I took the photos myself, and that's my hand in the video petting the huge short tail ray!
Is this thing on? Good. Hi, my name is Elias and I am going to tell you about what we did on Friday! We went to Dive Tatapouri along the east coast close to Gisborne. At Dive Tatapouri we saw wild stingrays and Kingfish! Our tour guides, Mike and Alex, gave us all waders and the adults bamboo walking sicks (but not the kids.) Next, we all walked about 50 meters (150 feet) out on the shallow reef. the water was about up a little higher than my knees. Soon, there were about 5 stingrays and 10 kingfish swimming around our legs! it was the coolest. We saw two kinds of stingrays: the eagle ray (about 3 feet across) and the short tail ray (about 5-6 feet across). They still have their barbs, but they won't use them unless they feel threatened. Since we had food and they were used to people it was pretty safe, but still a little scary. I tried to feed a short tail that swam up on my feet, but a greedy kingfish named Jerry snuck in and nipped the food away!
I took the photos myself, and that's my hand in the video petting the huge short tail ray!
(Sorry this is belated. It has taken awhile to figure out how to post videos. I wrote this on Vday.)
Enjoy our first video from New Zealand! Jared worked at 1p today so we headed to the Redwood forest for a little family Valentine's Day celebration in the morning. It was an overcast day and felt mysterious under the cover of the towering trees and lush ferns. It smells so rich and good in the forest. We packed up some plum scones I baked earlier this morning and filled a thermos with hot tea. We hiked on a short trail and took a break at a picnic table where we enjoyed morning tea. (I love hot tea and baked goods so this was a huge treat for me.) The cicadas are super loud, so enjoy the sounds of the forest. We are alive and well!
Last weekend we packed up and drove to one of our favorite places on Earth, Taupo. We lived and worked there for six months at the end of 2012. It was the first place we lived in New Zealand and is home to a great many memories. It is also home to some of our greatest friends.
Our first stop was to meet Tony More, my “best mate” here in NZ. We took his boat out to a spot on the Waikato river for some waterskiing and a ride on “the biscuit” with Liz and Elias. We tied up the boat at the river edge, and Tony guided us up a stream of warm water, through suck-in-your-gut narrow rock walls, finally arriving at a waterfall of thermal hot water. This was one of the most incredible, unspoiled true Kiwi natural wonders we’ve seen. Liz and I are pretty sure Tony is trying to convince us to move back to Taupo.
After dinner (which is always spectacular) with Lou and Rich Russell, Tony and I drove down to Turangi, a tiny town built around trout fishing. We met up with five of Tony’s friends at a holiday park for a catfish spearfishing event. I’d never been spearfishing before, so I didn’t really now what to expect, but I knew enough to have low expectations of myself. We were up early the next morning for the orientation meeting, and it was clear that I was in a bit over my depth. Some of these guys (and ladies) were obviously serious about their spearfishing. I was using borrowed fins, mask, and a rainbow-sparkly kids snorkel.
Before you can actually think about spearing a fish, you have to figure out how to snorkel and dive. We cruised our boat to a location that was about twelve feet deep. Diving below about six feet put serious pressure on my ears, which took about an hour to final equalize. After that I could pretty comfortably dive down to look for fish, but only saw a couple and didn’t spear any. But I got some cool underwater video (thanks GoPro!). Altogether our group got about thirty-five fish, which was up from the total of six from last year, so we felt pretty good about that. Until we went to the weigh-in and a young lady who said it was her first time showed up with 101 fish by herself. So yeah, low expectations were appropriate. Still, a sunny warm day in a crystal clear lake with a fun group of guys wasn’t the worst way to spend a Saturday.
While I was out pretending to spearfish, Liz and the boys spent the day catching up with old friends. She met up at the lakefront with the Russells, Goddards, and the Meikles. I met back up with them at Tony and Jo More’s for dinner. Elias and Cohen played with Matt and Dan More and George and James Russell, until Dan got smashed somehow on the trampoline, resulting in a broken distal radius and ulna. A quick trip to the Taupo ED, and Dan was back shortly with a cool new splint.
Next day we went to one of our favorite spots on Lake Taupo. It’s a short little hike to Whakamoenga point, a rocky outcropping with spectacular views toward the mountains. Despite the cold waters, Liz was determined to have a swim, and Elias was excited to snorkel a bit. We spent the rest of that afternoon with Graeme and Susan Smith. Their middle daughter Grace is Elias’s age and they have kept in contact via skype over the years. Their youngest is Calvin, who is Cohen’s age. They were all fast friends, as if they had never been apart. Graeme has gotten into leather works, and had my birthday present waiting for me: a Smith Brothers original designed leather jacket that Liz ordered for my several month ago. I feel like I’m ready for a bar fight now.
I had to head back to Rotorua so I could be at work early the next morning. Liz and the boys stayed another night at More’s. We were all exhausted by the end of the weekend, but it was great to catch up with old friends making new memories.
We wasted no time in shaking off the winter blues of Louisville, Kentucky by going to the beach two days after arrival here in Rotorua. Our nearest sea coast is just an hour north in Tauranga, so last Monday we took the short drive up for a day in the sun!
We went to the beaches of Mount Manganui, just outside Tauranga. It was a public holiday, so it was more crowded than we’ve ever seen it there. Still, we had plenty of space to play. The weather couldn’t have been better. Clear skies, low wind, and warm-ish water temps.
It’s funny remembering how small Cohen was when we were here four years ago. The first time we took him to the beach he didn’t want to stand on his own because the sand felt weird. Now he absolutely loves digging in the sand and charges straight out into the water. Check out our turtle sand sculpture and buried children.
Also, next day we saw a hedgehog wandering through the yard. He was super cute and the boys loved following him around and even got to touch him. Turns out they’re nocturnal and if you see them in the day they’re probably sick. So, maybe touching the ill and dying creature wasn’t the best idea…
Rotorua, New Zealand is famous for a few things. One is its notorius sulfur smell that comes from the many volcanic steam vents scattered around the town. Fortunately, we live on the “non-stinky” side of the lake, so we only really notice it when we go to the city center. Another is the redwood forest.
The forest was planted about a hundred years ago as a test lot for commercial forestry. The idea was to plant a bunch of different species of tree and see which grew best for harvesting and export. It turns out the trees which would normally take forty years to mature will do so in only twenty because of the rich volcanic soil. One of the test species was the redwood. They weren’t the best commercial trees for harvesting, but as a unique forest, it became more valuable as a tourist attraction. Today the forest is home to six walking trails ranging from two to thirty-four kilometers in length. Perhaps even more famous are the hundreds of kilometers of world-class mountain bike trails. Since we don’t have bikes (yet), we went for a hike.
We chose the Pohuturoa Track, which is a 7.5 km (4.7 mile) loop. The weather was perfect, just shy of hot in the sunshine, and refreshingly cool in the shade. We started in the redwood forest, then climbed up onto the adjacent hills overlooking the city and lake below. As you’ll see in the pictures, some of the redwoods are truly massive. The four of us tried to hold hands and wrap our arms around one, but barely made it over halfway. Many are well over two hundred feet in height.
We’ve been to the Redwoods a couple of times previously, and it’s become our tradition to build a fairy house at the base of a tree. We try to find them again when we visit the next time. I think this tradition came to us from the Palmbos family, good friends from our Michigan days.
Cohen somehow managed to get a cicada onto his walking stick that hitchhiked for about a mile before finally falling off. Cohen was very proud.
We passed a shallow pond completely covered in tiny green leaves. The covering was so thick that it looks as if you could walk straight out onto it. When we stirred up the water, something began moving just beneath the surface, creating eerie ripples and splashes that you can see on the video below. If anyone knows what this is, please let us know in the comments. (We might need to load it on FB, not sure we can load it here. Stay tuned...) We weren’t sure if it was fish or insects or eels or tiny Loch Ness creatures.
The boys did really well on the walk; we finished in about three hours, including a stop for lunch and fairy house construction. I’d say surprisingly well, but in truth they have always been strong hikers for their age, I think. They make me optimistic that we can take on some even bigger challenges once we’re all a little more fit.
*Disclaimer: Yes, we are all wearing sun huts. While this is acceptable and even cute on children and women, it is undeniably dorky on a grown man. However, I cite New Zealand’s world leading rates of melanoma due to the intense UV rays as justification for the somewhat ridiculous hat. I’m going to wear it proud and let everyone else deal with it. So there.
Jared and Liz Bayless