Our New Zealand Adventure Ends...Back aboard Peregrina

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Mon 23 May 2011 11:35

Position Report - 27:11.687S  153:06.403E
Where in the World are Margie and Peter? â Last Stops in New Zealand and back to OZ!
This email update will be, relatively, short because we want to get started relating stories of Peregrinaâs adventures in real time and, obviously, our visit to New Zealand is old news.
However, there are a few highlights left to relate, including spectacular Aoraki Mount Cook and the wonderful Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center.
So, here we go againâitâs not enough that that crafty English sea captain named practically every harbor in the South Pacific!  Now, he gets his moniker attached to the loftiest peak in New Zealand!  ENOUGH ALREADY!!!
But, whatâs âAorakiâ mean, you askâ.???   
The Maori legend tells us that Raki (Sky Father) and Pap-tua-nuku (Earth Mother) married and that Rakiâs four sons from a previous union came to âinspectâ their new mother.  It sounds like they werenât all that nice to her because, after they left, their canoe ran aground on a reef and was turned into a mountain of stone.  The four boys scrambled up on top of the upturned canoe where they were also petrified into giant stone peaks.
Aoraki, the eldest son became whatâs known as Mount Cook and it remains today one of the most revered sites to the Maori people.  (His three younger brothers formed the flanking peaks which are now called Mount Dampier, Mount Teichelmann and Mount Tasman)  Alpinists, including Sir Edmund Hillary, who began his illustrious mountain climbing career here, first reached the summit of Aoraki Mount Cook in 1894 but, even today, because of the sacredness of this site, climbers are asked not to step their foot on the summit itself.
Sir Edmund is EVERYWHERE here in the Southern Alps â really all over New Zealand.  Up until his death in 2008, he was consistently voted New Zealandâs most admired citizen.  (Kinda like the Steve Irwin of Australia!)  There are sculptures and memorials and images of him everywhere but none more impressive than the Alpine Center here at Mount Cook in the âoh so poshâ hotel known as The Hermitage, which was over-run with affluent Japanese tourists (not mountain climbers) the day we stopped by for a visit.
Hillary was loved for his down-to-earth, honest, straight-talking self.  His comment to the expedition team leader upon returning to base camp after conquering Everest was, âWell George, we knocked the bastard off!â
While we didnât summit Aoraki Mount Cook, we did take several wonderful hikes around the region including the rugged 3 Â hour Hooker Valley Track and a one hour hike along the Tasman River to the Tasman Glacier where these crazy French guys were cavorting around naked on the icebergs that had broken off the glacier and floated down the river.  Iâll attach some photos.  No, sorryânot of the naked French fellowsâ.just the majestic mountains!
Time was getting short and we were due back in Christchurch for dinner on February 22nd with Ger and Michael, our BWR friends from S/V Simanderal who were also touring around New Zealand.  About 12 miles outside of the city, we noticed that the van seriously shook and swayed on the highway even though it was a perfectly beautiful day.  We turned on the radio to hear that Christchurch had suffered an earthquake of 6.1 on the Richter Scale!  Luckily, we were traveling in tandem with our friends, Sue and Bill and we diverted to Billâs sisterâs house outside of the city where we remained for a couple days glued to the television.  FYI â Michael and Ger were actually just arriving in the city at that moment but had not checked into their hotel.  They were told to leave immediately and arranged for a hotel a couple hours away so we unfortunately missed them but they, fortunately, escaped with their lives.  Not so for 180 other poor souls who were lost in the destruction.
Two days later, we said good bye to our trusty Apollo Van, packed our bags into Sue and Billâs car and drove to Picton, on the north coast of the South Island, where their sailboat Camomile was berthed â stopping off in the lovely town of Hanmer Springs, where we spent several hours luxuriating in the wonderful hot springs there.  First discovered in 1859, these thermal pools are fed by rainwater that seeps down from the Hanmer Mountains and accumulates in underground reservoirs 2km beneath the surface of the earth absorbing minerals and warming up via the earthâs natural heat.  The water then rises to the surface and bursts through fissures in the rock.
In Picton the next day, we spent time with Sue and Bill on Camomile before saying a fond farewell as we boarded the ferry bpund for Wellington in the North Island.  (Sue and Bill would soon be heading back to Tonga)
In Wellington, we picked up a rental car and headed about north towards Auckland â soon passing through the town of Bulls â known for its unusual signage.  Everything in Bulls is easily Identify-a-BULL.  The Police Station is the Const-a-Bull.  Town Hall is Soci-a-Bull.  The Real Estate office is Liv-a-Bull and the hotel is Rest-a-Bull.  All in all , it was an ador-a-BULL Tourism/PR campaign.
We moved along fairly quickly heading north to Rotorua.  Along the way we stopped to see the geothermal hot springs at Craters of the Moon â an eerie lunar landscape with hyper-active belching steam that percolates upward with such force and frequency that one must wear closed toed shoes just in case something pops up right under your feet.  You also must be able to tolerate the smell of rotten eggs fairly wellâ
Continuing on along the Waikato River which flows north through deep, narrow gorges, we reached Huka Falls, or Hukanui, which means âgreat body of spray.â  Itâs here that the Waikato, one of New Zealandâs largest rivers, funnels into a narrow chasm before plunging over the shelf with a force of 400 tons of water per second.  The bridge that crosses the Waikato here gives one a dizzying view of the plummeting H2O.  From the Falls, we hiked several kilometers along the river to the Aratiatia Dam, which holds back the Waikato just above the Aratiatia Rapids.  The dam opens 3 or 4 times a day between October and March relieving a spectacular surge of pressure that creates a torrent of waterfalls, swirling eddies and whirlpools. 
Moving rapidly now, we spent one last day in Rotorua â bathing in the beautiful Waikiti thermal pools in the early morning and the during the afternoon exploring the town which is the worldâs most concentrated geothermal enclave and a revered Maori cultural site. 
As the guidebook says, â...you smell Rororua before you see it.â  Thatâs because of all the hydrogen sulphide which seeps out of the earthâs crust with its distinctive rotten egg odor.  I learned a new word here which is âvulcanism.â  I thought it had something to do with Star Trek and Mr. Spock but the reference here is to volcanoes and the cauldron of boiling mud percolating down beneath the surface of the earth here. 
The heat is palpable in places and they say that birds actually build their nests on the ground to bypass the need to sit on their eggs.  All the cemeteries use above ground tombs for burial as digging a grave would, most likely, unearth one of the hot springs.   Many of the hotels advertise their own geo-thermally fed hot tubs and the benefits of âtaking the bathsâ after a long day of sightseeing.  And, in the residential neighborhoods, one is likely to see long plumes of steam rising out of the ground right next to the backyard barbeque.  Itâs in incredible town where you see steam popping up just about everywhere!  It even comes out of the storm drains along the side of the road!
Maori culture is very prevalent here as the hot springs drew the Maori to settle around Lake Rotorua hundreds of years ago just as they draw the tourists today.  We visited a Maori cultural center below and took a close up photo of one of the elaborately decorated wood-carvings in the courtyard.
But, time was running out for us so we bid goodbye to Rotorua and heading to the airport in Auckland for our flight back to Australia.  We wished we had scheduled more time in New Zealand as it was an amazing country with wonderful people and so much to see and do.  Iâll actually keep it on our âBucket Listâ as I donât think we can honestly say weâve âbeen there, done thatâ when it comes to the land of the Kiwiâs.  I hope someday we can go back againâ
But, itâs back to Australia and âhomeâ again aboard the good ship, Peregrina!  Weâve begun our voyage north towards Darwin by doing some back-tracking to our favorite ports between Scarborough Marina outside of Brisbane and Mackay Marina where we first entered Australia last August.  After leaving Mackay, we finally started exploring some new territory as we headed for the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.  Our good friend, Chris Oppenheimer flew over from Miami for two weeks with us and we had a great time snorkeling, diving, and exploring these beautiful barrier islands off the north east coast of Australia.  Weâre now anchored outside the harbor in Cairns getting the boat ready for the next leg of our journey to Darwin.  Peter will be making this passage with Tom Griffiths, a friend from the Blue Water Rally, who will help him get the boat the Darwin while Margie heads back to the States for a visit with family and friends.  Heâll keep you posted on the next installment of âWhere in the World are Margie and Peter?â