A Travellerspoint blog

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Tubing in the Waitomo caves


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Wetsuit up

There is honestly nothing quite as lovely as climbing into a cold wet wetsuit to start your day. But there's no room for complaining here, ahead lies adventure! We're going caving and canyoning and tubing all rolled into one fun packed morning with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company.

We had opted for the Labrynth tour that would see us climbing through crevices in rocks, wading through underwater rivers and jumping off the odd waterfall or two, all in pitch darkness. Given Natalie's unease with the dark and water, I knew this was going to be a hit.

The good news for us was the previous night the North Islands drought had ended and dropped a quarter of the months rainfall in one sitting. This meant water in the caves and added adventure - the instructors were certainly excited! Now that the wetsuits are on and we're looking like shrink wrapped ham, on it's time to go caving! Before we go, just a couple of tests:

Competency test 1: Find a rubber ring large enough to fit your bottom.

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Check!

Competency test 2: Put the rubber ring over your bum and jump off a pier backwards into said rubber ring.

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Check! Now big cheesy wave to the camera!

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Check! And we're caving!! We entered the cave from near the top of Ruakuri cave. Meaning 'two dogs' in Maori the cave was unsurprisingly given it's name after Maori huntsman encountered two dogs near it's entrance. When the dogs attacked, they were killed and their hides given to the chief as a gift. He honoured the dogs by naming the cave after them.

Ruakuri is also where you can do a walking dry tour of the glow worms, but why do that then you can climb in through a rock face? Inside the first cave we took a seat and waited for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Looking around (we had head torches) it was great seeing the layed rock formation, the stalagmites falling from the ceiling and the stalactites reaching up from the ground. If you want an easy way to remember, try the phrase, 'as the night comes up the tights come down'!!

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Ever a willing, if not naïve volunteer, I took the guides instructions (right, left, right, right, left then stop when you hear the thundering sound) and headed through the labrynth of tunnels the water had cut through the caves over the years. At this point we where about knee deep in water, watching we did not hit the stalagtites off the ceiling and push back their slow growth (about 1cm a year). Sure enough, a large thundering sound appeared and we came to our first stop. The instructor came to the front of the group, climbed down a couple of steps and put us into position. Turning our backs to the pitch black abyss we had to put our faith in our instructors and jump off a waterfall backwards, suddenly I regretted being such an eager volunteer.

Landing in deep water, we connected legs and pushed our way through the canyon leaning as far back as possible in our rings so as not to hit our heads on the low ceiling above. We followed the tunnel through the caves, getting out and climbing over rocks and bumping out heads all over the place before coming to our second stopping point where we were rewarded with a chocolate fish.

We then turned our lights off and looked to the tiny LED like glows on the ceiling as our instructor told us the tale of the humble glow worm:

A Life in the Day of a Glow Worm

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  • 1. They're not actually worms:

Like the killer whale not being actual whales (read the story here), glow worms are not actual worms. Glow worms are the tiny little larvae or maggots of what will become a mosquito like fly. The irony of the fly is that despite representing the maturity of the bugs life cycle, it spends more time as a glow maggot (up to 9 months) than it does as an actual fly (about 3-4 days).

  • 2. They're cannibalistic:

Being an older sibling has a large advantage in the glow worm world.

A female fly lays around 120 eggs in a colony. As the larvae are very sensitive to cold and dry they'll lay their eggs within a crack or seepage point. This makes caves like the ones in Waitomo ideal.

Cracking out of their egg shells 6-8 weeks later these critters are cranky and boy are they hungry! They stick their retractable heads out of their shells to see what snacks might be in the area, maybe a tasty fly or a nice midge. Given the close proximity of their brothers and sisters however, it would be much easier just to eat them, and that's just what they do! About 60% of glow worms are eaten by their bigger siblings!!! And you thought birthday beats were bad!!

  • 3. They're keen fishers:

Assuming they haven't been devoured (accompanied by a nice chianti) by their brother, Hannibal, its time for the glow worms to go fishing. They drop a line of mucus up to 40cm beneath where they are nested. This acts in a similar way to a spiders web; they lure insects into their web with their attractive tail light. Once a bug gets caught in the web, its wriggling lets the glow worm know it's in luck. It retracts it's line, kills its prey then either sucks out the juice or eats the prey whole. Delightful.

  • 4. Their poo glows:

Once the have digested their food/little sister, the proteins are broken down and excreted in the usual way. These mix with oxygen in the air and another enzyme produced by the worm and the reaction creates one of the most efficient light forms known to man. So next time you're admiring a glow worm, just think: "That's some pretty sh*t!"

  • 5. They're sex pests

After the larvae stage, their shells harden and they turn into Pupa, similar to a cocoon stage for a butterfly. A fortnight later the glow worm will emerge as beautiful fly with no mouth and only one thing on it's mind in the 4 days it may live for: making love.

The female flies are unable to fly and attract a male fly with their light, multiply males will often wait around a female pupa, waiting for her to hatch into a willing partner. The male will introduce himself, mate vigorously for up to 12 hours, roll over and die of exhaustion. And they say romance is dead!

The female lays the eggs and the whole process starts again leaving us with the age old question: which cam first the glow worm or the egg?

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The glow worms were really very impressive and shone far brighter than I imagined they would. So bright and yet with the light on you would barely be able to see them if it were not for them dropping their lines.

We continued down the cave, jumped off an even larger waterfall, satin our rings, linked feet, turned off our lights and let the current (and the instuctors) carry us down the waterway whilst we gazed at the brightly glow worm lit ceiling above. The photo above really does not do justice to the light these little critters give off.

After navigating the 'kissing tunnel' (if you don't watch out a stalactite will 'kiss' you in the face) we were set the challenge of navigating ourselves out of the tunnel without using our lights. Funnily enough if you lay back and enjoy the ride, the rest of the group won't know you're not doing anything and float you to the daybreak light at the end of the tunnel!

Back to the centre for a hot shower, soup and bagel! What a great morning out!

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Thanks

A huge thanks to Pete and Melissa who we met on the trip for sending us the pictures and an even bigger thanks to our friend Ashling who twisted our arms into going to Waitomo as we would have gone straight past otherwise! We absolutely loved it!

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Posted by Where's Willy 07:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand caving tubing waitomo glow_worms Comments (0)

Meet the Maori

An introduction to New Zealand's indigenous people


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When most people think of New Zealand, they don't think of it as having an indigenous people, they certainly wouldn't think of it having a second language. Hell I think large parts of the world don't even know that New Zealand exists! Isn't New Zealand just a small state of Australia? Isn't that just a crayon mark in the corner of the map?

The reality is that New Zealand's native people, the Maori, come from a rich collective of 'iwi' (tribes) and 'hapu' (sub tribes) from all corners of New Zealand. An iwi represented the highest political group with in traditional Moari culture though most lived in the localised hapu. Iwi's often had political or military ties with other iwi's who descended from the same Waka Canoes that brought the Moari to New Zealand.

A map of the different Iwi of New Zealand can be found at databook.co.uk

Today Maori makes up 15% of the population of New Zealand and is an ever important component to the New Zealand identity, culture and heritage. Having experienced a proper haka when I was last in New Zealand, it was something I really wanted to do again.

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'Authentic cultural experiences' are something we try and avoid as experience has taught us that they're usually about as realistic as a nativity set and have a large gift shop attached. Once when in Morocco we went to an 'authentic Berber village' on a trip up into the Atlas mountains; the girl employed to pretend she was grounding nuts to make oil (which had many uses, creams available in gift shop) was wearing trendy torn jeans, had her nails painted and was texting on her iphone. With all this said, we were more than a little sceptical at the idea of visiting one of the Moari experiences in New Zealand.

We swallowed our pride and with the promise of a real good 'feed' and with a great deal from grab one dramatically reducing the hefty entrance fee, set out to discover the real New Zealand way of living at Mitai Village, here's how we found it.....

Hungry for some Hāngi

A Hāngi, or earth oven, was the Maori way of cooking. A fire is lit in a deep hole, large enough to lower a casket full of food. In amongst the fire there are igneous rocks which heat up and glow white as the fire burns. After a couple of hours, the fire will have burnt down leaving ashes, and hot stones. The pit is cleaned and the food caskets are lowered onto a bed of hot rocks. Cold water is splashed liberally over the food and hot rocks creating jets of steam. The food is covered in wet cloth and sacks to trap the rising steam. The sacks are the covered in soil to create the 'earth oven'. 2-3 hours later the food is slow cooked to perfection and can be dug out the ground to be served.

Traditionally the Maori would eat rat and wild dog. Luckiy for us this has now been replaced with lamb, chicken, kumara (sweet potatoes to the rest of the world) and rice. The Hāngi is served with a thick gravy, stuffing and a range of salads.

I have to say, the food was really very good. Some of the best cooked lamb I've had and it really fell off the bone. I may have to try making one of these in the UK, though I think the neighbours might have something to say about that! That is some tasty Hāngi!!

They even had some traditional New Zealand Pavlova for desert. Although not authentically Maori, try telling anyone from New Zealand that the Pavlova was invented by the Australians and see what response you get.

Waka Entrance!

Following the unveiling of the Hāngi, Uncle Jimmy (every Maori person has an Uncle Jimmy) took us over to explain about the Waka (canoe). The Waka has a large importance in Maori culture as the canoes are often used as ancestral references of the Iwi (tribes) and they are the vessels that brought them to New Zealand in the first place. No one knows for sure when the first canoes arrived in New Zealand nor where exactly they came from. Moari legends differ between each waka and tribe and the stories have often been melded to create an idea of a mass migration to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The Maori believe they travelled from Hawaiki. Hawaiki is not a physical place in the modern geographical sense of the word, and its meaning differs from tribe to tribe. Some believe it as the place they come from before they were born and the place they will go when they will die and it has a spiritual meaning. Others take it to mean the birth place of the Maori people though have no geographical location associated and others believe it is somewhere in Polynesia.

Scholars believe the arrival to be around 1250 - 1300 AD with different theories of the Maori having in origins in China, Africa, India and most commonly Ploynesia. The one thing they do agree on is the Maori arrived in Waka.

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Mitai Village, had a small waka which Uncle Jimmy explained seated about 30 warriors. Women were never allowed in the boats as the first thing a tribe would do on capturing another tribe would be to take or kill the women. Women were key to the growth of the tribe so if you killed the women, you killed the tribe's future. Waka's would often be decorated with the various Maori gods both to ward off enemies and bless them with safe crossings. The vessels that brought the Maori across were thought to have used two large wakas harnessed together with a house suspended in-between, almost like a primitive catamaran with its twin hulls. These larger wakas could allegedly hold up to 1,500 people, meaning the Maori people invented the first South Pacific Cruise liners.

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As Uncle Jimmy explained about the wakas we could hear the blowing of a conch shell, chanting and shouting in the distance. We were led down to the water way to see the arrival of the tribesmen by waka.

Enter the Marae

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Following the tribe's arrival, we were led into the Marae of the village. The Marae is the communal area infront of the villages whare runanga (community house) and is the area where a community will meet and hold court and discussions.

Our ariki (chief) was greeted by the Maori ariki with an aggressive chase and display of his fighting skills.

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This display was originally used to determine if the guests in the village came in peace or war. It is then followed by a peace offering which our chief took and was invited to say few words. Our chief had been chosen earlier in the evening and we could not have picked better, an Indian Doctor by trade, this man was a talker! He thanked the chief for welcoming us into his village, the Hāngi dinner we were going to receive later, and then he went on to thank every god he could think of, his family, each individual member of the maori experience and their families. If it had been the Oscars they would have played the 'exit stage' music and started a slow clap!

Following this, the chiefs shared a Hongi, where two people touch nose and forehead. The word literally means 'to share a breath'.

Showing the skills

Next on the show was an explanation of their village life, the traditional weapons and a display of different techniques and games they used to train their warriors for war. This included hand eye co-ordination exercises, skill exercises and a good old fashioned stick fight.

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There were also a number of songs, including an explanation of the instruments. A demonstration of poi used by the ladies accompanied by songs to woo the men.

We also learnt about the traditional tattoo methods or Ta moko. Legend has it a Maori man beat his wife, she ran off into the underworld. Realising what he had done he followed her into the underworld, when he reached the underworld his face was smeared with sweat from his exertion. He gained his wife back, who had learnt the art of moko from the underworld and on their return tattooed his face with the same patterns as a reminder to treat thier women well. Other men in the tribe followed his example in his honour.

Women wear the owl beneath their chin as a symbol of protection. Men wear three birds on their face; the bird on their forehead represents wisdom, the parrot or beak on their nose is for speech making and the kiwi on their chin represents protection of mother earth

The Silver Fern

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The silver fern is the symbol of New Zealand and adorns the shirts of the All Blacks rugby team, their pride and joy. Originally the kiwi bird was suggested to be the national emblem. The Maori argued that although the bird was unique and indigineous to New Zealand, they were rarely seen and therefore not a fitting emblem.

The Silver fern on the other hand can be found all over New Zealand and had important meaning to the Maori's when the first arrived. The Maori's would only move at night under a full moon. They would send a scout ahead who would lay the fern, bottom side up to guide the rest of the tribe. The moon would reflect off the silver surface underneath the fern and guide the way. Very clever.

There is currently a large push for New Zealand to have a new flag (and get rid of that pesky union flag in the corner) that includes the silver fern, or perhaps the kiwi too.

Haka

A haka is a traditional Maori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield to intimidate their enemies and welcome them to the battle. A haka will often consist of the stamping of feet, the rolling eyes, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping, along with a chant that is shouted out by the members of the haka group. The words of the chant describe the ancestors and events in the tribes history.

Today the haka is most well known for being performed before a Rugby game by the New Zealand All Blacks. It is also used at events when tribes come together in peace and will be performed at ceremonial events.

Below is video of a mixed kappa haka group. Although it's not the haka we saw, I think it conveys the passion and intensity of a haka well:

When I worked in a school, just outside of Wellington on my gap year I was invited to watch the kapa haka group perform. To be in the group, you had to be of Maori or islander (Samoan, Polynesian or from one of many other pacific islands) descent and be able to speak Maori, which is taught at school.

The group performed traditional haka's which are best known as the 'war dance' performed by the All Blacks before they play rugby. Now each group will have it's own Haka with its own meaning. This meant that each school had it's own haka, and don't go thinking they're all war chants; the school I worked at in the Hutt valley thanked the various Maori gods for the hills, the valleys, and asked for good education etc.

The kapa haka group surrounded me and performed a haka to welcome me to the school. As they did so there eyes roll to the back of their heads and tongues stick out. Although it may sound ridiculous, when you are at the centre of it, one on one, it is absolutely blood curdingly scary, a real experience and I was very honoured to have had it done to me.

What was amazing is when the first team played rugby, the whole school would haka them in the morning assembly, led by the kapa haka group. Then when the game was being played the whole school would haka the other school and vice versa. To see 1,200 school kids haka-ing each other at the top of their lungs in the name of school rivalry with such passion and adrenaline was really quite something.

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The haka at Mitai village was just as passionate and electrifying as I remember. This was not a token 'authentic cultural experience' I had dismissed it as. I'd really recommend a visit to Mitai village, despite my scepticism, it was a relly enjoyable and informative night plus you get a great feed!!

Posted by Where's Willy 18:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand haka mitai_village moari_experience Comments (0)

Taupo and Rotorua

Hot pools, mud pools, steaming geysers and hard core prawn

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Driving north through north island there is a noticeable difference in the landscape we had become accustomed to in south island. The dramatic mountains had been replaced with plush, green rolling hills reminiscent of sights more familiar with the English countryside. It's no wonder Captain Cook, a man from the north east of England found himself so at home here.

As you approach Taupo, you are met by the monstrous Mount Ruapehu, one of three volcanoes making up the Tongariro National Park and home to New Zealand largest ski area. Thereafter the horizon is polka dot with white plumes of smoke rising from the naturally occurring hot pools, geysers and thermal springs that make the area famous. Meeting the south of the lake, Taupo sits a further 45km round the shoreline to the north. This is no small lake by any measure, in fact it is larger than Singapore.

Although the area is a geographical wonder and in many ways spectacular, there is always two sides to every coin, the tail end of this coin being that the thermal area goes hand in hand with the release of sulphur into the air. Think egg curry, and you'll get a whiff of what I mean!!

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Further round in Rotorua you can see the effect of the thermal land throughout the town. It is not uncommon to see steam squeezing through cracks in the pavement, or a paving tile rumbling as the hot water bubbles beneath it. Quite a few buildings have steam pipes round the side, funnelling in free heating to the house. It's no surprise that 70% of New Zealand's energy supply comes from renewable sources such as geothermal or hydropower from draining the lakes. We even got to see the Aratiatia dam being opened near Taupo, watching the canyon flood in a matter of minutes. Its great fun and completely free to go watch so well worth checking out the opening times if you're in the area.

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Lady Knox Geyser

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In 1901, Rotorua housed one of the largest open prisons in New Zealand; 35km south of Rotorua, and surrounded by complete bush land, the nearest town was well over a days travel away, assuming the prisoner could make a break through the thick shrubbery. What remains today is the worlds largest man made forrest (pine is not actually native to the country despite being its third largest export).

The hot pools were discovered by prisoners, clearing earth and planting pine in the area. Desperate for a bit of refreshment to their hard labour, they stripped off, chucked their clothes in the hot pool to clean them out. The impact of the clothes broke the surface tension of the geyser and sent their laundry 20m into the air and the convicts running. Over the years the silica from the eruptions has formed a white funnel that intensifies the eruptions for anything up to an hour.

Lady Knox Geyser is now the star attraction of the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland erupting at 10.15 every morning. Having seen Stokkur Geyser in Iceland, we were quite excited to see Mother Nature back in action.

The excitement of Stokkur geyser was watching the water bulge and swell with the rising heat before it exploded into the air. The anticipation of the eruption was almost better than the eruption itself, but when it did go it felt like a real explosion of force and power as if the earth was releasing a huge amount of energy into the sky, the water flying 30-40m into the air.

Unfortunately the mystery and majesty of a geyser eruption is somewhat lost at Lady Knox as the tour guide drops a bag of soap into the top of the geyser and waits for it to erupt. A small fountain starts and gradually builds into a taller stream of water, it is more fire hydrant hit in the street than force of nature. Although it is good, I think if we were to return to the area, we'd visit another park as if you go to see a natural wonder, it needs to be all natural not aided along by hand. On the bright side, on a sunny day it does give off a nice rainbow:

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Champagne Pools

Wandering around the 'Thermal Wonderland' I was certainly left wondering what all the wonder was about. There is a series of steaming grey pools, all with different levels of egg whiff. To be fair to the area, I was told that there had been a drought recently and this had an effect on the colours that normally show up in the pools. Certainly looking elsewhere online, the attraction is far more colourful than the grey mud flats we experienced, and at NZD $30 a head, we couldn't help but be disappointed. The words 'Thermal Wonderland' do drum up images of exciting thermal activity, vivid colours and well at least something to wonder at!! Steaming water that smells of bad eggs, that gets right to the back of your throat, doesn't quite cut it.

The highlight of the thermal wonderland is the champagne pools, and it was the only stop out of 23 that evoked any interest for me. The pool is created by an explosion 700 years, leaving a crater 62m deep. Water flows in through a deep water conduit at 230C cooling to 74C at the surface. Carbon dioxide bubbles rise to the surface giving a bubbling effect much like......you guessed it, champagne.

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Deposits of arsenic, sulphur compounds, gold and silver settle round the edge of the alkaline pool creating a bright orange rim to the pool.

Mud Pools

Far more exciting than the thermal wonderland and completely FREE to visit are the mud pools just around the corner. Here you can see the heat rising from the ground as it spits mud high into the air. There is something quite hypnotic about watching the pools of mud bubble away. See what you think!

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Huka Falls

The Huka falls are the largest falls on the Waikato River (the longest river in New Zealand at 425km), draining the waters of Lake Taupo. Although not the largest falls we have seen in our travels at only 11m, they are probably one of the most intense. The Waikato river is normally 100m and the gorge proceeding the falls force the same mass of water through a 20m wide gorge channelling a whopping 220,000 litres per second, enough to empty 5 Olympic swimming pools in a minute!

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As the water from Lake Taupo is largely formed from meltwater from the surrounding mountains, the falls produce a blue and white foam or 'Huka', the Moari word that give the falls its name.

Huka Prawn Park

Hungry for lunch we headed to Huka Falls Prawn Park. Declining the option to catch our own prawns, we found a table and ordered half a kilo of prawns in garlic butter and they were HUGE!!! Not that our luncheon was completely frivolous, here are the top prawn facts we learnt:

  1. Prawns breed at a ratio of seven females to one male
  2. A Golden claw male puts all its prawn energy into fighting, when he wins often enough he turns into a blue clawed male and puts all his energy into making love!
  3. A male prawn is gifted with not one but two willy's!
  4. These double dongs come in handy as during a male prawns average two year lifetime, it will father approximately 36 million baby prawns!

Now that is a hard core prawn!

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Thermal Pools

The unfortunate thing about the Rotorua and Taupo region is that it's fame has got the best of it and the tourist industry has fenced off the majority of the areas natural wonders and slapped an unnaturally high entrance price to see them. So we were particularly pleased when we were passed on a top tip from Ant at home to visit Kerosene creek, a naturally occurring hot stream south of Rotorua.

Parking up the car a couple of clicks down a chunky gravelled road (almost finished Lucy the car off for good), we pulled up, grabbed our 'togs' (Australasian for swim suits), and followed our noses down the creek to a small waterfall and pool in which to take an afternoon bath. Unfortunately there were already some other bathers around as I hear a skinny dip in the hot pool is quite liberating!!!

The stream is probably just a bit warmer than a luke warm bath and as you dig your feet into the sand beneath you can feel the earth getting hotter and hotter. You only need to bury your feet about 10cm or so before its actually a little too hot to touch. The novelty of bathing in a naturally hot stream that isn't serviced by a tourist attraction is really great. Well done Mother Nature and thanks for the tip Ant!!

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Posted by Where's Willy 18:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua new_zealand taupo huka_falls hot_pools thermal_wonderland mud_pools huka_prawn Comments (0)

Bulls

Going to Town on a terr-i-bull pun!

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Just North of Wellington and West of Palmerston North is the Town of Bulls, home to a large agricultural and dairy community. It if often said "New Zealand gets its milk from Bulls". Now don't get me wrong, there is not much there, barely anything at all. But what is there, is comedy gold!

Now I like a good pun. Correction, I LOVE a good pun and this town was right up my street!! All the signs for the local shops and ameneties where stacked with puns on the name 'bulls'. The Clothing shop? Fashion-a-bull!

Want to buy an Antique? They're afford-a-bull!

What does the local greengrocer sell? Vege-ta-bulls!

Recycling? That's Responsi-bull!

Feeling a bit ill? Go to the doctor, it's cur-a-bull!

My verdict? Unforget-a-bull, laugh-a-bull and incred-i-bull! Way to put yourselves on the map!!!

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Posted by Where's Willy 05:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand bulls great_signs puns Comments (1)

Wellington

Getting our boots on!


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Te Papa

Arriving in Wellington after a disastrous crossing, I couldn't be more pleased to be on stable ground. After kissing the earth hello and making it promise me that it would never leave me again, we dumped our bags in the YHA and took advantage of the horrendous weather by declaring a museum day.

Te Papa museum is easily one is the best museums in the world. The Mountains to Sea zone greets you with a full blue whale skeleton leading into a room stuffed full (get it?) of enough taxidermy to fill a zoo with native New Zealand animals; there's even a 4.2m, 495kg giant squid preserved in glycol. Very modern and interactive, the Natural History Museum could certainly take a few lessons off this place!

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The Awesome Forces section took us through an earthquake simulator and Maori explanations of the gods that cause the earthquakes, volcanos and weather that have formed New Zealand landscapes.

The top floor of the museum is dedicated to New Zealand life as it stands today, its Maori history in Mana Whenua, immigration and colonisation by the British and the Waitangi Treaty, that gave the Maori people the same rights as British Citizens.

There is also a great section explaining Maori culture with a full scale Marae, or Maori community house, donated from Gisborne. These Marae's are intricately decorated with the Maori gods; the floor represents Papa, the earth mother and Rangi, the sky father is represented in the roof. Tāne their son forced his parents apart pushing Rangi high into the sky, providing a space for the Maori people to live in. Tāne's legs can be seen in the entrance of the Marae as it forms the door frame. The other children of Rangi and Papa are carved out of the dark wood on the face of the Marae each representing a different element be it wind, fire or water.

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Opportunity for Dinner

Feeling suitably cultured we decided to round the day off with a trip to the cinema. This too was not without its excitement. We bought our snacks, put on our 3D glasses, snuggled down into the seats and waited for the trailers to start. The first trailer was particularly good with the firm alarm going off and people running out of the theatre. Iron Man 3 was clearly pulling out all the stops for realism.

Panic stuck as people grabbed their popcorn, abandoned children and ran for the door. Going through the food court a man had decided to see off his meal before leaving the building as he frantically grabbed the food off his plate with his hands and stuffed it into his face...... Then moved onto the next table and starting eating the food someone else had left behind on another table! There's an opportunist at every moment!

Waiting in the cold outside, Natalie declined the offer of happy hour at Mermaids 'dancing bar' and waited for the firemen to arrive. The building was given the all clear and we packed back in past diners wondering where their dinner had gone.

On the bright side, Iron Man 3 was amazing.

Mount Victoria

Tuesday brought better weather and we set out to explore the nations capital. Heading quite literally up the side of the mountain we realised that since we got the car hire we'd barely walked more than 100m, let along up a 70 degree hill! Still the view from the top made it well worth it as you could see both sides of the hill, north into the City and south to the airport and the Cook Strait.

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Wellington sits in a hook of land at the bottom of North Island. It's position means it is not only the political hub, but the wind capital of New Zealand with 173 days a year having wind speeds of over 60km/h. Hold onto your hat!

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Walking round Wellington, I did feel happy to be there. Maybe it was the familiarity from when I worked in the area 8 years ago but I also think it was just happy to be in a big city again. New Zealand is a great country but coming from London, which has a population almost twice that of New Zealand (8.1m vs at 4.5m), it can feel a bit sparse in places. Plus they have a giant fern ball to spin on your finger and a super fun happy slide!

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Old St Paul's

Wellington also has a fair share of history to it and Old St. Paul's is a prime example of that. Built in 1866 entirely out of native timber, St Paul's was the parish Cathedral for Wellington and the British Governor at a time when New Zealand had just joined the commonwealth and Wellington was renamed the Capital of New Zealand from Auckland as it was seen that the seat of government should be closer to the Cook Strait so that South Island could be more effectively governed.

Its significance to the community changed significantly during the Second World War. With British troops engaged with battles in the pacific and on the European continent, and New Zealand troops in the Middle East, President Roosevelt agreed to send a battalion of troops to protect New Zealand. The country also held strategic importance to the Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the growing fights in the Pacific.

The American troops brought with them music, alcohol and a sense of living for the moment, transforming the social life of Wellington. Not that this was always appreciated with New Zealanders coining the phrase 'overpaid, over sexed and over here'. In fact, following the war, New Zealand found itself short of women as so many emigrated to the States as war brides.

St. Paul's provided a meeting place for the troops and is often considered the last place many soldiers of the U.S. Marine Corps found peace before paying the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War. Old St. Paul's still holds the banner of the U.S. Marine Corp as a shrine in remembrance of their sacrifice during the war.

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Sitting in on Parliament

Just round from Old St. Paul's sits New Zealand Parliament and the Beehive. New Zealand is quite unique in only having one chamber of Parliament after the Legislative Council passed a motion to dissolve itself due to inactivity. Imagine the House of Lords passing a vote to say they never did anything so stop paying them! Very modest!

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Top Tip: You can get a free one hour tour round the Parliamentary buildings and learn about the process of government.

Although it did provide quite a unique view of government, we did find the tour a little too focussed on the buildings rather than the current governmental process. Fortunately you can also sit in the Public Gallery and watch Parliament in session when it is sitting. Unfortunately you can't take your camera in but I can assure you it looks something like this:

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Parekura Horomia, the former Minister for Maori Affairs and MP for the Labour Party had recently died and Parliament had been suspended for the day to pay homage to a politician who was clearly very admired within New Zealand and the House of Representatives. It was very moving to sit in the Gallery, which was packed with Maori friends, family and supporters of Parekura and hear other politicians speak so dearly of a colleague. Hekia Parata spoke passionately in both Maori and English and Louisa Wall (who recently sponsored the same-sex marriage bill through New Zealand Parliament) even sang a beautiful traditional Maori song, both of which served as reminders of how the Maori community is deeply integrated within New Zealand Culture and Politics.

As another example of how different New Zealand is to the UK, check out the house and gallery breaking into song after the passing of the same-sex marriage act!

Stone Grill

Whilst in New Zealand, we asked a few friends what is traditional New Zealand food. The suggestions that came back where; lamb, 'fush and chups' and a stone grill. Stones are heated for 8 hours in the oven to 400 °C. The stones are then brought to your table with your choice of beef, lamb or prawns and you cook the food to your tasting!

A very novel idea, I had to try it! I opted for a filet of beef (has to be done properly) and Natalie had the surf and turf. It's a lot of fun cooking your own food, but for me it was lacking a little something, maybe seasoning and a pro chef. Still a definite must whilst in NZ.

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Whitby

On the way out of Wellington we stopped off in Silverstream to see the school I worked at back in 2008 then headed across to Paraparaumu. Couldn't help but stop in Whitby to take a photo or two!

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Posted by Where's Willy 23:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand parliament wellington whitby beehive stone_grill Comments (1)

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