New Zealand - North Island

Our first day in New Zealand and we're already feeling the energy (or craziness) of the people. Here in the middle of Auckland a huge tower at Sky City is a restaurant, observation tower and bungy launch pad!   Only two blocks down the street another contraption with huge rubber bands pops a capsule with poeple inside 15 stories into the air.
Auckland Harbour is huge. The bay even contains several islands with ferry service.   Our friends, Stuart and Sharon, picked us up from the city and gave us a fabulous tour of Mission Bay.
They also took us to two of their favorite wineries, including Soljans.
  We had lunch at the Kumeu Garden Center where old train cars served as dining cars overlooking
the small lake and gardens.
We had a lovely night's stay at Stuart and Sharon's home in Orewa.   The next day, we did some trekking with them on the Shakespeare Heritage trail, where we spotted a New Zealand Wood Pigeon- about the size of a small turkey. The Maori indians used to eat these large birds,
but now they are protected.
Cruising friends, Kevin & Megan, invited us for a lovely dinner at their motorhome parked right on the Auckland Harbour. They Freedom Camp there at no charge!   They introduced us to Jude & Kiri, who have been
full-time RVers for 8 years.
All over the North Island of New Zealand we saw these purple and white blooming Agapantha flowers.   Why are we dressed in thermal wet suits,
helmets & boots?
Because we are going to enter the Aranui Cave in Waitomo to go Black Water rafting and look for glow worms. We were in the dark for 3 hours.   If you look really hard, you will see some little blue glowing dots. Picture a ceiling that looks like the Milky Way in a night sky. That's what we saw. Amazing!
Later in the day we took the Ruakuri Trail which had at least 3 caves that the trail went right through.   Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, including the Pohutu Geyser. It erupts every hour and was located about 100 yds. behind our hotel.
We played at Arikikapakapa Golf course right across the street. Our hotel is in the background to the left
and the geyser was going off on the right.
  Where have you played golf and had boiling mud pots and hills of sulpher deposits on the course? This gave a whole new meaning to the word "hazards".
In the nearby Whakarewarewa Forest, we hiked among redwood trees that made us feel like dwarves.   At the Agrodome in Rotorua, we watched an expert sheep shearer at work.
On our way south we stopped at
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
We thought we must have landed on the moon!
  As we walked through the nature reserve,
the colors we saw were intense. We were surrounded by steaming pools of color with strong sulphur smells.
Red against dark green with a perfect blue sky. . .   and lime green against chalk white.
In Taupo, Huka Falls added crystal clear blue
to the day's palette. . .
  and Lake Taupo sported warm weather, beautiful skies and a snow covered Mt. Ruapehu in the background.
We decided to attempt the Tongariro Volcano Crossing - billed as one of the top 10 most beautiful one day hikes in the world. It is described as an easy/moderate hike. Are you kidding?!?!   We began the hike at the circle at top left of the picture. After two hours with signs on the path warning that you should turn back if you were unsure of your abilities; we approached the South Crater walking between lava bombs.
After 3 hours of climbing and fighting 50-60 mph. winds that threatened to blow us off the precipice, we reached the top of the far rim of the South Crater.   Paul looked back at our trail over the South Crater and read a sign telling hikers what to do if the volcano erupts while you are there!!
Don't let the smile fool you.
I was scared to death sitting on the rim of the
Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing.
We had climbed 800 meters -
(2,600 ft. or 260 stories!!)
  Paul found a "lounge rock" and sat down to look back at the ridge we had just crossed. The volcanic sand on the path down was hot and we saw steam vents
coming from the rocks nearby.
After 4 1/2 hours. we reached the Emerald Lakes that sat between the Red and Central craters.  

We then started our 1,200 meter decent
(3,800 ft. or 380 stories!!).
We finished all 19.7 kilometers in 8 hours.
Yes, it was worth it.

Look familiar? It's Mt. Ruapehu, better known as
Mt. Doom in "The Lord of the Rings".
  Kiwi crossing road sign
Talk about rural lodging! Our log cabin in Mangaweka came complete with sheep.   In Wellington, Paul was approached by one of the Orcs from "The Lord of the Rings" at Weta Cave where the movie was created.
Gollum was worried about Vicki.   No, we weren't in an accident. This is a scene from the Bollywood movie, "Players" (a remake of "The Italian Job") that was being filmed right outside our hotel.

Where to eat in National Park Village:

The Station, (right at the Train Depot) tel. 07 892-2881- Who would have dreamed that really lovely, upscale, beautifully presented food would be anywhere in National Park Village? Chef Miles Skinner, a Maori/Canadian, provides great dishes with moderate prices.

Where to eat in Wellington:

Dragon's, Tory Street - wonderful Chinese/Cantonese dim sum - Get there early to avoid huge lines and get a table. Consider sitting with strangers at a shared table for 10 for a fun time. Inexpensive and authentic.