Iqon's New Zealand Blog

Caves

Mid-semester break

by on 18 September 2009, under New Zealand, Caves

As the loyal reader of my blog might have noticed it has been quite scarce with updates recently. This is because I haven’t been home much but instead have been enjoying my two weeks of break from the university by traveling a bit around the northern part of New Zealand.

Before I tell you more about my break I have a couple of loose ends I need to tie up first.

First of all: I have gotten my stolen money back so that has luckily been completely sorted after a couple of weeks where I had to borrow money, mostly from Skott and my brother, Benjamin. But now I do have the money back and more importantly (and the reason why I had to borrow money), I have access to them via my new Visa card which my brother, Rune, was so kind to send to me. But that’s enough talk about money for now…

As far as I recall (I’m apparently too lazy to read through my own blog) I have mentioned that Skott and I have invested in a car but not told much more about that. Not that there is much more to tell. The Sunday before the break began we went to the weekly car fair approximately five kilometers from PSV. There we found a Subaru Legacy ’91 which seemed to be in pretty good condition and it could even drive! The couple who had it needed to sell it since they were moving to Australia where the husband was originally from. They started out by saying the price was negotiable so we ended up paying $1460 instead of the $1650 the car was originally priced at. That seems like a fair price, especially if we can get some of the money back in the end by selling the car again.

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My first (shared) car!

I have also mentioned that I was going to watch Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s newest movie. It definitely met my expectations. It was pretty easy to see that it was a Tarantino movie but in my book that only counts as a big plus. The guy is excellent at writing compelling dialog and it did not hurt the movie that most of it consisted of scenes based around conversations while the amount of action was kept at a pretty manageable level (even though the trailers had insinuated something else). It is incredible how intense scenes that man can create just by intelligently written dialog (and excellent acting) – definitely a movie that is worth watching. At the same time it was interesting to see an American produced movie which contains so much dialog in languages which are not English. Very risky, but of course something I appreciate in a movie about nazi occupied France.

I have also seen District 9, a movie which surprised me positively. It is sci-fi as I have never really seen it before, made on a fairly low budget compared to this summer’s (or winter’s, as it is down here) other big movies, even though it contains excellent CGI effect throughout the whole movie. It tells the story about how aliens got to earth and were kept in concentration camps. Parts of it is filmed like a documentary and seems pretty realistic – at least as realistic as it can be when it is a story involving life and weapons from outer space. The movie never loses momentum and is extremely hectic throughout which just helps to keep you emerged in it.

While I saw Inglorious Basters with a number of people from the usual PSV gang, District 9 was enjoyed together with Skott and my brother, Benjamin, who had arrived in New Zealand the same Friday my break started. Thus he travelled with us on our trip around Northland, the northern most part of New Zealand, in our first week of the break. Besides him and me the group included the Chris the German, Skott and his girlfriend, Malene, who had also taken the long trip to New Zealand for two weeks to travel with us. I will try to make it short (you know that’s not true, though, if you have ever read any other parts of my blog):

Monday:
Vi started off by trying to get an insurance on our car. Both Friday and Saturday we had tried to get a third party insurance, but both times in vain. Friday because we, due to rush hour, didn’t get there before they closed. Saturday because they wanted us to pay a lot of money (I think it was about $560) for a four month insurance while we knew a couple of other international students who had gotten a similar insurance for a year for less than $200. Apparently we had made the mistake to tell them that we were only going to stay here for a few months which made us tourists who apparently travels much more than students who live here for a year and have a three months break in the summer… Monday we went to a different store (same franchise); they had stored our information from our first visit but we told them that there must have been some kind of misunderstanding and that we were actually going to study in New Zealand for a year. Suddenly we could get the insurance for about $170 which seemed pretty fair. Skott also became a member of AA at the same time (in NZ AA is apparently not Anonymous Alcoholics but Automobile Association or something like that) so we can get a bit of help if our car should break down.

We continued to Goat Island which should be filled with animal life – at least in the summer where a lot of people enjoy snorkeling in the area. We had thought about taking a trip on a boat with a glass bottom to see some of the fish, but it didn’t seem to be sailing that day, either because the season hadn’t really begun yet or because it was too windy. Instead we spend the time on looking at waves hitting the rocks and to point fingers (you can do that in English as well, right) at the birds which had troubles flying because of the wind.

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Benjamin makes fun of the poor birds.

Next stop was Whangarei Falls, which is described as the water fall in New Zealand that is probably the most photographed even though it’s not the most impressive. It still seemed pretty nice, though, and of course we did take a couple of photographs of it, just to help it keep its status.

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One of the many photos that apparently exists of the Whangarei Falls

Next stop: Abbey Caves Abbey Caves, “the poor man’s Waitomo Caves” where it should be possible to see glow worms and so forth without paying to go down in the caves. Unfortunately we couldn’t enter them, either because we did not find the right place or because the water was too high. In other words: No glow worms for us (that day).

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The most exciting part about the caves was probably the walk to them which was quite muddy. Some people came pretty close to falling.

We had timed our trip to Whangarei perfectly. Apparently some big soccer tournament was taking place while we were there which meant that almost every camp site and hostel was booked by the 36 soccer teams residing in the city. We ended up at a motel where we shared two rooms with another group (the Norwegians Caroline and Kristian and the Dane Søren) who had also ended up in Whangarei after a couple of days of surfing further south.

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The two groups at the motel.

Tuesday
Tuesday we went to Mermaid Pools, a rock formation which creates a small pool at low tide. We sat at the rocks for a while and enjoyed the sound of the waves while we dried in the sun after some cold winter bathing in the sea.

Tuesday we succeeded in seeing Glow Worms in a half hour guided tour through Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. The cave was placed just outside Kawakawa which we passed through in order to see Hundertwasser Public Toilets, created by the famous Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The toilets are said to be “The Worlds Most Photographed Public Toilets” which is probably true – I know I haven’t photographed that many public toilets in my life but it might be a hobby one could take up.

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The famous public toilets from the inside!

We ended up in Russell, a historical town which has previously been the capital of New Zealand. It was a very quiet town, probably because the tourists hadn’t arrived yet since it is technically still winter. We saw an old church with bullet wholes from previous wars and went to a flagstaff at the top of a hill (Flagstaff Hill) where Union Jack is supposed to have been raised for the first time during the negotiations between the British and the Maori. At last we took a ferry to Paihia where we spent the night.

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Some people were more fascinated by the church than others.

Wednesday
Wednesday we took a boat trip around Bay of Islands. We were the only ones at the boat and the guy who was in charge of the trip, Mike, was a really nice guy. It was his first tour of the season and he told us that he had seen dolphins on his way out to get us. Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins or whales on our trip but it was a pretty good trip regardless. We went to one of the islands at the Bay of Islands where we climbed to the top of a hill from where we had a fantastic view.

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We were allowed to help steer the boat.

After the boat trip we went to Haruru Falls, some water falls which are shaped like a horse shoe. However, they were not as impressive as Whangarei Falls.

Thursday
Thursday we took the long trip to Cape Reinga, where the Tasmanian Sea and the Pacific Sea meet. It is not the most northern point of New Zealand but it is pretty close and a lot more accessible than the “real” northernmost point. It was a long drive on shitty roads to see a lighthouse and some signs showing how far away different big cities in the world are, but it is still something you have to see when you are in the northern part of New Zealand.

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The light house at Cape Reinga.

We drove south again to get to Ahipara which is placed in the beginning of the Ninety Mile Beach, a beach which is approximately 55 miles long. Here we rented a couple of boards to do some sand surfing on the big sand dunes which was quite entertaining even though it was a long walk up the sand for a couple of seconds ride down, only to do the whole thing over afterwards. It was a trip filled with exhilarating crashes and we were all covered in sand in the end.

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Benjamin had some pretty spectacular crashes.

Friday
There wasn’t much to see on our way back to Auckland along the west coast and therefore Friday didn’t offer many adventures. We had a short stop in Waipoua Forest where we saw some impressive Kauri trees. Among other trees, the forest contains Tane Mahuta, 51.2 m in height and 13.77 m in girth which makes it the biggest Kauri tree in the world. It was really impressive sight, especially because the (up to) 2500 year old tree stood in the middle of the forest surrounded by other trees, making them seem completely insignificant by comparison.

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This photo might give some idea of the size of the tree – we are even placed some meters in front of the tree on this photo.

Also the next biggest tree, Te Matua Ngahere, could be found in the forest. It wasn’t as tall (“only” 29.9 m) but it was wider since it had a girth of a whopping 16.41 m.

I will tell about the weekend and the following week at a later point since this post is already faaaaar too long.

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Waitomo Caves

by on 6 August 2009, under New Zealand, Caves

The amount of school work is slowly increasing, and now I have received my first assignments. It is still pretty manageable and therefore we still have time to experience more than just mathematical formulas.

Tuesday is not only “Quiz Night” in Auckland but apparently also “Movie Night” where it is cheaper to go to the movies (10 NZD). Therefore we went to see The Hangover on Tuesday, my third visit to the cinema in under a week. While the two first movies were quite disappointing, The Hangover definitely fulfilled my expectations: A solid comedy which didn’t try to be more or anything else than it promised to be. Afterwards we went to Quiz Night at a bar/café under The Empire, some student apartments close to the university. We one a bottle of champagne for the best team name, “Do it!”.

Wednesday we went to a wine tasting event arranged by the international orientation group. It took place in a big wine store a fifteen minutes walk from the university. It was pretty interesting and you could definitely tell that there was a big difference between the wines we were presented with. However, it was a lot of information at once about different places and ways to produce wine in New Zealand so it is limited how much actually stuck with me afterwards. I did learn, though, that it is called taking a “sniffy-sniff” and “tasty-taste” when you smell and taste the wine respectively. At least, those were the words used by the guy presenting the wines so they must be some fancy technical terms, I reckon.

The weekend was a more eventful. The original plan was to go on an orientation trip with Aurac: Auckland University Rock & Alpine Club – the climbing club at the university. I have never been climbing before but I was told that that shouldn’t be a hindrance for participating in the activities of the club and thought it would be a nice way to get to try something different. Unfortunately the trip was cancelled due to bad weather. Apparently rain isn’t the best weather to go climbing on some slippery rocks. Instead the trip has been postponed for two weeks.

The bad weather didn’t hinder me in leaving Auckland this weekend, though. I joined the group consisting of Kristian (Norwegian), Borghild (Norwegian), Chris (German) and Skott who had also planned to go on a trip in the weekend. “Rainy weather”, we thought, “must be the perfect oppertunity to go to the famous Waitomo Caves. Waitomo Caves are, as part of the name implies, some caves approximately 2.5-3 hours drive suth of Auckland. It is a giant system of caves with about 400 fully explored and a lot which still haven’t been fully mapped. The caves are especially known for their Glow Worms small larvae which glow in order to attract prey. The brighter they glow, the more hungry they are. Of course we wanted to experience this phenomena so we rented a car and drove south on Saturday in order to explore the caves. Sunday, where the weather was supposed to be fine, should be spend on the beach and to see a bit of nature close to the caves. Naturally, this plan was not supposed to work out.

It turns out that rainy weather is not always the perfect kind of weather for going into some water filled caves. Apparently the caves can become flooded and this was of course what happened Saturday afternoon just as we arrived, quite excited about the trip into the caves after three hours of driving. It was not the best piece of news, especially because it kept raining cats and dogs and the nearest town wasn’t very exciting. We were told to go to the nearby Kiwi House (a house with kiwi birds, not New Zealanders) which is supposed to be one of the best in New Zealand, so we went there. It costed approximately $15 to get in and it was kind of a disappointment. There were only two kiwi’s in a dark room (the kiwi is nocturnal) and it wasn’t allowed to photograph them since the flash would upset them. They looked funny, though, walking around in their funny fashion, constantly trying to find food among the leaves on the ground by pecking it with their long beaks energetically. A very peculiar bird, indeed. The rest of the “park” was filled with a lot of other birds from New Zealand. Unfortunately, the duck seems to be a pretty common bird in New Zealand as well which meant that the park was filled with those. I think it is a testament to how bored we were that we spend almost an hour looking at ducks before we went on. The best part about the park might have been that they lent us some umbrellas for free so we at least didn’t get wet while looking at ducks. The horrible Saturday ended pretty good, however. We went to a dinner in Hamilton and ended the evening back in Auckland watching Blinkende Lygter (Flickering Lanterns) which both the German and the two Norwegians enjoyed.

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Skott seemed to enjoy his pink umbrella – Saturday wasn’t a complete waste!

Sunday we went down to the caves once again. The atmosphere wasn’t as positive as the day before (at least not for me) but as the sun kept shining even as we drove down south, the mood slowly changed. We even had time to go on a quick visit at Marokopa Falls, approximately half an hours drive from the caves. It was a beautiful sight, especially with the little rainbow at the bottom of the falls. It must indeed have been beautiful since we all fully enjoyed it, even though it was more water falling and we had experienced that a lot the day before.

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The Marokopa Falls

The trip inside the caves was incredible. After dressing up in wetsuits we were ready to go for the approximately two hours of climbing, swimming and “floating” through the caves. We had chosen the trip which included “black water rafting” or rather “black water tubing” where we at certain points were seated in a donut shaped tube to float on the water. We had expected it to be a bit more action packed than it proved to be. The tubing part only consisted of sitting in the tubes while the guide dragged us around in a line in the dark so we could see the glow worms illuminating the ceiling as stars on a clear sky at night. Sunday was definitely a much better day than the awful Saturday.

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Sitting in the tubes. From left: Kristian, Borghild, Chris, Skott and me.

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Me… in a wetsuit… in the caves… looking handsome

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A drawing of our tour through the caves.

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