Tour NZ's biggest city, visit the glow worms and hike the Tongariro Crossing - check!
We are four days into the trip and it has been quite eventful! Our plans for Christchurch are currently on hold until we find out more about the situation down there. We know the TranzCoastal train we're supposed to take from Picton to Christchurch is not running, so we're looking into alternatives. We read that the CC airport is flying domestic flights in and out, so that is good news because we are supposed to leave from there next Saturday to fly back home. I will keep everyone posted.
So here's a recap of what we've done so far. On Monday, we spent the day in Auckland, walking all over the city and visiting the famous Sky Tower (think Seattle's space needle). We walked down Queen Street to the viaduct and checked out everything along the pretty waterfront. We had a great lunch at a place called the food alley, which although it sounds pretty ghetto, was fantastic. It was a collection of all kinds of Asian food stands, and we chose Malaysian, Turkish and Chinese dim sum. After lunch, we headed to the tower, staying long enough to catch sunset (it was kind of cloudy, so it probably wasn't as awesome as it could have been). We then jumped on the bus to hit Ponsonby Road for dinner. I'd equate that neighborhood to Manayunk (trendy area outside of downtown) for my Philly folk and maybe Noe Valley (Victorian homes and designer shopping) for the SFers?
On Tuesday (yesterday), we picked up the rental car -- eek! driving on the left -- and headed out of the city to Waitomo Caves. Here, we visited with the glow worms and had a great tour guide, Ross. He was quite a character with tons of stories about his 13 years doing these kind of tours and his bag pipe-playing father of Scottish descent! The glow worms themselves were pretty fascinating. They are larvae that live in little hammocks that they build and that hang down from the cave's ceiling. To eat, they construct long skinny threads that hang down to trap their prey, which are smaller bugs that live mostly in the river below. None of our pictures came out while in the cave, but Ross promised to email us some. We also visited another ancient cave with tons of stalactites that had animal bones in it that they estimate date back more than 20,000 years! We had a delicious lamb dinner at HuHu cafe after the cave tours. Then we set off for Taupo.
Today, our day began at 4:30 am when we arose to catch the bus to the Tongariro Crossing. This hike has been called the best one-day walk in NZ. But don't let the term "walk" fool you - it was a workout! From start to finish, it was 19.4 km (12 miles for you lazy Americans who don't want to do the conversion) and we actually went up and down a volcano! The views were unbeatable with the terrain and microclimates changing at almost every turn. From an active crater to steaming vents and sulfur lakes, we saw it all. We even passed through lush subtropical rain forest at the very end of the hike! It was a very memorable experience, and I'm sure the memories will come flooding back as early as tomorrow morning, when I wake up unable to stand on my sore legs!
So now it's time for bed, especially after such an early rising this morning. Tomorrow we head to Wellington. More to come!
P.S. Rick wins the gold star for not only tackling driving on the left side of the road, but also carrying all of our lunches and extra water bottles during the hardest part of today's hike. Thanks, Rick!