robbie welcoming us.


This view down the valley hints at what's to come: wisps of steam from thermal vents, poisonously colored water, and heat.
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Inferno Crater was the most beautiful of all. It was actually named "Gates of the Inferno" by the nineteenth century explorers. Not only is the water this exquisite shade of blue, but the water ebbs and flows like a tide. Caution: the water is between 35 and 75 degrees Centigrade (95-200 Fahrenheit), hence the steam.

The other pools were not as beautiful but had an eerie appeal of their own.

After our walk through the valley, we boarded a boat that circled Lake Rotomahana. It was timed just right for us to witness a few geysers erupting right on cue.

The acid yellow outcroppings reminded me of dragon tails. Add in the iron-colored hillside and the wisps of steam, and you have a good look at this weird landscape.
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