New Zealand

Burnt Penis and Tongariro National Parks, New Zealand

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With my flight to LAX severely delayed, I only made my connection by sprinting through the many terminals (surprised I wasn’t apprehended), pleading with TSA-officials to let me go through the VIP-lane. Starting in Auckland, I made my way to the Rotorua area, Tongariro and finally Wellington, all on the North Island. This time, I barely spent time in cities (though I liked both Auckland and Wellington) and instead wore myself out in the national parks.

New Zealand is very active geologically, and many visitors end up in the Rotorua area, where thermal baths and geological “theme-parks” have sprung up. I stayed one night there but was glad to head out to the more unspoiled surroundings. Unfortunately, my short tour did not allow for any immersion in Maori culture. I’m wary of the “canned” exposure (i.e. the village visit with performance and all inclusive hangi dinner), so finding something authentic without intruding was not in the cards. I will leave that for another time.

My only exposure to Maori culture; the Maori TV with DYI shows (how to erect a meeting house), historical documentaries, etc. Fascinating, but not enough.

Burnt Penis NP (aka Te Urewera in Maori)

Te Urewera is located about 2-3 hours East of Rotorua. Supposedly named from the tale of a hapless Maori chief who died after rolling over while sleeping too close to a campfire. Eerily quiet, the “Jurassic” feel of the park made my hike a unique experience. The New Zealand fauna is particularly interesting because prior to human intervention there were no mammals present (except for water based ones). The lack of predators made it possible for the evolution of terrestrial animals, such as the Kiwi (there are even some ground based bat species). With the arrival of the Europeans, all that changed, and now many endemic animals are extinct or severely threatened from possums, cats, ferrets and rats, and more significantly, humans.

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Left: Podocarps can grow over 200 feet tall. Middle: Raupeka, an intoxicatingly fragrant epiphytic orchid. 

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Tongariro NP

A dual World Heritage area, Tongariro National Park encompasses three active volcanoes; Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro. The surreal landscape served as a backdrop for some scenes in Lord of the Rings, and the land makes you feel small and insignificant. My mission was the famed Alpine Crossing; a trek over the volcanic craters of the active volcano Mount Tongariro for a distance of roughly 20 km (12 miles). That’s not that far as the crow flies. But much of the hike is very steep and loose volcanic soil can make it hard to get your footing. Though very rewarding, I was massively tired after the day.

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DSC01879Yes; I know….

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IMG_5071Kiwi, chances are you’ll never see this odd nocturnal bird.

IMG_5072All is not well in fairyland. Massive deforestation as a result of clear-cutting and subsequent erosion associated with sheep-farming is disturbingly prevalent.

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Categories: New Zealand, Oceania

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