A 4-part report about a trip to New Zealand.
-Another summer in winter-
When we arrived in the fall of 1991 with way too much luggage and two bicycles I bought this cute little camper.
It was tiny, not more than 4m (12 feet) long. The wheels seemed to be borrowed from a wheelbarrow, the steering wheel must have come from a go-cart and it proved to fit exactly between my knees; in order to shift gears I had to move my knee out of the way, but that went surprisingly well because by stepping on the clutch I did that automatically.
Although so incredibly small it had a sink, water, stove and all the rest of it and a full size bed, we almost couldn’t believe it and loved it instantly.
We bought it with a great re-buy deal; when we left again after half a year they took it back, literally no questions asked, and all together we ended up paying less than 2500 NZ$.
New Zealand is small so why not drive around in a dollhouse car? It was so light-weight that, in spite of only a few inches of ground clearance, it proved to manage even the worst roads and especially soft sand and mud.
* * *
Our first tour took us along the 90-mile-beach on the northern end of the North Island. There are hardly any features on the entire length of this wild beach. No trees, hardly any vegetation, no rocks, it doesn’t change a bit on all these 90 miles. For two days we drove right on the beach close to the thundering surf; it gave us total confidence in our new dollhouse on wheels.
There were fields of clams (pippies); we settled down at one spot and picked a bucket full in five minutes.
On the hard totally flat sand surface we found weird little beetle-like creatures. They usually walk around on their little 20 or so legs, unharmed by the strong wind because their body is oval, streamline-shaped and they present very little resistance when they stay close to the ground. However, as soon as they feel threatened they stand up a bit on their legs, get immediately caught by the wind – there is always wind – and are blown away like a leaf in the storm out of harms way. What an ingenious, strategy to escape sudden danger! They fly, tumble and roll for a while, but they seem to be capable to terminate their passive getaway by choice.
* * *
New Zealand is a land of wild sea shores, mountains, profuse vegetation, but both islands are also full of geothermal features of all kinds.
Around Rotorua the land is hissing and steaming everywhere, hot mud is burping out strange gasses and pools are bubbling like champagne.
* * *
Waitomo is famous for fantastic caves. You go in by boat in pitch darkness and you soon see that there are stars underneath. Then you realize the perspective and discover that the lights are only a few meters above you and that what you saw was just the reflection on the water. The tiny little lights actually illuminate a little bit of the rock surface around where they sit on under the ceiling of the cave. Glowworms ! Thousands and thousands of little glowworms. It’s very much like the Milky Way. They produce enough light – a strange blue-greenish spooky light – to make the shape of the cave visible, the course of the river in the cave, and the boat.
The glowworms look like little caterpillars; about 15 mm long, and one end emits light, constant, cold, chemically generated light. Each worm has wrapped itself in a protective tube-like transparent housing of silk web, which is always attached to some kind of overhanging surface that leaves space underneath. From this housing several incredibly thin threads hang down. They are dotted with tiny droplets of glue and look a bit like a subminiature necklace of pearls. These fishing lines can be as long as 30 cm and dangle down into the black night. Now, there are insects flying around; they get attracted by the light and get caught in the glue droplets. The worm senses the catch and starts pulling up the rope. Step by step it picks up the line, lifts it up a bit by contracting its muscles and shortening itself, glues it to the house, lets loose and reaches down for the next heave. Soon the prey is retrieved and eaten up. New lines can be produced and more light can be generated. The whole thing is just big enough to be seen with the naked eye.
This stage of the glowworm is actually only the larvae-phase of the female in the very complex life cycle of the creature. In the adult stage it looks like a mosquito and can fly. In this phase it doesn’t feed at all, it has no mouth or other feeding organs. In this time it quite often gets caught in the glue lines of its own offspring, which indeed looks like a pretty bizarre recycling process.
Later, wandering around in the jungle, we forget the time and get caught by the night. Fantastic ghost-like silhouettes of fern trees against the dimming pale night sky. And then stars again, millions of more glowworms! What a thrill! Everywhere! Under each piece of moss, under all the ferns galaxies of stars. It’s much more impressive than in the cave; we walk around in a world of stars, they are everywhere. Finding our way home in the darkness is no problem and we don’t get caught in the glue lines.
By discovering the pearl-necklace lines you can actually find them at daylight too.
* * *
Quikly we get used to this amazing country.
Taking a tourist-trip on a tall ship in NZ.
Those Kiwis had no problem allowing me to climb up the mast. Imagine this in America !
* * *
The mountains are veiled in clouds, the wind is howling, it’s barely above freezing. Showers of rain, snow, and hail sting our faces. We came to see the majestic volcanos, but so far we’ve only seen pictures of them. We’ve packed only light and go fast, try to cope with the weather for a while and see how far we get. The rain is flying horizontally. Under our rain gear we get fairly warm, but face and hands become numb from the wet chill. After several hours we reach the bush line. Now in the open we have trouble to even walk upright in the gusty wind. We are crazy to keep going! But sometimes the sky seems to rip open and some kind of sunlight wants to shine through. When we huddle down behind a rock to find at least an idea of protection for a moment and brace ourselves for the retreat we see big clouds of steam drifting over the slopes above us.
We push on; what is that? Water running between the rocks feels warm. Over and over again rain and fog blur the vision, but we can feel the occasional warm gushes of steam through the air. Soon we reach a geyser. Steam is furiously hissing out of the rocks. The ground is unstable and muddy. There are pools of bubbling, boiling water. Jets of steam and overheated water are springing up without any warning. Very cautiously we check the ground and try to find the flow of the water in the mess of fog, steam, rain, and mud. These are situations when I really hate my glasses, they are fogging up continuously.
Finally we discover a little river of hot water rushing down through a row of little pools with from one to the next gradually decreasing temperature. Like children we stick our fingers in each one and through the howling wind shout out our excited comments when we find one just right. First we take off our boots and sit with all the rain gear still on in the heavenly brew. Our spirits fly high and we climb up to the next even warmer pool. I start digging and build a dam to raise the water level. It’s coming up quickly and soon a full size steaming bathtub is ready for us. We scream when we strip off all our cloths as fast as we can, the icy wind is brutal. All the cloths need to be secured with heavy rocks, otherwise it would fly away – imagine that!
It’s so hot that I think I get a heart attack, but when I try to escape back into the wind it’s so cold that I think I get a heart attack there as well. Parvin, always tougher than me, stays in and lives. So finally I make it too. We look like freshly cooked lobsters but slowly we adapt and feel the warmth ooze deep into our bodies. Just our heads sticking out of the water we rest in this delirium of comfort. The storm is raging all around, rain pelting our scalps, clouds and hot steam flying by, and we are in heaven, motionless, just letting or bodies soak up this divine warmth. The milky water feels like champagne and probably has gas dissolved in it coming out in billions of tiny bubbles now and tickling our skin.
Then, slowly, as if a curtain is lifted, the sky begins to open up; I knew it would come. We are right in the middle of this active zone. The view takes our breath away. Geysers everywhere, shooting up 10 meters and more. The clouds fly away and give way to spectacular vistas all over Lake Taupo.
And finally, right from our bathtub, we see the glory of the snow-covered volcanos, so close, we can feel the icy radiation from them.
* * *
To be continued with New Zealand – II
Klaus March 2012