Geologic Wonders

A photo just doesn’t do the Te Puia bubbling mud pools justice. I was mesmerized, watching them pop up and flatten down. If there were such things as witches’ cauldrons, I imagine they would look exactly like this.

But the real show was the Pohutu Geyser.
Hmmm, that wasn’t all that special…but wait…
It’s getting better…
Our guide, Albert, took this photo of Mike.
Mike’s quite a distance from the geyser, so it gives you an idea of the size of the water column. But there is more to come.
NOW you’re talking!
Speaking of Albert, here he is with our Maori guide.
While I was busy photographing Albert, Mike was surrounded by a crowd of Asian women. Just like in Thailand, but this time only one wanted to be photographed with him, so I wasn’t fast enough to capture the scene. Mike was only to happy to explain to me that his new friend told him he was very handsome…
But back to the tour. After viewing the geological wonders, we visited the woodworking school.
This one is my favorite.

Blowing Off Steam

I didn’t think that anything could come close to being as glorious as yesterday’s experience in the Waitomo Caves. I was wrong. The Waimangu Valley Geothermal Site was equally magnificent, but in a very different way. This valley is the only geothermal system on the planet that was created by a volcano–the Tarawera eruption of 1886.

The result was Lake Rotomohana. Our group was divided in two, with half cruising the lake first while the other half hiked, and then we switched. image Our boat was the only one on the lake that morning, and with only 18 passengers, it was easy to get an unobstructed view of all the geothermal phenomenon.   Before the volcano erupted, what is now Patiti Island was part of a small hill. It became a lava plug, cooled, and is now home to cormorants. imageimage
The steam vents fascinated me, so I kept snapping away.
The hike gave us the opportunity to get close to craters and geysers.
imageThe lake water is acidic. It looks like it is boiling because of the gases (carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide) bubbling up to the surface.
Here is our smiling guide Chas, holding a silver fern, one of New Zealand’s symbols. Do you think he usually carries a Winnie the Pooh back pack in front? Something to look for in future installments.
image More bubbles, then time to head back for lunch.
Pretty amazing, right?
Once again, our guides came up with a great lunch venue. The Princess Gate Hotel has it all: an owner that welcomed us with a brief history of the hotel, fantastic food, wonderful ambiance, and a location close to the most beautiful section of Rotorua.
After lunch, we had time to stroll through the gardens, and ogle the beautiful buildings.

Amazing Auckland, Day Two

One of the many reasons we thoroughly enjoy Road Scholar trips is their high quality lecturers. Wednesday morning, New Zealand journalist and author, Gordon McLaughlin, gave us a brief overview of this very young nation. Some interesting facts and figures:

New Zealand is the last land mass to be inhabited, settled by the Maori about 800 years ago. DNA analysis has proven that the Maori migrated from Taiwan, providing a perfect example of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. The long ocean voyage was an endurance test that only the strongest, biggest and fittest could pass.

In the 1840’s, the Maori were joined by settlers from the United Kingdom, with the those of European descent now making up the majority of the population. About 3.5 million live on the North Island, mainly in Auckland, with about 1 million inhabiting the South Island.

New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote, in 1893; at one time the top three government positions were held by women.

In 1898, New Zealanders instituted an old age pension, with free health care since 1938. Seems Kiwi are not horrified by the thought of “socialized medicine”. And it doesn’t seem to have impacted their quality of care because their life expectancy exceeds that of US males by 3 years, and a year and a half for females.

Both countries have similar percentages of those over 65, and under 15. Education is free, including some university and trade schools. Pensioners also enjoy a variety of freebies, such as train and boat transportation, admission to museums, etc. So how do they pay for all of the free services?

The top tax rate is 35%, with a 15% GST (goods and services tax) built into their prices. So, when dining out, a menu item priced at $25 means that you actually PAY $25. Tax has been included and the wait staff has been paid a reasonable wage, so tipping is only for extraordinary service, and even then is about half of what is customary in the USA. I guess if you are not bristling with weaponry and fighting senseless wars, you have money for such things.

New Zealand is geologically young –a mere 12 million years old. If you have ever walked along the Trail of Time in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you may recall that equates to only 12 of the trail’s 2,000 footsteps. If you haven’t been there, each footstep represents a million years. Samples of rocks from that particular era exhibited along the trail–starting 2 billion years ago, which is the age of the oldest rocks in the canyon.

Years ago, there were no mammals on New Zealand, so the birds had no predators, which resulted in flightless birds, like the Kiwi.

Sitting atop two tectonic plates, New Zealand has an abundance of hot springs, geysers, and mud pools, all of which we will see when we visit Rotorua. But for our second day in Auckland, we are scheduled to sail in Waitemata Harbor.

View of Auckland from the water.

It looks like it is going to be a tight squeeze under the bridge. That’s our North island site coordinator, Albert.

Not to worry, there is an experienced skipper at the wheel.

Is that a concerned look on that passenger’s face?

This lovely young woman is a marine biologist.