Archive for January, 2011

Black Water Rafting in the Caves of Waitomo

When we arrived to Waitomo we were super excited to see what the area had to offer.  Waitomo is famous for its glow worm caves and also has a number of other caves to explore to get your adventure on.  We found an excursion that would take us black water rafting through the caves to see not only glow worms but also tons of other cave wonders just waiting to be discovered underground.  We decided to go with one that was going to be the most awesome and memorable.  We didn’t want to pussy foot around with this adventure, so we chose the longest and most “dangerous” black water rafting excursion available through the Black Water Rafting Co. in Waitomo.  We would spend at least 3 hours down in the caves and were require to enter the cave by repelling down through a small hole entrance and then float through some glow worm caves and then trek through the caves on foot sometimes in water so deep you cant touch the bottom, climbing water falls, crawling through tight passages, and generally just doing the most exciting routes through the caves.  We got to do all of this and more!

First we arrived at the Black Water Rafting Co. and they briefed us on our adventure without revealing too much info.  Our guides, Lucas and Karl were really fun and awesome and told us everything we needed to know.  We got our own tank-top style wet suits, wet suit jackets, boots, harnesses, and helmets and took a few pictures before heading into the small van that took us out to the Ruakuri Cave.

After arriving at the cave entrance, we were taught how to repel down the side of a hill on a rope and got to practice it a few times.  I really didn’t know what to expect in the cave until Karl told us that instead of the incline being a 25 degree angle it would be more like 90.  And guess who was the first to go down…you guessed it.  ME!  The depth of the hole was about 200m and in the beginning it started squeezing into a small hole that I wasn’t sure if some of the others might fit through, but we all made it.  After getting past that small hole, the cave really opened up and was really cool.  Lucas was waiting at the bottom for all of us and I think the repelling part was one of the cooler parts of the caving experience because I had never tried it before and it was awesome!

Once everyone was down we started heading in toward the cave and then came to a stopping point where we were supposed to zip line over a large underground stream onto a small cave plateau.  Uhh…What!  This time they made everyone turn off their helmet lights and really tried to freak us out with this and oh man it was fun!  We all had to wait in line on this grate like structure in this narrow hallway of the cave that had a drop below us.  Good thing the grate was there?  The other girl in our group ended up getting tricked by Lucas who was holding onto her on the zip line and he was saying “Oh I got you, hold on, ok we are gonna count to 3…OH NO” and let her go early.  So fun!  I went on it and shrieked a little but it was so cool.  We took a small break on the cave plateau and got our harnesses off and as we did that I sort of whined saying “Aww, we aren’t using these anymore?!”  Then we had some hot chocolate and cookies to give us a bit of energy before heading in to see the glow worms!

We were all given a black inner tube that they had on the plateau and our next step was to jump butt first into the still black water river below us.  It was about 15ft or more of a drop and almost everyone nearly completely submerged when they landed in the water.  The water was kind of cold, as you might expect in a cave, but it wasn’t entirely unbearable.  So then we all started pulling ourselves along a rope that was attached to the side of the cave wall behind us and started heading down a long long tunnel on our tubes.  We all turned our lights off and headed on down.  I was in front for a while and at first it was kind of terrifying not being able to see anything except little tiny glow worm specs all above you.  It was beautiful, but totally spooky, especially after seeing movies like the Descent.  After a while I realized Lucas had gone far ahead of all of us and I knew he was scheming something.  I could totally hear some rustling and saw a glint of a silhouette on a rock ledge ahead and as soon as I floated by him he beamed on his light and scared the crap out of me!  I knew he was there, what the heck!!  He told us some cool info about glow worms and then we headed on back to that plateau area, but this time we all interlocked our feet and arms with everyone and their tubes and we got a ride back as Lucas pulled us along the water.  At this point, since we weren’t really moving much ti did get quite cold.

When we got back to the plateau, we chucked our inner tubes back up on the top of the ledge and started doing jumping jacks and hopping around to get warm.  Then we headed by foot down the opposite cave path treading through the water.  Sometimes the water would get really deep and I couldn’t touch the ground so I was basically swimming.  We then reached a corridor that was dubbed something like the drunken walkway because the path was full of uneven surfaces and covered in water so when you walked you were constantly flailing all over the place to find your footing and balance.  We found some small tunnels to climb through as well and here is Steve coming out of a short small tunnel.

We then treaded more water, hopped down slight ledges and even climbed waterfalls!  The path after this point was getting smaller and a bit more narrow, but it was never so small we had to entirely crawl.  The waterfall climbing was awesome and sometimes we came to passages where there would be more than one way to go, Lucas and Karl would shout out to us that we should go Left, Right, Right, etc.  They let us all go first which was really cool too.  Then at one point they played a game with us where they said “Ok here are the rules, everyone turn off your lights aaaaaand…..SEE YA!  Now you have to try and find us!!”  We ended up just meeting them up ahead a little ways and they took us up another waterfall.  We also came to a spot where the water was really calm and it was in a pool like area and there was a resident freshwater eel that lived in it.  He came around and saw us all and said hi.

After an amazing time in the cave we climbed the last waterfall and up ahead I saw light at the end of the tunnel.  It was really sad to see it because I wanted to keep exploring and seeing more of the cave :(  It was the cave exit.  But we all came out right smack dab in the middle of the rain forest and took a quick photo of us before heading back to town.

We got back and I wanted to do it again!  I wish we could have gone longer or done different cave paths.  It was by far my favorite activity we did in New Zealand.  It was just so unlike anything I had ever done and it was awesome!  They gave us some free soup and bagels at the cafe back in town and we of course bought the CD with all the pictures of our adventure.  Since it was very wet I couldn’t take my own camera, but Karl managed to get some pretty cool shots of our experience.

After all was said and done and after a hot shower, we started driving a long while toward the Coromandel Peninsula.  We had heard that there were supposed to be some cool things to see here before we headed off to Auckland to return home.  So that’s where we are off to next!

The Hobbiton Movie Set!

Ok, I am going to apologize in advance for this post.  Since the Hobbiton movie sets were being rebuilt for the new movie, everyone had to sign an NDA saying we couldn’t post any pics or video online whatsoever otherwise they would sue us.  So I have very few pictures of the experience, BUT I am totally fine with sharing the photos to those who can come over and view them with us.  Sorry family/friends who can’t get over here, you’ll just have to wait for the movie to come out!

Our next destination was the town of Matamata and visiting Hobbiton!  We were both pretty excited about this tour, but Steve was thrilled!  We got on a bus after parking in tow town center and started heading off into the countryside to get to Hobbiton.  the entire set was visually concealed from any main roads and the Hobbiton Tour group had exclusive rights to take people onto the set.  In fact, we were told by the guides that even they were surprised at the fact that the movie company was even still allowing tours onto the sets so close to them finishing the sets and beginning filming.  They said they might have to close down the tours at any time so they could begin filming so we were lucky we got there when we did.  Another thing that made it really lucky was the fact that all the sets had originally been stripped down after the original movies were made as they thought they were no longer needed.  So for some time all the tour was were large holes in side of hills.  We even heard an account from another traveler prior to coming to New Zealand that they regretted spending the money just to see a bunch of holes in the ground.  Luckily for us we got to see everything completely rebuilt to look exactly like they were supposed to in the movie and also some new sets as well!  I got tons of photos and even some video as well, Steve ran around in the party field under the party tree.  The only photo I think I can show that wont piss anyone off is this one of the sign when we arrived and another of us jumping up in front of the party tree, as there are no sets you can see in the picture.

I’ll make another post when the movie comes out with some of the pictures I got later down the road.

After touring the sets, we headed back over to this small barn near the set entrance and they showed everyone how a sheep was sheered and we also got to feed some baby lambs.  I took a video of the entire sheep sheering process and you can hear Steve laughing pretty hysterically for some unknown reason the entire time, haha.  But here are some pics of the sheep sheering experience.  The first is a funny picture of a sheep looking through the crack in the door awaiting his sheered doom and the other is me attempting to get a picture with a lamb, but he was camera shy.

After Hobbiton it was off to the small town, or area I should say, of Waitomo.  See you tomorrow!

Trout Fishing in Rotorura

After the Tongariro Alpine Crossing there was still a decent amount of daylight left in the day so we headed north to our next destination, Rotorura.  Rotorura is known for its diverse geothermal activity and geysers.  I was kind of excited to see some geothermal stuff there.  Along the way to Rotorura we saw some interesting geothermal steam coming out of the ground in someones farm!  Apparently some people in outlying towns just live and work around the geothermal activity in the ground.  Pretty neat!

Then it was off to the local Rotorura holiday park for some much needed rest after the all day hike.  The following day we weren’t sure what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to go check out some geothermal stuff or just sort of take a day off.  We were sort of in the mood to relax a bit and decided to try our luck at fishing in Lake Rotorura!  The City of Taupo and Rotorura are known for having large lakes full of large rainbow trout and we were still itching for a fishing opportunity while we were on vacation so we decided to relax and do that.

We were directed to the town hunting and fishing store to inquire about possible fishing charters and rod rentals.  We ran into a super friendly and informative man named Neal, who was also originally from the states, who totally hooked us up with some rods, a few lures, day licenses, and even some fishing tips and locations for us to have an awesome day of fishing.  We asked him about some basic fishing etiquette and techniques.  It had been well over a decade since I had done any fishing so I wanted to know at least a little bit of a refresher.  We were told most people fly fish in the lake to catch the trout, but he said we could still catch without having to fly fish.  Neal also told us about some locations on the lake where we would have the best luck.  Basically wherever a small river or stream flows into the lake is where the trout like to hang out as they like to sit near the mouths of the river and take in the fresher oxygen from the water.  He also made us a friendly deal that if we caught a fish we were welcome to call him up and he would invite us over and smoke the fish for us and we could have it for dinner!  Now I have to admit, having a stranger invite you over to their house after meeting them so briefly is a bit skeptical, but we figured, well if we catch one and want it smoked for free we’ll think about the offer…but first we gotta catch the damn thing!

So we got our gear and headed out with Neal giving us a heartfelt “Good luck!” and went to get a few more bare essentials before heading over to the lake.  after grabbing some beer and sandwiches for lunch we were ready!  The spot we went fishing at was really pretty.  There were already a handful of people fishing there, all fly fishing, and there were some kids and teens running around hanging out and fishing as well.  We got out stuff ready and began casting!  Steve gave me a few tips on casting after I kept tangling the rod up a couple times, then I got the hang of it.  We didn’t have to cast far, just about 20-30 feet out near the mouth of the river.

The beer in the water is our attempt at using nature as a ice box to keep the beer cold :)  The Lake was really shallow as well, we saw some older kids walk out into the lake with a mask and snorkel and they walked out just over knee deep for at least a hundred feet or more.  After about 30 minutes or so Steve got a bite!  It was exciting to catch one!  We honestly didn’t expect much, but it was cool that we actually did catch one!  He reeled it in and he had it hooked by the dorsal fin! (Shh don’t tell anyone)  We had another fisherman help us out by getting the hook out.  He then asked if we were going to keep it and we wanted to so he told us we should hit him in the head to knock him out so he doesn’t have to die slowly and suffer.  So Steve took a fishing net we borrowed from another fisherman and clonked the fish over the head…numerous times as this fish would just not die.  Then we took it to a rock since it was resilient.  I felt bad for the fish because he would not let go! Poor guy, what a way to go, get your fin stuck then get clocked all over the place and not dieing fast enough :(  He finally stopped moving and we rinsed him off and wrapped him in some newspaper for dinner.

Not a few minutes after Steve caught his fish, I caught one!  YEAH!  It was smaller than the one Steve caught, but that’s good because we kept the bigger one first.  I am proud to say I caught mine all by myself and caught it by the mouth and unhooked it myself and let him go!  It reminded me of being a kid again with my Dad and brother fishing in the lake at Fort Stevens.  So much fun.  After that we didn’t catch anything else, but ended up having a nice chat with another fisherman who was also from the states who was also the one who helped us while catching fish.  We didn’t get a picture of the one I caught, but here I am fishing.

So after a nice couple of hours fishing we decided to pack it in and head back.  We were still intrigued by Neal’s offer to smoke our fish.  We went with our gut instinct and decided to take him up on his offer.  We called him up and he told us where he lived, which wasn’t a minute or two outside of the main roads from Rotorura and we greeted him at his Kiwi home.  We met his wife who was also really nice and she was also a computer and gamer geek like us!  She was busy working at her computer while we were there, but we got to go out back and get the fish ready to be smoked with Neal.  He gutted and filleted it and he brought out lots of spices and things to put on the fish.  He told us in the store that he had been a chef for 35 years before so we trusted he knew what sort of flavors to add to the fish.  He ended up adding a little salt and pepper to both, then some brown sugar onto one and some lemon juice and chili sauce on the other from his lemon tree in the back.  I got to pick the lemon!  Then we went into his garage/shed/man cave and we chose some wood chips to use for the smoker.  We chose a bag of maple wood and thought it would taste good with the both flavors of the fish.  Then he mixed in a few bourbon wood chips into the mix and we let it smoke!

He then took us back to the shed and showed us his mini bourbon distillery.  He made his own bourbon and he was more than happy to have us taste some.  We mixed them with a little dry ginger ale and the drinks were really good. I don’t normally drink bourbon or whiskey, but his creations were incredibly smooth and you could pick out distinct differences in the flavors he made.  He had real bourbon chips he soaked his alcohol in to retain lots of interesting flavors.  In New Zealand is it legal to distill your own liquors.  We enjoyed tasting his creations and then went to go check on the fish.  It was nearly done.  His wife joined us after we brought out some bread and spreads for the fish and we all enjoyed some unbelievably delicious smoked trout.  It was so damn good I was drooling for more.

Throughout the evening, Neal’s cat, Mingles, joined in on the feast as well.  He gave some raw fish to Mingles and he ate with us.  Mingles was a cool cat, he was very friendly and sweet.  So we took some pictures to remember Mingles by :)

All in all, we had a great time chatting with Neal and enjoying his drinks and smoked trout that we caught all by ourselves!  It was really cool to meet a Kiwi in his home, even though he was originally from the states, you could tell he really enjoyed the Kiwi lifestyle and loved to share it with others as well.  So after the jokes and stories and fun ended, we headed back to our campsite and got another nights rest in Rotorura.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (aka Mount Doom!)

We awoke a little late this morning and managed to miss all the local shuttles that would tale us out to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  The only real benefits of getting on a shuttle would be to have it drop us off at one end of the 7-9 hours hike and pick us up on the other side, as the trail was not a loop.  We were kind of bummed at our sleepiness, but decided to take our car out there anyway and thought perhaps we could at least go halfway and turn back!

We were driving along and driving along and then came to a town that we looked up on the map and realized we had gone too far!  We just totally missed the turn off.  Turned back, found the road, drove a while longer then almost missed the second turn off!  We did manage to find it by the early afternoon and got on a 4km gravel road to get to the car park for the crossing.  We made some lunch and packed lots of water and made sure not to leave valuables in the car and headed out!

The beginning of the trail was relatively easy, pretty much slowly curving gravel paths with a very slight incline.  Then we got to a more uneven patch of the trail that was mostly dirt with a few boards places around it in some areas.  This part started taking us slightly more up and also took us along a stream with waterfalls and cool rock formations along a large rocky hill.  All the while during the hike we could clearly see Mount Doom in the distance slowly getting closer and closer!

It was a very beautiful tramp.  There was then a really long section of  ever so slightly inclined flat planes with lots of very rich mineral streams running through it.  The path here actually turned into an upraised wooden walkway at least 3-4 feet off the ground with the streams running under and around the path.  The streams looked like they had a high concentration of iron in them and it even seemed as though you could see thick patches of rusted iron peeling away from the stream, a geographers dream!

We kept on and finally came to a portion of the trail that had a sign at the base of it stating something along the lines of “Consider turning back” and had a list of questions to ask yourself to make sure you were prepared such as “Do you have enough drinking water, food, sun protection, adequate attire, etc.”  At first Just reading the bottom having the sign tell me to go back was kind of terrorizing, but then we looked at each other and said “We can do this.  We are totally prepared.”  We also had a first aide kit and survival kit just in case.  So we continued onward and this was the part of the trail that became very steep very quickly, but as we would come to find out later, would not be the steepest portion of the trail.  The trail had stairs built into some areas to accommodate the incline and we took many short breaks along the way before FINALLY reaching  the next level area.  This was the base of Mount Doom where the trail split off and you could either continue the Tongariro Crossing or ascend the actual volcano itself and reach the top to see the craters!  The sign said it was 3 hours each way to reach the top, plus tack on the fact that it looked like a nearly vertical incline.  We passed, but we did take a longer break here and look at the tiny specs of people treading up and down Mount Doom.  We could also see a little bit of steam coming off the side of the volcano. In the picture below you can make out a small little nearly transparent white thingy coming off the mountain just near the top left. Also, if you look really hard you can see some people on the trail up the mountain, however they are harder to see in this compressed version of the actual photo.  There is a small little spec of a person near the base of the mountain, he is in red.  In the original you can just barely make out a few near the top.  Incredible.

Maybe one day we will hike it :) Also, Mount Doom is actually called Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand, it is just the volcano that the Lord of the Rings movie makers used as their set for Mount Doom.  We were wondering if some of the more tailored parts of the trail were built for the sake of the film makers years ago while filming.

Just a bit further from this point we came to a gigantic flat crater.  It was a long stretch of flat trail leading to the other end of the crater.  The distance looks deceiving and actually is about a 1 or 2km long!

In the picture above, Mount Doom is off to the right of us.  And here is a picture of the same flat crater but from the other end looking back at the trail.

Now as soon as we got to this incline, this is where it got really steep and with no help from the stairs before.  At some points we were literally climbing with our hands to help us up along the trail.  It was very physically taxing, but we made sure to take lots of small breaks to give our muscles a quick rejuvenation before continuing onward.  The map we had also indicated that this leg of the trail was the steepest going in our direction so we both knew once we passed this threshold the rest would mostly be cake.  If you look at the picture with Steve standing in front of the long flat trail through the crater, you can look at the landscape to his left and that is basically this leg of the trail.  Where you see that first darker rock area to his left that extends from the bottom of the crater up to the top of the ridge, that’s the highest point (that you can see in that picture) of this leg of the trail.  And then finally, this picture below is when we reached the top!  And yes, there was still a little bit to go, haha.

This small peak just up ahead in the photo was the actual high point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but there was another trail that veered off that was 2 hours each way that would take you to the top of Mount Tongariro.  We passed on that one as well for the sake of getting back to the car before dark.  At this point in the trail there were some really fantastic geographical things going on.  To the right of the photo there was this large red area of rock with a huge grey gash in the side of it.  I do not know what it is or how it got there or why, but it was amazing to look at.  It reminded me of the strange powers the earth has when it slowly moves and changes the landscapes.  You can also see Mount Doom behind that as well.

We finally ventured to the top of the high point of the crossing and saw before us bodies of water!  We saw Emerald Lake, known for its emerald green waters, and then we saw some brightly colored pools of sulfuric acid!  At least I think they were sulfuric acid.  If we had been able to hitch a ride back to the car park on the end of the trail we started at, we would have continued onward down this side of the mountain and along the acid pools and the lake.  At least we got to witness their beauty while we were up there.

It was a truly amazing experience.  I honestly can’t say I’ve ever been on a real hike or tramp in my life, and boy did I pick a doozy for my first time.  Not was it beautiful and incredibly interesting geographically, but it was probably the hardest I will ever attempt…unless we go back and try out Mount Doom! See you at the bottom!

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