Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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Champagne Mists

The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal wonderland sits just south of Rotorua as part of a scenic reserve.

It is the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone and has volcanic activity dating back nearly 160,000 years. The entire area is covered in collapsed craters, boiling pools of mud and water, and steaming fumaroles. It has been described as one of the most surreal landscapes in the world; it certainly felt like stepping into an alien planet at some points! Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.

Mist on the Lake
Mist on the Lake

We started out our trip with a visit to the Lady Knox Geyser. The visitor centre opens around 8:30am most days. It is recommended that you arrive around 9:30 to make sure that you can get tickets and have time to drive the short distance to the geyser, which sits just outside of the park (about 3 minutes from the visitor centre). There is good stadium seating so most places offer a good view. Andrew and I were there early enough to get good seats right front and centre.

Thermal Wonderland

 

The geyser is triggered artificially so that they can draw tourists to it. Without help, it would erupt randomly every two to three days as pressure builds. The geyser has been triggered by soap since the early 1900’s, but it was initially triggered accidentally. The guide told the story about how some early travellers decided to make use of the nice hot thermal pools to make their laundry washing easier. Needless to say they got quite a surprise when the geyser suddenly erupted, sending their soapy clothes everywhere!

Lady Knox Geyser

The height of the geyser eruption depends on a few factors, including the pressure, temperature, and amount of water underground. In drought conditions the geyser is apparently slightly pathetic, but we were fortunate enough to see a good show. The geyser reached heights of about 10 meters and lasted for at least half an hour when we were there.

Rainbow in the Geyser

After visiting the geyser we drove back to the Wai-o-tapu visitor centre, parked, checked out the extensive gift shop just for fun, and then went for a walk. There are three different options of walking paths, ranging from 1.5 kilometers to 3 kilometers total. The shortest walk requires no stairs and is a fairly gentle grade, appropriate for families with young children and strollers. It could probably also be used for wheelchairs.

Wai-o-Tapu Lake

Beneath the ground of Wai-o-tapu is a system of streams which are heated by magma from earlier eruptions. With the high pressures, the water reaches temperatures of over 300C, allowing it to absorb the minerals out of the rocks and transport them to the surface as steam. While it certainly doesn’t have a pleasant smell, it is interesting to see the large range of colours that are created. These are some of the colours that we saw and their associated minerals.

Colour Mineral
Green Ferrous Salts
Orange Antimony
Purple Manganese Oxide
White Silica
Yellow Sulphur
Red Iron Oxide
Black Sulphur and Carbon

Andrew in the Mist

The first thing we saw was the ‘Devil’s Home’, which is the first example in the park of a collapsed crater. They are created when the acid underground causes the ground to collapse. The crater had very rough sides and a yellowish colour from the sulphur that had condensed along the sides.

Sulphur Pools

The entire area of Wai-o-tapu was somewhat surreal, with the strange colours, steaming, and bubbling everywhere. I think one of the most impressive points to me was reaching the Terrace on the boardwalk. The Primrose Terrace sits directly beside the Champagne Pools, which were one of the main reasons that I wanted to visit Wai-O-Tapu. The Primrose Terrace are sinter terraces that are the largest in New Zealand. The water from the Champagne pool contains dissolved silica that is deposited as it flows down the terraces.

Thermal Pools

The Champagne Pool is quite impressive. 65 meters in diameter and 62 meters deep with temperatures around 74C, it is the largest in the area. It is difficult to see most of it due to the steam constantly rising from the surface, but the edges are always visible in their brilliant red hue.

In front of the Champagne Pools

We opted for the longer walk through Wai-o-tapu, which was mainly a pretty walk. I think all of the best sites are on the short walk, but it was a beautiful day so we didn’t regret it. The smell decreases on the longer walk, which gave our noses a bit of a welcome break. I enjoyed seeing the sulphur cave, which is almost entirely yellow and has sulphur crystals growing all around it. It was such a strange sight to see such vivid colours in a naturally occurring formation. I also enjoyed walking across ‘Frying Pan Flat’, which is an eruption crater littered with bubbling springs and steaming vents.

Sulphur Cave

We finished up by listening to the Inferno Crater, which has violently boiling mud just out of sight. Peter Jackson recorded many sounds in the Inferno Crater that later became a part of Mordor. Right beside it is Bird’s Nest Crater, named for the Starlings, Swallows, and Mynahs that use the geothermal heat to incubate the eggs in their nests on the crater walls while the adults forage for food.

Our final stop was at the Devil’s Bath in Wai-o-tapu. It is a large pool that is a brilliant yellowish green colour. Think the stereotypical toxic waste sludge colour and you will be pretty close to the colour of this small lake. We asked one of the guides there about the colour and he said it was from the dissolved sulphur crystals in the water combined with light reflecting off of the minerals in the pool itself. Apparently if you took a glass out of the lake, it would appear nearly clear. Considering that the water is highly acidic (with a pH of around 2, for you science folks), you definitely wouldn’t want to drink the water here! Or even touch it really.

Devil's Pool

We finished off our day with a nice picnic lunch. We  considered eating at the cafe that is on-site, but there were nice picnic tables right near the parking lot and we already had food in our campervan. On the way out we stopped at the bubbling mud pools, which are free to visit and are quite active. Well worth the stop!

Boiling Mud

Although Wai-o-tapu is a little bit expensive considering that you can see many of the same sights around Rotorua for free, we found it worthwhile to visit. I was glad that we had a discount voucher from our holiday park.

NZ’s Oldest Winery – Mission Estate

As I’ve mentioned before, Napier is extremely bicycle friendly, with many wineries located along the bike routes. The Mission Estate Winery is one of these and is well worth the visit whether you include it as part of a day of cycling through the vineyards and along the ocean or whether you drive in just for the fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Don’t let the intimidating facade intimidate you! The house if fancy and the wine is fantastic, but if you are not a wine connoisseur and you walk in wearing jeans and a tshirt you will be just as welcome as those in fancy dress.

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There is a nice looking restaurant there that is open from 10am, but the prices were a little bit high for Andrew and I. It was around $20 for an entree or about $30 for mains. They did have both gluten free and vegetarian options available. Of course, being a winery, they also had wine pairings suggested for most of their meals.

 

The winery itself is the oldest winery in New Zealand. It was established in 1851 by the French Marist religious order. They sailed to New Zealand in 1831 with the blessings of the Pope and a few grape vines. They established a mission in 1851 and started producing wine. They managed a balanced property with cattle, fruit trees, and a vineyard, allowing them to sustain themselves. They pioneered the way for New Zealand wines, with Brother Cyprian Huchet making the first recorded commercial wine sale in 1870.

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When the earthquake hit Napier in 1931, it caused serious damage to the entire Mission. The stone chapel collapsed, killing 9 people. Work to restore the property started in 1932. Today the Mission Estate purchases its fruits and wines from the local area, although they use their own fruit orchards and vineyards as much as possible. They produce five different wine ranges that suite all tastes and price ranges. The winery itself is still run as a Mission and charitable trust, with funds from the wine sales supporting the local seminary.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Andrew and I visited on a rainy afternoon, which made it perfect for exploring the Mission building. It is rather large and quite exquisite. There are pictures on the walls of a lot of the history of the building, which was interesting to look at. There was a lot of history there and we enjoyed spending the time wandering around.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After we had finished our meanderings, we decided to try some wines. From the look of the building, I expected all of their wines to be well outside of our price range, but they were rather reasonable. When we asked, we were told that they have to keep their prices low so that they can maintain their status as a charitable trust. Many of their wines have won gold and silver awards from the New Zealand wine association.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wine tasting is $5, but the proceeds go towards supporting the local area. We spent about 30 minutes tasting the seven or so different wines that were a part of the tasting, eventually deciding to pick up one of their Pinot Gris. I also quite enjoyed the dessert wine and one of their red wines, which was surprising considering I usually find red wines far too dry and oaky for my taste. There was actually only one of their wines that I didn’t enjoy, which rarely happens for me on a wine tasting. The lady directing our tasting was quite friendly and knowledgeable, making the entire experience quite enjoyable.

Their cellar door is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sundays from 10am to 4:30pm.

Napier – A City Stuck in 1930

Napier is well known for its art deco style. The town was destroyed in 1931 by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake and, when they rebuilt, they opted to go entirely with an art deco style. It gives the city a certain flair. The people were also incredibly friendly. The entire place reminded me of New York somehow.

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Bluff Hill Gardens

Napier has an abundance of accommodation options, ranging from fancy art deco hotels right down to several council-approved freedom camping locations. Freedom camping is somewhat special to New Zealand and allows those in a self-contained camper to camp overnight for free. The ones in Napier are particularly friendly in their 24 hour access to public toilets, proximity to interesting activities, and clearly designated areas.

Sunrise on the Coast
Sunrise on the Coast

The largest problem we have encountered is having access to showers, but the i-site offers cheap showers for about $3.50 each. Of course, Andrew and I found a better way: we simply visited the beautiful Ocean Spa, a hot pool located directly beside the ocean with wonderful views. After 8pm entry was only $9 per person, so we had a wonderful soak in the pools and then got our showers.

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Clive Square

Napier is extremely cycle friendly. There are cycle paths throughout most of Napier, as well as those that link Napier to Hastings and surrounding areas. There are approximately 212 km of dedicated bike lanes in the region, which isn’t anywhere near that large. Several companies offer cycle wine tours, or you can simply rent a bike and explore on your own. The i-site tourist information has several different cycle maps, as well as some good suggestions.

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Bicycle Repair Station

Andrew and I did an easy 20km ride along the Marine Parade, which is situated directly beside the ocean. We rode past the Art Deco grandstand, some WWI bunkers, and some interesting shops. You also don’t have to worry too much if anything goes wrong as there are several bicycle repair stations en-route, which include all the essential tools, a bike stand, and a tire pump.

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WWI Bunker

While riding, we spotted a ‘learning playground’ for kids on their bikes and scooters.  It was a safe, enclosed area that had small roads, sidewalks, road signs, traffic circles, and stop lights for children to learn road safety without the parents having to worry about cars. It was so cute seeing all the kids aged from about 3 to 8 sitting on their bikes at the stop light in this little playground waiting patiently for it to change.

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Napier Sculptures

Walking Napier’s Art deco streets and exploring the shops was a fun way to spend an afternoon. The Napier Hotel, The Daily Telegraph, and the public trust office are some wonderful examples of the Art Deco architectural style that was used to rebuild the city after the 1931 earthquake.

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Basketball Jones

We stopped for nearly an hour watching various street performers, including the amazing Basketball Jones. Imagine juggling five basketballs! Or juggling a flaming torch and two different sized balls from the top of a 10 foot tall unicycle. It was fun to watch.

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Napier Hotel, 1930’s Art Deco

We stopped for lunch at Jester’s, which had absolutely fantastic gluten-free pies. Pies, in New Zealand, mainly refers to savory pies such as mince and cheese, or lamb and gravy. They were hot and delicious!

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Art Deco Scuplture

We were fortunate in our arrival date since we hit the weekend, which means markets! Napier and Hastings have three farmer’s markets over the weekend. On Saturday Napier has a food market at Clive Square, where Andrew and I tried fresh figs for the first time. They are delicious!

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Market on our Doorstep

On Sunday Hastings has a big market, as does Napier. Andrew and I were a little bit surprised by the Sunday market. We were freedom camping on the Marine Parade and woke up Sunday morning to a market literally in our front yard. After watching a beautiful sunrise we wandered the market and managed to score a few really good deals.

Bluff Hill Domain
Bluff Hill Domain

On our final day in Napier, Andrew and I walked up the bluff hill lookout, which offered good views of town, the port, and the surrounding area. The lookout was used in WWII by 77 Battery 10 Coast Regiment using 2 huge guns to protect the port of Napier.

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Bluff Hill Picnic Area

There is a nice garden and picnic area at the top of the bluff, although we found it too windy to want to eat. This would also be a great lookout for little kids (or big kids!) who like watching heavy machinery at work. Andrew and I spent awhile watching the huge forklifts moving lumber and shipping containers around the large port area.

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Bluff Hill Compass

Although small and a little out of the way, Andrew and I were glad we stopped at this little town. We had intended to simply stay overnight and maybe go for a short walk the next day before moving on, but we found ourselves in love with the place enough that we spent five days in the area.

View from the Bluff
View from the Bluff

Rere Rockslide – A Natural Waterslide

The Rere Rockslide is an interesting natural feature that also happens to be amazingly fun and a wonderful adrenaline rush.

Rere Waterfalls
Rere Waterfalls

Not to be mistaken for the Rere Waterfall, which is 2km down the road, the Rere rockslide is a smooth section of rock that has a creek flowing over it. Over time, slippery algae has formed on the rock which, when topped with the two centimeter thick flow of water, makes for a natural rock slide.

Andrew and I had a bit of a hard time finding the Rere rockslide and initially stopped at the Rere Waterfall. This isn’t the place! Please don’t try to slide off of the waterfall. It is beautiful to look at though and is worth a stop on your drive to the rockslide.

Rockfall Hazards
Rockfall Hazards

The Rere Rockslide is a further 2km or so down the road and isn’t well marked. Look for a small farm gate and an even smaller sign when you reach the top of a hill. There are toilets here, but no rubbish bins, so please take your rubbish with you. There are picnic tables though. Andrew and I had quite a nice picnic here after we had finished with the slide.

Are we doing this?
Are we doing this?

First, for safety. As with any activity, there are dangers. In the summer, the algae blooms can sometimes make the water quality unsuitable for swimming. As always, don’t go alone and make sure someone knows where you are. In the event of an emergency you can call 111, but coverage in the area is quite limited. If you can’t swim, don’t go! The pool at the bottom is quite deep (about 4m).

The slide itself is about 80m long and sits at about a 35 degree angle, making it quite a wild ride! A boogie board is definitely recommended! It’s possible to rent an inflatable board from the i-site in Gisborne, but if you are in New Zealand for any length of time it can be more cost effective to simply buy a cheap one from The Warehouse. We picked our boards up at first for the Te Pake sand dunes and have used them many times since.

Deep Pool at the Bottom
Deep Pool at the Bottom

I made my lovely brave husband go first. The left side of the slide is smoother and runs faster than the right side. Andrew reached the bottom and had enough speed that he skipped about 3 times across the pool before coming to a stop. It was a bit funny to watch. He did manage to stay on the board though, which I was surprised by. He hit a bit of a bump part way down and got about 30 centimeters of air. He also learned an important lesson that he shared with me before my trip down. Don’t try to stand up at the bottom until you have swum to the side and gotten as shallow as possible. The rock that is slippery enough to slide down is also too slippery to stand up on. It was quite entertaining to watch him try though!

Top of the Rockslide
Top of the Rockslide

Finally it was my turn. I got scared! I never get scared even when rafting off of 7m waterfalls or jumping out of a plane! I finally managed to calm myself down and off I went. What a rush! I grew up tobogganing and tearing down the snowy slopes in Calgary, but somehow this felt completely different. It’s a bit hard to describe. Perhaps because it was rock and such a foreign experience.  It was certainly a lot of fun and well worth the 45 minute drive out.

Gisborne – Easternmost City in the World

Gisborne is the largest (and only) city located on the far east coast. It is also the first city in the world to see the sun rise each day, making it worth a visit to catch the fresh, pure sunlight! Gisborne, or Gizzy as the locals call it, has a unique character and makes for an interesting visit.

Andrew in the Playground
Andrew in the Playground

We started our time in Gisborne with a tour of the downtown area and the many unique and historic buildings there. There are quite a few artisan shops, making it an interesting place to spend an evening wandering.

Captain Cook Statue
Captain Cook Statue

We opted to stay at the Top 10 holiday park, simply for its convenience and ease-of-access to everything in the area. Our second day of visiting Gisborne started with watching a beautiful orange and pink sunrise over the ocean, followed by a walk down the coastal walkway.

Statue on the Trail
Statue on the Trail

There are several statues marking James Cooks’ arrival in New Zealand and the history of the area. It’s also possible to watch them loading lumber onto the massive ships to be taken overseas. I find it quite impressive to watch the well-oiled machine at work moving things around so efficiently.

First Sunrise in the World
First Sunrise in the World

From the walkway, we wandered up to the Sunshine Brewery, which is a local craft brewery. They have tasting flights for $15, although if you are planning on buying some beer from them they will let you sample a few of them for free.Sunshine Brewery

They had 13 different beers on tap, all made locally in their facility on site. They were also willing to do a brewery tour, but we decided to pass since they were busy pressure washing the floor and we didn’t want to interrupt.

Sunshine Brewery on Tap
Sunshine Brewery on Tap

Andrew picked up a few different dark beers, which he thoroughly enjoyed. They come in 1.25 liter bottles, or 350ml bottles.

Inside the Sunshine Brewery
Inside the Sunshine Brewery

From the brewery we walked the three short blocks to the Cidery, which offers free tastings. They make the Scrumpy Cider, which is one of the most popular and widest selling ciders in New Zealand. On top of that, they also have 2 other cider lines as well as a non-alcoholic ginger beer. All were quite delicious.The Cidery

They also offered us a taste of Ambrosia, which was a different experience. It is a manuka honey and brandy mix with 24ct. gold flakes. Quite delicious, but I’m still not certain about eating gold. While I know there are no health risks to it, the concept just seems a bit odd. Nevertheless, it was quite tasty.

Distilling at the Cidery
Distilling at the Cidery

Definitely a city with a unique feel and a friendly atmosphere, Gisborne is worth a visit despite being lacking in many of the adrenaline thrills that most of New Zealand is known for. Except, of course, for the nearby Rere falls, which are free. I’ll talk about our experiences there in my next post!

Tasting at the Cidery
Tasting at the Cidery

East Cape Explorations

The East Cape is a less popular tourist location simply because there is less to see and do than many other places in New Zealand. However, for this very reason, it is a very peaceful and beautiful place to visit!

Horses Grazing
Horses Grazing

Andrew and I did the drive in two days, although we could have easily allowed three or four days. The drive itself is quite scenic, taking in ocean coastline, rugged hills, and native forest. It is necessary to be more mindful of livestock on these roads than in other location in New Zealand. We had to stop for cows, horses, and sheep on the roads while we were driving.

The Easternmost Road in the World
The Easternmost Road in the World

Along the drive we could see White Island, which is New Zealand’s most active volcano. It is possible to do a tour here from Whakatane, but when we were in the area it was actively erupting. It is something that I would love to go see eventually though! It is a fair ways out to sea, but I could just make it out with the ash/steam clouds rising from it in the distance.

Pacific Ocean Views
Pacific Ocean Views

Especially since we had visited the northernmost point in New Zealand, Andrew and I really wanted to visit the Easternmost point as well. Of particular interest, this area is the first country to see the sun of each new day.

Views from the Eastermost Lighthouse

We hiked up to the East Cape Lighthouse, which is the easternmost lighthouse in the world. Although they claim that it is a climb of 800 stairs, it is indeed only 795 stairs. Andrew and I both counted both up and down, so we are fairly confident on this number. The start of the trail is on private land, but there is a parking lot with toilets nearby. There were also quite a few friendly horses at the start of the trail.

East Cape Lighthouse
East Cape Lighthouse

The light house shone for the first time in 1900. Standing at 14 meters high, the cast iron lighthouse sits 154 meters above sea level and can be seen for 19 nautical miles. In 1985 the lighthouse was fully automated and is now monitored by computer from Wellington. The views from the top were incredible! Of course, Andrew and I also had to find a geocache while we were here. I think it might be difficult for us to beat our easternmost geocache record after this.

Stairs to the East Cape Lighthouse
Stairs to the East Cape Lighthouse

For those who don’t know what geocaching is, it is basically a high tech treasure hunt where military equipment is used to hunt for duct taped tupperware in the woods. It is a lot cooler than it sounds though! People (geocachers) hide a camouflaged container of appropriate size (ranging from tiny to large) in an interesting location and record the location.

The end of the longest Historic Wharf
The end of the longest Historic Wharf

They then post the coordinates on the geocaching website for other people to go look for their geocache. Once you find a geocache, you sign your name in the logbook to say that you’ve found it, log your find online, and trade an item if desired. It is an interesting way to go for a walk and meet fun people.

Cliffs on the East Cape
Cliffs on the East Cape

Anyways, from the lighthouse, we continued further down the coast towards Gisborne. Have I mentioned that this drive is beautiful and scenic? Nearly every bay has beautiful beaches that are great for swimming and surfing and there are literally a hundred different hikes that you could do.

Cliffs at Cook's Cove
Cliffs at Cook’s Cove

We stopped at the Tolaga Bay Wharf, which is the longest historic concrete wharf in New Zealand. Trading from the bay started as early as the 15th century until finally in 1924 it was determined that a wharf was needed to handle the transport of goods in the area.

Walking out to the Wharf
Walking out to the Wharf

The area was predominately used for the shipping of wool and lumber, which it still trades in today.  The wharf is 600 meters long and was completed in 1929. The wharf makes a good fishing spot, which is what many locals were doing. Some were even managing to catch fish with a bit of fishing line wrapped around an empty pop bottle with a hook at one end!

Maori art near Cook's Cove
Maori art near Cook’s Cove

The area is also the start of the Cook’s cove walk, to Cook’s Bay, where James Cook landed with the Endeavor on his journey to discover New Zealand.

Horses on the East Cape
Horses on the East Cape

From the wharf we continued to drive to Gisborne, the easternmost city in the world. The drive was quite beautiful, scenic, and remote. I will talk about our experiences around Gisborne in the next few posts, so stay tuned!

The Power of Travel

This is not a post about how to travel or our experiences in a particular location, so if you are looking for our normal posts, then please return on Thursday.

Now for something completely different.

The Power of Travel

Bombings. Shootings. Racism against ethnic groups, LGBT, religious groups, and anyone different from ourselves. Violence surrounds us and pervades every part of our culture. Every time I pick up a newspaper or read the headlines on my RSS feed, it makes me feel both sad and angry.

I had a high school teacher who posed the following query as homework for an upcoming class discussion:

“What one object, tool, or idea could you give to a person or group that would end all violence?”

A powerful question, to be sure. I thought about it a fair bit and we discussed it over the next couple of days in class. At first we all started with things like, “the ability to love each other more,” , “a single unified religion”, and “mind reading.” The consensus in the end?

Give each person the ability to completely and totally annihilate every other person on the planet.

We were the young. The hope of the future. The threat of instant annihilation was the best solution we could come up with to end violence. We figured that if each person knew the consequences of a single negative action that fear would prevent them from making a wrong choice.

That single question has stuck with me over the years and I have pondered it from time to time, hoping for a better solution. Finally, I feel that there might be one.

Travel.

It changes people.

Not all experiences are positive while travelling but each one teaches you something.

Seeing the world from a different perspective
Seeing the world from a different perspective

I remember growing up and listening to a few world travelling cousins talk about their adventures. Most of their stories were really cool and filled with adventure, but I also remember my cousin turning to me and saying, “Always stay aware and don’t show that you’re a tourist. Step into a store to check your map so that you can stay safe.”

Needing to have a concern like that had never even occurred to me growing up in suburban Calgary. I wanted to see these strange places where you shouldn’t check a map in public.

The journeys that I have been on have taught me a great deal. Patience. Persistence. Self-reliance. Tolerance for others. Each country that I visit has a different culture, a different mentality, and a different way of doing things. Some things are better (Irish whiskey, for example). Some are worse (come on NZ… central heating!). But it is always different.

Travelling through Africa with my parents was an eye opening experience in so many ways. Having travelled other ‘third world’ nations I thought I knew what poverty was. Parts of Africa taught me to appreciate what I have so much more.

Travelling to see another way of life
Experiencing African Culture

Having planned the trip as a surprise for my parents, I wanted to share with them the wonders of travel that they had inspired in me, but had never had a chance to partake in themselves. I was the world weary traveller who had been around a bit and knew what to do, but it was my dad that taught me the greatest lesson.

We were in a market and the people there were selling a number of hand crafted products: drums, animal carvings, weaving, and pretty much anything else ‘touristy’ that you can imagine. They didn’t just want cash though. I was offered five carvings just for my hair tie. I remember being annoyed with my dad for simply giving things away since it ‘encouraged the begging and harassing of tourists that stops a lot of people from visiting.‘ Our guide had warned us not to give in to the people following us around.

My dad simply said that they needed the things more than he did and it was the right thing to do. That simple and powerful lesson stuck with me. I hate to admit it, but I felt ashamed for not truly looking around and realizing that each of us on the trip could help these people. That simple experience made me truly appreciate every single thing that I have access to: clean running water, medical facilities, hair ties, and shoes included.

Travelling through New Zealand has taught me a lot as well. We have had some absolutely amazing experiences. We have also had days that make me wonder why I ever left home. However, we have had complete strangers have opened their homes and their hearts to us when we have needed it. They have shared snacks, stories, blankets, and helped us.

One day in particular comes to mind, although we have experienced so much generosity. Waking up to a fridge that has quit, rotten food, and a flat bike tire, one day proceeded to get worse. While trying to replace the fridge under warranty, the store refused to help without the receipt, which wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

Tearing apart the campervan and trying to keep our things contained to a single parking spot, one gentlemen decided that he needed to park in the spot next to us without giving me time to move things. Clipping me with his mirror and then hitting me with his car door was the final straw and I started crying. I just wanted to be home and not have to deal with things like an adult anymore.

A single mother there with her child came over, asked if I was alright, and offered us her home and a meal so that we could get back on our feet. She told us that someone had done similar for her one time when she was backpacking in Germany and that it was simply what one human being should do for another.

Travel has the power to teach people about themselves, about history, and about the world they live in.

If a neighbour knocked on your door and asked to spend the night because their house had just burnt down and they didn’t have credit cards anymore to pay for a hotel room, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to welcome them. Why should it make a difference then if these neighbours are from another country and are entering our country as refugees due to bombings?

The only real difference is scale.

So there is the answer to that question asked long ago. Let each person travel and discover that, despite the sheer size of our world, each country really isn’t that different. The people aren’t that different. We are all human beings on this great ball of rock that we call home so maybe it is time that we start acting like neighbours instead of strangers.

On the World’s Highest Raftable Waterfall – Kaituna River

Rotorua’s Kaituna River is home to the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world. Thanks to a wonderful Christmas gift from Andrew’s sisters and their families, we had a chance to raft this river with River Rats and our guide Stephan.

It was an amazing experience! Andrew and I have done a fair bit of rafting, including the Kicking Horse and Kananaskis Rivers in Canada and a river in Thailand. This was definitely a unique experience. We were the only ones who had ever rafted before and everyone managed to stay in the rafts.

Before the Trip
Before the Trip

River Rats emphasizes safety and made sure that everyone felt comfortable at all times. There were two points along the river that we pulled over into a calm spot and they offered the option that, if anyone wasn’t happy with their experience or was too scared, that they could exit the raft and be picked up. They also supplied all of the required gear, with the exception of swimsuits and towels. The lifejackets were comfortable, the fleece jackets stayed nice and warm even when soaked, and the wetsuits were also surprisingly comfortable. They also provided boots, helmets, and, of course, paddles.

There were four of us in our raft, as well as the guide. Stephan asked us to sit one in the front, two in the middle, and one in the back. Andrew and I chose to let the other couple sit together, especially since it meant I got the front! I figured that if it’s the best place to be in a rollercoaster that it is probably also the best place to be on a raft ride on the Kaituna, especially when a waterfall is involved.

Stand up Falls
Stand up Falls

We started out with two smaller waterfalls, measuring out at around 3m and 4 m, respectively. The guides called these practice waterfalls since they were great to make sure that we had the holding on techniques down. For waterfall rafting, a simple ‘Get Down’ of kneeling in the raft was insufficient. We actually had to plunk our butts right in the raft, slide our feet forwards so that we were wedged in, then hold on to the central handles and the rope along the outside.

The river is suitable for beginner rafters, as each big rapid is followed by a calm stretch. It is fairly narrow, being just wide enough to accommodate the rafts in some sections. It is also absolutely beautiful. It felt like we were rafting through some forgotten jungle wilderness at many points.

Vertical Raft
Vertical Raft

There was one point along the river before we hit the big waterfall that we had the option to climb up on the ruins of an old building and do some cliff jumping, which was quite fun. Of course Andrew and I joked the whole time about tossing each other in. While I was grateful for my swimming abilities in the confidence that it gave me, we did have a few gentlemen with us who were complete non-swimmers. They managed the jump off the cliff and the swim to the raft, with the guides ready to assist if necessary. Full wetsuits and lifejackets mean it is easy to float, which makes swimming much easier.  The river was relatively warm, sitting at about 15C year round.

Bottom of the Waterfall
Bottom of the Waterfall

Right before the big waterfall we pulled over in a calm spot in the river so that they could reiterate all of the safety procedures in the event that the raft flips after landing at the bottom of the waterfall. They said it is rare, but that it does happen on occasion. Since it is a nice calm section of the river after the fall, it basically just means that you get to go for a slightly unintentional swim.

I have never been in a vertical raft. Sitting at the front and seeing the water suddenly dropping away in front of me was an intimidating but exhilarating experience. It was also quite a bit of an adrenaline rush. Our raft plunged straight vertical directly into the bottom of the fall and our guide said afterwards that he was amazed that we didn’t flip.

All in the Raft
All in the Raft

Of course, sitting at the front of a raft that has plunged vertically over a waterfall meant that I had a fair bit of time to think while waiting for it to resurface. It seemed like it, at least. I remember having time to think: ‘Whoa, that was cool. Hey, I can feel the boat and I’m still holding on even though I’m underwater. Hmm…should I let go and swim? Nah, the raft probably floats better than my lifejacket. Hey! I feel the raft under me now and I’m even still in it!”

The lifejacket was buoyant enough that I actually had to hold myself into the raft as it resurfaced since I think we may have had half the waterfall inside the boat. The rafts are amazingly well designed, however, since it took all of about 5 seconds for it to go from being completely flooded to drained.

Getting a Little Wet
Getting a Little Wet

The waterfall was at approximately the halfway point down the river, but the guides have plenty of ways to keep the fun going all the way. There is one rapid that they call Stand-Up rapid. As the name suggests, they try to get everyone to remain standing all the way through the rapid. Most of us succeeded.

There is another rapid that is safe to swim, so our guide took an empty raft through it and met us all on the other side. The rapid actually flipped me upside down and sent me tumbling a bit, which was fun. I was never submerged for more than about 15 seconds at any point on the trip, so was never in any serious danger. It was a lot of fun.

Having Fun in the Raft
Having Fun in the Raft

At the very end there is a small rapid that is just right for surfing. The guide had both Andrew and I sit in the very front of the boat, then we paddled upstream back into the rapid. Of course, once he got the raft surfing the leading edge of the rapid he manoeuvred the raft so that it hit the rapid nose first. Which submarined most of the front half of the raft, giving Andrew and I a shower. Or rather a bath in the raft. It was a fun experience.

After the rafting was finished it was a short 10 minute bus ride back to the rafting centre, located at the Rotorua airport. They had warm, dry change rooms and comfy couches available to relax afterwards. They also had a professional photographer along the river to capture the experience, which they showed on a television after we had all changed and settled onto the couches. An entirely enjoyable experience and suitable for everyone!

 

Zorb – New Zealand’s Giant Hamsterball

The zorb is a uniquely New Zealand invention. Invented in the lovely city of Rotorua, it consists of jumping into a giant inflatable hamster ball and hurtling yourself down a hill. Fun, right? Actually, it is!

When Andrew and I went, their harnessed option was under redevelopment, so we had a choice of two different wet rides: straight or sidewinder. The other option, where you are physically strapped to the zorb and tumble down the hill, had too many wind restrictions making it nearly impossible for the companies to use it most of the time.

There are two different companies that offer the zorb experience: Zorb Rotorua and Ogo. Zorb Rotorua is the original ride, created by the inventors, and then eventually sold. Ogo is what was created when the inventors wanted back in on the action and opened a new company just down the road. Both have their perks. Due to a strange mix of discounts and wanting to go a second time, Andrew and I ended up visiting both companies.

Our Experience

It is definitely a fun experience and one that I would have little doubt of nearly anyone being able to participate in. If you have a reasonable degree of mobility and are able to get yourself into the ball, there is very little danger of actual injury (other than perhaps embarrassment when you try to squirm your way back out of the zorb.

In the zorb
In the zorb

The friendly staff drive you to the top of the hill and then proceed to fill your zorb with water. Just enough to make it extremely slippery on the inside. You can completely forget about being able to stand up, although apparently Ogo offers a prize if you manage to remain standing for the entire straight track ride (3 people have managed this in the history of the company). The water was pleasantly warm, which was nice on a cooler winter day.

Bunny on the Course
Bunny on the Course

They then laid a nice slippery mat through the small entrance hole. The idea is to run at the zorb and gracefully dive through the hole, entering the splashy interior. Well….graceful is probably not the best word to use. For any part of the zorb experience. Andrew was relatively graceful entering the zorb, whereas I had to take a second run at my first entry. By the third run down I had mastered getting into the zorb, although exiting with anything that didn’t resembling a walrus continued to elude me.

Once inside, the attendant makes sure that you’re good to go, then zips you in. Then the fun starts! Squishy, splashy, slide-y fun. It is very difficult to maintain any sort of orientation while in the zorb other than the “on your back like an upside down turtle” orientation. You twist, flip, spin, turn, and slide in a giant hamster ball that bounces its way down the hill. I had a lot of fun and couldn’t stop giggling the entire way down. The zorbs are not sound-proof either, which meant I got to hear Andrew giggling and yelling his whole ride down.

Exiting the Zorb
Exiting the Zorb

Andrew and I did two single rides on the sidewinder track, I did a single ride on the straight track, and then Andrew and I did a double ride on the longer sidewinder track at Ogo. The straight track is significantly faster, but not nearly as fun. The double ride was certainly an experience. It’s much like the single ride, except that now you have another person in the giant hamster ball with you! It was a lot of fun.

Ogo or Zorb Rotorua?

Now for the review part, since we managed to visit both major zorb companies.

Zorb is expensive. Ridiculously expensive considering that the longest ride lasts around two and a half minutes. For this experience, you could pay up to $100. So, here’s the lowdown to get the best price you can with either company.

  1. Watch www.grabone.com for deals at Zorb Rotorua. It’s possible to snag yourself a ride for up to 50% off. These have to be purchased ahead of time and can be used anytime in the three months following purchase.
  2. If you are staying at a holiday park or hotel, ask them if they have any discount vouchers. Most places have a discount of 5-15% at many local attractions including both Ogo and Zorb Rotorua.
  3. Check bookme.com to see if there are any discounts. Just for arriving at a certain time (usually the first or last ride of the day), you can get a ride for up to 50% off.
  4. Finally, use the system. Both companies offer a discounted second ride for return customers. So, if you have the time and don’t feel a need to do all your runs in a single day, pick the cheapest option, do one run, then return the following day for their loyal customer pricing.
Hot Tub After Zorb
Hot Tub After Zorb

So, which company should you go with? Here’s my breakdown.

Both companies offer both a straight track and a sidewinder option. The sidewinder has twists and turns in it and takes longer to go down. You get twisted around more, although you don’t go as fast. Both companies use the H2O option to make the zorbs nice and slippery; warm water in winter, cold water in summer.  Both companies have hot tubs to warm up and relax in after your ride. Both companies offer the option of going down with a friend or two (watch for flailing elbows and knees!).

Otherwise:

Zorb Rotorua

  • Cheaper
  • Friendlier Staff
  • Older zorb balls
  • Shorter Tracks

Ogo

  • New Zorb balls
  • More comfortable waiting area
  • Newer in general
  • Long tracks
  • More expensive
  • Staff could use some customer service training

Overall, either one is good depending on the experience you are looking for. Andrew and I went first with Zorb Rotorua because they were the cheapest and we wanted to at least experience the zorb. We enjoyed it enough that we chose to go back to Ogo for their longer tracks, although we waited until we had all the right discounts and coupons because it was far too expensive otherwise.

Either way, go zorb! It’s awesome!