Monday, May 31, 2010



Te Puia



Te Puia Entrance Guard







The Gods






Eventually the roads traveled leads me to Te Puia – New Zealand Maori Arts And Crafts Institute. A NZ$40 entrance fee and I wait with others for a guided tour.


FaKaOur tour begins with a quick Maori language lesson and soon it sounds like a group of forty people are repeatedly saying “The F-Word”.


Wh = F pronunciation and it seems the Maori tribes used “Wh” on a frequent basis.

Minutes later I am touching nose to nose and forehead to forehead twice with a stranger. Kia ora, now we not strangers anymore. We have learned a typical Maori greeting. Try it sometime.

If you are in Texas be sure to take your hat off first!



Skirt Next we experience ancient Maori practices still being carried on by their descendants as we tour a wood carving and weaving school.




Into a darken exhibit and we get a glimpse of a real live Kiwi. In my short time here it should be proud of the people it represents.

Mud Pool The grounds of Te Puia is populated with numerous hot mud pools and a few active geysers.





Cool Geyser “I am not a crook, I am a cool geyser”






Close Up “Me too”






Distant Geyser “Me trees”






Today an active Maori community lives just outside the boundary of Te Puia and still use these mud pools and geysers on a daily basis.

For vegetables five minutes is sufficient in the geyser steam while meat take about an hour to cook in its natural juices. All this is done with no sulfur after taste.


Lake Rotorua Leaving Te Puia, I fill up on petrol about US$6 per gallon and drive to the shores of Lake Rotoura. Black swans glide by as a seaplane ties up for the night.



A youth rugby practice is finishing up as I stroll towards the downtown area in search of dinner. Up one side and down another of Tutanekai Street I am confronted with a smorgasbord of dining options as a band entertains on the blocked off street.

Solace Solace Cafe and Restaurant is offering a NZ$25 fish basket special that sounds delicious.




Solace Fish Basket

My dinner arrives, grilled sea scallops with an orange tail that's full of flavor, grilled shrimp, mussels, calamari, salad and John Dory (a local fish). I am not disappointed.

Darkness falls and I am on the road again not sure where my night will end. When it is available the radio provides entertainment otherwise it's my thoughts and reflections from the day.


Pokeno Bacon Sleep finds me in Pokeno, a town I believe that is somehow famous for bacon.



Having left my rental car on the street overnight for FREE PARKING, I am up early to start my day and avoid a parking ticket. The morning is filled with sunshine but there's still a chill in the air from the wind blowing between the high rise buildings.

Farm Fresh There is a weekly Saturday morning Farmer's Market getting started in The Britomart parking lot as I walk towards my car.



Huge cauliflowers, beets, vine ripe tomatoes along with fresh bread and pastries are just some of the selections offered.

A short stop at an Asian Market on Beach Rd next to Alternative Rent A Car and I pick up two bags of kiwi fruit for NZ$1. A bargain compared to Foodtown where they sell for NZ$3.39 per kg.

At the checkout stand I also grab a 120VAC plug adapter for NZ$3. Most hotels have ones that are loaned out to guests (good luck) or you can purchase them at the airport for NZ$11-20.

Map picture

East on Beach Rd, I make my way to M-1 South towards Hamilton headed for Waitomo and then Rotorua.


It's about a two and a half hour drive to Waitomo.


Sloping Pasture The initial part of M1 South passes commercial and residential areas but soon leaves it all behind for wide open pastures and magnificent distant hills.


Like it's counterpart to the north, M1 snakes it way through many small towns most of which offer good reasons to stop.

Kiwi I take up one offer to visit with a gigantic colorful kiwi that is more fortunate than its nocturnal family which lives under the threat of extinction.



Approaching Hamilton I wish I could spend time there as the radio announces an important rugby match will be played later today. Out of Hamilton I follow M3 to exit on RTE37 for Waitomo.

Along the road there are businesses offering various adventure packages including cave tubing, rappelling and horse back riding. All of these events can also be arranged at The Visitor's Center as half or full day trips.

Waitomo River For NZ$39 I sign up for the next Waitomo Glowworm Cave guided tour at 12 noon.





Waitomo Boat Most of the workers here are descendants of the Maori tribes that originally discovered the caves.



Waitomo Riders It was not until 1889 that the Maori shared their discovery with the rest of the world.




We are greeted by stalactites, stalagmites and the sound of dripping water as we enter the upper entrance of the caves. By artificial light, the effects and beauty of combining water and limestone over millions of years can be seen.

Descending stairs puts us in “The Cathedral” of the caves and after a bit of questioning about our nationalities and coaxing from our guide we are entertained with a folk song by a group of “Aussies”. I miss another karaoke opportunity to represent my birthplace with Harry Belafonte “Day O”.

Lights out and we get a brief experience of what to expect later on in our tour. We are then shown a close up of the glowworms food capturing system that involves self-made fishing lines. Another set of descending stairs and we wait our turn to board a powerless boat that will continue our tour.

As I search my surroundings, I sense that I am outside and night is beginning to fall. I know otherwise because I am encompassed by cave walls, I am just beginning to observe the glowworms in action.

About twenty eight passengers board an oversize aluminum type row boat. Our guide who stands on the bow requests our silence then maneuvers the boat using an overhead rope system into the full darkness of the cave.

As if by magic, we have been transported outside and are under a star filled sky on a moonless night. Eyes slowly adjust and every breath is held as we silently taken in this awesome and spectacular scenery. The glowworms are at work above us and twinkle like stars. It is by far the best I have ever witnessed of nature in action.

After ten minutes we are encouraged to breathe as the cave exit approaches. Our exit is the original entrance used by a Maori chief in 1889 to allow the first Non-Maori a British Explorer into the caves.

Waitomo Caves I doubt I will find a comparable experience to Waitomo Glowworm Caves.




Old Barn I continue my exploration heading to Rotorua, New Zealand highest and most visited city.




Cool Mountain


I have driven many places but the roads from Waitomo to Rotorua provide the most beautiful driving scenery that I have ever seen.

                                                                                                                                    Road Trees Picture the most vivid greens and blues you have ever seen then accent them with an occasional royal purple, sunset orange or canary yellow.


Yellow SubmarinesAnd only then will you'll have a glimpse of the beauty that I am allowed to take in.





DSC00767There are so many “Kodak” moments that it requires a determined discipline to press on to my destination.




Purple Rain I do so with an occasional stop just to breathe the fresh air or to listen to sheep bleating by the roadside.




Honey Bee

Feeding Honey Bee






Stumped I am stumped by all the gorgeous scenery and landscape that I get to enjoy.



Based on a tip from a fellow “fodorite”, I have been secretly in search of a recommended local candy bar.


Peanut SlabWhile making a petrol stop in Whangarei City huge quantities of NEW SUPER PEANUT SLAB BY WHITTAKER’S has been discovered.


A ridiculous offering is made to buy two and get one free. It remains top secret how many were purchased but it is safe to say KIT-KAT has met its match.

This reporter encourages you to not resist the temptation just fight your new found addiction.

For CNN, this has been DMB reporting.



Town Basin Marina Having my new discovery safely secured, I take a brief walk around Whangarei City. The downtown is the way down towns should be.



Quaint stores and restaurants line the streets without the mega mall syndrome.


Clock Museum I attempt to visit the largest collection of time pieces in the southern hemisphere at Clapham’s Clock Museum but I am late.



After a “Thai Chicken Pot-Pie”, I start south back to The City Of Sails and I am entertained on my drive by a local talk radio program.

From the silliness of costumes at work (aka uniforms), to the origination of the 8 hour work day (24hrs in a day 8 to work, 8 to sleep and 8 to do whatever you please), to a man caught making tea naked in his home somewhere in Colorado, I get a good sampling of what’s on Zealanders mind.

What’s a Jay Bird anyway?

Tower Skyline Back in Auckland City, I reflect on the genuine politeness and courtesy that I have experienced from Zealanders today.




From a gentlemen handing me an open bag in the bakery section of a grocery store to the courtesy of drivers that use turn signals as they pass you on the highway.


City Lights It’s a nice feeling to end the day with.


The weather is improving as the day begins with sunshine and blue skies. Today, I am in search of a rental car to explore beyond Auckland City.


Cheap Cars Numerous rental car agencies can be found along Beach Rd, a short walk from Queen Street. All advertise low rates but it is Labor Day Weekend with cars and bargains hard to come by.


I settle for a two day rental from Alternative Rental Cars at NZ$55 per day including insurance.

A few provisions for the road and I return to pick my car, a right-hand drive 5 speed Hyundai. Since they drive upside down and on the wrong side here I believe all the cars are right-hand drive.


007 Maybe This gives me an Austin Powers - 007 moment as I climb in the driver's seat. Yeah, baby... yeah!




Smoothly shifting gears I join not as “groovy looking drivers” headed for M-1 North. The City Of Sails is soon in my rear view mirror as I cross The Auckland Bridge at 90kmh. Just beyond the bridge a couple of unfortunate drivers are pulled over by “New Zealand Smokies” in plain wrappers.

A gentle reminder to not get carried away being Austin Powers.


Vista Not far along M-1 an exit is offered to avoid paying a toll while taking a more scenic route. A win-win situation for me.




Interestingly, the toll road has no toll-booths and drivers have the option to electronically pay in advance or up to 5 days after usage.

Lonely Beach Along my detour, I stop at another of New Zealand's beautiful but practically deserted beaches. I imagine it won't be long before this changes.



LP I sample "LP" New Zealand's equivalent of Coca Cola. You'll need an appreciation of ginger to understand why according to the locals “L.P is World Famous”.


My drive continues with a hillside climb which gives excellent views of the area. A rich mixture of greens and blues dominate the scenery.


Red Stripe More beaches are encountered with Langs Beach too inviting to not at least get my feet wet. The sand is warm beneath my souls but the sea explains to my feet why the beaches remain free of swimmers.


Taking “The Scenic Tourist Route”, I am presented with hair pin turns and switchbacks that challenge my 007 driving skills.


 Grazing Sheep

The landscape soon changes to endless pastures scattered with sheep or cattle then small towns appear and are gone in a few minutes.



All Saints Occasionally, I stop for photo opportunities or turn down a side road to further explore the countryside.




Gravel Road Sometimes, I drive for “kilometers” on gravel roads climbing hills and descending valleys.




The Hyundai is performing flawlessly. Thanks Q.

Rounding a curve on one of my explorations, I come almost face to face with a stray female. At about 2000 lbs she makes the right moves and I avoid having fresh ground beef for dinner.




DSC00828 (2) After about four hours of driving excellence and exploration I end up at Whangarei Falls.





DSC00808 (2) Part of Maori history, this waterfall can be viewed from various angles on a 30 minute hiking loop.




DSC00819 (2) The loop crosses the top of the falls then descends to the tidal pool and river stream below.



DSC00820 (2)


The river once provided a rich food source of eels, trout and other fish for the Maori people before becoming polluted.


DSC00826 (2) However, there still remains a peacefulness here that I take the opportunity to enjoy.