Exploring New Zealand From the Left.


Engineer In Residence
Southeastern Loop
By Jen.

From Palmerston North, we decided to do a loop south and east that would knock off a few things on our list and burn a few days while we waited on another batch of mail we were expecting. First up was the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. I wanted to visit as they supposedly had a few birds that I hadn’t seen yet. Before we got there, though, Jonathan wanted to replace the shock bushing on left rear wheel.

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As you can see, it was quite worn. Must have hit it just right at some point.
The first animal they had that I hadn’t seen was a bird. A grey and black one with beautiful blue wattles. The bird is known as a kokako. This one had been reared by humans (fell out of a nest and got an infection), and is particularly fond of men with beards.

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It came right up to show off for Jonathan.

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These fish are the adult version of one of their species of whitebait (a delicacy here).

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This is one of their geckos.
What I was really looking forward to seeing was some eels! These babies are massive (up to 40 kg) and long-living. They have some that are about 100 years old. The just chill out in the rivers and feed at night until one day (maybe 35, maybe 105), they decide to leave and head into the ocean to reproduce and lay eggs near Fiji (probably, no one really knows). The are surprisingly mobile and can even crawl over land with their fins.

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They had a walk-in aviary with some Kaka in it. (As well as many other birds.)

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Red-crowned parakeet.

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The bellbirds (pictured) and the tui seemed very bored and were flying around trying to entertain themselves.

Jonathan had recently been doing some reading on blue ducks (whio) and learned that they do not quack. Rather, the males whistle and the females grunt. We got to hear the whistling when walking by one of their enclosures. Very peculiar.

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Auckland green gecko.

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In paintings of tui, they always show these brilliant colors. I hadn’t really witnessed this though, as they seem to really like rainy days and deep forests, with lack of sunshine.

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A medium-sized weta.
At this point, we had to leave and go to a doctor appointment. I have managed to develop a minor infection that hasn’t gone away on its own, so I went to get prescribed antibiotics. Apparently many places in NZ don’t take “casual” (one-time/passing through) patients, so I had to call several places before I found one. Then they charged me $100NZD up front for the appointment. I also found out that most pharmacies will only let you get a refill prescription at the same store front (not just same chain), as you got the first prescription. Definitely different. After lunch and medication, we went back so I could see the eel feeding. It was quite a sight!

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They feed them any stinky/smelly leftovers that they had and with a spoon! It was entertaining to see these serpent-like fish sucking food off the spoon.



Engineer In Residence
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Earlier, we had seen about 5-6 sitting in the shadows. Now there dozens!

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They even enjoyed being petted! I don’t think I would mind having an eel as a pet in a river behind my house!

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And, for good measure, a tuatara, warming itself under a heat lamp.
They were supposed to have a white kiwi there as well, but she was sick with a beak infection and not feeling well for her birthday that day. Too bad. So, onward we went. This time to Castlepoint. This is a seaside location with dramatic landscape.

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A beautiful sunrise.

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Castle Rock.

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The rock that lighthouse sits on is made of millions of sea-life fossils.

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After searching all morning for this rare daisy, found only in this small region, I finally found it hanging off the ridge of Castle Rock.

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Then we were off again. This time to see the longest-name place in the world. One the way, we spotted some introduced turkeys.

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Parents and chicks.

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Engineer In Residence
Maintenance and Whatnot
Taking a bit of a detour, we drove up the hills above Palmerston North to Tararua wind farm. Located on a working farm, there are plenty of sheep and cattle roaming about between the towers. Supposedly the largest single wind farm in the southern hemisphere, it boasts over 130 turbines between 660 and 3,000kw.




With a little time on our hands, we visited a local museum/gallery called Te Manawa at Palmerston North.

Some hyper realistic (if a bit large) insect sculptures greeted us at the door.



Some interesting exhibits discussed human changes to the region, the environmental impacts.

NZ is home to several species of gecko. Can you spot the Auckland Brown gecko?

These are the green and yellow varieties. Like some geckos, they can change their skin color some to blend in.

At this point we were able to get our last package (finally) from the local courier's office. What kind of courier doesn’t deliver to the post office? So we headed northeast towards Tauranga. Some friends had offered to let us park in their warehouse near there for a few days to work on the van. About 10 minutes after leaving Palmerston North, we turned around because we had forgotten to get transmission oil! After calling a few places, we finally found one that listed and stocked a oil that would supposedly work. One shop told us that Sprinters never were sold as automatics! It must be so, because the computer database is infallible! Lol!

First up were a set of front wheel bearings. You would be surprised what I can do with a hammer and an oven.





A trans service had also come due. Over the course of a few days I managed to spill transmission oil at least 4 times. I think I can still smell it even now…


After a few days and test drives had passed, I got around to replacing some tie rods (one inner and one outer). Hard to say what country the dirt hailed from…


With the van generally going in the direction I pointed the steering wheel, I pulled the fridge for some wiring fixes (removing connectors for solder joints instead). With the fridge out, I also dropped the gray water tank. The vent line had plugged up at some point, and 4 feet of head pressure from the sink had split one of the seams. A few feet of stainless wire stitched it up, some super glue and silicone sealant took care of the rest.


A resident kingfisher.

Finally, I dug through my bolt, washer, and repair supplies, and scrounged up enough hardware to re-attach the front Fox-shock mounts. Here’s hoping they stay attached! This time I will be checking the bolts every few hundred miles until I am sure they will stay tight.

Recommended books for Overlanding

Overlanding the Americas: La Lucha
by Mr Graeme Robert Bell
From $20
Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide
by Tom Sheppard
From $136.99
Road Fever (Vintage Departures)
by Tim Cahill
From $12.99


Engineer In Residence
East Cape

The eastern coast of NZ's North Island is a rural collection of farmland, remote fisheries, and tiny villages.



The East Cape villages have a few unique churches. These communities have large Maori populations, and this has infused a unique flavor to these churches.









Engineer In Residence

We walked 800 steps up to the East Cape Lighthouse.




A nearby beach had a tidal shelf filled with fossilized shells. Most of these are over a million years old.






Engineer In Residence
Te Urewera NP
By Jen.

The loop around the East Cape from north to south brought us near Te Urewera National Park, where there is a Great Walk around Lake Waikaremoana. We figured it was worth a detour to go check it out. Unfortunately, the weather was forecasting lots of rain over the next week, so we didn’t know how much we would get to enjoy. Fall rains are here and days have just over 10 hours of sunlight. When we arrived, we had just enough time to run up to Lou’s Lookout before it started pouring. I am glad we did! I had picked it on a whim, but it ended up being an unexpectedly fun walk up and around and through limestone rocks to a legitimate lookout over the lake.
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The next day we had rain off an on, but it started off without rain.

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We decided to hit up some waterfalls first.

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Toi toi plants.

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A tall, old rata tree.

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This one is aged between 800-1000 years old.

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We then made our way to Lake Waikareiti
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The sun finally came out to play right before sunset.

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You can see why it is called the “sea of rippling waters.”

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The next day was rainy again and so we decided to skip the last walk and kayak and just head out and down south again.

Fun Facts: Apparently NZ is small enough for them to justify counting and publishing the number of lightning strikes experienced during a storm. After a front passes through, there were be an article with a headline similar to "Over 1000 lightning strikes near Auckland last night." I just found it bizarre that they cared so much about it, as I came from the Kansas Plains where lightning was fairly commonplace and never really announced. I don't think I have ever heard how many lightning strikes occurred during a storm in the States.


Engineer In Residence
Art Deco and Hot Springs
By Jen.

When you have spent a few days in the wilderness (even when van glamping like we do), it is nice to head into civilization for a bit. So, we made our way over to Napier and Hastings. On the way, we spotted the Mohaka Viaduct, the highest rail viaduct (97m) in Australasia.

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We made it to Napier after lunch. Both Napier and Hastings were flattened by a deadly 1931 earthquake. The silver lining to this is that there are now lots of art-deco buildings adding quite the flair to the town. Since we entered from the north, we visited the crown jewel of the style first: the National Tobacco Company’s building.

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The beauty of art-deco: both simple and elaborate at the same time. Isn’t it a beaut?

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The park along Marine Parade was also very intriguing.

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A floral clock! Can I get one of those?

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Even some of the stores have embraced the 1930s vibe. Love that headband!

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Can’t forget the manhole covers.

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Not everything was art-deco. This was the side of the Museum Theatre Gallery.
The next day we tried a drive up Te Mata Peak, but as I mentioned previously, rainy season has started. Couldn’t see much through the clouds.

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The clouds make the hang-gliding launch a little spooky…

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Back in Hastings, we noticed that even the street lights had an art-deco flair.

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Apparently this is the Spanish Mission style.

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From Hastings, we ventured into Kaweka Forest Park to Mangatutu Hot Springs. The springs are channeled into 2 large tubs, where you can sit and enjoy the naturally-heated water while looking out over the beautiful Mohaka River. Sadly, 3/5 pictures that I took failed to save properly and we were too busy enjoying ourselves to get any more good pictures. It was one of those activities that you could enjoy even if it was raining.

The temperature of the water was about 97°F. You could see the steam wisping up from the water through plants.
Fun Fact: There are only 11 species of ant here in New Zealand. And, they seem to be pretty rare! In all the time we have been here, we seen maybe 3-4 occurrences of ants. It is really bizarre being in a place that has so few ants! Seems like in the US, if you drop some food on the ground, the ants will be all over it in a manner of seconds or minutes. Here, unless the birds like it, it is rarely bothered.


Engineer In Residence
Volcanic NZ
By Jen.

As you may have guessed from our last post, we are getting closer to NZ’s geothermal center with hot springs and volcanoes galore. There is a line of geothermal activity that stretches from Rotorua in the center of the North Island to a small active volcano off the shores. The Mangatutu Springs we enjoyed a few days back was part of that line. And, we were ready to finally head in that direction again, so we made our way to Taupo. We had visited several of the sights when we were on the North Island previously, waiting for our ferry to the South Island. So, we were just picking up the places we hadn’t been before. This line of geothermal activity is definitely interesting to observe. Around the towns of Taupo and Rotorua, the smell of sulfur is omnipresent and wisps of steam protrude from numerous holes in the ground.

The first place that I had on my list was a remote thermal park called Orakei Korako, where you take a small boat ride across a lake to a geothermally-active valley. This was a paid attraction, but as a plus, there was only one other couple in the park for most of our walk.

The warm water provided interesting algae growth and the mud had weird colors and textures.

The colors of the Sapphire Geyser were beautiful.


As we were walking to the viewpoint, the Sapphire Geyser started gushing.



A beautiful moth warming up or drying off first thing in the morning.

Elephant Rock, can you see it?

Notice the natural “fountain”?

A small cave with thermal water. But what really made it special was:

The morepork/ruru (owl) resting in the upper part of the cave on some vines. Very rare to see one in the wild! They are normally better camouflaged and in a tree.


Bared trees and numerous fern trees testify that this area had recently been hazed from some destructive (possibly volcanic) force the in the recent past.


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The mud pools were mesmerizing to watch.



They even had a soda fountain.


While we were talking to a Canadian couple next to our van, a tall geyser shot up across the way that wasn’t even our tour.
Later that day, we made it just in time to see the Aratiatia Rapids come to life. The river was dammed for hydroelectric power, but they let out water at scheduled times during the day so we can see what it was like before human intervention. It is quite a sight.

Before the floodgates are opened. Notice the high-water mark on the rocks.

The rocks that will create some of the rapids.

Water steadily making its way downriver after the flood gates are opened.


We relocated to see what the river looked like further downstream.


This is just a few minutes after they closed the floodgates again (only open for 15 minutes). You can see they let the water get all the way up to the high-water mark.

The sun sets on our day in Taupo over Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake, in which resides an ancient and massive volcano’s caldera.
I really enjoyed our visit to Taupo, as it was very different from what we had been seeing NZ. And, of course, the results of heated water are normally fascinating.

Fun Fact: From the moment I arrived in New Zealand, I felt like it had a similar vibe to Hawaii. Turns out there is a reason for this. Like Hawaii, NZ embraces its aboriginal heritage/culture. Like many Pacific islands, both Hawaii and NZ were first inhabited by sailing Polynesians, so their cultures, while different, have many similar backgrounds. Gods like Maui play big parts in both oral traditions. Apparently the Pacific Ocean, like the world, is smaller than one would think.


Engineer In Residence
Tongariro Area

Heading inland, we traversed the Desert Road near the great volcanoes at the center of the North Island. Not truly a desert, this area gets its name from the sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops. The products of a million years of alternating lava, ash, and water erosion, the landscape is different indeed.

Despite the overcast conditions, the great bulk of the volcanic cones created a nice clear patch downwind. The standing clouds were an interesting site. We parked for a bit to charge our batteries and enjoy the sun.
You can see the clouds dammed up behind the mountain.




We hope to do the Tongariro Alpine crossing in a month or so. The winter conditions make it a bit of a task, though. The track will pass to the right of this peak on the saddle between the two volcanoes.


We also visited the Tree Trunk Gorge in the area. So named because, way back when, a windy storm knocked down a bunch of trees.



East of the ranges, we passed through the carrot capital of NZ. They are very serious about their root vegetables here.


We drove up the mountain hoping to clear the cloud cover. We were foiled; not tall enough!


About half way up the mountain was a nice waterfall. Here you can see the alternating layers of liquid lava and heavy ash. Cracks in the lava sheet eventually became rivers like this one. Who knows when the next eruption will come? (Probably not long by geologic standards, but really long by human ones).


Engineer In Residence

By Jen.

Another rainy NZ day gave us the idea to do laundry. So, we went towards Whanganui town. We finished in time for lunch, so in an effort to save battery on a rainy day and do something a bit different, we decided to eat out for lunch.

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After lunch, the rain had lessened quite a bit. So, we made our way downtown to check out some of the sites. We made a wander past an old steamboat that used to chug up and down the river before decent roads and railways were developed. The boat has quite a history and has even sunk once.

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The river was particularly high from the rain and had even covered the walkway next to the river. I almost slipped on the mud on the walkway while trying to take this picture.
By the time we wandered back around to the Glassworks gallery and workshop, a paperweight-making class was starting up, so after viewing the wonderful works of art they had on display, we sat down to watch the magic.

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With the weather holding cloudy but mostly dry, we decided to try the Durie Hill Elevator and a visit to the War Memorial Tower. The elevator is a a unique one, built inside a hill and accessed via a long tunnel.

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Recommended books for Overlanding


Engineer In Residence

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The elevator was a fancy old one.

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It takes you up to the foot of the War Memorial Tower.

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Haha, “hooter.” While technically correct, sounds ridiculous.

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Whanganui town is at the mouth of the Whanganui River, the longest navigable river in NZ.
From the town, we decided to drive north through the national park.

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We stayed at the one and only campground on that road. But, when trying to find a spot to park, we got stuck in the wet grass. So, Jonathan decided he would try out the chains.

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They used to have a water wheel powering a flour mill.

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Fun Fact: We have found it interesting that in NZ municipal water is not required to be chlorinated or fluorinated. It has to meet certain criteria in health inspections, but if it does that without the need to chlorinate, it isn’t done. Christchurch is a large town here that is very proud of the fact that they have “pure,” non-chlorinated water. But, this has presented issues. The earthquakes that have rocked the city since 2011 have fractured the well heads, creating an opportunity for contamination. This is despite previously having deaths linked to water contamination that wasn’t caught quick enough. When this was discovered, they actually had to have a debate on whether they would ruin their pure water with chlorination for the safety of the public. They did finally approve a chlorination treatment, but it is really interesting to see how many people still oppose it. Personally, I like my water chlorinated and fluorinated.


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Our wanderings took us through the Waitomo district. This region, like most of the central North Island is very serious about its agriculture.

The town of Te Kuiti has a massive statue commemorating the series of champion sheep shearers they have produced. Apparently champion sheep shearing is comparable to running a marathon, with total O2 intake and energy output being roughly the same. Only a pro-shearer, will do the equivalent of two marathons in a day.

The region also sits atop a number of karst limestone formations. This results in an abundance of natural bridges, whimsical formations, and caves.




Sometimes investigating a cave is not advised! Raging torrents often hide below the surface.

A troll would not surprise me at all…



Several of these caves contain Cave Weta. They can grow quite large, with some as long as my hand.



Glow worms were common as well. See the silk-like threads hanging from the ceiling? Glow worms use them to catch their prey.

The next stop was a nearby beach. Supposedly at low tide a hot spring flows from under the dunes. We had no luck in our search.





For a reputed hot spot, the Wi-Fi was nonexistent.