On the North Island of New Zealand, the land of the long, white cloud

The Land of the Long White Cloud, or Aotearoa, is the name the indigenous Maori people gave to New Zealand when they landed there, sometime between 1200 and 1300 AD, about 500 years before Captain Cook “discovered” the islands.

New Zealand has so much to offer – on the North Island, accompanied by my sister, Mary Helen, and her friend, Connie, we began our journey in Auckland, where we enjoyed a walking tour and a harborside dinner.

We took a walking tour of Auckland – pretty chill place, as you can see

From there, we were on to Rotorua, known for it’s geothermal activity. There we learned the “secret” of the daily 10:15 eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser – it is induced with soap! Yep, just like those middle school science experiments. Show biz, folks! In Rotorua we also joined an evening tour of a Maori village. We knew from the moment we stepped on the bus and were admonished to “paddle” it to our destination that we were in for something pretty cheesy, and this was, in fact, the case, although we managed to learn and experience bits of the Maori culture here and there. This is why, we learned, Rotorua is sometimes called “RotoVegas.”

Lady Knox Geyser, induced at 10:15 each morning, to the delight of paying tourists!
This unusual green color of this lake is natural – it’s due to acidity
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity
Maori ‘warrior’ at our Maori experience – touristy, but informative

It wasn’t all hokey tourist experiences, however. We happened to be in Rotorua during their annual Waitangi Day, a national holiday celebrating the 1840 signing of a treaty between the British Crown and some New Zealand Maori chiefs. We joined the local celebration, which included entertainment and delicious local food from food trucks. We also loved exploring the town’s beautiful Government Gardens.

Part of the festivities for the annual Waitangi Festival to commemorate the 1840 treaty between the British Commonwealth and the Maori Chiefs
Mary Helen, Connie, and me in the beautiful Government Gardens in Rotorua

We left Rotorua and headed south to Tongariro National Park. The park is known for its famous Alpine Crossing, a day-long, 19km hike across Mount Tongariro.  We skipped that one and, instead took the more manageable, 6km loop hike to visit Taranaki Falls. The hike is in the Whakapapa area of Tongariro NP. In the Maori language, the ‘wh’ sound is pronounced as an ‘f’ sound. With that in mind, say Whakapapa a few times and you’ll know why Connie and I couldn’t say the word without bursting into giggles! It turns out that Whakapapa is a perfectly dignified word in the Maori language, meaning ancestry or genealogy.

Landscape of the two-hour hike we took
Taranaki Falls in Tongariro National Park

We wrapped up the North Island, and Mary Helen and Connie’s time with us, by visiting the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. These caves are a major tourist attraction in New Zealand because this is one of the only places in the world to see these little glow worm guys. The glow worms are not actual worms, they are insect larvae who spend most of their short lives in the larval stage. Their glow is from bioluminescence. The experience included a walk through a cave and then and short, but fun, boat ride where we got to see the glow worms, shining like little stars in a dark night.

Glow worms were an interesting phenomenon we don’t see in the U.S.
Our last night with Connie and Mary Helen – we all wore our “Elephant Pants” I had bought in Thailand!

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