The Big Tiki Tour

Alright, let’s do it. While I’ve got lots of cool pictures to share from the South Island trip, there’s too much science to get to to dwell forever on it, so let’s get the rest done in one fell swoop. I’ll go light on the paragraphs, with most of the commentary contained in snarky photo captions… Ready? Go!


Where the cool kids go to ski! And do other outsidy stuff! No snow when we were there, but a pretty cool town on a pretty lake with some pretty mountains, and lots of restaurants and buzz going down at night.

The most obvious and touristy (but still worth it) thing to do was to take the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak above the town, with a great view down over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Bob was a pretty savvy businessman to build his restaurant/viewing platform/luge track up on His Peak. Maybe Donald could learn a little about winning from Bob. I bet Bob is tired of winning from winning so much. Anyway…

With a little more time to kill before dinner, we used the internet machine to look up more things to do, and settled on the drive north along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy at the top of the lake. It is apparently regarded as one of the world’s top scenic drive. Having now driven it, I won’t dispute that. The views all along were absurdly beautiful, and the windy road was pretty fun to drive on, too!

Back in Queenstown, we got to enjoy a nice dinner and a sunset-ish from the lakeshore. The next day we also took a little walk around before heading out.

After finishing, we set off on the drive to Te Anau, the southernmost point of our journey, stopping for a few diversions along the way.

Te Anau and Milford Sound

After a long drive through not much of anything, we got to Te Anau–the last outpost of civilization on the way to Fiordland and Milford Sound. It’s possible to take a multi-day hiking trip out that way, but that will have to be for another time. Instead we opted for a bus to boat tour. We stopped a few times along the road back up to the west coast, finally arriving at a boat terminal where we’d get floated out to the sea.

The ferry took us out to the mouth of the Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea. Despite clouds earlier in the day, it was actually so sunny at first during the boat ride that all the photographs were super washed-out. So I sat back and let all the silly people take all their photos and enjoyed the view and waited for better lighting.

And then on the way back, I leapt into action!

After the Milford Sound part of the tour, we made a couple more short stopoffs on the way back to Te Anau, then headed towards Dunedin to start working our way back around to Christchurch.


A lot of my colleagues make a lot of jokes about Dunedin having really crappy weather all the time. So of course when we got there it was raining. But contrary to the stereotype, it was actually quite nice there while we explored for a couple hours before moving on. So by my calculation, it rains 50% of the time in Dunedin.

On the drive back to Christchurch, we stopped at an interesting geologic site, the Moeraki Boulders. Located on the beach near the town of Hampden, they’re a bunch of super nice and round, sometimes interesting fractured…boulders. I know, you’re thinking only a geologist would care about a bunch of big rocks on the beach. But actually they were pretty cool! And lots of people were there, so I’m not alone in my nerd-dom.


The second time around in Christchurch we actually got to look around for a short bit. It’s pretty easy to see the impacts of the huge 2011 earthquake that caused so much damage. Pretty good 1st-world example of the devastation natural disasters can cause.

Back to the North Island!

Having had a pretty low-key New Years Eve at a little park gathering in Christchurch, we flew back up north to Auckland to start the new year with a short trip around the North Island. Since I’ve been to a lot more places up here, I could play tour guide and take my parents to some of my favorite spots. Unfortunately, the weather that was so perfect on the South Island was long gone, and things were pretty ugly for most of the second part of the trip. The biggest downside to this: NO VOLCANOES!!! Seriously, I look at volcanoes for a living and the few days we tried to go to Taranaki and Ruapehu, there was more or less nothing to be seen. What a bummer. At least we got half a look at Taranaki from the plane.

We did stop at a bird sanctuary, which is cool, because I like birds (#birds). And we got to see a Kiwi! They’re nocturnal so no pictures, but they’re super big and fluffy and awesome. And the place is on my way to do fieldwork every time, so I will get my fill of Kiwi-watching while I’m in NZ. We also took a stop to see the Waitomo gloworm caves. A bit touristy, but pretty cool to take a boat ride through the darkness with all the little glowy dudes on the ceiling (but, obviously it was dark so no pictures).

After an ill-advised drive over some pretty treacherous dirt roads in a torrential downpour, we arrived at Ruapehu, where we saw…nothing. I thought if we drove up to the ski field, we might punch through the clouds and get a view. Alas, still nothing. So on to Taupo, where we at least got to see a waterfall. We also stopped by some hot pools. I’d been to them before at night during the winter. In that setting they’re pretty creepy…but still better because they’re far less crowded than daytime during the summer!

Finally, it was on to Rotorua for the final bit of the trip. On the way we stopped at the Waiotapu thermal area, kind of a Yellowstone-lite. Nice enough, but nothing quite compares to Yellowstone, so it’s not really a fair fight. We also took a look at some of the lakes that I’ve been to on previous trips.

And that’s the deal! Lots of things! It was a bit rushed, but not too bad for two weeks. With those things covered, my glaring areas in NZ that I haven’t been to include the northern part of the South Island, and the North Island’s east coast, among other things. I’ll have to fix that soon!

In the meantime, coming up…science, geology, volcanoes!


Smells Like Kiwi Spirit (and Sulfur)

While the last few weeks have been pretty dull in terms of work–just trying to get ahead on my proposal writing and literature review–I’ve been able to get away to explore more weekend than not. In the last few weeks, I’ve gone away three times. Two parts adventure, one part science. Or perhaps all parts science. Science always…

A few weekends ago, my friends Tim and Annika organized a mountain biking trip to Rotorua, a city a few hours southeast of Auckland. Now, those of you who know me know that I am dangerously (hilariously?) bad at biking. So after trying to explain to my friends on the trip that, no, I won’t just figure it out and be fine once I get going, they suggested I just borrow the car and explore on my own during the day, then hang out with them after they finish. Sounded like a great plan to me!

Unfortunately, the weather on the first of the two days was super bad (which made me even more secure in my decision not to try to bike), so I decided to check out the city itself (about 60,000 people, 10th biggest in NZ). After getting some coffee and walking around in the driving rain, I made it out to Lake Rotorua itself.

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Lake Rotorua like many other lakes on the North Island is actually a volcanic crater (part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone that I’ve mentioned many times before) that was formed by an eruption over a couple hundred thousand years ago. It’s the second biggest lake in the North Island, though it’s pretty shallow. And I might have pondered all of this, except I was cold and soaked and wanted to get on with my day, so I hightailed it back to the car.

I decided to do a scenic drive to some of the other volcanic lakes in the area ending at the most important, Lake Tarawera. The rain made the drive a bit less scenic, I figured I’d have to come back again sometime when it was nicer.

And that was it for my exploration mostly. It was more fun than it sounds/looks, I promise. And then, of course, once I explored all day and my friends biked in the rain/mud/hail, the sun came out for the rest of the day. Peeeerfect. There was still fun to be had, though. Rotorua is very thermally active, so it has lots of natural hot pools, which we took advantage of.

Lake Tarawera is located right next to Mt. Tarawera, a volcano that is responsible (in 1886) for one of the largest historic eruptions to take place in New Zealand. Unfortunately I didn’t get much of a view of it because of the weather.

Biking must’ve been pretty exhausting, because the next day I had a few friends join me for my exploration. The weather was much nicer, so we ended up doing a few of the same things again.

First, though, we took a quick look around a Kuirau Park, a thermal area located in the city. Think Yellowstone-like sulfur-smelling, steaming pools, only a lot less impressive.

Then we took a drive back to Blue Lake and Lake Tarawera. It was still pretty cold and windy, but much sunnier, so it was a much nicer view of everything.

Finally, we took a trip to Whakarewarewa Forest (say that a few times!), also known at the Redwoods. I learned at the visitor centre that in an interesting twist given New Zealand’s current obsession with stamping out any non-native potentially invasive species (“It’s foreign! Kill it! Kill it!”), at one time the government was just kind of planting random things to see what would grow well, and one of those things was the California Redwood. Inseed, it did grow well and now there’s a whole little forest of it in Rotorua. Pretty neat. My theory is that if one day this history is lost, people will look at the Redwoods and assume that whole story happened in reverse and that Redwoods originated in New Zealand since it is the place known for the awesome interesting stuff.

And that was kind of it! There were a couple of geysery-type areas, but they are pretty expensive to visit, and I’ve been told they put dish soap in the geysers to make them erupt (filthy cheaters!) which kind of takes away from the natural awesomeness of it all.

All in all, Rotorua was neat, but a little touristy. But the next place I went was definitely a lot less touristy, so come back for that!