Where am I?

Right on My Way Home

May 12, 2006 at 11:06 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

No, this post isn't about Wellington, or about my first steps on the South Island. I'm out of time, and I'm heading north again. There's no loop to make, so I drive back the way I came. This time I'd like to spend the night at Lake Taupo (not in Lake Taupo, thanks just the same). Then I'll drive all the way back to Auckland for an evening flight home.

On the way back to Taupo, I notice some beautiful scenery - and maybe some logging debris? By mid-afternoon, I'm back at the lake.

road to taupo logging? it's a big lake

What now? I need a hotel for the night, but I don't feel like looking for one yet. There's a sign for Waikato Falls: let's go see what that looks like.

waikato falls sign waikato rapids waikato river

Hmm... more of a rapids, really. It's nice, but I've seen a larger one, somewhere, haven't I? Oh well - there's still daylight. Let's go look at some volcanic activity! Everyone says to visit Rotorua for volcanic activity, not Lake Taupo, but I'm stubborn. I think I already mentioned that Lake Taupo was formed by a giant volcanic explosion, and there are still lots of reminders in the area. You can drive along the highway and see plumes of steam rising in the middle of a sheep pasture. I suppose it keeps the sheep warm.

Just across the road from the Waikato Falls overlook is a narrow lane leading to the Craters of the Moon, run by the NZ government. Most of the volcanic areas seem to be private.

crater of the moon sign fumaroles volcano trash Nice fumaroles - it's a shame about the trash. I suppose a private park might pick some of that up, but then again maybe not. At least there's a wooden footbridge. But there isn't much else: the vulcanism consists mainly of holes in the ground, with steam rising up. The steam carries minerals, I suppose, and also harbors some interesting flora. Hey, there's a fantail! That's probably the best picture of a fantail that I have: they're too fidgety. footbridge crater vent crater's edge fantail mud bath? Ah, it's good to see that Americans aren't the only ones with bad taste.

barbie van

The sun is setting, so it's time to find that hotel.

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Age of the Blisters

May 12, 2006 at 10:34 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

It's morning, and time to hit the Art Deco City (TM). Oh damn - wasn't I going to wait until you guessed that?

napier square napier square flowers

Have you noticed a faint PG Wodehouse theme in this trip? New Zealand feels very much like the English countryside does, and it's difficult to avoid musing on Threepwoods and Finknottles, as one carooms along the wrong side of the country lanes. Unfortunately, while I suspect that Bertie's food was often fouler, I also suspect that he got to drink better beer.

Napier, though, fits right into Aunt Agatha's Age of the Blisters. An earthquake in 1931 destroyed the colonial British town, and it was rebuilt almost entirely in the Art Deco style. I'm a little late for the February festival, but happily they don't put the buildings away during the winter - only the people disappear. It's a little less ghostly that last night, but I still can't help feeling that this isn't the social hotspot of New Zealand.

Shrugging off my malaise, I stroll up to the central square and start the self-guided "art deco walk". There seem to be a lot of buildings that I'd like to photograph: out of at least 100, I'll cull a few specimens.

ye olde art deco shoppe ye olde art deco chariot theatre

Have you noticed the awful awnings, yet? They're nice when it rains, and probably nice when it's sunny too, but they make it almost impossible to look at the buildings - unless you're on the opposite side of the street.

telegraph tango again govt building

On a more positive note, observe the streetlamps. They buried all the power and phone lines after the earthquake, so there weren't any poles to hang lights off of - nor any poles for street signs.

hastings street old and new

The seafront itself reminds me of the Palace of Fine Arts. Well it would, wouldn't it? Plus, there's mini-golf! seafront arch napier soundshell minigolf There's a fine line between art deco and kitsch, but to my keen eye the distinction is clear. kitsch art deco You're probably sick of art deco by now, but there's an interesting bank that mixes in Maori motifs.

bank exterior bank ceiling bank ceiling And so I bid a fond farewell to Napier, the Art Deco City (TM). Note the kiwi on the city arms.

city arms napier library

mural bottle shop

Now that the weather is nicer, maybe I can get back to Taupo by noon.

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When it Rains, it Pours

May 11, 2006 at 11:28 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

The rain doesn't stop through Cambridge, nor in Oxford. Yes, I'm still in New Zealand.

I reach Taupo around lunch time, but the rain is still bucketing down. The storm drains remind me of Foster City, but these are more stylish. taupo storm drain

Taupo sounds like Tahoe, and that's no accident. They're both mountain lakes, but Taupo is the result of a gargantuan volcanic explosion, not so terribly long ago. So it's like Crater Lake in Oregon, only much bigger. From the air, it looks like africa. lake taupo in the rain

After a tolerable pinot noir and a bite of fresh fish, I decide that the weather might be better in Napier. So I continue on the highway, south-east. There are some semis sharing the road, so I pull off frequently to take pictures. There's a pretty little waterfall coming down from the lake. You don't think it's so little? Visit Iguazu.


Driving on, the sun comes out. I stop to take pictures of sheep, grapes, and bait. Look, I've never seen a BP station selling bait before. The girl behind the counter seems pretty insecure about: I half-expect her to try to confiscate the camera. sunlit distance hill sheep grapes bp bait

I arrive in Napier as the sun sets.

napier sunset

Have I mentioned why I'm in Napier? Besides the restraining order, barring me from Wellington? No? I guess you'll have to wait until tomorrow. It's on Hawke's Bay, which looks quite a bit like Monterey to me, but that isn't the reason. I check into the Bella Vista motel: it's a local chain. The price is a new high at NZ$110, but that's still cheap for the US, and it comes with internet access. Ah, this is why I brought the Airport Express: there's nothing like wifi in a tiny motel room. So I check email and post, before going out for a beer. hawkes bay wifi napier at night Napier seems to be deserted tonight, but there are rednecks - excuse me - fishermen at the Thirsty Dog (no pictures). On the way there, a love-lorn local accosts me to ask "why do they do it?". This is deep philosophy: there are, perhaps, as many answers as there are people. I tell him that, and advise another beer.

I get a pizza from a local chain called Hell, and an illegal bottle of Argentinian Malbec. This is possibly the worst meal I've had in New Zealand, but it's still pretty good. And if I'm bored, there's always tango. No, really. hell's angels milango

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Hate Among the Kiwis

May 11, 2006 at 07:02 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

Why am I in Otorohanga? Aside from its proximity to the Waitomo caves, it's more or less nowhere. Except... it's the site of the Otorohanga Kiwi House (and native bird park). These friendly folks maintain kiwis in an indoor environment, which swaps day for night so that the (nocturnal) kiwis are awake at the same time we are.

I'd like to see a kiwi, but staying up late for a nature walk sounds like a lot of work, and there's no guarantee that you'll actually see any kiwis. Given my track record of seeing bears in Yosemite, the Kiwi House sounded like my best shot.

I'm doing my best to hang onto my jet lag, but it's slowly slipping away. By now, getting up at 06:30 is a little harder, but still feels like getting up around 10:00. This gives me plenty of time to pack up and get out of the motel by 09:00, when the kiwi house opens.

In fact, I get there at 08:30. The rain is pouring down, so I read the Lonely Planet guide in the car, trying to decide if I want to spend tonight in Taupo, or push on to Napier (the Art Deco City). I have to pass through Taupo either way, so I decide to stop there for lunch, and decide then.

The rain doesn't stop, but the kiwi house opens on time, and I wander in. The first room is the kiwi room: it's dark, but after a while my eyes adjust and it looks more like a moonlit night. There's a large glassed-off enclosure for the kiwis, and an L-shaped corridor around it. The kiwi area is separated in half by a fence with netting, and I start to see kiwis.

There are two in the room: Atu, a great spotted kiwi, and Rod Stewart, a northern brown kiwi.

atu sign rod stewart sign

Kiwis are pretty big - about the size and weight of a small house-cat. So you'd think they'd be easy enough to photograph. I knew the darkness would be a problem, and naturally the Kiwi House doesn't allow flash photography. But they are fast - on foot or standing still. In the second picture below, you can see Atu's beak in three different places at once. The camera's EXIF data shows that happening within a 0.320-second exposure, if I'm reading it correctly. atu profile atu triple-beak

I quickly find out why the netting is in place: it seems kiwis are territorial, and when Atu and Rod get close to the fence at the same time, Atu attacks. Kiwi fight!

kiwi fight 1 kiwi fight 2 kiwi fight 3 Rod is supposed to be blind, and didn't seem to know that Atu was there, or what was happening to him. But he didn't really stay away from the fence, either. There's no real blood: Atu just pokes Rod with her beak, whenever he's in range.

The kiwi fight is fun, but after a while I move on to look at the geckos. These are also nocturnal. Here's a leopard gecko, and another gecko whose name I didn't catch.

leopard gecko another gecko

The Kiwi House also takes in injured birds, and keeps them or returns them to the wild, if possible. The rain was still coming down, so most of the birds had enough sense to stay dry. I saw some falcons, and a harrier, but they wouldn't come out for pictures. Here's an owl with OCD, though. OCD owl

They also labelled all the native plants in the preserve. Here's how big a kauri tree gets in about 34 years.

young kauri

The only animals you can really rely on, in the rain, are the ducks.

satanic duck more ducks

There are some oystercatchers, a spur-winged plover, and lots of birds that I don't see the names of. Sorry.

oystercatchers unknown bird spur-winged plover In the walk-in aviary, I hear some tuis or bellbirds, but all I see are some red-crowned parakeets. Maybe the green one is the female? parakeets orange fungus

The rain is still coming down as I finish with the Kiwi House. As I start the drive north-west, I follow a sign pointing to Cambridge, which allows me to avoid Hamilton. From Cambridge I drive south-east again, and start to see more signs of autumn. autumn

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Dilmah Again?

May 10, 2006 at 12:01 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

Next on the Kauri Coast highway is Tane Mahuta. This is the big one.

tane mahuta parking tane mahuta: you are here

But what would a walk among the kauri be, without a wooden footbridge? Oh wait, there's something blocking the path. I hesitate to say anything bad about the NZ-DOC, so I'll assume that this is perfectly safe. Coming around the corner, I see Tane Mahuta. kauri footbridge fallen tree tane mahuta He's big. He's old. He's suffered some damage through the years.

tane mahuta plaque tane mahuta trunk tane mahuta damage tane mahuta canopy After paying my respects, I climb into the Rattletrap and head north again. It's been a long day, and I have at least another hour of driving before I reach Opononi, where I'm spending the night.

Opononi and Omapere are two beach towns on the Hokianga harbor. They run together, more or less, and the Lonely Planet lists both together with the subheading "population 630". I believe that could be stretching the truth a bit: I never saw more than 63 locals. However, they're lucky folks: it's a beautiful spot on the map. hokianga harbor trees in hokianga hokianga harbor

hokianga harbor hokianga harbor

I stopped at the Opononi Lighthouse Motel (NZ$90). The charming ladies who run the place had refurbished it to modern standards, but kept the 1950s kitsch. lighthouse street view lighthouse unit lighthouse unit view

The view from the back was also pleasant, and the tea was Dilmah, of course. I'm beginning to suspect a trend: is this really New Zealand, or have I wandered off to Sri Lanka?

dilmah lighthouse back view

The day ended with a beautiful sunset, and I walked up the road to dine at a nearby hotel (seafood and coconut-milk curry, with a nice gewurztraminer). There wasn't much nightlife, so I woke early the next morning and found that the harbor was even prettier than yesterday.

sunset 1 sunset 2

hokianga harbor - morning hokianga harbor - morning

So what's next? I haven't made any plans yet, but there's nothing else north of Auckland that really interests me. So I start driving south again, taking a few pictures along the way. At one point I stop to stretch my legs, and discover that the goat's got loose again. goat homestay northern landscape northern landscape northern landscape northern landscape

northern landscape last kauri As I wave goodbye to the last roadside kauri tree, I stop for gas and casually dump about a liter on my fleece jacket. The NZ petrol stations don't use vapor recovery nozzles, so it's easy to start the pump without getting the nozzle firmly into the tank. And for the rest of the trip, my jacket will smell like 91 octane unleaded.

After that, I enter Auckland traffic and get stuck for about an hour, working my way south toward Hamilton, where I stop for a late lunch. I decide that I can reach Otorohanga tonight, see the kiwi house in the morning, and then go on to Waitomo, Taupo, or Napier as the mood takes me.

I reach Otorohanga around 16:30, and check into the Palm Court Motel (NZ$85). It isn't as nice as the Lighthouse was, but it'll do. The sink is large, so I soak and rinse and soak and rinse my stinky fleece jacket. It doesn't help.

So I leave everything to dry, and go to the Thirsty Weta for a great peppercorn steak. I also pick up some yoghurt at the woolworth's, for breakfast: there's dilmah (again!) at the Palm Court, and the local yoghurt is mouth-puckeringly tasty.

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