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Simon, Annie & Tom
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Leigh_church
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Annie's_front_yard

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Annie's_house

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Annie's_sheep

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JC & Simon Waihiki
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Waihiki_harbor
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motorway_to_Auckland
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Annie's_beach

Annie, from Waihiki, picked up the three of us and we drove up the northeast coast to a place called Leigh. She had an official appearance to make at a marine reserve gathering and we followed along for the experience. The day began dark and rainy, but turned absolutely beautiful the further we got from the city. Auckland has been having unusually heavy rains this summer, but at least we've had some sunny days as well. After our adventure in Leigh, we drove to the ferry landing in Auckland and caught a ferry to Annie's island. She gave us a tour around the island and then took us back to her place. She co-owns 50 acres on the island. They keep sheep to manicure the place, have two homes and a boathouse and two private beaches. Her house sits on top of a ridge overlooking the island, the sea and distant islands. Simon and I quite like this place and will seriously consider it as a new homeplace for New Zealand. I awoke in the middle of the night and went outside to look at the sky. It was my first sight of the stars from New Zealand and I was drunk on the Milky Way, stumbling back to bed to dream of ridiculous things.

 

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Franklin Street house
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New Zealand_dogwood
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Waitomo_road

Please double - click me:)

We left Auckland on Tuesday and drove south to Waitomo, which is famous for its caves. There we took a guided tour of some underground caverns. Not so grand as the Longhorn, but very beautiful just the same. The entry walls were smooth and white, while the deeper we went the more contour they took on, until we were surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The limestone walls were lowly lit and we were all encouraged to be quiet and enjoy the stillness of the cavern. When we got to the deepest part of the cave, we stepped from the gloaming into boats and the guide pulled us away from the dock via a series of lines anchored from the cave walls. Not only did we leave behind the dock, but also what little artificial light there was in the cave. We turned a corner into the deep darkness of the cave and saw what we had traveled so far to see. The glowworms attach themselves to the cave ceiling and emit a tiny, blue light to attract other insects into their traps. All we saw was a miraculous constellation of blue stars against the pitch black of the cavern dome. Rocking gently in the water in the silence that embraced us and taking in the unworldly blue was worth the entire journey. Even back into the light, it took awhile to break the spell of the beautiful, blue silence.

 
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Rotorua_flowers
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Shoe_Slipper_Islands
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happy_JC

The countryside of New Zealand is one awe-inspiring view after another. It is a mixture of the very best of England, Hawaii and California. The volcanic terrain provides plenty of hills, valleys and long views and the wildflowers are profuse - Not just the demure, roadside variety, but entire forests of large flowering shrubs. Tall pines cover vast tracts of land and alternate with emerald green fields dotted with sheep and cattle.

 

With the exception of about 125 miles of freeway (north and south of Auckland), the main highways are two lanes, all very well maintained. Subsequently, the road speed limits are lower and there is not a lot of mad rushing about. We travel gently around curves and really have the chance to soak in the beauty.

 

New Zealanders meet everyone with an inquisitive smile. They are a very warm and welcoming people.

 

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champagne_pool
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mud pool
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mudpool_view
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pool_JC
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green_pool
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Rotorua_ferns
 

Please double - click me:)

From Waitomo near the west coast of the north island, we drove toward the east coast and our destination of Rotorua, famous for its hot springs. This is considered the most geothermally active region in the world. The town is located on a very large lake and all hot water is supplied via the hot springs. The hotel we stayed in and every other hotel in town has a heated pool as well as private thermal pools. We drove south of town to a place called Wai O Tapu and visited a wonderland of hot mud pools and geysers. The colors in the thermal pools were the most amazing, ranging from Jayne's signature sulphur-lime through acid yellow and into the vivid oranges. We stood in the hot steam blowing off of one of the pools and then a cooling breeze would blow away the steam and then the steam would take over again. It was enchanting being in the whirling mist, accompanied by the sound of tiny bubbles bursting (thus the name "champagne pool"). Only later did we discover that all of our silver jewelry had been tarnished by this brief encounter. The entire experience smelled of sulfur, of course, but in a pleasant way.

 

 Please double - click me:)

 

The government hosted park was a fabulous value for the admission price. It was clean, beautifully maintained and offered a variety of wonders around each turn of the path. They were even so thoughtful as to place umbrellas along the path for those sudden sunshowers that NZ is famous for. We came across a bin of them just as it began a good pour and were able to continue along on our exploration without getting wet. After the sun came back out, I used my umbrella as a parasol.

 

After our hike around the geysers, we drove back to town and had tea in a recently restored historical building that had been built during the heyday of folks taking the baths (much as was done in Arkansas in the 20s and 30s).

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Tom_tree
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ponga_valley
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Rotorua_lichen
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Rotorua_meadow
 

Our weather has been pleasant, though a bit rainy for the taste of a tourist. However the results are marvelous--rain forests abound and amazing forests of tree ferns (pongas). Mostly it is just overcast and about 68 degrees, dropping to the low 50s at night. Occasionally the sun pops out and the landscape looks even more glorious in the light. It also gets a lot warmer when that happens. The average temperature range for the Rotorua area is between 47 and 64 degrees. It averages a little warmer the further north you go, but it never gets hot here (at least not to the standards of a Texan).

 
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hedge row
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foxglove
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hydra_hedge
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pohutakawa_homestay
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hydra mailbox
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purple
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monuka
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wetta

 

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