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.


Amazing Auckland, Road Scholar Day One

The Road Scholar portion of our journey began on Tuesday, October 29, with a walking tour of downtown Auckland. This city has lots of interesting architecture, much of it newly constructed, so that it is earthquake-proof.



The sky tower is visible from just about everywhere in Auckland, but during our stroll we managed to catch someone jumping from the tower.  See that little black speck in the lower right hand corner?  That’s him, and yes, it IS an approved activity.  The Kiwi are very big on bungee jumping.   And no, I had absolutely no desire to “give it a go”, as they say down here.


We ended our walk at the Art Museum, which has a wonderful gallery of Maori portraits.  We weren’t allowed to take photos there, but this postcard gives you an idea of what a tattooed face looks like.


As one might expect, the facial swelling from face carving is fairly severe.  the guide showed us a large funnel, which functioned as a feeding tube while the facial wounds healed.

I as quite captivated by the flower sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the entryway.  The petals move!


Auckland has a number of incredibly beautiful parks.  The museum is next to one–Albert Park has this interesting entryway, and we did a quick walk by after our excellent lunch at the museum cafe.


Our hotel has two things going for it: a great location near the harbor, and a spectacular view from the restaurant on the 13th floor.



I told told you you could see the sky tower from everywhere!


We had just enough time for a brief walk around the waterfront before joining our group for dinner.  This picture is for our former host, Norman, to show him that we actually DID see some tall ships!


New Zealand is an amazing country with many things the USA could learn from, but their wifi isn’t one of them. It is very limited, and blogging is a challenge. So, uploads are being done on the fly, and proof reading is a luxury to be reserved for better connections and more time. Typos will become a regular feature!

New Zealand

Time to hit the road again! For years, Mike and I have wanted to visit New Zealand, but we knew that a twenty hour plane ride could only be justified by a loooong stay. So, visiting that wonderful corner of the world had to wait until my retirement. Although I had been able to get away for three weeks while working, SIX weeks didn’t seem do-able.

Mike and I were so lucky to meet Davina and Norman on a river cruise in 2008. Our fellow cruisers were were almost evenly divided into thirds, from the USA, Canada and Australia, with Davina and Norman being the sole Kiwis. It was during a presidential election year, which made dinner discussions VERY interesting.

I’m amazed at how well informed other citizens of Planet Earth are! Makes me want to listen to the BBC more frequently, so I don’t embarrass myself with my ignorance of events outside our borders. Of course, Ted Cruz has done a good job of making me embarrassed by what has happened INSIDE our borders!

And yes, there actually IS a reason for that digression. Mike and I will be staying with Davina and Norman in Auckland for several days before our Road Scholar trip commences. I’m excited about spending time with them again, and have been blown away by their gracious hospitality. Davina offered to pick us up at the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 AM! And she has planned several days of sightseeing for us.

Getting maps into WordPress is a multi step process, easier done from my computer than iPad, so I figured I’d get it completed before we head to the airport.
First a map of the ground we will be covering during our Road Scholar trip.

Our New Zealand Adventure
Our New Zealand Adventure

At the end of that trip, Mike heads back to the USA and I start a three week project with Global Volunteers in the Cook Islands. So, where ARE the Cook Islands, you ask?

The Cook Islands
The Cook Islands

Because I will be crossing the date line, I’ll be arriving before I leave. Given that I have always been calendar challenged, this will not be a problem for me.

If you look at a map of the world, the Cook Islands show up as fifteen tiny dots, so here’s a close up of “my” island.

My home for three weeks
My home for three weeks

I’ll be staying in Rarotonga, the largest of the islands, which has a population of around 9,000. That’s about twice as many people as my home town.

I found this description of Rarotonga on the internet:
“The island is one of the most beautiful in the South Pacific making it popular with around 90,000 visitors each year. The volcanic peaks and white sandy beaches with overhanging palm trees, inside a coral reef make Rarotonga a paradise island.
Pretty tough duty, wouldn’t you say?

So, over the coming weeks, Mike and I will be hanging out in gloriously beautiful places, and I will be doing my best to capture all that fantastic beauty for your viewing pleasure. Who knows…maybe a contest down the road?

Come on along! And feel free to comment, so I stay connected with everyone!