Punaauia, Tahiti, French Polynesia – August 9, 2017
The International Dateline makes for a very odd travel companion. I departed Wellington on the afternoon of August 9, a Wednesday. I arrived in Tahiti on the afternoon of August 8, a Tuesday. That meant when I went to work the following morning; it was August 9, a Wednesday; a day I had already lived! I could only think of the movie Groundhog Day. Luckily, I was stuck in paradise, not winter.
I stayed at the Le Meridien Hotel, the same place Leslie and I visited the year before. It was every bit as lovely. The weather helped make it beautiful. August in Tahiti is the seasonal equivalent of February in Colorado. However, even though the temperatures are much more moderate in Tahiti than during their summer, it is lightyears nicer than Colorado in February.
From the beach at the hotel, one can easily see the island of Moorea. It makes for some scenic photos. I know I am pushing my luck since I have been fortunate enough to go to Tahiti twice; but, if I ever return, I will make time to explore Moorea.
I completed my work on Friday, but my return flight was not until Sunday morning. That meant I was able to take an island tour on Saturday.
The van picked us up at the hotel around 10:00. The group consisted of me, a woman, and two couples. Our first stop was the Fern Grotto of Maraa. There was a small parking area from which a trail meandered into the jungle. After a relatively short walk, maybe 100 meters, we arrived at the cave. Our guide explained it was an ancient lava tube. It is now about half-full of water and surrounded by ferns.
The next site was a twin waterfall. It was in the jungle, just across from the ocean. It is hard to describe just how dense is the forest. There was a splash of color provided by planters made of stacks of painted tires.
We spent quite a bit of time at the Jardins d’eau de Vaipahi, a botanical garden. There was a gentle, winding trail on which one navigated through the jungle. The wild jungle plants and flowers are numerous. It is difficult to do justice to the sights with the few photographs I took.
After walking through the Jardins d’eau de Vaipahi, I stood near the van to wait for my tour companions. I noticed across the road a small business. It seemed to offer just about any kind of water conveyance one could want. If I had had more time, I would have gone over and talked to the shop keeper. After all, the ouvert (open) sign was out.
We climbed back into the van for a reasonably long drive to the Arahoho Blowhole. This feature is directly on the northern coast of the island. It is an old lava tube, the diameter of which is about two feet. I saw some tourists stand in front of the blowhole. When a wave hit the ocean-side of the blowhole, one could hear a roar in the tube followed by a significant blast of wind. The guide mentioned there are times when tourists get soaked because the wave can make it to the end of the blowhole. I surmise that may be during high tide.
Our final stop was the observation deck at Col du Tahara’a. From the observation deck, one has a great view of the town of Papeete. As with so many sights, the island of Moorea looms in the distance.
In total, the tour covered about 100 kilometers (62 miles) around the edge of Tahiti. The journey took about four hours. When I got back to the hotel, it was time for a refreshing, Tahitian beer!
Our drive from Napier to Taupo took just under two hours. It was cloudy and rainy, nearly the entire distance.
Taupo is a city at the north end of Lake Taupo. With a population of roughly 24,000, it is about one-third the size of Grand Junction, Colorado. As one may have noticed, Taupo is a Maori word. The full Maori name for the town is Taupo nui a Tia, a reference to the cloak of Tia, the person that discovered the lake.
We stayed at the Acacia Lake View Motel in an apartment at the front of the motel. We had a lovely view of Lake Taupo from the living room. The scene included the hole-in-one challenge. There were several tee boxes with artificial turf from which one could try to get a hole-in-one on a floating platform anchored out in the lake. There were three different holes on the platform, each of various sizes. Discretion was the better part of valor; I did not even try the challenge.
After breakfast the next morning, we drove to the marina. While we waited for our boat to take us to the Maori Rock Carvings, I walked away from the marina to the lake’s edge. There, I stumbled across two black swans and numerous ducks. At that time, the weather was stunning, allowing for a beautiful landscape photograph.
When we boarded the boat, we initially sat on the upper level. Just before we departed the marina, we moved to the main level. On that level, there were tables with fixed bench seats. At the rear of the seating area was a small bar from which they served muffins, tea, and coffee.
Moored in a slip nearby was the Ernest Kemp. It is another of the vessels that daily transports tourists to see the carvings. It is a unique looking vessel. I had initially thought we should have reserved space on that boat. It reminded me of the T.S.S. Earnslaw we had enjoyed while in Queenstown about two years ago. However, after seeing how small the Ernest Kemp was, I was pleased with our selection of transport.
As we departed our slip, the weather was variable. At times we enjoyed brilliant sunshine. Then, just moments later, we found ourselves in an intense downpour. We were pleased the boat seating area was enclosed. The Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde weather was with us throughout our trip.
Once underway, one of the attendants shared details and tidbits about the area as we slid along through the water. The surface area of Lake Taupo, 236 square miles, is nearly the same size as the country of Singapore. The average depth of the lake is 110 meters (360 feet). At its deepest point, the lake reaches 186 meters (610 feet).
For those friends in Colorado, it is worth comparing Lake Taupo with Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in that state. The surface area is a mere 14 square miles, about twice the area of Fruita, Colorado. The maximum depth of Blue Mesa is 104 meters (341 feet).
Shortly after departing the marina, the attendant directed our attention to Mount Tauhara, referring to it as the “pregnant woman mountain.” It was easy to see why when looking at the profile of the mountain. Mount Tauhara is a dormant volcano. Its summit is at 3,569 meters (11,709 feet) above sea level.
A little over an hour into our trip, we stopped in Mine Bay to view the Maori Rock Carvings. The attendants opened the front hatch on the boat so we could stand on the bow and take photos. Standing was quite difficult. Our weather stirred up the lake such that the bow was severely bouncing around.
The carvings were spectacular. The largest of the carvings was about 10 meters (33 feet) tall. Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and John Randall made it and the other carvings, completed in 1979. Ngatoroirangi, a Maori navigator who allegedly led Maori tribes to the area some 1,000 years ago, is the basis for engraving. The only thing that could have made the carvings any more spectacular would be if they were carved some 1,000 years ago.
On the route back to the marina, I found it stunning just how crystal clear the water appears. I can only wonder what it would be like to dive into the lake.
Walking from the boat back to our vehicle, we saw a family of black swans enjoying a meal. I do not know if it was a male or female, but the older black swan pulled water plants to the surface so the five cygnets could easily partake of the meal. They did not seem to be bothered at all by the parade of humans coming by their dinner table.
The following morning, as we departed Taupo, we stopped at Huka Falls. The fall is more of a horizontal fall than a vertical fall; but, none the less, it is impressive to see the clear blue water rushing north. This is the beginning of the Waikato River. Huka is the Maori word for foam.
It was quite unusual for us not to be up and on the road at the crack of dawn. On this particular trip from Fruita, Colorado to Colorado Springs, we decided a 08:30 departure time was just fine. The 300-mile journey usually takes about five and one-half hours. That may sound like a long time, but it is such a beautiful drive and the time goes by quickly.
The roads were clear for the entire route. However, on some mountain passes, where there was still a tremendous amount of snow, there were some wet patches. The snow was beginning its spring melt. As we crested the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass (11,539 feet – 3,517 meters), I remarked at how amazing it is that the droplets of snowmelt on either side of the pass end up in different oceans. The snow on the east side melts and drains into the Mississippi River, then the Gulf of Mexico, and finally mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The snow on the west side melts and flows into the Colorado River, then the Gulf of California, and finally mixes with the Pacific Ocean.
Our norm for the trip had been stopping for lunch at the Pizza Hutt in Fairplay. That was especially true when our children were young and accompanied us on our trips back and forth. Leslie and I were excited to stop there for lunch, relax a little, and reminisce about previous family trips. That would not be the case on this trip.
As I turned to approach the Pizza Hutt, I saw a large for sale sign. The Pizza Hutt was just an empty building now. We were still hungry. I turned around and drove back about one-half mile to the Subway in the gas station. We ordered our subs and sat there to eat. We were both still stinging from the disappointment.
On the way out of the gas station, we bought some bottles of water. We mentioned our disappointment regarding the Pizza Hutt affair. She shared that her boyfriend had worked there. The owner of the franchise shut it down because of employee embezzlement. Armed with that knowledge, we got back in the car and completed our journey.
Every time I travel to Colorado Springs, my trip is not complete unless I visit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. During our visit, we saw several art students on the upper floor; each of them sketching what they saw. We struck up a conversation with one of the young men. We discovered his father is a professor at Colorado College. His name is Andrew Ramiro Tirado. He made the piece “Lacuna.” A photograph of that piece appears here, followed by some of my other favorites.
While I was in Colorado Springs, I went on a photo trek with two good friends, Ron Krom and James Harris. James has a website showcasing his photographs. One can find that at James Harris Photography.
The site we selected was Helen Hunt Falls. That waterfall is in Cheyenne Canyon on the southwest side of Colorado Springs. I always enjoy photo treks because I always learn something new. I used my new knowledge to try to improve my photography skills.
Sunday evening, I asked Leslie, “Do you want to go here?” While asking the question, I pointed at my computer screen.
Her response, “Where?”
“Here,” I continued to point, “New Plymouth.”
“Yes, yes, let’s go!”
I completed a hotel reservation. Then we packed a couple of bags and prepared for a morning departure.
Our traveling M.O. seems to begin with a stop at Macca’s. That morning was no different.
It was around 07:30 when we headed out of town on Highway 2. After just a few kilometers, we turned west on Highway 58. We have gone that way before. However, in the past, we have veered off onto the very narrow and twisting Paekakariki Hill Road. Leslie dislikes that drive even more than the Rimutaka Pass drive. That is because the Paekakariki Hill Road makes Rimutaka pass look like an autobahn in comparison. This time, we vowed to stay on Highway 58.
Highway 58 takes one to Porirua. Just after the Paekakariki Hill Road turnoff, Highway 58 skirts along Porirua Harbour. It is very picturesque.
The highway ends at Highway 1. That transition is a double roundabout. I am not exactly sure if I negotiated the double roundabout correctly, but we made it onto northbound Highway 1 without causing sparks with other vehicles. I count that as a win! Oddly enough, even though it was the morning rush, there was not a great deal of traffic at the roundabout.
As with virtually any drive in New Zealand, the scenery was beautiful. Heading north toward Paraparaumu, Highway 1 is directly alongside the Tasman Sea. The views are breathtaking.
Just outside Ohau, I spotted Otarere Maori Arts and Crafts. I would have stopped, but it was on the other side of the road. Instead, I made a mental note to stop on our way back home.
We continued on Highway 1 until the T-intersection with Highway 3 in Sanson. From there, we continued north on Highway 3. There, the terrain began to transition from rather flat to some steep hills and valleys. Multiple sheep and cattle dotted the hillsides. Each valley contained its own creek or stream.
Just before Wanganui, we crossed the Wanganui River. The span of the bridge is around 700 feet. According to several billboard signs, there is a paddleboat that plies the river. We may return for a weekend in Wanganui and try the boat ride.
Not long after leaving Wanganui, we spotted a volcano. We knew there is a volcano near New Plymouth, Mount Taranaki. We thought that was what we saw. Not too long after that, we spotted the actual Mount Taranaki. That meant the first volcano we saw was Ruapehu which is south of Lake Taupo. We were roughly 50 miles away from Ruapehu when we first saw it.
Continuing north, just as we entered Eltham, Leslie spotted a great view of Mount Taranaki. I stopped immediately to capture the view. I do not think my photo does justice to the stunning sight of the volcano in the distance and the lush fields in the foreground.
About nine or ten miles south of New Plymouth, TomTom sent me onto Highway 3A. I did not want to go that way, but I decided not to argue with the GPS. As we arrived on the outskirts of New Plymouth, it was very definitely an industrial area. Suddenly, TomTom announced we had reached our destination. I looked around quickly. I did not see the Waterfront Hotel, nor did I see the beach. We continued on the main road until I found a safe place to stop.
I pulled up the hotel confirmation email on my cell phone. I checked the address, 1 Egmont. I knew I entered that into TomTom earlier that day. I decided to go back to the finish point, following the GPS directions exactly. Sure enough, there was nothing but industrial buildings in the area. I rechecked the email. That is when I noticed the address was 1 Egmont STREET. I had earlier selected 1 Egmont ROAD. I entered the correct address. In about three miles, we made it to the Waterfront Hotel.It was nearly 13:00 when we checked in to the hotel. The woman at reception placed us in room 306. Somehow, in the short trip from the reception desk to the third floor, 306 morphed into 302 in my mind. Exiting the elevator, room 302 was just in front of us. Under normal conditions, I would have tried our key in the door, noted it did not work, and then discover the number error. However, the entrance to 302 was propped open. I assumed that was for our arrival.
We walked into 302, me pulling the luggage cart behind. It was a massive room with a spectacular terrace and ocean view. We also immediately noticed it was brutally hot in the room. The split unit was pouring out hot air. I grabbed the remote control and brought the temperature control down to about 68 degrees. I took all of our stuff off the luggage cart. We agreed that we would meet in the hotel restaurant after I returned the luggage cart. On the way out of the room, I decided it would be a good idea to check our keys before we locked the door. I was surprised when my key did not work, even though I tried it several times. That is when I checked the key-sleeve I was given at reception. Right there, on the front of the key-sleeve, was the number 306. We gathered our things and sheepishly moved to the correct room.
After lunch, we decided to walk around a little. One site I wanted to see was the Richmond Cottage. The good news is it was just around the corner from our hotel. The bad news, it is only open on the weekends. We were in New Plymouth for Monday and Tuesday only.
The two women at the tourist information station both recommended the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Their recommendation was due in part to the unusual building exterior; a polished metal attaches to the undulating exterior surface of the building. We decided to check out the gallery.
The gallery was just a few blocks from our hotel. It was easy to tell the building. It is so radically different from any of the other architecture around. The mirrored surface provided numerous reflections of the surrounding area. I imagine it is challenging to drive by the building at certain times of the day. The sun probably reflects directly into drivers’ eyes.
We decided to go into the gallery. The entry fee was free. In our opinion, it was worth every penny. The only exhibit that I liked was the Four Fountains by Len Lye (1901-1980). Lye is a well-respected New Zealand artist. It was mesmerizing watching the Four Fountains move back and forth. However, to our taste, the remaining exhibits did nothing for us. We were glad we had not had to pay to enter. From the gallery, we walked north on Queen Street to the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. We strolled along the walkway until we were near The Wind Wand. We later learned that The Wind Wand is a kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye. The sculpture consists of a long red wand topped with a clear plastic ball. Inside the ball is a smaller red ball. The red ball lights up at night. In total, the sculpture is 48 meters (157 feet) tall. It originally opened January 1, 2000, nearly 20 years after Lye’s death. Some of the locals told us the sculpture was removed shortly after it opened due to some structural faults. The sculpture went back up about 18 months later. It was interesting to watch it move around in the breeze.
Our next stop was the Centre City Shopping Centre. However, a mall is a mall is a mall. It was close to 16:30. Since the sun was due to set in about 45 minutes, we decided to go back to the Coastal Walkway, sit on a bench near The Wind Wand, and watch the sunset. It was a little chilly with a light breeze. The sunset was lovely, but probably not the best I have ever seen.
Following the sunset, it was back to the hotel for dinner and relaxing.
The next morning, we both enjoyed eggs benedict for breakfast. For some reason, those seem so much better here than in the U. S.
Our destination for the day was Egmont National Park, the home of Mount Taranaki. We wanted to stop at the Visitor Centre and see Dawson Falls.
Captain Cook spotted the volcano from the ocean nearly 250 years ago. He named the volcano after the Second Earl of Egmont. Of course, the Maori had been around for some 1,000 years before Captain Cook. Their name for the volcano was Taranaki. Roughly translated, Taranaki means shining peak. Today, the National Park retains the title of Egmont while the volcano goes by the name of Mount Taranaki. Looking at a map, it is immediately apparent the boundary of the National Park is nearly a perfect circle.
Departing the hotel, it only took about 30 minutes to make it to the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre. Upon arrival, we found there were only two or three other visitors. The Visitor Centre placement allowed for some stunning views of the volcano. While we were there, the clouds parted just enough to allow for some reasonable photos of the volcano. It was amazing to both of us just how quiet it was at the foot of the volcano. We marveled at the sight for a long time on the observation deck. The volcano summit is 2,518 meters (8,261 feet) above sea level. Macabrely, Mount Taranaki is the second most dangerous mountain in New Zealand after Mount Cook. That is an astounding fact given that Mount Cook is an additional 4,000 feet taller than Mount Taranaki. Since 1891, a total of 83 people have died on Mount Taranaki.
Inside the center, we talked at length with the ranger, and she told us the volcano last erupted in the late 18th Century. It was currently a 0, no volcanic unrest, on the 0 to 5 scale used by the New Zealand government to measure the activity of a volcano. That is compared to a 1, minor volcanic unrest, for the Ruapehu volcano we saw the previous day. She also provided some insight for the next leg of our journey, Dawson Falls.
Dawson Falls is near the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. To get there, we had to exit the National Park, skirt along the boundary to the south. We drove north on Manaia Road back into the National Park. For nearly the entire 50-minute drive, we were in a fog, drizzle, and light rain. Except for the toilets, the Visitor Centre was closed.
There was a wide spot in the road a very short distance from the Visitor Centre. We parked there at the same time as the rain stopped and the sun began to emerge. A sign there marked the 200 meters (650 feet) trailhead to Dawson Falls. The well-groomed trail descended from the road including 35 stairs on our way down to an observation platform. That platform provided an excellent view of the falls. However, that did not satisfy me. I wanted actually to go down to the base of Dawson Falls.
Leslie agreed or stubbornly asserted (the reader may choose) to go to the base of the falls with me. Little did we know that meant an additional 178 stairs. Luckily, the last 100 or so had a handrail. That said we encountered a total of 213 stairs on our way to the base of the falls. That rivaled the 261 stairs we faced at the Stairway to Heaven.
Dawson Falls drops about 18 meters (59 feet). At the base, a lot of mist swirled around with the wind. Regardless, I had to take some photographs. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls I have seen.
So, how did we get back up to our car? One step at a time! That is when we counted the stairs. When we arrived at the car, we were both tired, but we were also both thrilled we had made the trip.We were very close to the small town of Stratford. We decided we would stop there for a late lunch. On our way up to Dawson Falls, we had noticed a sign advertising possum products. We wanted to stop there on our way to Stratford. We did see it again and stopped. We were at Environmental Products NZ Ltd., Possum Fur and Leather Shop. Possums in New Zealand do not look like possums in the U. S. They are Australian Brush Tailed Possums. Introduced to New Zealand in the mid-1800s, they have become a pest, destroying much of the ecosystem of New Zealand since they have no predators.
Environmental Products use possum fur and leather to make a host of products. One of the most predominant products are sweaters made with a combination of possum fur and merino wool. Try as she might, Leslie could not find a sweater she liked. However, we did depart with one pair of socks (I can testify to their warmth and comfort) and a pair of gloves for Leslie. We continued into town and had a very mediocre lunch. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap, happy hour, and dinner, in that order.
The next morning, we departed for home after breakfast. This time, I was watching for the Otarere Maori Arts and Crafts store. Sure enough, just outside Ohau, I spotted the store again, this time on the left side of the road. That made for easy access to the store and then back onto the highway. Inside, a wonderful Maori woman talked to us about several different Maori items in the store. We fell in love with a wooden tiki face. It is hand-carved. It will always remind us of Aotearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand.