Returning Home, Jan 15, 2003

18:42 - Auckland Airport - Drove up from Lake Taupo this morning/early afternoon; we drove more than 2400 km in New Zealand, and I enjoyed every bit of it. We're now waiting to board a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles. It's going to take a long time to get home to SF!

13:33 - LAX - Strangely enough, it is now earlier on January 15th, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles seems like a nightmare after being in lush New Zealand, where everything just seems to make sense. In our week over there, we only met two or three people who weren't jovial in mood. Here in LA, a thick red-brown layer of smog is sitting over the valley, and everything outside is yellow and brown. Everyone (including me) is chatting away on cell phones. In addition, all checked baggage is now scanned, and a good number of them are hand-inspected. From behind the barrier I watched them fumble around with my underwater housing, trying to figure out what it was. A warm welcome home. :)

Lake Taupo, Jan 14, 2003

23:26 - Lake Taupo - Lake Taupo is huge! I hadn't imagined the lake to be this large. The drive up from Wellington on highway 1 took us north, past the east side of Tangiriro National Park, which is featured as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. We really wanted to see it in its full glory, but a large, dark cloud hung (appropriately) over the entire mountain range, so we continued onwards to Taupo. After checking in at our hotel (Lakeland of Taupo), we drove along the river to see the Craters of the Moon area, which is rich in geothermal activity. NZ has a large geothermal power plant nearby, which provides 8% of the country's electricity. We walked around fuming fumeroles and bubbling mudpits, inhaling horrid smells before continuing up the road to Huka Falls. Even though it's fairly squat (only 11m high), Huka Falls is NZ's largest volume waterfall. It was an impressive amount of water that fell over the edge. As usual for our time here, the sun lit up the clouds in the sky in a way that made taking well-exposed photographs extremely difficult.

At sunset (at 8:39pm), the sun dropped behind a strip of low-hanging clounds, lining the top of the entire strip in brilliant gold. I snapped a quick photo before we headed off to dinner. Norm and I both ordered the "white chocolate toffee cheesecake with raspberry & white chocolate ice cream" for dessert. Pure decadence. :)

Wellington, Jan 13, 2003

22:26 - Wellington - We arrived in Picton before 11am, returned the car a "day" early, and boarded the 11:30am Lynx back to Wellington (the Cook Strait was extremely choppy, with 3m swells. most of the ride included shrieks of both delight and light terror from the passengers), giving us the entire afternoon to explore the city. Luckily, as we were driving by we happened to see that the Te Papa Museum by the harbor was having a Lord of the Rings Exhibit; it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip! The exhibit featured comprehensive video specials (many of which are also in the special edition DVD), props, costumes, miniatures, concept/test artwork, and weaponry/armor, organized by character and peoples. Norm was so excited by the exhibit that he jumped up and down a few times just outside the main entryway, as we were leaving. :) The production scale of the trilogy still boggles my mind. Naturally, after we finished going through the exhibit, we walked over to Reading Cinemas and caught the 7:00pm show. We tried to see it at the Embassy, but the next show didn't start until 8:55pm, so we were satisfied just to get photos of the floating ring and of Gollum reaching over the top of the theater's façade. Downtown Wellington is really neat! There are diverse shops and restaurants along a long strip, and near the water the city gallery, library, and other official buildings surround a modern plaza that radiates welcome with its open architecture. Tomorrow is our last full day in New Zealand! It's always sad to leave a place without feeling like I've had enough time to explore, but a few rather stressful things have happened while I've been away, and it will be nice to be home to take care of them.