Sunday, February 8, 2009

Aeotoroa Tour

Aeotoroa is the Maori name for New Zealand.   

The first Maori landed on the western side of the North Island.  The great navigator leading this expedition was called Kupe and there are many Maori legends about Kupe and his accomplishments.  They had gone past the island on the north side but then noticed a very long low-hanging cloud on their eastern side.  Kupe knew that clouds like that meant land.  So they turned their canoes back southeast and make landfall about half-way down the North Island on the western side.   There continues to be dispute as to where these Maori sailed from – some same Bora Bora or Raiatea or Marquesas of what is now called French Polynesia and some claim they sailed from Raratonga of the Southern Cook Islands.   Regardless of which island they sailed from, it is certain that they made several round-trips to settle the islands of New Zealand and it is believed that Kupe led these expeditions back and forth.  This Polynesian immigration to Aeotoroa occurred between 800 and 900 A.D.  Another favored legend is that Maui, a demi-god, used the South Island as his canoe.  The South Island is actually shaped somewhat like a canoe, with Stewart Island at the southern tip as the anchor for the canoe.  Maui caught a huge fish.  That fish became the North Island.  Before he could land the fish it was bitten by sharks in several places.   Three of those places are near Auckland, where now are the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty on the eastern side and Manakua Harbour on the western side.

The first European to see New Zealand was a Dutchman named Abel Tasman.  He named the land Nieuw Zeeland after a Dutch province.   Tasman approached from the western side in 1642; hence the name of Tasman Sea.  He spotted the Southern Alps of the South Island and approached the coast.  Two canoe loads of Maori paddled out to greet him.  The Maori called out a greeting and played a note on a war trumpet.  Unfortunately, Tasman’s crew responded with a trumpet fanfare.  The Maori took this as a challenge of war.  The next day the Maori returned and attacked, killing 4 of Tasman’s crew.  Tasman left and never came back.   Capt. James Cook sailed into the area 127 years later, in 1769.  His experience with the Maori was friendlier, although he still had problems.  As I explained in one of our first postings from NZ, the British eventually signed the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6, 1840.  The Maori had no understanding of individual land ownership and this treaty still remains has not been ratified and the Maori still want their traditional lands returned to them.

And with that history tidbit we are finally off on a road tour of Aeotoroa. 

Auckland Sky Tower
The Sky Tower in downtown Auckland is similar to others we have visited elsewhere.  Don’t remember all the specs but I think the main observation deck is around 183 meters high and the Sky Deck is 232 meters high.  There is also the obligatory lounge and restaurant off the main observation deck.   But they have added a couple of twists to garner more tourist dollars.   You can do the Sky Walk or the Sky Jump.  For the Sky Walk you are dressed in an orange jumpsuit and tethered to a safety harness.  Then you walk around the circumference of the main observance deck on a totally exposed outer  circular walkway.  This walkway is about 2 feet wide and has no hand bars or anything.  You are just walking on a 2-ft wide platform 183 meters in the air.  Needless to say I was not the slightest bit interested in doing such a thing.  The Sky Jump is a controlled bungee jump.   You jump off the outer section of the Sky Deck and free fall down to approximately the main observation deck, where you bounce a few times on the bungee cord and then begin a rapid slide down to the ground while being guided by 2 guy-wires.   There is a target platform where you land about 12 feet above the sidewalk.  A guy jumped while we were on the main observation level and Bill was able to get a photo with his phone – we had forgotten to bring our camera, of course.   Then when we were leaving another jumper landed on the target platform so we got the up-close-and-personal view of both someone in the air and someone landing.  I cannot imagine what thrill people get from this stuff.  And that is not just an age thing.  I would have felt the same way when I was 18 year old.  Thrill seeking is not my thing.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Waitomo means “water entering a hold in the ground” in the Maori language.  The village of Waitomo is located on the western side on the North Island in the lower central area.  It is some distance from the coast and is very pastoral land.  The views are lovely.  There are more than 300 caves identified in the Waitomo area, but only a handful are open to the public.   All these caves are formed by limestone which was once the ocean seabed.  Enormous pressures were applied to the limestone as it was forced upward.  Inside the caves are found marine fossils.  Kind of cool to be high in the mountains and walk through caves and see fossil evidence of marine creatures.  There are several adventure tours that are extremely popular.  Some involve abseiling; some involve rock climbing or interior cave climbing; some involve something called black water rafting; some involve bungee jumping; and some involve simply walking through caves and one tour even floats you in a calm boat through a cave for a short distance.   You can guess which tours we opted to do.
Black water rafting is nothing like whitewater rafting.   Black water rafting is done with a flotation device (usually an old tire inner tube) on and in rivers that flow through caves.  Those caves are constant 60F degrees and that water is cold!!!  Can’t see us willingly getting wet in 60F air temps.   Sometimes the rafters go over small rapids and get scraped and cut on the rocks.  The term black water rafting comes from the fact that most of this rafting is done in complete darkness since the rivers go beneath and through the unlit caves and through rock “tubes.”   Sounds nuts to us – get into cold water and get scraped and cut while being pushed through total blackness.  What fun.

First we toured the Ruakuri Cave.  This is a very large cave that offers anything one might want to find in a cave.  The limestone stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, pillars and other formations are impressive.  It has interior waterfalls and underground rivers flowing through it.  I was very impressed by the engineering feats inside Ruakuri Cave.  They have constructed suspended metal walkways with handrails throughout the entire cave.   And this cave is huge.   

It is not the largest cave found in the area – that one is more than 1000 feet high inside the cave and more than 30 kilometers long but is not open to the public – but Ruakuri is largest cave open for public tours.  Because of the underground rivers this cave even has glow worms, so it really does have everything.  At one place inside the cave there is a “NO TRESPASSING” sign.  It was placed there in 1988 by Mr. Holden, the rancher who owned the land at ground level.  He placed the sign beneath the ground at the limit of his property at ground level.  This forced the tours to cease at the point of this sign.  It also forced a court case.  New Zealand law is based on English law which is based on Old Roman Law.  Seems like the old Romans determined that property ownership means that the property is owned to the center of the earth.  So the tour companies began paying annual lease payments to Mr. Holden.  And that was the last year that Mr. Holden worked his ranch.  Today the annual lease payments continue to be paid to the Holden heirs.

Second we toured Aranui Cave, which is supposedly considered the most beautiful cave in the Waitomo area.  It was nice but after first seeing Ruakuri our expectations were too high, so we were not overly impressed with Aranui.

Lastly we visited Waitomo Glow Worm Cave.  This cave is the most well-known and most visited.  The tour even includes a short boat ride through the total darkness where you see the glow worms covering the cave ceiling and sides.  There were thousands of glow worms covering the ceiling.  They looked like stars on a moonless night at sea.  I can only imagine what the first Maori to see these glow worms must have thought.  He would have had no idea that these tiny lights were caused by worms.  No wonder the Maori believed caves were the entrance to the spirit world.

Glow worms are found in caves in New Zealand and in Australia and also in caves in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA.  They are also found through Alabama and Georgia.  The worms in the USA caves are twice as bright as the worms in NZ or Australia.  The life cycle of a glow worm has 4 stages:

1.       The female fly lays around 120 small eggs.  After around 20 days the young larvae hatch.

2.       After hatching, the young larvae build a nest and put down lines sort of like a straight spider web.  These lines are made from mucous and trap insects, which are then drawn up to the worm’s mouth and devoured.  At this stage the glow worm is less than 3mm long and they emit a very visible light from their tail tip section.  They slowly grow over 9 months to the shape and size of a matchstick.

3.       The pupa stage is the same as the cocoon stage in the butterfly life cycle.  The pupa or cocoon stage lasts about 13 days, during which time the pupa is suspended by a thread.

4.       When the glow worm fly emerges from the pupa cocoon, it is an adult.  It looks like a large mosquito.  Except that it has no mouth.   Their only function is to reproduce.  Usually a male is waiting for the female when she emerges from the pupa.  Mating immediately takes place and the female soon lays her 120 eggs so the cycle can start all over again.  Since the adults have no mouth, they starve to death.   An adult lives no longer than a few days.  The proper name for these glow worms is arachinocampa luminosa and supposedly is unique to New Zealand.

Sunday, February 8, we drove through a mountainous national park as we made our way south.  The scenery was beautiful.   We enjoyed the day driving except for about 50 kilometers where the roads were very narrow and there were many washouts.    I could have done without that part.  We stopped in the town of Wangamui .    A large river empties into the Tasman Sea at Wangamui.  This is a larger town – a nice surprise after seeing various versions of Mayberry all day.   There are a gadjillion restaurants from which to choose.  I want veggies so tonight calls for Chinese food and TV.   

Tomorrow we should reach Wellington.

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