The ferry from Picton wound its way through the maze of that make up Queen Charlotte Sound and into Cook Strait and eventually to Wellington. We traveled on a magnificent sunny day with only a few fluffy white clouds and flat seas. I was struck by what a great place Queen Charlotte Sound would be to explore in a sail boat. The waterways are sheltered from ocean swell, but exposed enough to allow a nice breeze. And there were many remote, small, sheltered, coves to drop anchor. Maybe next time I come through here I´ll do a little sailing.
We found Wellington a comfortable and tidy little city compared to Christchurch and Auckland. The city center borders the waterfront with a comfortable and clean promenade with restaurants, art work, lawn areas, rowing clubs, and a platform for people to jump into the sea if they are so inclined.
We only had one full day in Wellington and decided to focus our time at the Te Papa museum. It is a well done museum with exhibits that showcase many dimensions of NZ;
including natural history (did you know that most of NZ used to be connected to Chile); Maori history (I was surprised to learn that the Maori were only in NZ for a few hundred years before the Europeans showed up); modern-day emigration from Europe and Asia;
Lord of the Rings (Patrick & Alex are reading these books and Alex held one of the rings used in the movie while we were in Nelson); and finally,
the motivation for the kids to stay engaged all day was the History of Video Games exhibit that had working hands-on exhibits of everything from Space Invaders & Centipede (for me and Suzanne) to Xbox Kinect Dance Party on a giant HD screen (for the kids).
Heading North again we camped for a night at Lake Taupo and got up early enough to get to Huka Falls as they released water from the dam into the gorge.
Unfortunately we didn’t position ourselves far enough down stream to see the best part of the show, which was as a flood of water crashed down a deep canyon.
After the falls we stopped for a couple of hours to explore Orakei Korako Thermal Springs. We boarded a small boat ferry to cross a small lake and then hiked a trail that wound through geysers, bubbling mud pots, thermal formations stained with algae that thrives in the scalding hot water.
Our next stop on the way North was at the Big Bird Bed and Breakfast near the Wiatomo Glow Worm caves. The B&B was referred to us by our friend Jennifer and was a fun place to stay with animals all around.
We had an opportunity to feed and pet ponies, ostriches goats, donkeys, bunnies, dogs, cats, emus, cows, miniature cows, a Guinea pig gave birth the night we were there. Alex even got to go for a pony ride around the farm and they tied up the ponies in front of our bungalow for the night. In the morning the hostess delivered breakfast to our cabin then had her husband come to our kitchen and drained an egg by drilling a hole in the shell with a power drill and “milking” the egg by shaking it up and down until he filled a big bowl with the equivalent of about 22 chicken eggs. The egg omelet that arrived about 15 minutes later tasted similar to chicken egg, maybe slightly saltier. They cleaned and disinfected the egg-shell and wrapped it for us to take as a souvenir.
After our hearty breakfast, we headed off to explore the glow-worm caves located just down the street. We purchased tickets to visit a couple of caves. The first cave was Wiatomo, famous for a brief boat ride at the end of the tour through a cavern that is only lit by glow worms. The tour was led a very nice local guide who is distantly related to the Maori man who originally discovered and developed the cave. We learned that the worms are actually maggots that create a sticky thread that hangs down to snare insects attracted by biolumenesent glow in one part of their abdomen After a few months they transform into chrysalis and then hatch into a mosquito like insect that only has a few days to mate and lay eggs before it dies.
We were looking forward to the famed conclusion of the tour as we piled onto a boat and our guide said “Now I suggested that we all be very quiet so that we can hear the water and see the glow worms, a very peaceful experience”. unfortunately, in seats immediately behind us, four older Americans decided not to follow this suggestion and tossed out a few classic bone head comments at the top of their lungs. A few gems that I can remember are: “Wow! this is just like Disneyland”, and “This is just like being on the Pirates of the Caribbean!”, and “Isn’t this similar to when you took that boat ride in the Amazon?” I assure you this was nothing like Disneyland, except for the rude tourists in the seat behind us. Finally, enough of the other guests shushed them and they got the idea and we were able to experience the remaining few minutes in peace. In retrospect, this was one of the first times in our time abroad that we had encountered “Americans travelling badly”, we have encountered many more rude, pushy, obnoxious travellers from Europe and Asia than from the USA in the past 7 months. And although we were embarrassed by their behavior, I think it is great that this was the exception and not the standard we have observed.
The next cave required a bit more walking and had more decorations on the cave walls. It also had a river running through a portion of the cave where tourists willing to don a wet suit can swim through the inky darkness of the cave, jump off the top of a waterfall into the absolute darkness below, and drift down stream (probably with chattering teeth) and gaze up at the glow worms on the ceiling. We chose to stroll along the walkway above the river, listen to the waterfall crash onto the rocks, and watch the glow worms without the chattering teeth. Maybe next time we will take the plunge.