A Travellerspoint blog

White Island

We had an early start out of Rotorua as our transfer to Whakatane where the the ferry would take us to White Island and allow to get up close and personal with a live and active marine Volcano! The driver was giving us info about the area as we drove through it but unfortunately Sarah and I both nodded off. When we got to the harbour everything was in full swing as the boat we would be taking had at least 40 passengers.


The boat was called Pee Jay 4 and was fitted out nicely inside. We chose to sit out the back so we could get a good view. The harbour was quite small and at its end point there is a statue of a women which commemorates Wairaka who saved a canoe of women from being washed out to sea by breaking tribal bans on women paddling, and safely bringing them into the bay whilst shouting out ‘Kia Whakatane au i ahau’ (I will act the part of a man) and the story goes that this cry was the origin of the towns name. Maori Girl Power!


As we reached the end of the harbour we had to slow down as one of the passengers was late. With the extra passenger on board we set off and it was only 9am. It wasn't long before we drifted off again as the boat ride to the island would take an hour and a half.


I woke up half hour later and on the speaker the skipper said we had Dolphins coming towards us so Sarah and I jumped up and had a peek. These guys were pretty excited and whizzed along with the boat for at least 5 mins before deciding to head in the opposite direction. Even after our dolphin experience it was still a rush to see them, one even jumped full body out of the water which was awesome to witness.


After that excitement we begin to see the white steam cloud of the volcano rising in the distance.


Upon seeing the island the resident pirate aboard the boat called 'Land ho! :-)


It was so cool to see the island get bigger and bigger and the cloud above it rise further and further in the huge sky. At this point we were given the safety rundown and were handed safety helmets and gas masks! ...perhaps this was a little more dangerous than we thought? ....As part of the contract the company had with the government, they required that all customers to wear the gear but it didn't mean it was totally unsafe. Even so, it was odd to be handed a gas mask as part of a tour. White Island has a volcanic alert level 1, indicating constant background activity. The sulphur that the volcano dishes out in the air can be irritable to breathe with and so with the gas masks we would be able to walk around with ease.


As we go closer to the island it was interesting to see that a large colony of birds were living here. They picked one of the better spots as the volcano was situated around the otherside. We approached one of the bays and would all need to be ferried in a small speedboat to the old jetty that was built when the island was originally used for mining. Back in the day the sulphur from this island was in high demand due to it being an important mineral for fertiliser when farming.


As soon as we reached the jetty you could instantly smell and see the sulphur. The smell is like rotten eggs and the intense yellow colour that was all over the island was clear to see. It was really eerie and felt like we were walking on another planet!


Our guides Vicky and a guy (who's name I didn't quite get, and also was a dead ringer for the professional golfer Rory McCilroy) showed us around explaining the geological facts, history and any dangers that we should be aware of.


It was important that we stuck to the track as on either side. There were mounds that looked ok to walk on but these were known as 'blisters' that would collapse instantly under any weight so you would fall into a pool of boiling hot sulphuric liquid which would be quite painful, so we adhered to their advice.


As you walked around the island you could see many vents with hot steam coming out of them, some of which were like a boiling kettle, whistling away. The sulphur crystals, which are the stronger yellow colour, form at 94 degrees, so you can imagine how hot the steam was.


We walked further towards the volcano crater and the guides explained that this area had been changed due to recent explosion....eh ....what? .... Its ok, it was in 1912, and had left its mark on the landscape with big boulders scattered around the island whereas before it was a flat plain. The eruption occurred when mining was still going on and sadly all people on the Island at the time died, with the exception of Peter the cat. He somehow managed to get away from the action and stay safe on the other side of the island, his story was later presented the rest of New Zealand and he became a bit of a celebrity.


Unbelievably, years later the island was reopened for mining due to the demand for sulphur and workers would still come to the island because the pay was much better and during the depression it was a good enough incentive. We heard that generally the workers would have 2 or 3 year contracts and would leave after that. But one guy was documented as having worked on the island for 8 years, which is crazy when think how potentially dangerous it is. That being said, none of the workers were recorded as having any long term health issues apart from their teeth turning black as the enamel was worn away by the acidic atmosphere! The acidity of the gases that are released in the air from the volcano meant that clothes would slowly disintegrate as well as the enamel of your teeth meaning they would go black!. Not an ideal side effect.

We later got to the rocks edge and peered onto the volcano crater which was pretty amazing considering the power that was coming out from underneath us.


The noise of the gases being released was a loud roar and so you definately knew that there was activity going on!

Leaving the crater we headed for the old mining factory that was situated near the bay and as we made our way back the guides told us that there were two different streams that run past us to out to sea both with different tastes due to the types of minerals in the water. The first tasted a bit like that metallic taste, or a bit like blood due to the iron in the water. The other tasted more citrus like with a different ph level to the other. It was quite remarkable that these two streams could have such varying differences considering they flowed from the original source.


As we approached the old mining factory the guides explained that the process for obtaining the sulphur was based around breaking up the rock and placing into furnaces which would heated up to 110 degrees in order to extract the sulphur in a liquid form, it would then by cooled and kept in a silo to be shipped backed to the mainland. The factory had fallen apart over time but you could still get a idea ofwhat it would have been like.


It was also here further away from the vents spewing out the acid into the air that we found a plant! A stark contrast to the rest of the barren landscape.


We left the island for our boat and as we were handed out a packed lunch we were given a short tour around the island to see where the miners had set up home on a new location the second time they came to the island. We left the island to head back for mainland and were pleased that we had made the trip and witnessed a natural wonder!! YES!!

Stay tuned for more tales


Posted by doyledan 00:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Getting our Hobbit-on!

We had been longing for green rolling hills, the familiarity of places we knew and being able to pop into the local pub... That day had finally come as we were going to Hobbiton! Yes that's right we were returning to the Shire!

Not gonna lie we were pretty excited! Resisting the temptation to find a hobbit cloak to wear (although we were told some die hard fans go wearing all the garb) we boarded the Hobbiton bus and headed out of Roturua.

It was about an hours journey out of town to Matamata to the Alexander's sheep and beef farm, which had been selected by location scouts as the perfect setting for Hobbiton. 44 hobbit holes were built on this site and we discovered that it is only by the chance of bad weather that the movie set still remains. After the LOTR movies were filmed it was scheduled to be taken down but over 6 months of bad weather prevented it being demolished. It seems that in this time the land owners realised what a gem they had and when crews came back to rebuild and film for The Hobbit movie they insisted that the set be rebuilt with permanent materials and for the shire to remain as part of the contract... Which is why we can visit it now, yay!

As we got closer we caught our first glimpse of The Shire over the hill...


We were told about the attention to detail that was put in to making the setting exactly right. Even the sheep were scrutinised, it was thought that the sheep on the farm were 'too modern' so they moved them to another field and brought in more suitable looking sheep with black faces that fitted in with Peter Jackson's take on the shire. Even the local birds didn't fit in and to avoid their calls being picked up during filming it was someone's job to fire shots in the air to scare the birds away.

It was such an odd feeling walking towards 'the shire', down a small stone walled path, it was like we had been there before. It was only then that we realised it was the path that Frodo and Gandalf walk along together in the movies :)


And then we found our first hobbit hole!! Complete with window and chimney peeking out from the grassy mound.


Each one is unique with so much detail you could almost believe that the hobbits came back once all the tour groups had gone home! With garden chairs sitting next to small tables of food and half smoked pipes, to the curtains and flowers in the windows. It was awesome!



The look of the Shire was based on an English countryside feel. Trees were brought in and replanted, but one of the astounding facts we were told was that the thousands of artificial leaves were sent in from Taiwan which were each individually wired to the trees to give them the right look!


Even the moss on the gates and fences is artificial, made of a special blend of wood shavings, glue, paint and yogurt to get the right effect.


Some of the hobbit holes were of different sizes to get the right scale for the different shots.


As we walked around each characters house was pointed out. It was gorgeous with all the colourful flowers and different coloured doors. The post box outside their home would depict what that person did for a living, for example if there were chickens painted on it then they farmed chickens. This is Dan outside Sams house pretending to be a gardener!


And of course you will recognise BagEnd!


We only had an hour and a half to walk around the set, which was finished with 25 minutes in the Green Dragon Pub for a refreshing brew! We felt at times that it was a bit rushed but were grateful that we had arrived on a day that had gorgeous sunshine and wasn't as busy as normal. On their busy days they have over 2700 people coming through so we were lucky to get views without other people in them.




The detail in the pub was great too, with notices about missing cloaks and where to get fiddle lessons, books and hobbit paintings there was loads to look at and take in. I could happily have spent longer here.



I had joked that this would be an incredible wedding venue... And guess what... You can get married here!!



Posted by doyledan 16:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Mourea, Maori cultural experience.

Mourea would be our cultural stop on our journey through New Zealand. Home to the Ngati Pikiao people we would be staying with the local Maori community. Upon arriving in Mourea we were greeted by one of the family members called Ruth. She gave us a quick run-through of what would be happening that evening. As she asked the group whether they knew what a 'Hongi' was, I opened my mouth and said "a dance?" but I spoke to soon and she asked me to come up to the front, oh bugger! It wasn't bad though because she just used me to demonstrate the welcoming tradition of the Maori called Hongi which involves the touching of the nose twice after saying the greeting Kia Ora.


After the introduction we were led towards the Marae.


The 'Marae' is the Māori's community facilities that usually consist of a carved meeting house, a dining hall and cooking area and the marae ātea (sacred space in front of the meeting house). This area was sacred as their ancestors had lived and fought on the grounds so it had a huge significance to their culture and their past. For this reason we had perform a ritual on first entering the grounds, the women walked first in front of the men in silence towards to Marae where we all paid our respects with a minute silence before being led into the carved meeting house for the official welcome into the Maori family. Before entering we all had to take off our shoes to not bring any of the bad spirits into the house. It is tradition for the men to sit in front of the women in these occasions, not because of superiority but because the women are seen as more important and therefore the men would be in front to protect them. This tradition had come from the days when meetings were held between rival tribes and the men would not want the women to be in danger.

One of the sons of the chief performed the ceremony which we weren't allowed to take photos of and after that we were officially part of the family, meaning that we can come back to this place anytime we need to. He told us more about the significance of the Marae and that they contain are symbols of tribal identity with each carving representing an ancestor. Even the structure itself represents the community with the central pole representing the heart, the centre of the roof the backbone with the timbers supporting the roof the ribs.


They are meeting places where people can discuss and debate issues together. They will also hold occasions like Weddings and funerals, and during the funeral which can last 3 days all members of the tribe come to the visit the deceased body and pay their respects.


This would also be the room we would all be sleeping in and after the welcome ceremony it was transformed into a giant sleepover with mattresses and sleeping bags for everyone. We gathered by the water as our host told us stories of how his people used the lake to fish for trout. It was a very sort after area and so other tribes did come to try to claim it and bloody battles were fought in the water.


Before dinner we would be treated to a cultural performance, where they made an impressive entrance doing the haka. The haka was used as a war dance to intimidate their enemy. One of the men stamped so hard his foot went through the floorboards!


One of the weapons we were shown was called a Patu, held on the hand it would be used to hit the enemy, combining this with a fatal twist it could be used to split open their skull! We were told the story of one of their ancestors who in a battle got hit in the head with a puta but instead of succumbing he wrapped his head with vine to keep it together and kept on fighting! Hardcore!


We even did their version of the Hokey Kokey, which they used to teach us some Maori words! In addition to that all the guys learned the Haka, while the girls learned a dance using Poi.


This resulted in a small 'dance-off' to see which team was the best.

We were served a traditional Maori meal called a 'hangi', consisting of chicken, kumara (sweet potato), pumpkin, peas and garlic bread. Simple, but so tasty, definitely one of the best meals I've had so far in New Zealand! The secret was the way that it was cooked given it a smokey taste from the malouka bark that was used.


When this was over, and we had all done the cleaning up and the dishes (yes, being part of the family means you have to do the dishes as well). It was time to get ready for bed and story time! The Maori family told us some stories about their history, ancestors, culture and the Marae where we would be spending the night.


All in all it was a very interesting and entertaining evening. What makes this stop so special is that you are part of a modern day Maori family, who will show you how they lived in the past, but also how they live today.

Stay tuned for more tales


Posted by doyledan 19:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

TumuTumu Toobing!

Today was going to be a big one with both the Waitomo Caves and a Maori village experience and it meant we would need to leave Raglan early.

The Waitomo Caves were the first stop, which are famous for adventure activities that involve going underground and climbing through caves, swimming and tubing through pools that run throughout the caves (also known as black water rafting) and the opportunity to witness the glow worms in the darkness. The name "Waitomo" comes from the Māori words "wai" which means water and "tomo" which means hole or shaft.


8 of us were dropped off at Waitomo Adventures as we had chosen to do the the Tuma Tuma Toobing which included 2hours of being underground. We were really excited to be able to witness the glow worms with a little adventure to spice it up having seen David Attenborough feature it in one of his many wildlife programs.

After meeting our guides Josh and Flynn we headed on a bus to the caves. The road was a bit windy but it offered great views of the rolling hills across the southern Waikato region. After getting geared up in our wetsuits and hard hats we started our walk to the cave entrance. From this point the photo responsibilities were left with the guides as you weren't allowed to take your own cameras.


We walked across the fields that run over the caves to the entrance and Flynn told us that the caving would stretch across 1km. The caves began to form when earth movement caused the hard limestone to bend and buckle under the ocean and rise above the sea floor. As the rock was exposed to air, it separated and created cracks and weaknesses that allowed for water to flow through them dissolving the limestone and over millions of years large caves were formed.

Reaching our entrance we went down the ladder one by one and got our before shot, could this be the moment when you ask yourself, 'should I be going underground for 2hours?' and 'will my bum fit through this hole!' For me, I was like 'let it begin, let it begin!, despite the look on my face.


As we headed further underground we would stop and different points for the guides to give us a bit of safety awareness in the caves as well as geological lessons. What was really cool about the set up was that each time we moved on a new leader chosen from the group would be the one that ventured into the caves first and led the rest of the team, and the guides would find a way to manoeuvre around us. At certain points the way we chose would be the wrong one, one of which was led by me where we ended up walking in a large pool of water! Soon out of our depth the group had to swim only to find a dead end! It didn't matter because we all got a chance to acclimatise to the cold water also in the darkness we got to witness the incredible glowworms that covered literally all of the cave ceiling giving the impression that you were looking up to the stars!


The name glowworm is the generally given to insect larvae because of the bioluminescence that occurs inside the larvae's bodies which they produce from a chemical reaction. It is this light that emits from their bodies which attracts the insects they feed on. We also learnt that the glowworms are cannibalistic and will eat their kin to stay alive. They choose to be inside the caves because of the insects that travel within them, however if a flood occurs and washes away all possible food, the larvae will eat each other.


After witnessing the larvae we went further and further through the caves, going though small gaps and big ones trying to find our way through the darkness. It wasn't long before we came to a large pool of water and the guides encouraged us to jump into it backwards onto our tubes. It was great fun jumping in and once all of us had got into the water we linked up and floated backwards down the cave. It was so amazing as the cave ceiling was completely covered with glowworms, despite the guides encouraging us to sing we were all were speechless.


There was more ducking and diving through the caves and there were stop off points where the guides explained about the stalactites and stalagmites, some of which you could hit and make a tune out!


The finale to our intrepid expedition was a dive bomb into a pool which we all had a go at including the obligatory silly pose.


It was an incredible experience and we were so pleased we had done so much and it wasn't even lunchtime!


Stay tuned for more tales!


Posted by doyledan 19:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


Raglan is an area famous for surfing in New Zealand and it was one of the stops on the bus route that we weren't too fussed about. If we hadn't had to go there due to the bus route we wouldn't have as we had done surfing elsewhere on our trip. So the plan was just to chill out when we got there.

The morning started with the mystery of the missing salami! I'm not gonna lie we were really disappointed that someone had taken our food, as that fridge was only being used by people on our bus. Its is the first time that has happened on our trip so lesson learned, label everything!!

As we drove Kea told us about the Lemon & Paeroa drink which is unique to this area. The Paeora spring has natural carbonated mineral water and someone has the bright idea of adding lemon juice to make a bottled drink. We stopped off in the town of Paeora for a coffee break and of course had to take some photos with the bottles! Some of the group tried L&P and said it tasted like old fashioned lemonade.


After dropping some people off in Hamilton, NZs fourth largest city, we made it to Raglan about lunchtime. The town looked nice and we thought we might have an opportunity to explore it that afternoon but had not realised that the lodge we were staying at was out of town and we would have to hire scooters if we wanted to come back in.

The location was idyllic though, up on the hills outside the city with views over the forest.


Love this mural.


Whilst some of the group went to get their surf on we decided to walk to Manu Bay


It was sooo windy but we managed to find a sheltered spot where we could watch some of the local surfers tackling the waves. It took a lot of effort for them to paddle back out to the break each time and so we wondered how our group was getting on with their surf lessons at the beach closer to town.


Being buffeted by the winds we made our way back up the hill which was a lot harder going against the wind! Once we got back we caught up with the girls who had gone surfing only to find that there had been an accident before they even got in the water! The wind had swept up the surfboards off the beach hurtling them into the group! If you've ever tried to learn to surf you ll know how big the learner boards are, if not then just imagine doors flying at you! This could have been a comical scene but one of the girls got knocked out and had to be taken to hospital and several of the other had nasty bruises too!

Fortunately Nicola was let out of hospital later that night and we were all relieved to see her back on the bus in the morning.


Posted by doyledan 00:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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