Today was a train-free day; Gary and Jean picked up Alan and I outside J's Backpackers at 9:20am in a rented car, and we headed out for the west coast. We had a loose idea of where we wanted to go, leading to a fair amount of meandering around the hills and valleys of New Zealand's rural landscape; a true "tiki tour", in the local lingo.
|Rent-a-Dent! I love it.|
We also had a highly amusing time fighting with Gary's GPS, which stubbornly refused to be reprogrammed and insisted on directing us back to Auckland. I took it and was able to set it properly for our destination, but even after that it would hiccough and stop giving directions altogether. Its supposed "Australian" accent also left something to be desired, especially considering the three genuine Australian accents in the car; it sounded more like a nasally Brit. I nicknamed her "Matilda".
|Gary and Jean with the rental car|
|Alan surveys pastoral (and typically beautiful) New Zealand|
We headed out to the beaches of Kawhia, where Gary had heard rumours of some hot springs where we could dig in the sand and create our own little hot spa pools. We stopped in the village first and took in the beauty of the bay and its black, sparkling sand; there is a high amount of silica and volcanic rock that gives it the black colour.
|Black volcanic sand at Kawhia village|
|Fishing boats in the harbour at Kawhia|
We had a quick lunch at the Orange Dinghy Café, and then headed out to the beach. What greeted us was not hot pools (despite the digging efforts of both locals and ourselves; we figured the tide wasn't low enough), but huge sand dunes and a group of boogie boarders, who provided us with continual entertainment as they repeatedly wiped out trying to surf to the bottom. The ocean was quite cold, much like it would be at home; however, if we don't count the time I drove down Ninety Mile Beach with the tour bus at the beginning of October, today marked the first time I have been in an ocean other than the Pacific (in this case, the Tasman Sea). I didn't go swimming, save to treat my irritated feet: when I went back to the washrooms to change into my swimsuit (or "togs", as they call it here), I burned my bare feet on the hot sand. I can't even imagine how hot the sand must get in the summer months!
|Kawhia Beach, as seen from atop the sand dunes|
|Jean snaps some shots while Gary gets ready to|
descend the sand dune to the beach
|A horse and rider take a wade into the Tasman Sea|
Around 3pm we hiked back up over the sand dunes (wearing shoes!) to the car and headed for Bridal Falls, also called Waireinga (Māori for "leaping waters", referring to spirits leaping from the great height of the waterfall). At 55m tall, but with a fairly small volume, the falls are beautiful in their delicacy, misting into vapour a few metres before they hit the basin pool below. Alan wondered out loud about the properties of the waterfall, which led me to explain all about the polar covalency of water, aerodynamics, and gravity. Needless to say, the three of them now know how much of a colossal nerd I am. Not that I am ashamed of this fact: if anything, Bill Nye the Science Guy taught me that scientific discussions are perfectly valid in any situation. "Please... consider the following!"
|Bridal Veil Falls / Waireinga|
|Bridal Veil Falls pool|
|The babbling brook flowing out of Bridal Veil Falls|
The one disappointing thing about the falls was the condition of the water; while the feeder streams once only wended through forested areas, the same land is now farmland, and farm runoff has turned the water a cloudy green-grey and made it unsafe for drinking (duh) and swimming. New Zealand may pride itself on its natural beauty, but it is certainly not immune to detrimental effects of mass agriculture and usurping of native plant and animal species (something they conveniently don't mention in the tourist brochures).
I have no idea what this flower is;
I just thought it was beautiful.
After hiking the 261 steps (I counted) from the top lookout to the bottom bridge and back again, we had worked up an appetite for dinner, so we piled back in the car (Gary and Jean had rented it from a place called "Rent a Dent", which cracked me up), and drove back into Hamilton to the Pak 'N' Save, where Alan and I decided to collaborate on dinner; we bought peppers, zucchini, chicken, and sauce, and combined with some rice generously donated by Gary and Jean we made a tasty stir-fry in the kitchen of the hostel. Finished with white chocolate and raspberry revels for dessert, I think I concur with Alan's opinion when he said it was the best meal he has had on the whole trip!
Now it is just after 10pm and I am going to head off to a shower (got to get all that sand out of my hair!) and then bed because I have to be up and out the door at 7:45am tomorrow morning; Marius (one of the owners) is giving us a lift to the train station. I am also suffering from a mild cold/sore throat that I am hoping will not develop into much more than it is right now, but likely will anyway (ugh). The best thing for me is to get some sleep. Night!