Whale Watching 
We drove south of Picton for one reason only. To go whale watching. Off of Kaikoura is the main place to see Sperm Whales. There is a deep canyon (about 1000 meters deep) where they dive to feed. We headed out and they spotted a whale pretty quickly. The whale we saw, we ended up seeing him 3 times, was named Tiaki. They sit at the surface for 5-10 minutes, filling up on oxygen, then dive for, normally 45-50 minutes to feed.

After seeing him a couple times, we went over to check out the Dusky Dolphins. They were very fun to watch. They're pods are typically around 100-500 dolphins. We watched them for quite a while before heading towards some rocks where Fur Seals were hanging out. We watched some seal pups for a bit, then headed back out towards the canyon and got another view of Tiaki before he dove again.

We're back at the free spot just 28km from Kaikoura for the night since we're both tired and don't really feel like driving.


Tiaki's tail.

A Dusky Dolphin.

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We sat in Wellington for a couple nights. They have the 3rd largest bell-tower-organ-type thing in the world we were pied-pipered to it without knowing what it was. Someone can play all the various 77 bells with a keyboard. (biggest was several tonnes) Stayed in the van parked behind a hostel for $30/night... The hostel was crazy, 50+ rooms in this smallish old home. staggard floors and second story walkways, hidden bathrooms. . . crazy. We had an amazing Morrocan
fancy dinner (Who knew apricots, figs, prunes, onions, carrots,rice
and sauces went well together...)
We took the Ferry from north Island to south island for $200. Not
cheap, but it's a 3 hour tour. Picturesque views of the sound for
the last hour of travel.

The ferry.

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We re-met a German couple at a campground near Tihape. Upon talking we were both thinking of going to "Gravity Canyon" where they have a bridge with bungy/zipline/swing setup. We also talked a solo traveling german woman to join us as well for fun and to hope to net some group discounts. The Zip line was over a kilometer long, and started 500+feet in the air!. Miranda And I were hooked into that directly and after some jarring attachments, literally and completely like birds flew our way down and through the large river canyon. (This was the same canyon river used for some of the Lord of the Rings Giant King-statue river filming. After That, I went for my first bungy jump with the German friend Jens... It didn't really dawn on me how wrong it all was, until standing on the precipice you are ordered to completely swan dive off the platform towards your definite death... At this point we were aboout 280' in the air. As the ground quickly approached I had a very strong feeling that there was no reason this was a proper or even acceptable activity in life. :) The rope stopped you 20 feet short of bottom and bounced you all about. So, yeah, survived, but I don't know as I'll need to do that again ;)

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Walk Through Mordor 
We woke up this morning to frost and ice covering the windows... We had purchased hats and gloves the day before just because information on the hike we were going to do mentioned you should have them. We figured we would probably need them on the South Island anyway. Boy are we sure glad we picked them up. In the middle of the night we had to put the hats on to keep so much heat from escaping out of our heads.

Our plan for the day was the Tongariro Alpine Pass. It's a day hike that typically takes 7-8 hours. It's 19.4 km (12 miles) with about 2500 ft up and 3600 feet back down. When we arrived at the parking lot, there were a lot of people there. Some shuttles (read buses) pulled up not long after us, so we tried to get started before them. The train of people was pretty crazy, but through the hike, we did manage to space out a bit.

We definitely saw the inspiration for Mordor and got to see 'Mount Doom' up close. The walk back down was quite painful on the knees, but the hike was great. There were beautiful sites along the way, including some 'emerald lakes'. Unfortunately, my camera's battery was basically dead, so I didn't get to take nearly as many photos as I wanted to, but maybe that was a good thing in the end. Now we can say that we have walked through Mordor. :D

Here's a link to a map of the hike: http://www.tongariroalpinecrossing.com/


Start of the hike.

Mt Ngauruhoe ('Mount Doom')

Emerald Lakes.

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Rip, Raft and Rock 
We were tourists and gave $300 to be taken tubing down a cave system. We abseiled (repelled) 27 meters down into the limestone, river cave. Our guide took the 6 of us upstream, trudging through the water, using our head lamps, through various passages and for a look at the glowworms. We had hauled our tubes up the river a ways, so we tubed down the river. It was a bit short, but still fun. We went over a few foot tall waterfalls. After tubing down and squeezing through another passageway, we hauled our tubes back up river. At the end, we did an easy rock climb out the same area we came in. It was a good 3 hour workout.

The next morning, we shot off to Taupo, where we checked out the Huka Falls. This is a relatively short falls, but the neat thing about it, was the 100m river all of a sudden gets pushed into 15m wide, 10m deep rock channel. This makes it thrash like crazy and the falls apparently couple fill 6 olympic sized swimming pools within one minute. Afterwards, we went to New Zealand's Craters of the Moon. It was a bit less awe inspiring than the US National Park. It was basically a walkway around some steaming vents and a couple mud puddles.

The best find ended up being the Spa Thermal Park. It was a heated river emptying into a cooler, larger river. The hot river was probably just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You could sit in the stream, or just below the falls where it mixed, quite unevenly, with the cooler water. After that, we noticed the city park had a confidence course. It is basically everything the US considers dangerous. Everything is built of wood and metal. There are balance beams, monkey bars, and all sorts of other things. This one had a 300 foot long zip line type contraption. You sat on a T-bar and rode it down. It's too bad we don't really have stuff like this in the US. Joe and I were talking about how a full workout would be jogging to a place like this, doing the course, then jogging home. Lots of fun.

From there we drove to the Tongariro National Park (Mordor) to look for someplace to stay the night. We stumbled upon a DOC site, or maybe a national park campground. It was only $8, but it was packed! The tent area was just a parking lot with people in any spot they could be. The campervan area was also all occupied. There were even two people out by the pay box. We ended up parking behind one of them for the night.


Joe and I going through the cave. I'm in front.

Right after I came out of a hole.

A group photo with glowworms above us. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

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