Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Rotorua – Thermal Everything

I realized that a post from last month didn’t publish properly. So here’s a break between Thailand and Malaysia: a short flashback to New Zealand! On June 15th I woke up refreshed (and a bit cold) at the Cosy Cottage Holiday Park, in the thermal-spring town of Rotorua.

For those not familiar with such places, a holiday park is a combination of campgrounds, camper parking, and cabins / backpacker rooms. Like many places I’ve stayed in New Zealand, the heating in my backpacker room was not very good, so it pays to have a good sleeping bag if you travel in the winter. I didn’t, so I froze my arse off for two nights.

Cold room aside, his holiday park is pretty awesome. It has access to a beach on Lake Rotorua where you can dig a hole that fills with hot thermal water. Or you can soak in the thermal springs-fed hot tubs. For dinner you can cook food in a thermal-vent powered steam oven (more on that below).

Rotorua is all about bubbling, steaming hot thermal features – beaches, hot water, and boiling mud.

Boiling mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

By the way, try taking a picture of something that’s boiling. It’s not so easy! Boiling is all about motion, seeing bubbles rise and burst. A still frame of anything boiling is about one tenth as interesting as you might think.

Besides Rotorua town, I checked out two attractions: the Skyline area with a gondola, a tires-on-cement luge, and several other adventure activities; and Rainbow Park, a forest conservation area that helps raise kiwi birds and release them into the wild (among other things). Here’s a green tree gecko, a native of New Zealand:

A green tree gecko in Rainbow Park, Rotorua

To be honest, Skyline was a disappointment (seeing as I live near the Alps). The view was nothing spectacular. And I didn’t realize I could have hiked to the top of the gondola in about 15 minutes, rather than pay >$20 to ride in the (painfully slow) cabin. The luge was pretty cool – I would have done it a second time to try the “advanced” course if my gloveless hands hadn’t been nearly frostbitten from the cold.

I went back to Rainbow Park at night to get pictures of the kiwi birds. Unfortunately, just one was out and about, and he stuck to the darkest area in the whole enclosure. Since using the flash on nocturnal animals is strictly out, and I’d forgotten my tripod, here’s the best I could do. It’s a crop of a hand-held 2s exposure of a frenetic pecking bird. But it is a photo of the elusive kiwi!

A kiwi bird at Rainbow Park in Rotorua

It strikes me that “kiwi” can refer to a fruit or a bird, and is a friendly nickname for New Zealanders. So if you say “I had a kiwi last night,” it’s not certain if you ate fruit for dessert, broke a conservation law by eating endangered animals, or got lucky with a local hottie. Hmm…

Now, on to steam ovens! Here’s the rack of lamb before cooking:

Pre-cooking rack of lamb with rosemary

The lovely steam oven itself:

Volcanic steam oven at Cosy Cottage Holiday Park in Rotorua

And finally, the lamb after four hours of steaming in a volcanically-powered oven:

Rack of lamb cooked in a thermal steam oven

It’s very tender and moist, with a texture just like pulled pork barbecue! In fact, I’d recommend to use a lower grade of meat than prime rack of lamb, because I suspect this oven would make even the toughest pork or beef flake apart in moist tidbits. By the way, the cost of this hunk o’ lamb in New Zealand: $5 USD! I love this country.

Tomorrow, (a.k.a. 4 weeks ago) I’ll relate my visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It definitely lives up to its name!

Posted 7 years, 4 months ago at 3:47 pm.

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Beautiful Views from Devonport

June 17th was my last day in New Zealand before heading onward to Japan. After driving from Coromandel to Auckland, I turned in my rental and hopped on a ferry to Devonport. This small suburb has two volcanic cones that were used as harbor defensive positions for many years. Here’s one of them, Mount Victoria, as seen from the other, North Head.

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Devonport also offers great views directly toward Auckland, seen here living up to the name City of Sails:

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For those who like exploring the ocean and tidal pools, the rocky (and mostly deserted) flats behind North Head were nice to wander around when I was there at low tide. Nice background of a small volcanic island, as well.

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Thanks to the coffee shop barista who pointed me toward Monsoon Malay & Thai restaurant on Devonport’s Victoria Street. It was a reasonably priced and very tasty meal. Just what I needed to keep my spicy food tolerance up before I arrive in Malaysia in a few weeks!

As promised, here’s my night shot of Auckland. I waited until the ferry motored by to get the cool pattern of its lights across the water. That’s 30s, f/20, ISO 80.

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Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:19 pm.

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A Wonderland of Volcanoes

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland sounds pretty cheesy, like something Weird Al might parody a la “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”

It’s not.

Just 700 years ago, thermal/volcanic eruptions blew up this whole area and sprayed rock and ash all over the region.

Today you can see the remnants: a hotbed of thermal activity which somehow results in all the colors of a kid’s chemistry set, sprayed on the ground and leaking from various acidic pools.

The edge of the Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

Another strange feature is that visitors are constantly dosed with hydrogen sulfide gas, with very little warning about the dangers. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was constantly reading signs about dangerous volcanic gases; but on June 16th at Wai-O-Tapu, people were wandering around with toddlers (not recommended). Breathing a gas that converts to sulfuric acid when it dissolves in the moist membranes of your body (think nose, lungs, and eyes). So, if you’re pregnant or have small kids with you, think twice about visiting this park.

Since I have so many pictures and stories from Wai-O-Tapu, I’ll probably do a full article about it sooner or later. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of Lady Knox geyser, which would naturally erupt every 24-72 hours. In order to allow everyone to view it, they “seed” it with surfactant daily at 10:15. This basically forces the geyser into a regular schedule. The photo is a bit tweaked to bring out the rainbow:

A rainbow in Lady Knox geyser at Wai-O-Tapu

After Wai-O-Tapu, I decided to head to Coromandel Town. This turned out to be a much longer drive than I anticipated, because the last 50km of it is a super-windy coastal road going through a dozen tiny towns. But it did afford me a few classic (and sunny!) views of New Zealand’s beautiful coast.

The Coromandel coast near sunset

After arriving in Coromandel, I found a lovely Holiday Park where I could view the sunset from a beach. Here’s one of the best shots:

Sunset over Coromandel, New Zealand

For those who’ve been following me since Hawaii, you might remember the Green Flash, a strange atmospheric effect at sunset just as the sun disappears below the horizon. It only occurs when conditions are right, and just over the ocean (but apparently some very low and distant islands don’t disturb it). Here’s my latest flash:

The Green Flash over Coromandel, New Zealand

This flash was about 2 seconds long. I set the exposure compensation to –2 stops, so that I could capture more of the green color than last time. Success! This is a 100% crop (meaning this is zoomed in to show the actual camera pixels, and not resampled). The photo is not modified in any way! Now, I need some extension tubes to magnify my view a bit more. Mu-hahaha.

In the evening it was clear and a bit darker than I’m used to, so I tried some nighttime photography. However, it wasn’t anywhere near as dark as in the Peruvian rainforests. You can see the effects of even minimal light pollution in the bottom half of this photo.

Night Sky over Coromandel Town

I could barely see these trees; even after my eyes adjusted to the light they were just silhouettes. But in a 30s exposure, a few lights from nearby houses and roads washed out the horizon on an otherwise beautifully dark sky. I did see a shooting star – it was just a few degrees out of my camera’s field of view on one of the photos. So close.

Tomorrow I finally get on an Auckland ferry, and find a good spot for night shots of the city!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:27 pm.

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Best RTW Adventures: Green Glow

June 14th was a day I’ll remember for a long time. My hosts at Waitomo Caves B&B recommended a new tour, Green Glow Eco-Adventures, which offered a low introductory price. It sounded good: small, personalized tours with a guide who is himself focused on photography (no pun intended).

My tour with Paul was even better than expected! For $100/person (or $200 if your tour group numbers one), you can pick and choose among rock climbing, abseiling (rappelling), and caving, with as many photo-stops thrown in as you like. Maximum group size is four! I really enjoyed the 30m abseils, and we stopped to take a lot of photos.

The couple with me (in our tour group of three) was very patient on the photo stops, but they were rewarded with a few shots like this:

Cave photo near Waitomo, NZ

To get decent shots in a cave, you must use off-camera flash, but I didn’t bring mine on the pack-light RTW trip. Off-camera flash means one or two remote flashguns (preferably two), triggered manually or via remote. The built-in flash is not ideal and lights the scenes pretty badly. Paul had two off-camera flashes that we used to get fantastic lighting in the caves.

Here’s a back-lit photo:

Backlit cave photo near Waitomo, NZ

Now an example of what you can do with two strobes. This was a long exposure (13s), but was only lit up for a few microseconds (twice) when Paul manually fired the flashguns.

Two-strobe cave photo at Green Glow Eco-Adventures

Here’s a shot of glowworms, a combination of Paul’s and my ideas: I suggested to paint the bottom half of the photo with the headlamp. Paul wisely has the idea to put people in most of the photos, otherwise there’s no sense of scale to show how BIG the cave is.

Glowworm cave photo showing cave size

Speaking of glowworms, here’s another combination idea. This was a 30 second exposure at ISO 3200, with a flash to one side on very low power (in the case of this non-adjustable flash, muted by two layers of white cloth).

Glowworms and stalactites in a cave near Waitomo, NZ

One final cave shot, a close-up with my trusty Canon SD1000 pocket camera. This shows all the stages of glowworm life: the sticky threads that the worm used to catch flies to eat, the cocoon (now empty) from which it emerged to mate, and the orange eggs that it laid – which will eventually hatch into new glowworms.

Glowworm cocoon, threads, and eggs

Last but not least: a photo of the last abseil we did, on a face where Paul has also set up quite a few rock climbing routes. As I remember this abseil was over 30 meters.

Abseiling with Paul at Green Glow Eco-Adventures

If you’re traveling around New Zealand’s North Island, Paul’s adventure is one full-day activity you have to try near Waitomo. It blows away the touristy “official” Waitomo Caves (Glowworm, Ruakuri, Aranui). If you go before September 2010 you’ll still get the introductory rate, but even once the rate has gone up to $180, this tour is a bargain. For the duration (up to six hours!), the small group size, and the personal care you get, I’d expect it to cost >$300!

This tour ties for first place on my trip so far, equaling the Amazon tour at Explorer’s Inn in Peru. Anyone else who’s ever been on one of Paul’s tours at Green Glow, drop me a line here and let me know how you liked it! I’d love to see some other photos taken on some of his tours (Flickr, anyone?).

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:45 pm.

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Glowworm Day

June 13th was a day for the caves. I visited Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave, part of the “official” Waitomo Caves tours (which are very expensive and very touristy). Glowworm Cave was cool but Ruakuri was much better. Even with the lower focus on the worms, Ruakuri cave itself is larger and more interesting. But it’s still a lot of money for a 1-1.5h cave tour.

In Glowworm Cave they don’t allow any photos. But here’s what you can expect from Ruakuri:

Keyhole cave formation in Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

Amazing stalactites!

Stalactites in Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

Here are a few photos of the glowworms themselves, lit artificially. Look just above the right grouping of threads to see the worm; he “owns” all the threads below him.

A glowworm and its silken threads

Here’s a better photo of a worm, from the natural cave formation on the Ruakuri bush walk:

Closeup of a glowworm, with flash

Now, on to less cavey and more green settings. Here’s what one thinks when New Zealand is mentioned: green pastures with grazing sheep!

Sheep in New Zealand

Here’s Marokopa Falls, a massive waterfall – I’m guessing 40-50m tall. It was so powerful that even from this distance, a couple hundred meters away, the mist coated my camera in seconds.

Marokopa Falls in New Zealand

The mixed natural & black sand of Marokopa Beach:

Marokopa Beach, a black sand beach

It’s hard to believe that one could see so many varied landscapes in one day. Caves, beaches, pastures, and waterfalls. But that’s New Zealand!

Check back tomorrow for the adventure that is now in my “Top 2” of the whole RTW trip: caving with Paul at Green Glow Eco-Adventures!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:55 pm.

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New Zealand is Cold in the Winter

Here’s a news flash for those who didn’t know: even in early winter, it’s d*mn cold in New Zealand. Not subzero cold, but that rainy, wet cold that you just can’t shake because most of the lodgings are designed for summer living. Think no insulation and small heaters.

Nevertheless, there are beautiful aspects to every country in every season, as I’ll show you in the next few days! Here are the photos of the day from June 12th in Waitomo. I would have taken more, but I had to do a bunch of errands in Auckland, then find a rental car and travel a few hundred km.

Here’s the view from Waitomo Caves B&B, a nice (and affordable!) place I’d highly recommend. Colin & Janet are very friendly, give great advice on the area’s attractions, and make fantastic chocolate cookies (a.k.a. “biscuits” down here).

View from Waitomo Caves Bed & Breakfast

The rain didn’t afford me great photography options today. But I did get this long-exposure shots of glowworms up close in the Ruakuri area, at the (free!) bushwalk, in the natural cave. These glowworms are lighting up the cave ceiling around them with natural bio-luminescent light:

Glowworms at Ruakuri Bush Walk natural cave

Glowworms are quite amazing. They hatch, and then suspend small sticky strands down from the ceiling to catch flying insects. As flies hatch from the rivers below, they try to wing their way up to the sky, but get confused by the profusion of glowworms on the cave ceiling.

Many flies end their lives trapped on the worms’ silken strands, as dinner by bioluminescent-glow. Eventually the glowworms mature and cocoon, emerging as a fly that lives only a few days because it has no mouth with which to eat. The adult glowworm flies mate, lay eggs, and die.

I’ll have a lot more photos of glowworms in the next few days, including some truly amazing shots that I got with the help of Paul, the caving guide at Green Glow Eco-Adventures!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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The City of Sails

It rained on June 6th, so I found indoor activities before my plane departed for Sydney. First off: lunch! One thing I wasn’t expecting in New Zealand was fantastic mussels (almost as good as Belgium!). Besides tasting great, the mussels at Fox’s were HUGE:

Mussels at Fox's in the Viaduct complex

I headed across the street from the Viaduct area to the maritime museum, a perfect fit for Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” If you like boats, you’ll want to go there for sure. On better days you can even sail on some historic boats. In the museum they exhibit everything from very old boats…

An old sailboat in Auckland's maritime museum

…to very new, advanced yachts, like the NZL32, winner of the 1995 America’s Cup:

NZL32, New Zealand's winning boat of the 1995 America's Cup

New Zealanders are definitely proud of their sailing and boating history!

I left NZ for 5 days in Sydney aboard another kind of vessel: the brand-new Airbus A380-800. That was a surprise, since I never expected to be riding one of these new beasts on my ~4h flight to Australia. The plane was only 1/3 full, making a stop in Sydney on its way to Dubai.

Airbus A380-800, Emirates aircraft

About the A380: I can say it definitely felt different from every other plane I’ve flown in. The takeoff was barely noticeable. Turbulence was barely noticeable. Every seat had a personal video system and every row had 110V outlets. It felt less like a long-haul plane flight than I’m used to… which I suppose is the whole idea of this plane! So, excellent job, Airbus. Now I just need to wait for the Boeing Dreamliner, in order to compare European engineering with American.

Tomorrow: arrival Down Under. Crikey!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:52 pm.

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Auckland’s Markets

June 5th was a bit gray, so I started with a nice cup of tea. I love the sugar packets in the Skycity hotel:

Funny quotes on sugar packets

First I checked out the Britomart farmers’ market, where I sampled some local foodwarez and drank a homemade ginger beer (<1% alcohol… so “okay for the kids if they don’t have too much,” as I was told). There were some street performers there as well.

Street Musicians at Britomart farmers' market

For lunch I checked out Elliott Stables, a fantastic collection of restaurants and shops of all nationalities. I went for a Monte Cristo sandwich and some French mulled wine… mmm!

A huge variety of restaurants at Elliott Stables

As I said, it was a gray day. I didn’t take a lot of photos, but I think my street photography is improving. I did enjoy sampling all kinds of international foods, including a bit of smoky Lagavulin Scotch at one of the Elliott Stables shops. Cheers!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:54 pm.

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The Sheep Dip

I flew into Auckland early on June 4th, so I had the whole day to look around after checking into my hotel. Sky City (a casino/hotel complex next to Sky Tower) is a decent hotel, especially if you’ve paid half price through hotels.com as I did – hehe.

Down by the wharf area, I thought the central ferry building was a fantastic piece of architecture:

The central ferry terminal in Auckland

In my wanderings, I stumbled into Albert Park, mostly filled with college students chillin’ out. It’s also home to a lot of HUGE and weird-looking trees of all types. This one had a support pillar to keep it out of the path!

Giant tree at Albert Park in Auckland

If there’s one thing the Kiwis can do well (and believe me, there are a lot more things than one), it’s lamb. So of course I went for lamb shank as my first dinner; I believe the bar was called Queen’s Ferry Hotel.

Tasty lamb shank at Queen's Ferry

What Germany is to pork, New Zealand is to lamb. I like lamb more, though. Mmm!

As for the Sheep Dip, it’s a Scotch that I saw up on the bar shelf. It fit so well with the Kiwi vibe (and with what I’d just eaten for dinner) that I had to try it. Pretty good for a blended Scotch!

Sheep Dip whisky!

The story is that the old distillers were trying to avoid paying taxes on some of their casks of whisky. So they labeled these “Sheep Dip” to trick the tax collectors. Whether it worked or not, I have no idea – but it makes for a good name, eh?

Scotch drinkers: what’s YOUR favorite single malt, and why? Currently I’m going with Mortlach, for its amazing unique flavor.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:32 pm.

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