Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why Lake Waikaremoana?

That's austroderia, or toi-toi, a native New Zealand grass--not pampas grass.

Why Lake Waikaremoana (why-carry-moh-on-a)? Because it's beautiful! It's also now one of our favorite places in New Zealand.

There are several lakes in the area, which is in a fairly remote part of the North Island of New Zealand. We wanted a spot to relax, where we could hike without a lot of people, and that’s what we got. (The photo above was taken at a holiday camp, and it's the busiest spot on the lake.)

The lake's moods seem to change with the light.

The lake covers an area of 54 square kilometers (nearly 21 square miles ) and is 256 meters (nearly 840 feet) deep.

We stayed in the town of Tuai (two-eye) in a cozy Airbnb cottage with a wonderful view over another little lake. Tuai was once a town for the workers of a nearby power plant and their families. It’s a cute little place of mostly bungalows that the state sold to private parties several years ago.

View from the deck from the apartment we rented in a house at Tuai.

Our host, Patrick, was genial and helpful, advising us about several hikes in the area and even taking us on a walk nearby.  Patrick, a former teacher, is now single.  He tried a dating site, but found he was getting too many inquiries, and he wanted to target creative, imaginative women who would be well suited for his lifestyle. Accordingly, he invented a friend—a sort of Harvey-like rabbit—named Fred.

On a walk with Patrick, Kevin tries on my sunhat.
Patrick never identified Fred as a pookah—like Jimmy Stewart’s friend in the movie Harvey—but he apparently is serving his purpose well. I mentioned that I thought I had seen Fred out the window and asked, “Does he have a black tip on one ear?” Patrick didn’t miss a beat. “Well, no,” he replied. “But he did get the end of one ear bit off in a fight, and I suppose at a distance, it could look black.” (Ladies, don’t worry. Patrick is perfectly sane, and we found him a delightful companion.)

The first walk we took, based on Patrick’s advice, was to a place called “The Green Fairy Pools.” The trail there was quite overgrown and a bit slippery, following a recent rain, but when we caught sight of the blue-green water, we felt the magical name was quite appropriate.

We took several hikes in the vicinity, though not the most famous one, the multi-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, a 44 kilometer trek (over 27 miles). We did walk into one pristine lake that has an island with a lake with an island in a lake on it. (That’s no mistake. There really is an island in a lake in an island in a lake.) The water was amazingly clear.

The scene from the viewpoint at the end of the lake. The hiker's hut is across the lake from here.

 I was sorry we were only there on a day hike. In another two hours we could have reached a hiker’s hut where you can stay the night, and we encountered a man who was on his way there. He remarked that he expected to be there on his own—no one else has reserved it that night.

We also took a short hike to two waterfalls. (See what I mean about all the waterfalls in New Zealand? They are everywhere!)

I have no photos of one of our best adventures: we explored a nearby cave at night, hiking up a dark trail on a moonless night, listening to the hush of the wind in the trees and eerie rustlings in the underbrush. We carefully entered the cave, which we had scouted earlier in the daylight, taking care not to trip on rocks or to fall on the uneven surface of the cave floor. Finally, in a large crack leading off the main cavern, we spotted what we had come for—the faint, blue lights of glow worms! 

On a previous trip to New Zealand, we had visited the spectacular glow worm caves of Waitomo. (I heartily recommend taking part in the “blackwater rafting” at Waitomo, where attired in a wetsuit, a miner’s light, and a large innertube, you explore the water-filled caves.) “Our” glow worm cave would be considered­­ a bit pathetic, compared to the caves of Waitomo, like a candle compared to the blazing night-time lights of Las Vegas. But because it was all ours, and we explore it on our own, we enjoyed that excursion almost as much as  the commercial one. (The glow "worms" are actually larvae that have long sticky strings hanging from them to attract insects--but they are so beautiful you soon forget that.)

Tuai and Lake Waikaremoana were among the highlights of this visit to New Zealand, and we were gratified, because before we arrived, several Kiwis in shops and restaurants had asked us why we were going there. We thought it was fantastic and prefer it to much better than the more-touristed areas. However, we did have to send our little rental car through a car wash before we returned to Auckland, because it was coated with mud—a dead giveaway that we had driven it on unpaved roads, a no-no with rental cars.

We had to leave Tuai much too soon. I would soon miss the daytime beauty and the starry, unfamiliar skies.

The skies about us at Tuai, identified by my Star Walk app.

Leaving Tuai also meant we left behind drifting to sleep at night with a warm breeze scented with honeysuckle and the call of the crickets.

However, we had more fun in store before we left.  Kathryn and Glen had invited us to stay at their townhome in Auckland (Ponsonby) before we flew to Australia. Glen welcomed us by flying the American flag* I don’t think anyone has ever flown the flag in our honor before, and I was touched.

Kathryn and Glen have a lovely home, and we enjoyed the way it blurs the line between indoors and outdoors. 

Sitting area outside the door and next to the pool on the right. (See sliver in photo.

They also have an iRobot, that I have only seen before in commercials. When it whirred to life, emerging from under the sofa in its R2D2 way, to begin its automatic vacuuming, I could only laugh. But now I want one!

R2D2 and BB-8's cousin.
Our last night in Auckland was quite special, because Kathryn and Glen’s son, Jaimie, and Lynda’s daughter, Karla, whom we had not seen for 11 years, joined us for dinner.  How nice it was to converse with these two intelligent young people. We were only sorry that Jaimie’s wife was unable to join us. What a nice dinner and sendoff!

*Speaking of flags, New Zealand was voting on a possible replacement for its flag while we were there. Emotions ran high, in part because many people felt the flag referendum was a distraction. “Why can’t we vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?,” they asked. The proposed new flag, which one writer ihad compared to a design for a beach towel (which I thought a little harsh) went down to defeat in a March referendum. They will keep the flag that incorporates the Union Jack.

As promised, here are my favorite spots on the North Island of New Zealand for the benefit of my friends who are planning a trip there (in no particular order):

-Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands. Be sure to check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. 
-Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest, New Zealand's tallest living kauri tree.
-The Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland.
-Goat Island (for snorkeling) near Warkworth.
-Tiri tiri Matangi Island bird sanctuary (take a boat from Auckland).
-Murawai Gannet Colony (a short drive from Auckland).
-Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, Auckland.
-Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, Waitomo (especially the Blackwater Rafting).
-Rotorua. (Many attractions and thermal activity.)
-Napier (but if it's not Art Deco Days or you're not into Art Deco, skip it).
-Lake Taupo (pretty with hot springs in this area, too, and it's the sky-diving capital
  of New Zealand, if you are inclined to participate.
-Lake Waikaremoana and vicinity.

I'll list highlights of the South Island when we go there (after Australia.)

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