Friday, March 31, 2017

Glow, little glow worm ...

On our March 18, Saturday, it’s actually the 17th at home and everyone is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  We were past that, and we headed to a place called Spellbound.  We would walk in a couple of caves and then get onto a small raft to go view the glow worms in their cave.
We walked down a path that had lots of rock formations.  Many of these become slanted after an earthquake, but these were still all fairly level and in a good horizontal design.
Spellbound only takes up to 12 people at a time to visit the cave, and we liked that a lot.  The cave is on private property and you walk a path to get to the cave. 
A little up and down, some pretty terrain.
Down near the cave we crossed a bit of a creek.
It was enjoyable having a bit of a walk.  We stopped on a little creek bank and saw eels. 

It's an ugly-looking creature, I think.
Then it was time for the cave and the glow worms.  These little creatures are fascinating … and I didn’t even know they existed.  It’s dark when you first get inside the cave until your eyes adjust. 

The glow worms send down strands of mucous and that's what they use for catching their pretty ... bugs. 
Slowly, the lights came on.  At first you could only see a few, then more and more.  They were covering the roof of They were everywhere and put a glow onto the water that lit it up.  It was startling with the light and the color, what appeared to be a turquoise hue.

This is a not-very-good photo as it was in the dark and the camera was hand-held.  But it's all I have unless I can pull one of theirs.  If so, I'll replace it.  These little creatures lit up the cave like there were little fairy lights strung all over.  It was a beautiful effect, and best of all was, that these were alive.
We weren’t to take photos for the most part, and I understand as we don’t want to destroy their habitat or worry them.  There were some points that we could, but photos weren’t good ones as it was way too dark.  They sent us some we could use.  Of course, with not having access to my email for some reason, I didn’t get them off.  So, I can’t use them for this until maybe I edit it later.  For now, I’ll just use a stock one from some site.

We came out of the cave after seeing the little glow worms, and were headed to our next adventure. 
We walked past more rocks and trees, and it was a great feeling to walk through this country and see what we might not have otherwise.
It wasn't a long walk, but enough to stretch our legs a bit.
We entered the second cave of the day.
From there we were taken to a cave and a tour that included some pretty interesting things … a koa skeleton, for one.  It was a big bird that is now extinct. 

A koa was a large bird, that reminded me of an emu.

There were some nice formations in this cave, and are different than ones I've seen in other caves.
I really enjoy walking through caves.  Each is different, and has a variety of rock making it an interesting excursion.
I sure wouldn't want to get lost in any of these. 
In between caves, our guide had served us tea and cookies.  It was a nice interlude, in our little walks.  This was quite enjoyable, and Spellbound did a great job.
Then it was time to get back and go find Marakopa Falls and Piripiri Cave.  We drove out on a narrow and very windy road, but never saw a sign.  So we came back to town.  We saw a teeny, tiny sign.  And went back out again.  It was getting late so we decided to just go into the Mangapohue Natural Bridge as we knew there’d be other falls and maybe other caves to see. 

We did see a sign for something called the Tramping Track.  All along the fence line there were shoes, boots and slippers of all kinds, shapes and colors.  There were mostly one each, but sometimes a pair.
Woo hoo.  Another suspension bridge.
The walk into the bridge was cool and very nice. 
The natural bridge was beautiful, as they always are.  There’s a river below and the walkway along the side gave us some great views. 

Another gorgeous site to see.  The walls of the gorge were probably once the sides of a cave.  Eventually, it is thought, the roof became unstable and collapsed into a gorge.  The bridge portion is all that remains.
We wandered past the bridge and then into a pasture where there were cows.  They did not want their photos taken. 
Cow.  Not a happy one as it was giving me the stink-eye.
Between them and the sheep we’re not getting any farm animal photos.  What’s with that?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wandering to Waitomo

We continued on down the road toward Waitomo after the railcars (March 17).  We needed a cup of coffee and stopped in at a little place called the Rhubarb Café in Arapuni.  It had to be a good café as it had the word rhubarb in it.  I’ve been eating locally-made yogurt with rhubarb in it that’s been some of the best yogurt I’ve ever had. 
Anyway, we wandered in and ordered our coffee.  We also had a little bite to eat and struck up a conversation with the owners, Louise and Bryan.  What great folks they were, and it was great food and coffee, too.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely and they even provided us with a local scenic walk where we could see a dam and a power plant … imagine that … and walk over a suspension bridge.  Of course, we would do that.
The Arapuni suspension bridge sits high above the river.  We walked across and went until the signs said no unauthorized entry.  And then back across we went.  Sure do love suspension bridges with their bounce.  This one was built in 1925 so the construction workers could reach the power station site.  It holds a maximum of 30 pedestrians and you can't take motorcycles or horses on it.
The Arapuni power plant.  Nuff said.
The bridge was fun, and the view wonderful.  All too soon, we had to get back on the road, but it was another nice interlude on our way to the next hotel.
This is the type of hedge I've only seen in photos.  It was quite tall and very well-manicured.  It was just on the road and seemed to be just along the edge of some pasture land.
When we arrived in Otorohanga (near Waitomo), there was no reservation.  Whoops.  We’d certainly booked it, but it hadn’t come through.  The lady said there’d been a glitch with the booking service, so we figured that was what had happened.  She had a room for us anyway, and we booked in for two nights as there were several things we wanted to do.  Best part?  I got a dog fix with Major, the boxer.
Major, a very big boy.
 We did our usual, and walked around town a bit. 

At either end of town there were giant Kiwis. 

You can see how big they are by looking at me ... a frail, fragile flower of a woman.
This little bowler hat was another landmark we found.

The silver leaf is a New Zealand symbol that is considered a badge of honor by the people, products and services.  It's used in the 100 per cent Pure New Zealand campaign, rather like the silver hand that designates the "Made in Alaska" items.  These silver leaves were another find in our walk about town.

We've seen a number of totems. 
 Then bed as we had a date with some Waitomo glow worms the next day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Kiwi country and railcars

We left the Wai-O-Tapu that day and headed to Rainbow Springs for the Kiwi Behind the Scenes tour. 

We just chose to do the Kiwi encounter rather than the whole wildlife thing.  There were only three of us on the tour.  That, in itself, was a great treat.
The tour was wonderful, with our tour guide having an incredible amount of knowledge on these interesting birds.  The ones at Rainbow Springs are Brown Kiwis, although there are four others, including Great Spotted, Little Spotted, Rowi and Tokoeka (with some subspecies).  Of the Rowi and one species of Tokoeka there are only about 100 adults left, so conservation efforts are imperative.  Luckily there are a number of places in New Zealand that have programs such as this one to help expand their numbers. 

We weren’t allowed to take photos so that was a bummer, but totally understandable.  We were excited anyhow.

Their feathers are shaggy, like coarse hair, and they are the only bird to have nostrils at the tip of their bills.
The guide took us to see some in their nocturnal setting as that is how they live, rooting around at night with those long beaks in the dirt and roots looking for bugs.  They were bigger than I expected, with fluffy brown feathers.  Those feathers, at one time, were used for a number of things, including ceremonial accessories. 

We went into where they weigh and measure the eggs they have daily.  That was pretty cool as the eggs are way bigger than expected.  In fact, the Kiwi is one bird that lays one of the biggest eggs in proportion to its body weight.

So far 118 Kiwi chicks have hatched this season, and there have been a total of 1,623 chicks released into the wild.  Chicks hatch fully feathered although it takes 3-5 years for them to reach adult size.  About 50 percent of Kiwi eggs fail to hatch.  Of those that do hatch, about 90 percent of them are dead within six months.  About 70 percent of those are killed by stoats and cats.  About 5 percent reach adulthood. 
Kiwis are under extreme danger from everything so Rainbow Springs gathers their eggs in the wild, incubates and hatches them and returns the chicks to where the eggs were laid, by six months of age.  Long ago, stoats, kind of like ferrets, were brought in to eradicate the plague of rabbits and other rodents that the New Zealand people wanted to be rid of.  Mistake.  They, and a couple other species like them, have nearly taken out all of the Kiwis.  In fact, they are the Number One killer of young kiwi.

In 1995, Rainbow Springs received its first Kiwi egg from the Department of Conservation.  Kiwi Encounter opened in 2004 as the only specialist incubation facility in the country.  About 120 chicks are hatched yearly.
The Kiwi is also in danger from cats, dogs, ferrets, pigs, possums and others due to their strong scent that makes it easy for them to be found.  But I certainly see the impact that places like Rainbow Springs is having as they release a number of chicks all the time.  The chicks are chipped so they can track them.  It’s an incredibly interesting program and this was worth seeing and learning about.

On Friday, March 17, we headed out.  We were on our way to Waitomo to see the glow worms, but found a couple of other stops we had to make.  One of those was a self-driving railcar cruise.  What fun.  It starts at an old railway station at Mamaku, near Rotorua where we’d been staying. 
The Rotorua Railroad was planned in 1877 to bring tourists to see the pink and white terraces, considered the eighth wonder of the world.  Before the railroad was completed, in 1886 Mt. Tarawera erupted burying the terraces.  The railway was finally completed into Rotorua in 1894. 
The Mamaku Railway Station. 
The railway eventually became unused and sat neglected and overgrown for 13 years until 2014.  The people who own and operate the railcars worked to whack bushes and rebuild rails, putting in new ties where needed.  They made it a railway again.
There was a lot of sweat, blood and I'm sure a few a few tears rebuilding some of this line.

It's a pretty area, but not much around it.
The other step in this process was to build a self-driving railcar that would maneuver the rails.  The current one is the third type built and used, each one being better and more modern. 

The cars are parked in vans and brought out on a track and then moved to the station.
They operate on a computer system that can automatically slow you down and speed you up, and has an anti-collision system so you don’t run into the car ahead of you.

They move them forward, turn them around on a turntable track and back them in by the side of the station. 
We got in and off we went.  Each car is maybe a quarter of a mile ahead of the one behind it. 

I was operating the handbrake.  Look out!!!  The railcruiser is fully automated.  It's a state of the art petrol-electric, four-seat self-drive hybrid rail vehicle.  It is also outfitted with waterproof sides, windscreen wipers and comes with onboard heating.  It doesn't get much better than that.  It was a bit cool to start but warmed as we rolled on down the tracks. 
We rolled through some beautiful farmland in the Dansey Native Forest and saw lots of sheep.  The fence lines were cool, and I happen to like the lines as they go here and there.
Cruising along at 20 kph, we rode through pastures with sheep and cows and rock walls on either side of us.  We listened to a some New Zealand rail history and enjoyed the scenery. 

We even went under a couple of car bridges.

We turned around at Tarukenga Station, that isn't much.  It had an aluminum and some pretty fancy chickens.
We crossed a couple of little roads where we had to be slowed down.   We had to be sure to have our hands on the handbrake just in case.  We also made sure to use the horn to let everyone know we were coming.  Perhaps we were a bit heavy-handed on the horn.

And then, the clickety clack of our railcar stopped.  We were done.  It was great fun, and something we hadn't expected to find.  You never know what you'll find when you pick up a travel brochure.
Back on the road, but now, I'm tired and done for the night.  More later. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thermal Wonderland

The next day, March 16, we took off for Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) Thermal Wonderland.  It truly was.  There are a number of hot springs, but this was the one our hotel hosts recommended, and we were not disappointed.  Plus, we’d been told there’s a geyser that makes its appearance once a day at approximately 10:15 a.m.

We found the park.  It’s part of a Scenic Reserve, and has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.  We got our tickets, and then went on to find the Lady Knox geyser, in a rather round-a-bout kind of way.  Sometimes things aren’t well marked, but we got there in plenty of time. 

Lady Knox Geyser, steaming and waiting for her grand entrance.
Interestingly, this geyser gets some help to spout off.  The interpretative ranger told us a story of how the early folks came to wash their clothes in the warm water and put soap into the thermal.  It started to foam, as soap does, and then started spouting higher and higher and higher.  It scared them off for a very long time.  And … that’s exactly what our guide did.  The geyser started small, foaming, like a rabid animal, and then more and more foam came out. 
Pouring in the soap.

Foaming at the top, and it's also running down the side.
After a short time, as he continued to look behind him while he spoke, water began to spurt out, going higher until it was steady and most beautiful to see.  He moved away from it as I'm sure he's experienced getting wet before he got it all figured out.  Maybe it’s not as impressive as Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but it was still a sight to see. 
Bubbles, water, steam.  It was wonderful.

Well worth seeing, if for nothing other than the history of how it was discovered.
The wind shifted and we got some bubbles coming our way.  It all smelled very clean.  One woman in the very front and center got drenched with water from it … and we felt fortunate that we were located to the side and only got a small amount of misting.  It can go for over an hour, but we watched for a while, and then got our photos and decided to head back to the hiking trails and the thermal walkways.  We had been told there were some unique and vivid colors.

The general public only sees a small portion of the reserve, and we wanted to do as much of it as we could and decided to walk all of the trails, between 3-4 miles.  The area is associated with volcanic activity dating back 160,000 years and is on the edge of the largest volcanic depression within the active Taupo Volcanic Zone. 

As we walked up the pathway to the trails, there were thermal vents steaming everywhere. 

There are over a dozen volcanic craters in this park.  Some are formed by eruptions, others by internal chasms.  The colors we saw at the beginning were only the start of the color in this wonderland. 
We started walking one of the trails.  There were three main ones, with radial fingers going off on some of them.  Each pathway contains something of interest, and we wanted to see everything.  It was about 3 miles to walk the paths, but I believe more if you went off on all of the trails.  We did it because it was so beautiful we wanted/had to see it all.
More steam vents.
Some trees don't fare well, but I thought it was interesting.
The Artist's Palette, has hot and cold pools with extremely vibrant color.  Some change color depending on weather but were beautiful to see no matter what color they were.  I never really smelled a lot of the sulphur associated with thermal activity today.

Some change color depending on weather but were beautiful to see no matter what color they were.  I never really smelled a lot of the sulphur associated with thermal activity today.
The Champagne Pool is one of the most colorful.  It's unique with a beautiful edging of a bright orangey color.  Loved it.  It was hard to photograph with the steam covering the color mostly, but on occasion it cleared just enough.

There are a number of wood carvings throughout the park.  They're all unique, some shaped like mushrooms and close to the ground, and others like this totem.
There's just one cool thing to see after another, and the colors are everywhere.

There's even a little water fall.  This place continues to surprise.

This New Zealand gecko was carved from a pine tree log by Merv Richdale, a chainsaw carving artist.
The Devil's Bath, the color of which is from water from another pool mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts.  The color ranges from green to yellow due to the amount of reflected light and cloud color.
This walk was beautiful, with new sights at every turn of the path.  And we were happy we'd done them all.

 From there we stopped by the mud pools.  There some pretty violent mud eruptions there. 
 There was some pretty wild mud action going on here.
It was all fun and games until the violence started.  What a show.
After leaving the park, we headed for the kiwi exhibit, but that will have to wait until next time.