Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Zealand: Tongariro Crossing Track

Photo gallery: Tongariro Crossing Track

We spent one day in Tongariro National Park which is rich in cultural identity and has a dramatic scenery. It was granted dual World Heritage status, for its outstanding natural features and the cultural importance the peaks and rivers represent to the local Maori.

We made the 17 km long and 8 hours lasting Tongariro Crossing Track which spans the length of Mt Tongariro via two craters and several lakes. It was our most difficult trek in New Zealand but it a was challenge :). Finally it was an adventure and an unforgettable experience!

Tongariro Crossing is rated as the best one day trek in New Zealand and listed by many in the top 10 day treks in the world.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Queen Mary 2 & Queen Elizabeth 2 in Sydney

Photo gallery: Queen Mary 2

Sydney Harbour had never seen anything quite like it - the world's largest ocean liner Queen Mary 2 and her sister ship Queen Elizabeth 2 close behind! These two grand dames caused chaos in the city:

  • there were crowds of people coming to have a look during the whole day,
  • others in cars on all the main roads (in all lanes!) were stopping to watch QM2 so there was a critical traffic jam for the whole day,
  • buses, trains and ferries had major delays,
  • many commuters watching crafts in the evening spent up to 2 hours more on the way home than usual and some of them couldn't get home at all (they couldn't fit into regular means of transport,
  • several helicopters were flying among the tall buildings in the city
QM2 and QE2 stayed in the city for almost one day. There was a spectacular firework as a celebration that many people considered to be even much better than the NEY's one!

There are some amazing facts about Queen Mary 2:
  • Length: 345 metres
  • Beam: 40.5 metres
  • Height (Keel to Funnel): 71 metres
  • Guest Capacity: 2592 lower berths, 3056 maximum capacity
  • Crew: 1253
There are some comparisons of Queen Mary 2:
  • QM2 is 147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall,
  • QM2 is more than 3 times as long as Westminster Tower (Big Ben) is high,
  • QM2 is only 117 feet shorter than the Empire State Building is tall,
  • QM2 is as long as 41 double-decker London buses,
  • QM2's whistle is audible for 16 kilometres.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

New Zealand: Waimangu - Huka Falls - Taupo

Photo gallery: Waimangu - Huka Falls - Taupo

Early morning we went to Waimangu Volcanic Valley for a spectacular half-day trip including a hiking trail along a crater. The valley is made up by seven craters formed during eruption in 1886 (this is the world's newest geothermal eco-system). We walked around the craters and explored volcanic lakes, thermal springs, old soil layers and many other interests of the local flora and fauna.

During the journey to Taupo we visited Huka Falls, the largest falls on the Waikato River. The river, normally up to 100 metres wide, abruptly narrows to just 15 metres as it crosses a hard volcanic ledge. The impressive view of the "chute" with 220,000 litres of water per second is enhanced with incredible blue and green pool under the falls. The water is really clear like a crystal!

At the end of the day we spent several relaxing hours in the Taupo Hot Springs Spa where we played around in 35-41°C hot thermal pools as well as many times slid down the Giant Dragon Waterslide :)

In the evening we built up our tent in a camp in the highland near Lake Taupo.

Monday, February 05, 2007

New Zealand: Auckland - Bay of Islands - Rotorua

Photo gallery: Auckland - Bay of Islands - Rotorua

Our fourth night trip to New Zealand started on the North island.

We arrived to Auckland (from Sydney) in the evening having time just to visit the Sky Tower with spectacular 360 degree view from a staggering 220 metres above the city. Next morning we hired a car and drove several hundreds kms to the north.

Bay of Islands is one of NZ's most worthy attraction, punctuated by dozens of coves and filled with clear waters ranging in hue from turquoise to deep blue. There is an enormous historical heritage there as it was the first place of English settlement. This region has a long and proud Maori history and today has one of the country's highest percentage of Maori. It was the most northern place we have been to.

We visited Waitangi Treaty Ground with many features of Maori culture. It was there in 1840, that the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Maori and the British Crown. We spent a night in Paihia, the hub of the Bay of Islands.

Next day we moved to the south, to 500 km distant Rotorua. Here we got a taste of NZ's most dynamic thermal area with spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mug pools all together with the strong impact of Maori culture.

We couldn't resist to visit one of several local spas, so finally we spent a great evening in Polynesian Spa including twenty seven hot mineral pools (this spa was voted as one of the top ten spas in the world in 2004, 2005 and 2006). The outside 39 - 42 degrees Celsius hot mineral pools are just on the shore of the Lake Rotorua - it was simply fascinating!