Not in chronological order

As we mentioned earlier, broadband internet access was surprisingly rare in New Zealand. This, along with a busy schedule and the energy demands of taking two small children on holiday, meant we had to prioritise actually having our antipodean experiences over writing about them.


Now we’re all back safe and sound, we’re writing them up as follows:

  • The chronological account is (will be) on the children’s blog.
  • Vignettes, thoughts, and out-takes will appear on this, our own blog, in serendipitous order.

We hope you enjoy both sources equally.

Waimangu Valley

The town of Rotorua (“Roto-Vegas” to the locals) is situated near the middle of the North Island, in an area where the Earth’s crust is very thin. It’s famous for geysers, boiling mud, strikingly coloured mineral deposits, mineral health spas, hydrogen sulphide fumes, and the chance that the footpath in front of you might suddenly cave in and become a steaming pit (this really does happen sometimes!).

One of my favourite attractions in the Rotorua area is Waimangu Valley. This is a valley filled with native bush, lying under the shadow of Mount Tarawera. Tarawera erupted violently one night in 1886, raining ash, fire, and sulphur for miles around, burying an entire village, killing over 100 people, and shattering the famous Pink and White Terraces (“8th wonder of the world”) into a million pieces. The great gash in the mountain from which the four columns of fire emanated is visible in the top left corner of this picture.

The Pink and White Terraces are no longer there, but the area is still full of steam, geysers, terraces, and history. You take an hour’s walk from the car park through the bush, passing the sites and emerging on the shores of Lake Rotomahana. You catch the boat to see where the terraces lay and to observe the brooding lake and mountain. Finally you return, and take a coach ride back up the hill (optional).

With the children in tow we only did a portion this time. Here is Echo Crater / Frying Pan Lake, a lake of boiling acid water overlooked by the sulphurous Cathedral Rocks. Around the lake are signs to take care and not stray from the path, and the occasional white cross to mark the deaths of tourists who disregarded the warning and were caught by an unexpected geyser. Everywhere are silica deposits forming miniature copies of the Pink and White Terraces – shallow circular basins, nested and staggered like lace or petals. Most were white when we visited – the colours change as the minerals accessible to the hot water are dissolved away – but there was an overlay of yellow sulphur and the green of the warm acid-loving algae.

Beyond the lake was a staircase beside a natural overflow channel. Climbing the staircase leads to Inferno Crater Lake, a brilliantly blue-hued lake fed by a hidden geyser. The lake level oscillates in a complex pattern over a six-week period, and in the middle of the cycle it overflows down the channel into the stream below. The striking blue colour is only visible at certain points in this oscillation, so we were lucky to see it so beautiful – I’ve seen it once when it was a simple flat grey. The lake is 30 metres deep, the overflow water discharges at around 80degC, and the water pH is sometimes as low as 2.1 – so it was not unreasonable of Aidan to be a little scared of it!

We next followed a stream, kept at around 50degC by water from the Frying Pan Lake and other sources. It was filled with blue-green algae and other plants enjoying the warmth and mineral content, and dotted regularly with miniature geysers playing to a height of 20cm or so. Further down (beyond the point we reached with the children) this passes some silica stalactites, the Marble Terrace, the Warbrick Terrace, Rainbow Crater, and runs on down to Lake Rotomahana. We will return here some other time to complete the journey.

That night we stayed in a beautiful lodge just out of Rotorua, on a lake (nearly) of our own. The following morning we headed for the Polynesian Spa, the biggest and best natural mineral baths in Rotorua. We and the kids both loved it, and the water is wonderful for the skin. The keener visitor can also try the thermal mud treatments; we skipped them on this occasion. We chased this with a fabulous lunch at the fabulously quirky and always reliable Fat Dog Cafe.


[post written 15 April – it’s surprisingly hard to find broadband connections in NZ!]

or, more to the point, Megan-out-of-the-cot… yes, Megan has learned how to climb out of her travel cot. She acquired this technique at 0445 yesterday morning, when I was greeted by her walking towards me as I went in to her room.

This morning, in an echo of her Uncle Jonathan (Grandma used to waken in the night to find him standing beside her bed), Megan appeared beside our bed…

Auckland has a yearly inorganic collection where, in the two weeks prior to the collection, everyone puts whatever they are getting rid of out on the street and it is then available for anyone else who wants it, before what is left is taken away. It is the turn of Uncle Martin and Aunty Heather’s area at the moment and, on hearing a description of our new jack-in-the-box, Uncle Martin offered to go and get us some chicken wire that a neighbour was throwing out. It’s tempting, very very tempting…

However, before going to such radical lengths, we are currently employing the well-known, tried-and-tested Pick-Up and Plonk technique. This involves picking up said small girl, and plonking her back in her cot with a firm “No”, and “You’re not allowed up until 7am”. Seventeen turns later and the chicken wire is definitely becoming a more appealing option…

In other news, we’ve had a busy few days. The weather hasn’t been too great, so we’ve been looking for indoor activities. On Thursday, we took the children to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which has several interactive sections specifically designed for children – from natural history-type things, to treehouses, to musical instruments. Megan loved playing the huge glockenspiel, and Aidan assembled a cow and played with “fossils”.

On Friday, we went to MOTAT which is a semi-indoors science and engineering museum, built around the old Pumphouse which housed the old water wheel which used to provide water for Auckland many years ago. It also has a super interactive area, which entertained both children (and us as well!). There was a shadow wall which Megan loved, and a build-your-own arch bridge which Aidan had lots of fun with.

Yesterday we finally made it to Muriwai. Muriwai is the northernmost of the West Coast beaches located in the Waitakere Ranges just north of Auckland. It was a very windy day, and Aidan was fascinated by the quantities of foam blowing in from the sea across the beach – the jury’s still out on the origin of the foam, but Aidan had lots of fun playing in it! Muriwai is also home to a large gannet colony – we climbed up the cliff (on a board walk) and were able to view it from above.

Later today we’re setting off on our tour of the North Island. First stop is Wanganui…

PS there hasn’t been a moment to get any photos up, but we should have some time in Wanganui, and we’ll get them up soon after.

[Sadly we didn’t have time or an Internet connection… but do stay tuned!]

We’re here!

We’re here! Stepping out of the car at my parents’ place felt like
stepping into a tropical rainforest – everything was so green and
moist and colourful.

We’ve had a lovely couple of days so far in Auckland. On our first
day we went to Mission Bay, and Aidan played with seaweed on the beach
and made a nest for some pigeons. Megan chased the pigeons and walked
along the sea wall, and the rest of us chatted.

Nan and Grandad are keen to play lots with the kids, so today was
similar – we went to climb some trees in Cornwall Park, a big park
gifted to the city by one of the founders of Auckland. The history
wasn’t so important to the kids, but the gnarly trees and rock walls
were a big draw. The fine icecreams went down pretty well too.

Auckland is very sunny, but it didn’t betray its reputation for sudden
change. Yesterday on the motorway it went from brilliant sunshine to
six inches (150mm) of water in less than five minutes! It slowly
returned to its previous condition, but not before causing at least
one accident just before rush hour.

Tomorrow we’ll go to Muriwai, a wild ocean beach in the Waitakere
Ranges near where The Piano was filmed. Rock scrambling, gannets,
geology, and a picnic should keep us all well occupied.