Sunday, October 9, 2011

New Zealand trip, day 6: Elusive penguins, non-elusive blueberries, boiling mud, and home

Thursday, October 6

Today was the last day of our trip to the Bay of Plenty, so we were sure to pack in as many fun activities as possible along the 6-ish-hour drive home to New Plymouth. First we had peanut butter honey oatmeal again, took some coin-operated showers, broke camp, and bid Matata farewell.

Colby and I are a little obsessed with penguins, and I shared with the group that some friends of mine had seen penguins during their stay in Tauranga last summer. So we pulled out The Lonely Planet book last night and searched for a place near Tauranga where they might have gone to see the penguins. The most promising entry was for Whakatane Beach, which promised 25,000+ dolphins as well as a lot of kinds of birds, including little blue penguins. Sadly, The Lonely Planet led us astray, and there were no penguins or dolphins, but the beach was quite lovely. And we found Gandalf the Grey's staff! Best. Driftwood. Ever.

Hiking out on the jetty at Whakatane.

Josh with Gandalf's staff.

While not seeing penguins at Whakatane, we asked some locals about the penguins, and they said we needed to go to Pukehina. But Pukehina was too far out of the way, so we had to satisfy ourselves with Gandalf's staff in lieu of little blue penguins.

After a quick  lunch, we went out in search of blueberries. This time, fortunately, we were successful! We visited Mamaku Blue, a blueberry farm and winery. Remember the Huka Honey Hive from a few days ago? Well, Mamaku Blue is the Huka Honey Hive of blueberries. They had blueberry chocolates, blueberry wines, pure blueberry juice, blueberry (and gooseberry) jams and chutneys, blueberry bath products . . . you name it! Like the Honey Hive, there were lots of free samples--my favorites were the blueberry and gooseberry chutneys. I also purchased blueberry ice cream in a waffle cone. It was basically vanilla ice cream with frozen (farmed there, of course!) blueberries stirred/mashed in. Simple and amazing!

Next on our itinerary: the Wai-O-Tapu Mud Pool. Have you ever seen boiling mud? I certainly hadn't until today. The Wai-O-Tapu website has this to say about the Mud Pool:
This was the site of a large mud volcano which was destroyed through erosion in the 1920′s. It now represents one of the best opportunities to experience the unique character and sounds of erupting mud in New Zealand where the activity is always guaranteed.
The best words I can think of to describe the Mud Pool are "weird," "fascinating," and "smelly." There were several vantage points that overlooked a large pool of boiling mud. The mud didn't boil as rapidly as water usually does, but there were constantly numerous bubbles surfacing and plck-ing all over the pool. And, of course, there was a steady stream of sulfuric steam rising from the mud. One of the prettiest features of the pool was the surrounding foliage. Over time, enough mud had splattered so that ferns and branches were painted a light gray--almost white. Even though it was mud that they were covered in, they looked so delicate.

When we had satisfied ourselves with the number of photos and videos we had taken, we hopped back in the van and headed home to New Plymouth. From Wai-O-Tapu, we didn't really stop except for dinner, because we didn't want to get back super late. Here's a map of our basic route today.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, with lovely people and a variety of fun activities!

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