One of the things that has kept me going other places is that NZ represents somewhat of a lack of the buzz of "travel adventure"; yes, it's far away and there are a zillion lifetimes-worth of adventures to be had, but in terms of exposure to a radically different culture ala many of the trips that Ash and I have taken to Vietnam, Peru, Japan, Italy, Bulgaria, and others New Zealand is....very similar to the US. It even looks a lot like Oregon; at least, so far (albeit with lots of different plants, that in total provide a similarly-verdant landscape). But then again, I charge all over the US looking for good adventures, and they are all very US-like, so why not go to NZ to get some great adventurin' in with a great pard and partake in their culture?
And though I had no idea that I would need it when I booked the flights a couple of months ago, after the gut-wrenching election, it's nice to be slightly away from that (though all the Kiwis are keen to hear my thoughts....)
Andy lives in Tauranga, which is a few hundred km south and east of Auckland on the coast (of the north island). As mentioned above, it looks like Oregon, but they grow avocados, passionfruits, and citrus here!
|Avocados for $2/bag, and they STILL wish me to "have a nice day?!" I love the Kiwis....|
|"Rocket Lettuce" - a far better name than "Arugula!"|
My first experience with the legendary Kiwi niceness was in the Auckland airport; as I was getting ready to board my flight I asked the ticket agent if I could bring my bottle of water through security, and she said "well, this IS security, and I think it's fine if you want to drink some water!" Hear hear!
One of the primary reasons for coming to NZ was to paddle the rivers, and if the first coupla days are any indication, they live up to their reputation. So far we've paddled the Kaituna and Wairoa rivers; both dam release runs that are short (1km and 5km respectively) but offer a surprising number of pretty incredible quality rapids in their short span. I didn't take my camera down the Kaituna, but here are a coupla pics I poached off the web:
Paddling such a cool run (reminiscent of the White Salmon in Washington, but with warm water and a gradient sorta in between the BZ run and the Farmlands run) would be a great day in an of itself, but this river happens to drain Lake Rotorua, and I had heard about the mountain biking in Rotorua. It bills itself as "The Best Mountain Biking in The World". Hmm. Really? A bold statement. But of course, after 3 laps on the Kaituna I had to see this for myself.
Andy and I were joined on our ride by Kylie, who knows the trails there perfectly and had also been showing me the lines on the Kaituna (she warned that she was not "bike fit", but it was clear pretty quickly that fitness doesn't have too much bearing on how much brake you grab on descents, and for her it wasn't much!). I am never, ever prone to superlatives, but I must admit that it's the Best Mountain Biking Ever! An area as big as Portland's Forest Park, with "heaps" (a common Kiwi term) of ridonculous singletrack; every trail is pretty much the best "flow trail" I've ever done! (with a few more roots thrown in). It was so much fun that we ended up riding nearly 5 hours, and there are many trails that we didn't do.
|that grin is well-warranted|
It was a good example to me of what can be done with proper management: this area has mt bike-only trails, pedestrian-only trails, horse-only trails, and shared use trails, with clear, concise, and descriptive (ie length, vertical) signage on all. There's a shuttle that runs up and down the mountain that cyclists and peds both use:
|I was a bit horrified by this, but the system is so vast that it seems to simply absorb people into the woods|
something that would be much-appreciated in the arid Wasatch (and in Forest Park and many other US parks as well for that matter!).
JC joined us mid-ride (he'd also been on the Kaituna) and was showing us all how to truly flow - at high speed - down the trails:
We also met Reginald:
|"Um, I gotta tell you, that's a HUGE lens you have there, Reg...."|
|from wikipedia, but Reginald had some comparable pics|
|if our day riding in Rotorua is any indication of what's to come, they didn't even include it in this book??!|
Again, I needed to get my low-volume gain on, and realized that my water-reading and boofing skills were a little rusty, but despite a coupla flips all went well. Here are some good pics poached from the interwebs:
|I missed the boof stroke here and went for a bit of a ride|
|I flipped once right about where this guy is; exciting time to roll!|
|I came a bit close to going into "the toaster" to the looker's left there....|
|Andy perfectly executing a boof stroke|
|It was great to reconnect with Bruce (glasses), who was on the Rio Maranon trip in Peru last year|
It makes it quite tolerable!
So far New Zealand is living up to its billing fo sho. The next adventures that await are a day of canyoneering (far different from Utah canyoneering: there's running water!) and then a 3 day sea kayak around the Coromandel peninsula, and will throw up another dispatch.