Mine’s a Tale That Can Be Told

After arriving on the North Island I drove inland to the Central Plateau in search of Tongariro National Park. Or as some prefer to call it, Mordor


Although there is a brutal wind blowing across the plains, standing in the shadow of Mt Doom, the place hardly looks ominous. Just the opposite, Mt Ngauruhoe, as it is known in our world, looks quite serene. A conical single vent volcano, it is the youngest of the active volcanoes in the region. Having driven a few kilometers off of the main road, I find once again that I have more magnificent sights of New Zealand entirely to myself.


Mt Ruapehu, a triple peaked multiple vent volcano last blew its stack in 1995, causing a cancellation of the ski season in ‘96. It also looks beautiful and harmless


But then, in what seemed like seconds, dark clouds swept in out of nowhere and the temperature plummeted. Soon this place would become the darkest depths of Mordor


With thoughts of Gollum and The Evil One creeping up and slipping away with girls so fair, I jumped into the car and sped away. I couldn’t stop laughing as I scrolled the iPod to the song that I had been playing all day. Have a listen if you want


North of Tongariro is Rotorua, full of multicolored, sulfur smelling concoctions oozing to the surface


and gushing geysers erupting regularly


This place is known as Sulfur City, and smelling that way, it wasn’t long before it was time for me to ramble on.

To the Waipoua Kauri Forest. Some of the Kauri trees here are over a thousand years old, like this one named Yakas


Pretty amazing, it was an hour hike to get there and well worth it. I never thought of myself as a tree hugger, but you were one cool tree to visit Yakas


Having climbed the latitudes of the North Island over the previous few days, I found myself up to 35° South where the water temperature is warm enough that you don’t scream “Holy Jesus!” after putting your first foot in. As I came around a mountain road exiting the Waipoua Kauri Forest, and seeing what I saw ahead of me, I reached into my bag for the tube of Banana Boat SPF30 and mashed on the pedal a little harder. Seems like in New Zealand, you never know what you’ll find around the next bend


Covered in a refreshing layer of Tasman Sea salt, I headed across the Northlands peninsula to the Bay of Islands where the east coast meets the South Pacific Ocean. The next day I jumped on an all day boat ride to see the sights.

Known locally as the eighth wonder of the world, an island covered in tropical snow. Compliments of the local birds


Percy Island and the famous hole in the rock


It was pretty cool approaching it


And even cooler when the captain navigated the fast cat straight through it


The skies cleared by lunch time, and we dropped anchor in a beautiful little bay and the tender took us ashore for lunch


Followed by some sweet snorkeling down this passageway


To the left there were a couple of caves that you could snorkel into with coral the same color orange as the oozing sulfur above. Quite stunning and far less smelly.

After lunch the skipper lowered the boom netting for rides


And a little while later we ran into a pod of bottlenose dolphins, our third of the day


They are absolutely incredible to watch, they come so close that you can almost reach out and touch them


The main purpose of the boom netting is as a staging area, you can jump in there when the boat is interacting with the dolphin pod, and then if you want you can actually get into the water and observe the dolphins with a mask and snorkel. There is one restriction under New Zealand law, if the pod contains any infant dolphins, there can be no swimming with them. That prevents any potential stress on the mother should she perceive that you are interfering with her child. This could lead her to attack you, which made me think of old episodes of Flipper where he rams the villains in the stomach with his nose. Not good. As with the previous two pods, there were infants in this one, so we were boat bound to observe them, and the chances of a belly ramming were eliminated. I think I felt disappointment and relief.

This little guy looks like he’s smiling at us


They are so friendly and playful, it seems like they are having a ball out there


Hey, look at me!


Amazing. Under New Zealand law, the speed limit is 5 knots when observing dolphin pods, and no more than three boats at a time can interact with a pod. Absolutely no feeding of the dolphins permitted. And with all that, you get bottlenose dolphins living in the wild that seem as happy to see you as you are to see them.

What an incredible day, and a fitting way to wind down my New Zealand adventure. Looking at the odometer as I arrived in Auckland yesterday, it doesn’t feel like I’ve driven over 4000 kilometers in the last 18 days. New Zealand truly is a magical land, Kiwi Peter Jackson knew it when he demanded that The Rings trilogy be filmed here. The resulting worldwide buzz about New Zealand has tourism booming and has turned Jackson into a folk hero. And even with all the hype, New Zealand still delivers. As my Lonely Planet guide puts it, “unlike Lord of the Rings, New Zealand is real – this is not Middle-earth, so forget the fictional comparisons and confront the country’s magnificent geography on its own authentic terms.” I guess that’s what I tried to do. And it was awesome.

I’ll resist the urge to wax philosophical, assuming I even have the ability, suffice to say there’s a gamut of emotions running through me as I reflect on the fact that, as far as this trip goes, it’s almost all behind me now. I leave tomorrow for Fiji, and by this time next week, I’ll be back in the good old U.S. of A.

Having just written that, I think maybe my perspective has become a little skewed. With a few key strokes I just glossed over a week in Fiji. Thumbing through some of the photos in my recently purchased Lonely Planet Fiji guide, it does look quite magnificent. I’ll save the nostalgia until the fat lady takes the stage next week.