Today was a bit more low key. Rob did the schweeb track, and ended up finishing as the 6th best Canadian ever. After checking out the ostriches adjacent to the track, we meandered around the thermal pools in town and watched the bubbling mud. There is a foot soak pool in the park, so we joined others from Colorado, France and Vancouver enjoying the warm water. The weather is like mid-May in Canada, which can still be rather cool. Barb D was short on warm clothes, so we stopped off and she picked up another pair of jeans. After lunch and a siesta, we toured around the lake, watched the swans and ducks. Then we window shopped downtown, after most things had closed. It works out well this way, as there really isn’t room in the luggage for anything else. After supper, we repacked our stuff and headed for bed.
Rob woke up at 3 this morning, and had to tell himself to get back to sleep. He was just so excited about the helicopter experience we were about to have. We got up and packed the car early and headed to the Helipro site at Te Puia. We were picked up by our guides, Terry and Jay, and took off in a van through the countryside, with Terry explaining what we were looking at. He is a retired instructor from the Technical college at Rotorua, and does guiding for fun. The best kind! At the outskirts of Mt. Tarawera, we met up with a group of 16 Americans to hike the crater. The mountain had blown itself to bits in 1886, and left a huge hole, which we followed the scree into. It is somewhat like a controlled fall, with the rocks sliding around your feet up to the ankles. Luckily, the brake is your butt. If anything goes wrong, all you have to do is sit down. Which we all did, repeatedly. It was a perfect, sunny day- only a NZ hawk wheeling around to indicate any life in the crater beyond ourselves. Rob, Barb and I climbed out of the crater to meet our helicopter and pilot, Luke (The Americans were jealous). It flew around several peaks, and a few beautifully aquamarine lakes that steamed at 80oC. How much energy must that take to boil a whole lake??!! We then continued the flight over Rotorua, and then landed. A very cool experience. Barb and I had never flown in a chopper before. We then wandered back into town for Fish and Chips. Then we hit the Gondola/Luge ride. It was a blast to skid down the mountain. After being chairlifted back to the summit with our rides, we just relaxed and watched the world go by. Eventually we got back to the car and made tracks for Waitomo. I got a chance to drive- making the same windshield wiper mistake, and doing my best to quit hugging the outside line. This is important, as there are no shoulders in places. We mad it to Waitomo, and found a lovely cottage/campsite. We ordered a pizza, enough for supper and the next day’s breakfast. We happened to catch some traditional Maori dancing in TV. The girls are expert at looking fierce, which usually entails bugging out the eyes and jutting out the jaw. Hmmm.
After breakfast, we went to tour the famous Waitomo caves. They are limestone formations carved through by a river, with beautiful pillars and stalactites. The highlight was the glowworms. They use a luciferase based reaction to produce a bluish light. They use the light to attract insects that have been brought in by the river. The bugs are trapped in sticky lines the glowworms put down from their spun hammocks, and subsequently eaten. The worms line the darkened cave like a galaxy, and you float underneath them in black silence. Amazing! We also explored the Aranui cave and were allowed to take pictures in this one. They should be up in the photo site. Again, it was time to hit the road, and we headed for Stratford. They have the only Glockenspiel in NZ, which plays the story of Romeo and Juliet. It seems funny, but we HAD to see Statford, NZ, because we had already been through Stratford, Ontario and Stratford, England. This just adds to the list. (By the way, there is also more than one Stratford, AU) We are also in the shadow of Mt Taranaki, which serves as a movie stand in for Mt. Fuji on more than one occasion. We had a pub dinner and retired back to the motel. We got some laundry done, and played a bit of pool. Nice day!
Today we started with watching a movie and packing. Then we hunted down some pancakes and headed into the mists shrouding Mt Taranaki. The wind was high and cold. We thought a hike would be impossible, but once we got into the bush, it was quite pleasant. We walked to Dawson Falls, which was beautiful. We then got back in the car and headed for Wellington. On the way, Rob found an MR2 for us to sit in. We like the car a lot, and now that we know that we fit in it, it’s definitely a possibility for our next car! Once into our hotel for the night, we ACTUALLY got working internet, and called all sets of parents. It was good to talk to them.