Welly

Wellington was a great last stop on the north island.  I hopped off the bus for a few days to check out the views from Mt. Victoria, explore Te Papa (the excellent national museum), and stroll through the botanical gardens.  It’s easy to be a tourist in Welly because the center is so compact.  The cable car was the only public transportation I took, and that was just for fun.

I also set aside some time for a Lord of the Rings tour.  Yes, I am a nerd.  Hobbiton was closed for filming, so I had to delay my geeking out until Wellington.  The tour with REAL MOVIE LOCATIONS was a little bit lame (you may recognize the trees below from approximately one second of film), but Weta Cave was cool.  I enjoyed posing with gollum and touching expensive merchandise like hobbit ears.  Here’s the real deal about LOTR tourism: just look out the window when you’re driving.  Almost every beautiful thing you see is somewhere in the movies.

In the next post, I’ll be moving on to the south island.  Shout out if you’d like to see more mountains, beaches, or wildlife – I have too many pictures of all of these things.

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Rotorua is for Rafting

You may have heard that New Zealand is an excellent place for adventuring.  Enter Rotorua, home to the highest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world.  Starting from the middle picture in the top row, the collage below shows the 7 meter drop in all its glory.  Notice the point at which our raft goes completely under water.

Rafting should be illegal because it’s so fun – oh wait, 7 meter drops are totally illegal in other countries.  I strongly recommend this boat trip.  It’s only an hour, but you get a lot of rapids and a major class five.

In other Rotorua news, you can stop on the side of the road and check out geothermal activity.  These pools are a little too hot for swimming.  And this video is a little more interesting than watching grass grow.

Uncle Boy’s Place

I hope everyone in the US had a great Thanksgiving!  The closest meal I’ve had to Thanksgiving dinner in New Zealand was the hangi meal served at Uncle Boy’s Place.  Uncle Boy is an elder in the Maori community in Maketu.  He built a huge hall so he could host tons of young travelers and teach us about Maori culture.

The evening starts off with generous portions of food (pictured above) and a traditional greeting.  Then a performance group takes the floor, singing songs, twirling poi, and performing the haka.  Check out the video below for their haka:

Sadly, I don’t have any video of the guys on the bus attempting the haka.  They tried hard, but the performers’ version was way more fierce.

The Worms of Waitomo

After Raglan, we drove straight to Waitomo to take in its famous attractions: caves and glowworms.  Generally, I would say I’m not interested in worms dangling dangerously close to my head.  But when our guide instructed us to turn off our headlamps, the ceiling lit up with tiny blue lights.  We floated on rafts, taking in the constellations above us.

There are a ton of cool caves in Waitomo, both dry and wet.  I used the Spellbound tour to visit two caves (with a nice tea break in between).  You can also do more adventurous activities like abseiling and black water rafting.

Above ground, there are endless rolling hills and valleys.  The landscape owes much of its drama to volcanic activity.  I’ve included pictures of some sheep and turkeys that I spotted near the cave, as well as one more beach scene.

Kia Ora

Welcome to New Zealand!

The great bus journey begins on the North Island.  I traveled from Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula, and then back across the country to the west coast town of Raglan.  The weather was on and off, but the views along the coast were spectacular.  Some highlights included a hike to Cathedral Cove (near Hahei), digging hot pools at the beach, and posing with a giant bottle of L&P in its birthplace.

To those of you who might have been looking for sheep pictures, my apologies.  I’ll work them into the next post.

Rice Paddies and Seasonal Fruits

Here are some things I did in Siem Reap when I was not taking one million temple photos:

Eat passion fruit and lychee.  Fruit juices and smoothies are too good in Siem Reap (and Thailand), especially if you’re new to 1. hot weather or 2. fruit with spikes on the outside.

Find great restaurants.  The dollar is still good for delicious meals and fun dining experiences in Cambodia.  We had the most fun at Nest, a large tented restaurant where you can eat in bed.

Visit the Angkor National Museum.  I think it’s better to go to the museum after the temples.  They have a great collection of religious statues that you can imagine in their original context.  The room of 1,000 Buddhas offers a look at the changing face of Buddha in Cambodia.

Ride quad bikes through the rice paddies.  I enjoyed getting a close look at the countryside, including cow road blocks and giant potholes.  It was also incredibly fun – just ask my Dad!  Travel can’t always be museums and walking tours.

In my next post, I’ll finally be moving on to New Zealand (where I’ve been travelling for two weeks).  Thank you for sticking with me!

The Many Faces of Angkor Thom

After Angkor Wat, I thought I had completed the full temple experience.  Wrong again.  Angkor Thom, the vast old city next to Angkor Wat, contains even more temples with unique and stunning features.

The most notable feature might be the faces.  Giant figures line the road to the city gate.  The main temple inside does not have the complex architecture of Angkor Wat (it’s made from smaller stones), but it does have dozens of larger-than-life Buddha faces.

Just a few minutes away by car, the Butterfly Temple is a must see.  Yes, it was made famous by Angelina Jolie and attracts buses of tourists.  But this temple is too cool.  When the French cleared the jungle out of the temples of Angkor Thom, they decided to leave one temple as all of them had been found – covered in twisting trees and roots.