30 November 2011

my updated wish list

In 2007 I made a travel wish list and I’ve been lucky…some of the places I managed to visit from that list
- Barcelona
- New Zealand
- Paris, France
- China
now its time to write a new wish list…
- Machu Picchu, Peru (and this could happen next year!!!)
- East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania
- Madhya Pradesh, India
- Bali
- Costa Rica
- Japan
- South Africa
- Sikkim and East India
- Bhutan
- Novi Sad, Serbia
- Sri Lanka
- Israel and Jordan
- Vietnam and Cambodia

25 November 2011

Franz Josef & Heli-Hike- NZ March ‘11

We were quite excited that morning as we left early from Fox Glacier town to go to Franz Josef for our heli-hike – an awesome scenic helicopter flight over the Franz Josef glacier that would then leave us high up for a 2 hrs guided walk amongst the ice caves and pinnacles of ice.

Grey clouds over Franz JosefThe weather didn’t look too great…there was a drizzle and it was soooo grey. But we hoped that it would clear up soon. When we reached the Heli Hike office at 8:45 we were informed that the trip had been postponed and they would give an update an hour later. We hung around the office but that update kept getting postponed. I watched as the glacier which we could see in the morning, was now covered with dark clouds. Short bursts of rain, then the sun would peek out for a few minutes and then drizzle again. We decided to walk around a bit and I kept everyone entertained with my weather predictions – the clouds seem to have moved an inch and we can now see the glacier from here…now its hidden again!!! What a game of peek-a-boo!!!!

IMG_2539We decided to explore the place a bit to kill time. There seemed to some kind of an exhibition on the formation of glaciers with very nicely made paintings – and one depicting Maori Legend on the formation of the Franz Josef glacier really caught my eye.

Hine Hukatere, as adventurous Maori maiden who loved mountaineering above all her other pastimes, frequently persuaded her lover, Legend on formation of Franz JosefWawe, to accompany her on escapades into the hills. On one such expedition the unfortunate Wawe, who had never been found of climbing as his sweetheart, slipped and plunged to an early death. Heartbroken, Hine Hukatere cried - her tears were frozen by the gods as a memorial to her grief, thus forming Franz Josef Glacier or Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere (The tears of Hinehukatere)

IMG_2543A forest walk marked a little ahead seemed like a good idea as by now we were worried that the hike may get cancelled. Walking in the forests in a light drizzle with the sounds of birds made us forget our woes for some time at least. I am sure I heard a Kiwi, though Stephen was not quite convinced since Kiwis are nocturnal… maybe the dark clouds and grey weather had confused him!!!

Returning from the walk we stopped at a cute church, outside which I read some more Maori Mythology - according to which four sons of Raki (the Sky Father) came down to greet their father’s new wife Papa-tua-nuku (The Earth Mother) in a canoe known as Te Waka o Aoraki. The karakia (incantation), which have returned them to their celestial home failed and the waka (canoe) fell back into the sea. It turned on its side and was turned to stone and earth, thus forming the South Island! Aoraki and his brothers clambered to the high side of the waka and were turned into mountains. Aoraki became Mt Aoraki/ Mt Cook, Rakiroa became Mt Dampier, Rakirua became Mt Teichelmann and Rarakiroa became Mt Tasman.

IMG_2552Lunch at a small café which had some amazing 3D paintings and still more amazing burgers!!

We were now informed that the heli-hike had been cancelled but since they were doing the glacier walks we could change to that. After considering all the options, we called our agent. Our itinerary had been changed a bit due to the Christchurch earthquake so that we would be spending 2 nights in Greymouth rather than Christchurch. We asked her to change that to one night and gave us another in Franz Josef so that we could give the heli-hike another go the next day. Lo behold, she agreed and organized everything, even though it was such a short notice!!!

Stephen then suggested that we do the Franz Josef glacier valley walk to spend the rest of the day. The spectacular glacier valley walk is a 1 1/2hr return walk up the glacier valley and follows the riverbed made up of rock and shingle with great views of the glacier. The valley was formed by the glacier thousands of years ago and as it has retreated, features have been carved into the valley.

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IMG_2562As soon we enter the valley we see some lovely waterfalls and the glacier can be seen immediately. The funny thing was that it never seemed to get closer as we walked down until we realized we were right up on it….just 100m away from the terminal face where you can see the ice cave and the river run through it. It was well spent time.

IMG_2577Yippeeee….next day is clear and we take off for our heli hike. We are taken to base camp and provided with the gear - rain jacket, waterproof over-trousers, woolen socks, caps , gloves, sturdy boots and crampons (with small waist bag). The views from the helicopter ride are mind boggling as the pilot takes us deep into the heart of the glacier and does the twists and turns! IMG_2606We land and start our hike. Our guide is a kid…all of 21 yrs. The glacier scenery can’t get more pristine and awe-inspiring. We see spectacular ice formations and make our way amongst towering pinnacles of brilliantly blue ice. We hear thunderous rumbling… that was the ice falling. We want more that we can see and not just hear. And we are blessed…coz we see several. It’s an experience I can’t describe in words. But the fact that Anita, who never really asks anyone to share snaps, for the 1st time asked me for my videos of the glacier ice falling. IMG1_531

It was well worth the wait and a fantabulous way to end our trip to New Zealand.

08 November 2011

Scenic Drive to Fox Glacier – NZ Feb 2011

We leave Queenstown for Fox Glacier and this is the journey that I had mentioned in an earlier post, where we saw such diversity, with the landscape changing ever so often –rainforest, wetlands, lakes, glacier-fed rivers & white water rapids.

We had a brief stopover in Arrowtown, a quaint little town, to explore the streets and lanes. On the banks of the Arrow River, it has a very arty ambience with its shops, restaurants, cafes, offices and galleries located within a tight precinct.  At the outskirts of this town we stopped at a very famous fruit shop – Mrs Jones Fruits where we bought the local produce - Manuka honey, honey comb and fruits. 

IMG_2476The scenic landscape first treated us to 2 famous lakes– Lake Hawea with the background of mountain peaks and the adjacent Lake Wanaka, which is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand.

Soon after that we stop for a walk through New Zealand Silver Beech forest and a bridge over the Makarora River to reach the Blue Pools. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking.


The glacier-fed water from the Blue River and the Makarora River in these deep pools is a deep azure blue, and so clear IMG1_497that you can see right to the bottom. We were told to look out for the resident brown trout in the river and the pools. Reminded me of Stephen’s story that the way to catch trout is just tickle them under the gut and they will come flying out. It was a good time for a demo, but luckily for Stephen, there didn’t seem to be any trout around that day!!! The color was blue but not thaaaaat blue also!

IMG1_498Noticed piles of stones much like the ones I saw all over the place in Norway. We spent some time there building small piles of stones and adding to existing ones. They are actually known as Cairns and were navigation points earlier, but now people build them just for fun – as someone said Local Graffiti – more like ‘I was here’ left by tourists.

On our way up to Haast Pass, we pass over ‘Hell’s Gate’ which is a vital bridge linking the West Coast to the Otago. No vehicle is allowed to stop on the bridge, so we got off at one end and walked across it so that we could enjoy the sheer drops of the Haast River to the amazing blue mountain pools.
A little ahead a short walk through a lovely forest gives views of the spectacular 28 metres high Thunder Creek Waterfall which drop from the level of the glacier ice. This is Mt Aspiring National Park, where the Haast Highway crosses the mountains to reach the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Vast emptiness - 1700km to the west, you hit Tasmania, Australia, and to the southwest, nothingness till Antarctica, more than 4500km away!!! Lush vegetation faces the sea, but due to the salty air the trees have a stunted growth making it look like a Bonsai Garden.

We stop at beautiful and desolate place called Ship Creek where the river flows serenely on one side and waves off the Tasman Sea crash against the coastline on the other. The beach is secluded and sandy but plants grow freely around the driftwood which has washed onto the beach. The large pieces of drift wood sticking out of the sand look very beautiful that I feel like carrying one home with me!!!  Don’t know who exactly thought that we should “Walk like Penguins”, but there we were…waddling away!

End of a scenic day as we reached Fox Glacier. But there was another eventful day ahead for we were booked for a Helicopter ride and Glacier Hike.

22 October 2011

Shot Over Jet and Skydiving in Queens Town – NZ Feb 2011

From the Maori adventurers looking for Pounamu (greenstone, the green gold) in the 1100’s to the gold miner and high country sheep farmers in 1860’s; on the edge lifestyles have always been the norm in Queenstown. The culture of adventure still rules and now being home to skydivers, mountaineers, free skiers and others who dwell on the edge – no wonder the town is known as “Adventure Capital of the World”.


Stephen had asked us to find out the shape of the Lake Wakatipu and so as we had reached our hotel the previous night I had done some research on the net. And read a very interesting Maori Legend which states that the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief's daughter, burning a massive hole in the ground and melting the ice and snow of the surrounding mountains, forming the lake. The lake is a large "S" shape, like a giant, curled up and sleeping on its side. Matau's head rested at Glenorchy, at the north of the lake, and his feet south in Kingston. Queenstown sits on Matau's knee. One of Wakatipu's mysteries is the rise and fall of the lake by about 12cm (5") every five minutes. Legend states that a Giant's heart is impossible to destroy, and causes this rise and fall, while science says it is due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures. We were going to enjoy views of this lake from several heights and in my case even from 9,000 feet above!!!

It started at an easy pace with a half day city tour on a lovely sunny morning. We enjoyed beautiful views of the Lake Wakatipu, saw a London Bus doing the tourist rounds here and then went for a gondola ride - reputed to be the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere to the Skyline complex located on Bob's Peak for still more spectacular views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Queenstown is the birthplace of bungee jumping and we visited the place where it all started and watched people as they were flung off the bridge. I commented –“These people are crazy. How can they jump off like that?” I turned around to see my friends with THE LOOK. Dipti commented – and what you plan to do later in the day, thatz not crazy???

Our adventure started when we decided to go for an exhilarating ShotOver Jet Ride - a unique, breathtaking white water ride through dramatic and narrow Canyons. IMG_2409The boats speed in mere centimeters of water (as little as 10 cms) in the famous Shotover River and move deep into the spectacular Shotover River Canyons where the jet boat drivers aim their high-speed boats at rock walls and then veer away at the last second with just centimeters to spare. They skillfully whip past rocky outcrops, skims around crags and boulders and steer their boats into sharp 360-degree turns, throwing up plumes of water that drench us. What an unforgettable adrenaline rush!!!

IMG_2432A walk in the beautiful Queenstown gardens to calm us down was needed. The rest decided to have lunch and go back to the hotel as they had other plans for the evening. But me? I decided to skip lunch. I was too scared that I will throw up during my SKYDIVE slated for a little later.

After exploring the gardens for some more time I went to the skydive place. I was NERVOUS. But a very nice couple who were also going reassured me.

I was going to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane – don’t ask me why, from 9,000ft   for 25 secs of free fall at a terminal velocity of 200kph. Then a 15 mins parachute ride land back.

We reached the drop zone and our jump masters were assigned to us. As I waited, I saw each one getting instructions from his/her jump master but mine was nowhere to be seen. I asked around and I was told ‘Ahhh don’t worry, sometimes he decides to take a nap!!!” What??? He should be giving me instructions!!!! I anyways listened to someone else getting their instructions. Then my jump master comes along and casually hands me a cap and gloves and asks me to get into the suit. As I tell him, let me try the cap on, he smiles and says. Don’t worry, you just trust me!

And gives me exactly 5 mins to get ready and takes me to the plane. We are the last to get on, coz it seems we will be the 1st to jump off…heavens noooooooooooo!!!!!

skyAs we reached the desired height of 9000ft, he opens the shutter and asks me to dangle my feet over the side. I shudder, he gauges I am nervous. Tells me…don’t worry, take ur time and as I decide to relax and look around he nudges me over and before I know it I am off the plane, into the air. But no fear now. There is just too much beauty around to enjoy that there is no time to worry about anything else. I am so engrossed that I forget to pose for the camera man! Adam nudges my face and asks me to look at the camera for a few shots.

Even after we landed I was on a high. My lunch was still in my bag. I couldn’t even think about eating anything. I didn’t know how I would feel after the dive so I had opted out for the dinner plans that the rest were going to. When they were doing their bookings, they told the lady that our friend who has gone for sky diving may join. It seems she told them – she will be so high on adrenalin that I doubt she will be able to eat anything!!! How right she was.

Decided to just sit around in the park, next to the lake and let it all sink in. After nearly 2 hrs, took a bus and went back to the hotel. But the excitement that day had been much – I couldn’t even sleep!!!

What do I feel now - if given a chance I would do it again!!!! It was simply wonderful.

01 October 2011

Milford Sound New Zealand Feb 2011

“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time” - David Henry Thoreau”

The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is regarded as one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand and is an experience worth living. The benefit of a driving holiday with a very knowledgeable guide cum driver is that he made these frequent stops for us to enjoy the beauty.

Eglinton ValleyWe travelled along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, through Kingston and Mossburn to enter Fiordland National Park. With the Eglinton River besides us we reached Eglinton Valley, once filled with glacier ice. We made our first stop here – the open green field against the backdrop of huge mountains that tower along the valley sides, some two thousand feet above the valley floor looked very surreal!!! The majesty of the mountain scenery and valley definitely called for some dancing and singing ‘The Sound of Music’. As we entered our van we found a bee inside. True to NZ tradition where they don’t interfere with nature, Stephen gently caught it in his kerchief and let it free.

Sweet, Sweet WaterSoon after that we stopped at a small stream, which had the sweetest water I have ever tasted. We filled our bottles with the chilled sweet water before taking off again to changing landscapes and thick forests – the location of several scenes from the Lord of Rings series.

Other highlights of the drive included a stop at the Mirror Lakes. Luckily for us it was a nice still day so that we could see a perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains. And it was time for more of Stephen’s stories – a small Korean boy while peering into the lakes lost his glasses and Stephen retrieved them for him, for which he was treated to Tequila! Mirror LakesHe insisted he had only Tequila unlike the Koreans who have blood and whiskey!!! Later I googled and found that there is a drink called ‘Blood and Whiskey Sour’ made with blood red oranges and whiskey!

The next part of the road is called the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain” so called because an optical illusion causes the approaching mountain to get smaller rather than larger. Next stop was for a short walk at Cascade creek to view the creeks of splashing water.

Wood PigeonAs we reached Lake Gunn, it was time to stretch our legs - Stephen sent us off one a nature walk, an easy 45 minute loop track through thick forests where we managed to see some birds including the wood pigeon.

At The Divide, which is the lowest of the passes in the Southern Alps the road goes gradually downhill and after a short distance we stop at viewing platform with impressive views of snow topped mountains. Some of us catch a fleeting glimpse of the Kea, a bird found in this region flying around.

Ramp Walk Show Stopper
At the Homer Tunnel, a man-made tunnel cut out of the rock wall, we wait for our turn – the tunnel is only one way. And then the highlight – a Kea bird decides to do the ramp walk for us!

IMG_2291The last stop of the day, before we reach Milford Sound for our cruise is at the Chasm. A 20 minute walk leads us to the spectacular waterfall where the Cleddau River has scoured its way through solid rock.

The Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Scenic Cruise takes us through the majestic fiords and we see the Mitre Peak, one of the highest mountains in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor. Seals laze on the rocks and we relax on the cruise. Magnificent waterfalls can be seen on both sides. The captain of the ship takes us under one of them and insists that if we go under it we will emerge looking 10 years younger – guess that is the secret of my young looking friends!!!

After the cruise we travel to Queenstown and on the way we see this fence strapped with shoes. Nice way to dispose of old shoes, I say. If Stephen is to be believed there was a similar Bra Fence in Queenstown!!!

As we approach Queenstown the “Adventure Capital of the World”, my heart starts thumping. Because it is here that I have decided to do Sky Diving – but more on that tomorrow!

21 September 2011

Dunedin to Te Anau - New Zealand Feb 2011

IMG_2122Driving from Dunedin to Te Anau and on the days that followed, I finally understood why people say that the best way to see New Zealand is to do a driving holiday. One JUST doesn’t get bored, not only is it beautiful but the landscape changes continuously. Later in the trip, as we drove from Queenstown to Franz Joseph in a span to 2 hrs we moved from mountainous landscape to a beach to a desert!!!

IMG_2135We enjoyed magnificent coastal scenery on our drive from Dunedin to the Otago peninsula. The breathtaking views and sheer cliff faces over the Pacific Ocean made me recall something I had read, which seemed just so right - The CNN website lists the Otago peninsula as one the 10 best places for a fairytale marriage proposal on Valentine's Day!!!

Brief stopover at the Albatross center, where we managed to see one flying around. But that started Stephen with his ‘Albatross around the neck jokes’! We were not be left behind, where we? So we cracked some of our own about the albatross being the husband!

We were visiting a farm owned by the Reid family on the Otago Peninsula headland. IMG_2128Called Nature Wonders, it is a self funded conservation effort to ensure that the land is preserved for all future generations to enjoy, by protecting the penguins, fur seals and other wildlife. The wildlife are living in natural environments the way nature intended it to be.

A thrilling thrilling cross-country adventure in the ultimate all terrain vehicle, an 8-wheel-drive ARGO followed. Adrenalin rush plus stunning scenery!!!

Our first stop was at the mythical "Maori Footprint" location which offers as they say 720° panoramic views - because you will look around twice!!! But I would multiply that several times over as one just can’t get enough of the view!

IMG_2149Next was a very close encounter with a breeding colony of Fur seals and their pups basking on the rocks and swimming in the pools in front of us. The sea weed in the pools looked more like giant flat noodles or rubber strips! And from there we were taken along a beach-front to an area from where one can look down on to Penguin Beach – no humans allowed here - to view little penguins in their nests and spot the rare and shy yellow eyed penguin on the beach. We managed to see one baby penguin in its nest and 2 penguins – but only using binoculars. No close encounters here!!!

There are many, many sheep in New Zealand – as is often said 40 million sheep population against a 4 million human population, but they always seemed so far away in the fields. It was here that Nalini and I had our only REAL close encounter with a sheep.

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From there began our longish ride to Te Anau, which basically meant lots of new stories from Stephen! There is a famous section of State Highway 1 between the southern towns of Clinton and Gore known as the scenic "Presidential Highway". Though the towns do not get their names from the American President and Vice President, IMG_2456the  Presidential Highway was so called after Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s visit to that area…though Stephen’s nose didn’t grow, not sure if this story is true! As with his other tale of the Richest man in the world who hires planes when he has excess baggage. He never did tell us the name of this fellow though!

In Gore town, went for a small walk and saw this amazing tree…more like several trees combined into one.

Evening we reached Te Anau - a very cute, little town. Our hotel was right by the lake. Stephen advised us to visit an internet browsing center – he said it was unique, but wouldn’t give any further details. Enjoyed a nice evening walk – slightly chilly but very fresh - to the town center, where we found the browsing center but unfortunately it was closed. Peeked in to find that it was just one of those luxurious places – nice, quite spacious yet cozy bays with comfy sofas that one can just sink into and sleep!

An amazing Italian dinner and we were all ready to call it a day!

19 September 2011

Dunedin - New Zealand Feb 2011

I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies I think… but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know.
Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?"
- ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

Our flight from Rotorua to Dunedin had a brief stopover at Christchurch so as the plane neared Christchurch I peered out of the window to try and catch a glimpse of the damage. But couldn’t really see any major damage...probably the route avoided the areas with the damage. But it also got me wondering...is that what our politicians do and see when they go to access the aerial damage when a natural calamity strikes remote areas in our country!

At Dunedin airport we were greeted by our chauffeur and guide, Stephen. The moment I heard him, with his typical Scottish accent, I went nostalgic about my stint in Aberdeen, Scotland - that sure was my favorite assignment!
10 minutes drive from the airport and we were treated with our first glimpses of the beauty of New Zealand that everyone raves about. The shades of greens in the fields, the mountains, the shades of blues of the ocean in contrast with the bright blue sky…colorful picture postcard!!

And we also got our first taste of Stephen’s knowledge as he told us about and pointed out a few of the different varieties of cows found there. This was followed by his incessant chatter and anecdotes which he assured us were the truth and only the truth and we could verify that by checking out if his nose grew like Pinocchio’s. Which we did - everytime he told us some unbelievable tale.

Like the tale about his pa in-law who was a hunter. In one of his expeditions he found bones of a Moa – an extinct New Zealand flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, in a cave. He came home and told his wife but didn’t bother to tell the authorities…for a good 20 years!!! The Cryptozoologists need to thank a nagging wife otherwise these bones may still be lying undiscovered! They are now in the museum where it seems due credit has been given to him. Though I personally feel that Stephen’s ma-in-law should get all the credit!

Soon we reached Larnach Castle. The Scottish lineage was evident. It was so like many of the castles that I have seen in Scotland. On the ground floor we read it’s exciting, scandalous and tragic history – perfect material for a masala bollywood movie, I say! The castle was quite quaint but I would say it’s worth a visit more for its gardens and the view from there.
There are actually nine different gardens, but the differing gardens seamlessly merge from one to another so that we didn’t even realize it then. It was only later as I read up more about the castle that I came to know about the different gardens. Against a magnificent backdrop of the Otago Peninsula, these gardens had just about everything - rockeries, perennial borders, deciduous azalea beds, forests, succulents, flowering plants especially rhododendrons.

I noticed a "Curious Door" in a tree trunk. Took a snap and thought would check out its significance later. After the Mad Hatters tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice discovers a door in a tree. In line with the New Zealand connection the owners thought it would be fun to include the idea of a door in a tree trunk in the garden. The door is actually the original from the Tower and it has tremendous character and really looks the part of the ‘curious door’ of Wonderland".

A drive through the city of Dunedin till Stephen stopped at Baldwin Street, which holds the Guinness Record for being the steepest street in the world. We were to attempt climbing that. I looked up and it seemed impossible with my stamina. With encouragement and weird ideas from each one - better to use the steps on the sides, walk backwards etc – we finally made it to the top.

As we returned to Dunedin Stephen pointed out the city centre with its Octagonal plaza. In the center was a statue of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, with his back to the church in line with him being a disbeliever of the Church. Incidentally Robert Burns turned out to be Stephen’s favorite poet and at one point of our trip he even recited one of his works for us, though I cannot rememeber now which one.

A rainy walk in the city center and eventually we zeroed down to a cosy Indian restaurant for a hot dinner.

04 August 2011

Rotorua II – New Zealand Feb 2011

This was a day full of touristy things to do and a missed opportunity for some adventure.
Rams on the stage
We started the day with a visit to the Agrodome Leisure Park for an entertaining sheep show featuring 19 champion rams on stage. The rams were waiting for the show to start in narrow corridor like lanes on the sides of the hall leading up to the stage, from where the showman would take them one by one from a gate. We were seated somewhere in the middle of the hall, but because I wanted some nicer pictures decided to move up in front. Next thing I know, he tells me to hold the gate shut and keep on an eye on the sheep and ensure he doesn’t come on to the stage. He had barely turned and the sheep jumped over the gate and was on the stage. I didn’t do a very good job, did I :-)

One by one the sheep took their positions on the stage and then the energetic presenter did some sheep shearing. It looked like quite a strenuous activity and later we came to know that it involves loads of exercise - a shearer who shears 300 sheep in a 9 hour day it seems does the same amount of exercise as a cyclist who does 2 marathons back to back.

This was followed by a hilarious sheep auction. He spoke so fast, it was almost impossible to follow what he was saying. The next bit I found particularly interesting, when they released some working sheep dogs or Border Collies on the stage.
These dogs nimbly jumped over the backs of the sheep and ran from one end of the stage in circles in such speeds that I am sure several people must have felt dizzy! People from the audience were also given an opportunity to jump up on stage to feed milk from bottles to the lambs and hand-milk a cow!

At the souvenir shop noticed some interesting stuff – candy and sweets with names like Sheep droppings, Squashed possums, Kiwi Poo sweets and the like. Nalini even bought some for her grandson!

As we left this place, noticed some Zorbing on the other side of the road. I was in 2 minds on whether I should try that. I wasn’t scared, but somehow being in a ball, rolling down on a small hillock seemed claustrophobic to me so I decided to give it a skip. Now I wonder if I should have tried it!

A short drive and we were at Rainbow Springs. As we entered we were asked to pose for a snap – we could decide if we wanted to hold a Kiwi or a Tuatara- which looks like a lizard but actually belongs to the dinosaur lineage and so is considered the magnificent living dinosaur. These would then be superimposed on our snap! So looking like absolute jokers we posed with either our hands cupped or majestically holding out our arm for a lizard! While in most places they show us soft copies of our snap and if we want we can print them, what bothered me here in the end was that they had printed the snap – and not just one but an entire kit consisting of a few postcard snaps, 2 large snaps etc. Unfortunately none of us wanted that kit, so what a waste!

We enjoyed a serene walk under the shade of towering Kauri, Rimu and Californian redwoods and amid spring-fed pools and streams teeming with Rainbow and Brown Trout. Enjoyed some native wildlife including Skinks, Geckos and the Tuatara. But the stars of the show were the Kiwis. Since they are very shy, they have a special dark and silent enclosure for them and it was a bit difficult to spot them, but we managed.

The last scheduled stop for the day was at Te Puia, also called the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and Maori Arts & Craft Institute. There was a guided tour by a Maori lady, whose ancestors belonged to the tribe settled there. She even showed us snaps of her aunt and grandmother in a collage there. She began by telling us how to pronounce Whakarewarewa. Not very easy, believe me.
And then gave us an enlightening tour of the village and walked us to the Thermal Reserve. On the way she showed us the Silver Fern, the national tree which gets its name from the silvery-grey underside of the leaves. They light up in the dark and were used by Maori tribe people to light the way. Young fern fronds are tightly coiled in a spiral and resemble the traditional Maori form called the Koru. She pointed these out to us too. Both these symbols are wildly used in NZ – like the NZ airlines logo is the frond and they fern is used by the national netball team.
Finally we reached thermal reserve which has boiling mud pools, gentle hot springs and violent geysers.
The most famous geyser, of the 65 geysers found in here is the awe-inspiring Pohutu Geyser, meaning big splash or explosion. Pohutu erupts up to 100 feet high, depending on her mood, and as frequently as 20 times each day. It is the largest active geyser in New Zealand and the southern hemisphere.
We were told that the eruption is a sight worth waiting for, but we were lucky. The moment we finished our guided tour and reached there, she erupted! What a magnificent sight!

While the rest decided to move to the souvenir shop from there, Indu and I decided to explore some more of the village. Rotowhio Marae, the fortified village had some awesome carvings. Saw a Kapa Haka, a short cultural show. Also got a chance to make some traditional Maori symbol postcards using some blocks and a pencil as souvenirs. Visited Te Wananga Whakairo, the Carving School, and Te Rito, the Weaving School.
Back at the hotel, I received an SMS from a friend asking if I was OK...went outside and asked and came to know that a major earthquake had hit Christchurch. Switched on the TV and saw the chaos. Unfortunately the epicenter was quite close to the town centre and all that area had been cordoned off. We were to be in Christchurch 8 or 9 days later so though we were a bit worried as to what would happen, Anita reassured us that things would be closer to normal in a few days.

With that in mind, Nalini, Hema, Anita and Indu decided to go to a spa for a mud bath and sulphur water dip. They found it quite relaxing and came back with glowing skins! To end our day and holiday in the North Island we had a Thai dinner in the town and by the time we reached the hotel we were all ready to crash out.