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Grogan Teek Travels

Black sand, red rocks and glowworms

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 27 April 2008 | Views [918]

Once again a weekend finds us out hopping on a plane and jetting off – this time to New Zealand’s largest city –Auckland.  Of the 4 plus million people in NZ, close to one and half million live in Auckland.  Since the girls are off school for two weeks for a term break, it seemed a good time to go exploring.


It may seem that we are flying around a lot, but you need to know that flying TO New Zealand may be outlandishly expensive but once you get here its pretty cheap to fly around.  Pacific Blue, the affiliate of Virgin Blue, generally has tickets for about $50 one way or less, and Air NZ has these great “grab a seat” offers that are as good or even better. So we are being as extravagant as it may sound.  Plus gas is hovering around $6 a gallon, so flying makes more sense.


Anyway, back to the interesting stuff.  I went off and got my work done so then we had a few days to play. Dave had some space work to do, so Pam the girls and I braved public transportation and made our way to the ferries. Believe it or not we are getting pretty good at buses. From the buses we got on the ferry to Rangitoto Island.  Auckland has something like 50 volcanoes and Rangitoto is the youngest one, about 600 years old.  It isn’t as tall as many volcanoes you might think of and it take about an hour and a half to walk to the summit. 


The ferry drops you off and you have to be careful to get on the last ferry of the day. I don’t know what happens if you get stuck there, but there aren’t many facilities and it probably gets pretty cold at night.  The rocks along the ferry dark are dark black but have lots of little holes in them.. As we walked up the hill we could see fields of rubble of black, hardened lava.  (Mackenzie noted that a friend had bought some lava rocks in Hawaii and was impressed b the money she could make selling the huge fields of rocks.)


Before we got to the summit we reached the cone.  While vegetation has grown over the hole where the lava spewed out, you can clearly see the round area going deep down into a whole and you can imagine steam and lava pouring out. 


Then we climbed to the summit. I guess I expected the top of the cone to be the summit, but apparently the volcano tosses rocks and lava high, creating a point even higher than the cone ridge. From the summit you get a beautiful view of Auckland and the surrounding islands. Truly spectacular -- with nearly deserted islands on one side and the bustling city on the other. At the summit there were fewer rocks and those that were there were red and maroon in color. We also got to explore lava caves.


On our walk we saw some of New Zealand’s icons.  You may know that the “Silver Fern” is famous here – kind of like the Canadian maple leaf. You can find ferns on just about everything here to represent NZ – including the netball teams.  There are lots of ferns and since we’ve been here we’ve been wondering which ones were the silver ferns. Finally we found out.  They grow on Rangitoto in tall (9-10 feet ?) fern bushes.  The top of the leaf is green but when you turn it over it is silver.  Apparently the silver reflects the moonlight, which made them good for track markers.  


The ferns also gave us a view of another icon in NZ. The spiral shape of the plants (I’ll post a picture) is found everywhere – in sculpture, in jewelry, everywhere. We finally saw where the image came from!


The next day we rose early and went to the other side of the island to Muriwai Beach and checked an item off our bucket lists: we rode horses on the beach.  This is one of those things that I had always wanted to do but never really had the chance. We saddled up (English saddles and bridles, of course, so it was a little challenging for us western-style riders) and took off. 


The sandy beaches of Muriwai are a little different from my horses on the beach fantasy because they weren’t white sandy beaches – they were black and sparkling.  Remember the volcanoes? Well, they leave behind rocks that, over the years, turn into fine, black sand. Because there is lots of iron and other minerals in the sand it sparkles in the sun.


After the beach we went into the woods. Like just about every part of New Zealand, the forests we rode in had been used as a setting for a movie. These woods were in Xena, Warrior Princess, Narnia, and even parts of the Lord of the Rings.  Recognize anything?


That night we explored another famous NZ site – One Tree Hill.  Here’s a tidbit. There is a TV show called One Tree Hill. It gets its name from a U2 song of the same name. The song was released in NZ and was written in honor of Bono’s assistant, a Kiwi, who was killed in a motorcycle crash.  Long before Bono and tv, One Tree Hill was a Maori Pa (fort) for a Maori community. From the top of the hill you can see incredible views of Auckland – even the sulky races down the road.


The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes

(U2 song)


The next day we again got up early and headed south to Waitomo Caves. Waitomo means water hole.  Waitomo lies along the fault line and is peppered with these “pancake rocks”. They are called pancakes because (duh) they look like pancakes – layers of thin and thick rocks.  In small groups, the rocks look like a short stack of pancakes.  In large groups, they look like an ancient fortress that has since been overgrown. Hard to believe they aren’t manmade.  If you saw them on Mars you would be convinced there was life on another planet.  The rocks are formed by limestone sediment, layers after later, thickness relating to the amount of sediment deposited over millions of years.


Next we donned our hardhats and began our spelunking adventure.  We went into the caves, got on a little raft and headed off into the darkness.  Finally we got to see the famed glowworms. The glowworms are beautiful – they look like stars on the top of the caves.  Up close they look like worms that drape long strings (like a spider web) down from the cave ceiling.  They really aren’t worms, though, they are actually the larvae of a gnat (in other words – maggots!) You try not to think of that when drops of something fall on your head in the caves.  It is probably just water. 


We stayed at a hotel – gasp, not a bach, this time.  Here was one of my favorite examples of the sort of casual approach Kiwi’s have to safety.  I suspect that the national accident policy has a lot to do with this, since it covers injuries from accidents (including lost wages) and people largely don’t sue each other.  I have to say that the trial lawyers are right about one thing – the lack of a threat of a lawsuit certainly changes behavior.  At the hotel there was a trampoline, which is fairly common here at hotels and baches. This one was placed along a fence – with a clothesline along the top at one side!  Doesn’t that seem like a bad idea?

Fortunately, all was well. no horses names "Spook", no trampoline accidents and we are home again, with a quintessential Kiwi dinner of a leg of lamb in the oven.  Enjoy spring, because it is fall in the Southern Hemisphere and getting colder.   



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