Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 5: Mudpots, Maoris, and Wallabies

Saturday, March 14:

By this point on our trip, our body clocks were pretty adjusted to New Zealand time, which meant the kids were taking advantage of being on vacation by staying up late into the night.  Because of that and the physically draining day we'd had the day before, we had a hard time dragging ourselves out of bed this particular morning.    If we'd been at home, we probably would have indulged in a lazy Saturday morning, but alas we were half-way across the world and the call of more New Zealand excitement proved too much to keep us in bed for too long!

Our first stop of the day was Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge!   Our GPS led us a little astray in getting there, so by the time we arrived the day's heat and the weekend crowds had already kicked in.

We enjoyed the fact that the gondola was large enough for our whole family….

so I could make sure that everyone had their sunscreen on...

and then ooh and ah over the lovely view together! 

After the gondola ride and the conversations about how much better we liked the view of Rotorua from a distance, we went on to the next part of our adventures….the luge! 

We had a grand time getting on our inner bobsled...
and ended the morning with tired arms, sweaty backs, and an appetite for ice cream!


After a little rest and some nourishment, we headed to Whakarewarewa Viewpoint Track, which was essentially a moderately difficult hike partway up a mountain.   Along the way we passed boiling mudpots...

which the kids were obsessed with throwing rocks into, so they could see them swallowed up in the bubbling mud!

The view from the look-out was amazing and once again we marveled at how lovely the over-commercialized Rotorua looked from a distance.   We especially enjoyed being able to see some of the geothermal features...

including this erupting geyser that  people had to pay $30 to see up close. 

 Rotorua is situated over a hotspot in the earth's crust, much in the same way that Yellowstone National Park is.   There are geysers, mudpots, hot springs, and the smell of sulphur everywhere!  The main difference is that YNP was protected and made into a National Park for everyone to enjoy and Rotorua had a city built up around it.   Most of the main attractions are privately owned and require an entrance fee to see, so being able to see the erupting geyser from above was actually quite a treat!  

We also enjoyed the beautiful New Zealand forest we walked through along the way, including some more redwood trees!  The girls were enamored with the Kiwi wildflowers and enjoyed making little bouquets for themselves.  


After that enjoyable hike we headed to Kuirau Park to relax a bit.  Kuirau Park is just a city park with walking trails, water features, and a big playground...

but since it's in Rotorua, it also had dangerous thermal areas within a stone's throw of the playground...

The pond there was unfenced, bubbling, and smelled of sulphur and we had to laugh at how different Yellowstone would have been if they had decided to commercialize it and turn it into a city instead of a national park.  

We enjoyed the leisurely pace (and the cooling weather) here and it allowed everyone the opportunity to unwind a bit. 


Our last adventure of the day was the Tamaki Maori Village.   
It was a challenge getting there and buying our tickets, but after a whole lot of running around, a pitstop at an iSite tourist spot we eventually got squared away.   

The Tamaki Maori Village was a fun cross between the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii and Medieval Times.   It was extremely commercialized (as was everything else about Rotorua), but  actually ended up being one of our favorite activities of the whole trip.  

Everyone was dressed head-to-toe in traditional Maori costume and we enjoyed the "stations" where we learned little tidbits about the Maori way of life.  

…including how to do the Haka!  (you can see Spence, Glen, and Adam if you look on the back row) 

Ellie got to try the poi ( a traditional Maori rhythmic activity)...

As always, Ellie loved meeting people and learning more about them.  

The Maoris only came to New Zealand about 800-years-ago, but in that relatively short amount of time developed some rich traditions...

After some more traditional Maori song and dance….

we enjoyed a hangi feast that came straight out of the ground.  

It really was an enjoyable experience and one we would highly recommend to someone spending time in the Rotorua region! 

Driving home from the Maori Village was the latest at night we ever drove while we were there, but it was also the coolest.   There were animals EVERYWHERE on the way home, including two wallabies which practically sent our car into hyperventilating excited hysterics.    We were convinced they were baby kangaroos until we got back to the cabin and looked it up.   It turns out that they were actually dama wallabies, which had been introduced to NZ from Australia and ironically only lived in the very immediate vicinity of where we happen to be!

We didn't get any pictures of the wallabies we saw, but this is the same species.

Seeing the wallabies was the perfect way to end another adventurous day in New Zealand! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 4: Zipping through the Trees, Jumping into Canyons, and Some Redwood Trees

Friday, March 13

We spent Friday the 13th experiencing some of the best of the adrenaline and adventure that New Zealand has to offer!  

Make-a-Wish had arranged for us to start the day at the Rotorua Canopy Tours….an awesome zip lining tour through a native New Zealand forest!  

We had done an adventure ropes course last summer in Asheville, so really we weren't  nervous at all about zipping around in the trees 72-feet above the ground.  In fact, even Adam and Ellie happily jumped right in (or off the edge as the case may have it) without even a moment's hesitation.  

The ziplining itself was pretty exhilarating, but honestly I enjoyed the walking and the guides teaching us about the native New Zealand forest almost as much.

We learned a lot about the 500-year-old trees we were standing in and the danger to the unique forest ecology that small land mammals (like possums, stoats, rats, etc) were posing.   Because of the geographical isolation of NZ, ecologists estimate that up to 90% of native wildlife and plant life found there is endemic, meaning that it can be found only in New Zealand, and nowhere else in the world.

Being avid birdwatchers, we loved seeing the different variety of birds that resides on the other side of the world.    Being in the middle of the forest, we actually saw some pretty cool birds along the way (that the guides told us all about).   

All in all, other than the lack of bathroom facilities along the way, it was an enjoyable morning that we would happily repeat….at a course closer home or back in New Zealand.  :)

After zip lining was done, we drove about an hour south to beautiful Taupo, New Zealand to try what was one of Spencer's most anticipated activities of the whole trip….bungee jumping!    The first commercial  bungee jumping operation in the world was founded in New Zealand and Spencer latched onto this idea that bungee jumping was one of the quintessential items he needed to cross off his bucket list while we were there!  

Spence talked Cami, Emma, and Glen into joining him in his venture, but there was no way on earth Ellie, Adam, or I were going to have anything to do with it.     I think Adam potentially could have been talked into it after having watched everyone else do it safely, but by that time it was too late and     Ellie and I were perfectly content to watch from the sidelines, pet the resident cat, and ponder over the American vs. New Zealand way to spell bungee (or bungy)!

We had the option of a couple of different places to bungee jump, but ultimately picked Taupo Bungy based on the spectacular setting.  The scenery is classic New Zealand and absolutely gorgeous.  Poised 154-feet over the Waikato River, it was hard not to be enchanted by the beauty of this location! 

Spencer wasn't looking much at the scenery though,  was excited to get the jumping started!   He was really happy to be there and didn't even seem all that nervous beforehand.  He had hoped to be able to dip into the water a bit at the bottom, but because of the strength of bungee cords they had to use for his weight, he never did touch on either jump and you can hear his dismay at just missing it!

Cami volunteered to be the next one to take the plunge (literally and figuratively), but you can see in this video how incredibly nervous she was.   She missed touching the water in her first jump.

Emma went next and definitely had the best scream of the day!  I could hear her loud and clear even from across the ravine where I was standing with Ellie and Adam.  She was the only one to touch the water on both of her jumps.

Glen went last and was the one that got the best spin going.

Taupo Bungy (the New Zealand spelling) offered a significantly reduced rate for 2nd jumps, so Emma, Cami, and Spence all opted to try one more time.   Spencer's 2nd jump looks pretty much the same as his first jump.  Emma went off backward, did a lot less screaming in her second jump, but otherwise it is mostly the same.  Cami's 2nd jump, however, was pretty spectacular.   Not only did she barely look nervous, but she went off backwards, AND touched the water.    She's practically a bungee jumping expert now!

Here are some more crazy pictures of them….

After all that expenditure of adrenaline in one day, we needed somewhere a little more relaxing to finish off the day.  I had read in the guidebooks about some New Zealand redwood forests and found that there was one right on the way back to our lodging for the night.    We stopped there and were immediately taken in by the peacefulness and quiet beauty that lay there.  

The redwoods were planted in the 1800's by settlers who intended to use them for lumber, so they weren't quite as large or as grand as the behemoth redwoods in California that are thousands of years old, but they were breathtaking nonetheless. 

The wending path through the trees proved to be the ideal way to end an intense day...

…and sealed the deal for falling in love with this beautiful country!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 3: A Hobbit Village

Thursday, March 12

We checked out of our fancy hotel in Auckland and made our way to Hobbiton, Middle Earth (aka Matamata, New Zealand).   
What?   You didn't know this place was real?  

Well, it is, and it's as charming and beautiful as it looks!

The stunning location  was discovered by a location scout in a helicopter and somehow the film producers talked the owners of the working sheep farm into giving up a portion of their bucolic little paradise to build a hobbit village.    The knolls, the pond, and the  rustic trees provided a perfect backdrop for the hobbit homes and it's not hard to see why Peter Jackson (producer of LOTR and Hobbit trilogies) ultimately picked this location over other potential sites.    

The hobbit houses were made in 60-100% scale, so that people could be made to look taller or shorter based on which size of house they were standing next to.   For instance Gandalf would be filmed next to a 60% scale house, so it would look like he was towering over it.   Hobbits and dwarves were filmed next to the 90-100% scale houses to make it look like it was just the right size for them.  Interestingly all the outdoor shots were done on-site there in Hobbiton, but all of the indoor filming of hobbit houses was done in the studio in Wellington.

This hobbit house was  built to 60% scale…making us look like giants! 

This house, however, was at 90% scale, which made Cami look just about the perfect hobbit size!  

For the Lord of the Rings movies, the hobbit village was created using temporary  materials, which meant that they didn't last long past the filming.  After the smashing success of the LOTR movies, they decided that for the Hobbit series,  they would use materials which could potentially last about 50-years.   The farm owners and Peter Jackson now have a lucrative partnership going that keeps this location hopping with tourists from all over the world.

Even if you weren't a huge fan, it's not hard to be enchanted by Peter Jackson's attention to detail in the creation of the individual hobbit homes.   There are curtains and knickknacks in the windows…

flowers and gardens blooming…

…and props in the yard to show what the livelihood of the hobbit was that "lived" in that house...
Outside a beekeeper hobbit's home
They even artificially aged everything to make it look even more realistic.   The moss on the fence is actually a mixture of paint, glue, and sawdust...

We were interested to learn that all hobbit extras used in the films were hired from the surrounding community, and had to be 5'4" or under, with naturally curly hair, and couldn't have too straight of teeth.  Ellie was tickled to know that she would have qualified on 2/3 of the stipulations.  :)   

All in all, even though the tour was canned and touristy, it was still completely delightful to see the charming scenes from a well-loved movie come to life.   Ellie enjoyed trying on hobbit clothing at  Green Dragon Inn and everyone was happy to have the opportunity to "meet" Gandalf the Gray!

To me, this visit to Hobbiton encapsulated a lot of what New Zealand is all about…beauty, ingenuity, and charm.   It's one of the locations that we visited on our trip, that I would actually go back and happily visit again someday.   If nothing else, just to take in the loveliness of the surroundings! 

 After that, we drove an hour or so  to our new place of habitation ( a house on Lake Tarawera) and Glen and the girls prepared  coconut crusted mahimahi for dinner.   Glen, Adam, and Spence had caught the mahimahi just the day before and it was surprisingly delicious, especially considering we rarely eat seafood because of Glen's allergy to a lot of it!

The new house was beautifully situated overlooking the stunning Lake Tarawera and we liked having the room to spread out.   The only couple of things that left a little to be desired, was the fact that  the wifi only worked in a 5-foot radius around the router and the water pump wasn't working at all for the first 12-hours we were there, which meant we had no water to flush toilets, to brush teeth, to drink, or to wash dishes.   It was a long, thirsty first night there, but thankfully it was fixed first thing in the morning and it proved to be a great homebase for the 2nd leg of our New Zealand adventures.

Stay tuned for more!   

google analytics