Elementary Forces

Wellington - Tongariro NP - Wai-O-Tapu

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Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, although Auckland is much bigger than Wellington. Wellington, situated in the Click here to enlargeSouth of the North Island, is crammed in between the sea, the bay and the mountains. Many people working in Wellington live in one of the two valleys to the North of Wellington. We like the place, in spite of its nickname ‘Windy Wellington’ there is no wind at all and the sun shines bright. We walk next to the harbor, some people are kayaking in the harbor and we hear a splash and to our big surprise see a man actually swimming in the water. Don’t try this at home.

Click here to enlargeWe visit the ‘Te Papa’ museum, an enormous, ugly building next to the harbor. They have interesting displays about the Maori (Polynesians arriving around 1000 AD), the European settlement and the later immigrants. We see a lot of austere wood carving, parts of buildings and long canoes decorated with ferocious heads of ancestors. By coincidence they have an exhibition about the Click here to enlargeDutch settlers of the early fifties. The economic situation in Holland was very bad after the second world war and people had the feeling ‘Holland is full’, which sounds somehow a bit familiar? New Zealand needed working forces and the authorities thought the Dutch would easily adapt to the English culture. In fact the culture of New Zealand is only superficial English and many immigrants had a totally wrong idea of the country, which caused a lot of disappointment. But once in New Zealand it was often not possible to go back again. We see a Dutch passport with a large stamp: ‘Alien’ on it and a photograph of a big area full of immigrant houses, very close together, they looked like tents, just enough room for a bed.

Another floor of ‘Te Papa’ has Click here to enlargea kind of interactive display demonstrating the elementary forces that formed New Zealand. We experience an earthquake in the earthquake home, see explosive volcanoes on big screens and can measure for ourselves how colliding tectonic plates change the location of the East of New Zealand compared to the West. In Holland we have the elementary force of the water, but in New Zealand and especially on the North Island you are confronted directly with the forces of nature, especially the moving tectonic plates, which created (and create) earthquakes, volcanoes and thermal areas.

In the small center of Wellington we take a drink on a terrace. An almost naked Indian feeds French fries to a dove, a girl plays the guitar, her boyfriend sings softly. Two boys train a juggling act with small balls, a Maori with his shirt draped around his hips roller skates with a guitar on his back, a very relaxed man in an expensive suits strolls by, an old man in a wheelchair stops at our terrace, orders a cappuccino and looks at the scene.

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Our next stop is Tongariro National Park. We camp in the ‘thermal town’ Tokaanu, directly to the south of lake Taupo. Maybe you wonder what ‘thermal town’ stands for? Click here to enlargeThat is very simple, it means that even the cold water on the camping is warmer than the hot water on most camping and that when you look around you see places where steam pops out of the ground. Our camping, Oasis, is very quiet on the moment, since the holiday season just stopped. The lake is nowhere to be seen, but Jac looks suspiciously around him and sees boats everywhere. And then, when we meet one of our neighbors complete with boat, his worst fears are confirmed: this is a real fishermen’s camping… The town nearby, Turingo, names itself the ‘Trout capital of the world’, which sounds a bit familiar, since Adaminably in Australia showed the same title! Both places are very small so I suppose nobody cares to check up on them, it was pure coincidence we visited them both (Jac mumbles something about people picking out fishermen’s camping when they could have chosen a perfectly normal camping, I have no idea what he is talking about?).

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In the afternoon we get new neighbors Click here to enlargeand we talk a bit with them. Proudly we tell we are traveling for a whole three months. The couple, both brown and slender, the woman still beautiful in her sixties, the man looking even younger, tells us something about their journey in New Zealand before they tell us they are sailing around the world for ten years by now. I feel very silly with our three months. First they spent four years in the Mediterranean, then they crossed over to the US, to the South of America and then with a big group of sailing boats crossed over to Australia. Jac thinks ten years is definitely to much. We go to the kitchen to read a bit.

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When we enter the kitchen we are greeted by a New Zealand woman, who is busy cooking. We open our Click here to enlargewine and she is very interested, this combined with her extremely careful movements and uncoordinated sayings makes me wonder if she is an alcoholic. She explains she travels with her brother to Steward Island. Her brother, a very big, simple looking, totally silent man, joins her for a moment to inspect dinner and disappears silently again to his cricket on the television. The woman tells her brother lives next to them on their island close to Auckland and since they have a lot of animals, it is very handy that her husband can take care of the animals while she and her brother are traveling. I wonder a bit if it wouldn’t be more logical if she and her husband traveled while her brother took care of the animals, which ideas must have shown on my face since the woman hurries to tell me not to worry, once a year she travels together with her husband, so he can’t complain.

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On that moment Howard rides his tricycle into the kitchen. He is a bit lonely on this fishermen’s camping. He cycles around the kitchen, inspects the dinner, inspects our Click here to enlargebottle of wine, and leaves again with a daring turn, almost smashing a young woman that enters the kitchen. She is followed by a dark man, maybe Maori by the look of his skin and curled black hair. She is rather tall and beautiful, he only just reaches her height but is broad shouldered and also good looking. She starts dinner and he helps, but concentrates more on his small radio reporting about the cricket, held close to his ear, than on the cooking of the dinner. The girl doesn’t seem to worry about his lack of enthusiasm and ignores his cooking activities. I can almost hear her thinking: “It is his responsibility and he won’t learn when I tell him all the time what to do”. But when one of the pans almost boils dry, she nonchalantly informs him of the fact – without taking any action herself.

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We get some take away food from the Click here to enlargeshop next door, drink the rest of our wine and I make a cup of thee. A very old man enters the kitchen, this morning I talked with him and his wife and learned they are visiting this camping almost all there life and love the quiet and the familiarity. His back is so much bowed that he has to turn his face sideward up from the ground in order to see a bit of us. This difficult position doesn’t prevent him from advising us about all kind of interesting sights and activities.

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We didn’t sleep so well this night. A lot of mosquitoes haunted our tent and Jac, hiding for once totally in our sleeping bag, turned about every minute because of the itching of the sandfly bites on his hot feet and legs.

Click here to enlargeThe next morning we wake at 6 o’clock in order to catch the 7 o’clock bus from Turingo to the start of the Tongariro crossing, the famous walk through the Tongariro National Park full of craters and volcanoes. When the bus stops the volcanoes are covered in mist and I worry about the weather, it is going to rain today but supposedly only in the late afternoon. Click here to enlargeNow we only need to know what they mean with ‘late’ in New Zealand… Knowing the weather forecasts in Holland I fear the worst. But since we spend all this money on taking a bus (protest of Jac, but as this is a one way journey we have no choice) and since I never stop without very compelling reasons we follow our fellow passengers on the small path towards the volcanoes.

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The first part of the Click here to enlargetrack is easy, but after one hour the path starts to rise sharply and this goes on till we are in the middle of the Southern Crater. To the right we see the fearsome Red Crater, ground opened up by sheer force, its soft red insides exposed to the world. At the top it is very cold, the icy wind tries to blow us right into the Red Crater. The ground is slippery with loose gravel and the path from the top is very steep. The clouds blow around our heads. Now and then the sun comes out and shines on the emerald lakes directly below us, three thermal lakes each with a different mixture of blue and green.

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Click here to enlargeOnce you are at the top you think the most difficult part of the walk is over, but the walk is 17 kilometers long, 700 meters up and 900 meters down. We had a long way to go, albeit a beautiful walk with the view on the craters and volcanoes above us and the faraway lakes below us. Starting at 9 o’clock we were just in time for the 4 o’clock bus at the other end of the walk. We were tired, our muscles ached and so Click here to enlargewe tried the thermal baths on our camping. But the water was so hot it was difficult to immerse in the water and after ten minutes we had to leave, feeling like steamed shrimps. Outside the bath we met our camping boss, who explained that the water was about 41 degrees Celsius in the late afternoon and cooled gradually to about 36 degrees. I think we just caught the 41 degree part.

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Click here to enlargeThis night we slept from sheer exhaustion, although the mosquito’s weren’t frightened by our anti mosquito spray, as I noticed the next morning while counting the bites – mosquito’s prefer me, while sandflies seem to prefer Jac. We leave for the North, drive around the big lake Taupo, shortly visit the quite tourist city, and drive on to Wai-O-Tapu, the so-called Thermal Wonderland.

Click here to enlargeWai-O-Tapu is indeed a wonderland. The ground under our feet is warm and sometimes even hot. A penetrating stench of rotten eggs fills the air and our nostrils. But the colors of Wai-O-Tapu are unbelievable beautiful. Our walk passes by places called “Devil’s Bath”, “Rainbow Crater”, “Devil’s Ink Pots”, “Artists’ Palette”, “Champagne Pool”, colorful but grim places full of bubbling mud of 100 degrees, no growth of plants, no animals except some lazy birds who like the high temperature in there nests and the Click here to enlargeeasy to catch intoxicated insects. Halfway the park we have a stunning panoramic view over a river and a lake, colored a poisonous green, forming a strange contrast with the dark green of the woods far away. Right before us a bit of steam circles out of the ground. We spend two hours walking around and making photographs, then suddenly the stench is to much for me. Elementary forces indeed!

To be continued...




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