Chasing Journey By means of Motorbike in Latin The us

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On the pampas the horizons appear to be to flee. The llamas are golden, the clouds impossibly white. We let the bikes operate. Out of the blue, the perspective improvements. The guide bicycle rises previously mentioned the line of the horizon, a rider flails via the air 10 toes above the floor. This is not excellent. Jeff has gone off the road at 70 mph. Katie goes into paramedic mode, calming Jeff, jogging her hands up his spine, probing, examining ribs, legs, arms. The drop has ripped his touring jacket from shoulder to waistline, peeling the again protector to expose the We-Build-Bridges T-shirt. He is scuffed, but inside of times is guffawing, flashing the “I Are unable to Think I am Nevertheless Alive” grin that is his default expression.

Ryan pulls the bicycle up and starts off gathering the bits scattered across the desert. The baggage is ruined. The proper handlebar is bent practically to the tank. Mirrors, change indicators, front fender snapped off in a microsecond. Both equally wheel rims have dents. Very, it still operates. He places the areas that even now operate back again on the bike, normally takes it for a exam ride. It will last another 7,000 miles. Our motto: We Will Make This Do the job.

Jeff tells what happened. A tiny chook experienced hopped into his route. The upcoming detail he knew he was off the road, launched into a culvert. “I imagined, wow. I am Superman. Oh glimpse, there’s the bike. Oh glance, there’s the hen…” In a field strewn with jagged boulders, he experienced landed on sand.

THE Starting

The trip arrived up prolonged in advance of I was all set. A cellular phone call, an invitation to tag together with a group of BMW riders embarking on a 5-week, 8,000-mile journey from Peru to Virginia. I would doc the trip, a fundraising work for a group that builds footbridges in distant places of the planet. I’d been considering about a extensive ride, one thing open up-ended, without having assistance motor vehicles, the knowledge of becoming fully “out there.” This seemed to in shape the monthly bill. A third of the distance close to the earth with entire strangers. I experienced a manufacturer-new BMW F 800 GS and it was thirsty. If there was a position of no return, I crossed it just before I hung up the mobile phone.

To start with, the riders. Ken Hodge is an coverage advantages specialist and member in superior standing of the Newport Information Rotary Club. He identified bikes late in lifetime, when he bought a bike, rode it across country in 48 several hours, then started to desire of a even larger journey, anything for a good result in.

He recruited his daughter Katie (a fire section paramedic), his stepson Ryan (a mechanic and dirt-bike rider) and Ryan’s finest good friend Jeff. I’m amazed by their preparations. They ride previous BMW R 1150s and F 650 singles. Ryan experienced put in a yr renewing the bikes, poking about the internal recesses, memorizing the shop manuals for just about every device. They would convey adequate tools and elements to cope with practically each individual unexpected emergency.

INTO THE ANDES

We quit at Nazca to perspective the historic figures scratched in the rocky desert. From the top rated of a tower we can see a determine with elevated palms. Just to the north, the Pan-American Highway bisects the determine of a lizard, decapitating the creature. Bound by the limited target of brass transit degrees, the surveyors who laid out the highway were being not even conscious of the sacred relics, discovered when aerial flight grew to become common.

I realize that we are as blinded by emphasis, by concentration as the surveyors had been by their instrument. The excursion will be a sequence of illustrations or photos, sidelong glances, captured at pace.

Descendants of the individuals who created the Inca path, Peruvian builders know their stuff. But it is the tracery, the managed circulation of momentum, that has our regard. The road ascends historical seabeds, hills included with talus, fractured dry ridges with cornices sculpted by landslides. Midday, we uncover ourselves on a large pampas inhabited by thousands of vicuña and alpaca. In the distance, our 1st sight of snowcapped peaks. There are stone corrals on nearby slopes, a single-room huts. In the center of this giant nowhere, a lone shepherd going for walks on the aspect of the hill.

We uncover that the distances on maps are people of the condor. We journey extremely twisted streets that at times acquire a hundred turns (and various miles) to get from a single ridge to the next. The map suggests towns, but to our dis-may possibly not all have gas stations. We purchase gas in a compact outpost from a girl who ladles it out of a bucket with a coffee pot, then pours it through a plastic, woven kitchen funnel into our tanks. The full city watches. We force on into the descending evening. We make it to the up coming set of lights, 20 or so buildings on two streets, uncover a lodge, and park our bikes in an enclosed yard with canines, chickens, useless birds, plastic bottles and an animal conceal tanning on the wall. As a substitute of the typical exit signs, the cafe in our hotel has inexperienced arrows that say “ESCAPE.” It is not a criticism of the foodstuff. The forces that push the Andes skyward have been acknowledged to demolish complete cities.

The upcoming morning we fire up the bikes, and ascend into the Andes on a ideal street. We are fluid, likely via hairpins, double hairpins, squared-off turns-climbing the flank of a solitary 4,700-meter peak. I can consider of only just one phrase: delightful. We go by mist and small-hanging clouds, with shafts of sunlight slanting into rainbows. The valleys under are eco-friendly and fertile, a mix of outdated Inca terracing and a lot more contemporary farms. Slender eucalyptus trees line the road, offering shade for huts with pink tile roofs. A female tends a flock of goats (identified with vibrant ribbons) on a green meadow, guide in hand. At one point I assume the clouds above have parted to expose patches of blue, but when I look up I see that it is snow-coated rock, one more 3,000 or 4,000 feet of mountain. On a turnoff in the vicinity of the best of the peak we discover a dozen or so very small shrines, small church buildings adorned with flowers and ribbons and images of liked ones. The web page of a bus plunge. On a hillside throughout the valley paragliders do the job the thermals, the canopies looking like vivid-colored eyebrows, or ostentatious angels.

We share the highway with vicuña, alpaca, llama, sheep, goats, canines, roosters, pigs, horses and cows. On a slender lane near Abancay, a bull tries to gore me as I move, charging and earning a hooking motion with its horns. One night immediately after the sunset, I round a corner and a lovely roan stallion wheels in the light-weight from our bikes, filling the lane with wide eyes and flashing hoofs, inches from my head. I realize that using sweep poses a danger. The novelty of our passing bikes wears off, and the regional wildlife has time to respond.

Entering Cusco, Ryan asks directions, a female directs us on to a slim cobblestone street, slick with rain, as steep as a bobsled run. The rocks are turned on their side, like enamel. The knobbies have no traction in anyway. The persons on the sidewalks frantically wave their arms, indicating that the street gets steeper. I touch my brake and the bicycle goes down, pinning my leg versus the curb, a quarter of an inch shy of a fracture. The bicycle powering me goes down. It is harrowing. The locals assistance us raise the bikes, get them turned uphill.

A law enforcement escort sales opportunities us to a lodge that allows us retail store the bikes in the foyer. Without having bothering to shower, we make our way to the Norton Rats Bar on the northeast corner of the central plaza. The owner, an American expatriate, once piloted a Norton to the suggestion of the continent. The partitions are lined with photos from the excursion. Previously mentioned the bar are mounted heads, the four previous American presidents, with their ideal regarded soundbites: I am not a criminal. I did not inhale. I do not recall. We will come across WMD in Iraq. We sip beers, trade stories, hoping to reassemble the past few days. The useless battery. The punctured radiator. The roadside repairs. The extraordinary hurry of unrelenting attractiveness.

A few times of desert north of Lima create a several specifics. The whole absence of lifetime, the three hues of sand. Younger boys pedaling tricycle ice product carts in the middle of nowhere. We enter a zona de nimbleras, but alternatively of fog we find a 60-mph crosswind that sends a layer of grit skittering throughout the road like a distinctive influence in a Steven Spielberg motion picture. Two lanes slender to one particular protected by blowing sand, thick sufficient to swallow the entrance tire, deep enough that a street grader prepares to apparent the drifting sands.

We choose to test a secondary route by means of the hills. We transform onto a dust road and anything alterations. We move as a result of villages alive with individuals, dogs, little three-wheel taxis fashioned from previous bikes. Kids on motorscooters experience earlier, snapping shots with their mobile phones. The highway throws break up-finger fastballs at the bash plate that clang as loud and adamant as the audio of an aluminum bat. We slosh our way through gravel, gray dust on almost everything, elements falling off, teeth rattling. Oh indeed, this is what we needed.

ECUADOR

In Macara, we sit on the sidewalk near a insignificant city sq., consuming pork cooked by a rotund girl in a yellow costume. Her daughter delivers us 3 beers (big) at a time, and keeps the empties in a milk crate for accounting afterwards. Boys on motorbikes cruise the silent streets, the blessed types with ladies on the again. Throughout the square, women sit on benches. Jeff experiences a cultural revelation, that South American women have breasts, and don tight pants…and “Hey, I believe she likes me.”

Our evening meal companion is David McCollum, an American expatriate that Ryan had achieved on ADVrider.com. He tells us stories about using the Ecuadoran Andes, and gives us strategies on dealing with roadblocks. “Act Silly. Do not try out to talk in Spanish. Say ‘No fumar Espanol’ (I never smoke Spanish). If all else fails, have Katie cry.” Er, Katie does not do “cry.” The following working day he prospects us into the Ecuadoran Andes.

Impressions: Razor-sharp ridges. Lumpy, conical outcroppings. Monasteries on major of hills. Slopes so steep they will never ever be labored by machine. A few standing above dark earth, the man keeping a picket hoe, the woman a bag of seeds. A female on horseback, black and purple cape, a whip coiled in one hand. Trees. Cloud. Mist. The experience of a Japanese block print, the ones that propose the street goes to infinity.

I had released the group to a family members custom. When we vacation, we finish every day by recounting significant level, very low level and amusing bone. Soon after this working day, I will insert “Pucker moments.” Vehicles hurtle out of the fog, operating without the need of lights, signaled only by the ghostly wave pushed right before. They show up in our lane without having warning or motive. We go by means of design web sites the place the highway narrows to one lane that delivers no escape route. One side would seem hideously close to the new concrete, studded with rebar fangs. The other side is precipice. Pucker moments? Acquire your pick.

Often it truly is the floor, a fifty percent mile of muddy bobsled run, of free gravel, of gushing h2o, the bike handling like a loose bowel. Twice, we spherical a corner and find no street, the surface area having caved in, sucked away by underground torrents. Katie’s minute comes when a cow, with no footing, scrambles into the path of her bike. For Jeff, it is passing a truck that suddenly swerves to stay clear of a pothole, the trailer swinging towards him like a baseball bat.

We expend two days in Cuenca, a 500-year-old metropolis surrounded by mountains. Ken phones forward and discovers that the ship that was to have taken us and the bikes from Ecuador to Panama does not exist (experienced we had medication or been unlawful aliens, no dilemma, but there are no accommodations for turistas with motorcycles). We request David for assist. Though we experience to Quito, he will get the job done the phones. He finds a make contact with, a man identified for finding issues performed when no one else can. We meet up with this air freight magician at The Turtle’s Head, a biker bar in Quito. At midnight.

The upcoming morning we trip our bikes to the navy segment of the airport, then into a refrigerated warehouse. The metal flooring is covered with embedded ball bearings, throughout which slide metal palettes. For the following three hours we wrestle with tiedowns. A skinny male dressed solely in black oversees the operation, taking photographs of the bikes with a electronic digicam, building certain batteries are disconnected, tires are deflated. Drug-sniffing canine poke their noses into every recess.

Then, just like that, our bikes are gone, on their way to Panama in the tummy of an plane.

CENTRAL The us

Central American countries are the measurement of postage stamps. You can cross them in a day and a 50 percent, only to invest a 50 percent working day at customs and immigration. Ken had ready Xerox copies of all our paperwork (passports, licenses, titles, registration, VIN numbers) and had them notarized. As he functions with the official in the air-conditioned workplace, we sit in 100-diploma heat and enjoy ants have grains of dirt from beneath the ground. We will become used to the demands for far more copies, the freelance currency traders waving bills in front of our faces, the young hustlers eager to facilitate the system, the food stuff vendors ready for starvation to overcome warning about regional cuisine.

Prior to embarking on this trip, I might study Point out Division travel advisories. The portion on Peru warned that 5 Individuals had died from liposuction in Lima. Alright, was that consensual liposuction, or were being there gangs of thugs wielding vacuum cleaners with sharp pointy attachments? Practically each individual entry on Central American international locations warned about bogus checkpoints, bandits in uniform, soldiers in the middle of nowhere.

Together the roadside are signals with a blood-pink eye and the warning vigilantes. We round a corner to uncover two soldiers going for walks patrol, miles from the nearest city. They request for paperwork. A surge of adrenaline turns my mouth to cotton. David, our good friend in Ecuador experienced supplied us good assistance: Act silly. Smile. We feel to have a organic expertise for that. No fumar Espanol. Immediately after inspecting our paperwork, they wave us on. In the following couple weeks we will be stopped consistently, sniffed by puppies, x-rayed, wanded with equipment that glance like carving knives with vehicle antennas in which the blade really should be. At border crossings, fellas in jumpsuits and facemasks spray our bikes with liquids developed to get rid of stowaway bugs too lazy to cross borders underneath their very own energy. There are troopers at each individual fuel station, armed attendants at advantage retailers and places to eat, fellas with shotguns on Pepsi trucks. We are mindful of poverty, a society of legal option. The night time air can strip your bike bare, if you do not locate a hotel with safe parking.

These nations are joined by soil to the United States, and our culture has rattled its way by. Central America is a bike lifestyle. Total families whiz by, perched on narrow seats, sporting helmets with lacking visors. In Panama Town we run into a group of Harley riders. The bikes have exhausts the size of howitzers, the horns blare a soundtrack of distinctive effects. They surround us, and inquire if we want to be part of their normal weekend burger operate. We adhere to them to an special nation club just further than the Mira Flores locks on the Panama Canal. They deliver us off with instructions to a bed-and-breakfast up the coast. I drop asleep that evening in a hammock, a bottle of beer however clutched in my hand, the blades of a supporter whirring softly overhead.

Central The united states has a diverse come to feel than Peru and Ecuador, a different gravity. We go by way of verdant countryside at a speed that would be normal in Virginia or Colorado or California. The vegetation seems like fireworks, only environmentally friendly. Right here clusters of one plant have taken around a hillside. There a distinct species explodes. A gradual war.

We have been in the saddle for 3 weeks. Nothing at all can split our speed. We abandon the Pan-American Freeway and uncover roadways that make it feel like you have two flat tires, kinds that appear like you are using on an oil spill. There are slim, 1-auto-at-a-time bridges of mismatched slender-gauge rails, or on lesser roads, metal plates tossed throughout rotting timbers. The terrain is a geological mash-up, without having the power of the Andes, but ample unforeseen elevation adjust and restricted corners to make for an interesting ride. Cities announce by themselves with pace bumps and potholes that can swallow bikes total. I see highway indicators one of a kind to the country, silhouettes of odd animals. A snake crossing. A jaguar crossing. In Costa Rica we strike a 30-mile stretch of gravel street, and the earth will become dust. The bikes appear alive. We romp, skitter, wander, trusting the gyroscope. I consider to read through the peculiar shadows that look in the dust-bicyclists, ATVs, big vehicles with no lights-not constantly properly. There are breaks in the dust cloud when I see fields loaded with white cattle and at their ft white egrets. The sky tinges pink with mild from a environment sun. A sensation virtually like peace.

We devote a night in Arsenal, a location vacation resort for adrenaline junkies with discretionary earnings. Posters promote cover walks, zipline rides as a result of the rain forest, the opportunity to rappel down waterfalls, night hikes to lava flows, kayaking, canoeing. We disregard the offers, saddle up and journey into the rain forest. A group of meercats swarms down an embankment onto the highway. Monkeys cavort in the trees overhead. A tourist zips by on a metal cable casting a shadow on the highway, a blur of shade in the sky. It appears like anyone was hanging laundry and forgot to acquire his or her clothes off.

Nicaragua has its possess experience. We ride earlier volcanoes so large they make their have temperature, the crowns concealed beneath large-brimmed clouds. Don Quixote in his barber bowl hat. The streets are clogged with horsedrawn buggies. We come across a hotel around the city sq.. Throughout the street from the hotel is a store presenting galactic World wide web. The common lifestyle is gradually shedding ground to bandwidth. Relay towers compete with church steeples, billboards for mobile services block oversized statues of saints on nearby hilltops.

We check out a bridge, created by Ken’s organization, in a distant place of Honduras. At the turnoff from the main road I assume we are coming into a drainage ditch. Indeed, all through the rainy time the highway is impassable, the clay surface as well slick for traction. Now, the bikes tackle a street gouged by erosion, operating their way all around rocks uncovered by the pressure of h2o. This is by much the most technological using of the journey.

The 40-mile road will just take 5 several hours to cross. The clawmark gullies pull Ken’s bike out from under him Katie rides into a ditch and smashes her bike’s windscreen. Even Ryan has issues. The river, when we get to it, is scary. I consider images of the bikes as they appear through, pushing a bow wave more than entrance wheels, jouncing up the rocks on the other facet. If a excursion can be reduced to 1⁄250th of a second, a single moment seared in memory, these photos would be it.

We cross into Guatemala, and shell out the night time with Hemingway impersonators and Jimmy Buffet wannabes in Rio Dulce. The hotel has a superb tacky emotion. The overhead enthusiast showers sparks. The electrical power goes off at normal intervals, as does the h2o. If you want a shower, stage outside the house. We expend a extended day using by way of rain. The water destroys just one of my cameras, turning the Lcd into an aquarium. Hey, I have ample shots.

Just about THERE

At the initially city over the Mexican border, we stop for directions on a crowded street. A truck sideswipes my bike, snags a sidecase, and drags me down. I’m unharmed, but the windscreen and instrument panel lie in fragments. The police, when they get there, are the opposite of helpful. We obtain the broken bits, duct tape every thing in sight, and hearth it up. We are unstoppable. We experience on, but the mood of the experience variations and the calendar beckons. Katie, Ryan and Jeff have to be back by a certain day, or they lose their employment.

The experience turns into time vs. distance, a drive that blurs most of Mexico, and a last border crossing into the United States.

We hurtle across extended roads, nursing bikes that are displaying indications of dress in. Ken’s bicycle is lacking a sidestand. Ryan’s helmet a visor. Katie treats her BMW’s busted windscreen like a badge of honor, but continue to, a 75-mph headwind is exhausting. Jeff’s bike has chewed the rear sprocket to nubbins, the chain is commencing to slip. It will wind up in a U-Haul 100 miles from dwelling.

Five weeks immediately after departing, we see the lights of Newport Information. As they enter the town, Ken, Ryan and Katie unfold across the road, facet by side, arms elevated. The lengthy journey is over.

[ad_2]Reflectons of Travel to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific

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As a four-decade Certified Travel Agent, international airline employee, researcher, writer, teacher, and photographer, travel, whether for pleasure or business purposes, has always been a significant and an integral part of my life. Some 400 trips to every portion of the globe, by means of road, rail, sea, and air, entailed destinations both mundane and exotic. This article focuses on Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific.

AUSTRALIA

The Sydney Opera House, sporting its sail-resembling roof and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, confirmed my arrival “down under” after another flight whose hour duration eclipsed two digits in number on the appropriately named Qantas Boeing 747-400 “Long Reach.”

Although a need to reduce trip costs relegated me to a smaller hotel, it was nevertheless well-located and appointed, with quaint decorations, a refrigerator, a small kitchen area, and a private bath, facilitating grocery storage for breakfast and Thai take out for dinner, eaten at its very round table.

The country-continent’s sights were, however, canvased, with both walking and motor coach tours during a flawlessly-blue spring, which, in the southern hemisphere, meant October, and included Kings Cross, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour and its monorail, the Chinese Garden, the Queen Victoria Building shopping complex, the Sydney Aquarium, and The Rocks, a restored and preserved neighborhood whose buildings dated at least a century, but had since been converted into terrace houses, shops, galleries, craft centers, restaurants, and taverns.

Ferries plying the deep blue harbor took me to Manly and the area’s famed Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s iconic, crescent-shaped, sweeping stretches of sand.

The prerequisite “cuddle a koala” occurred on a full-day tour, whose initial Wildlife Park stop, offered quintessential indigenous animal interactions, including those that enabled me to feed a kangaroo, nurse a wombat, pet a dingo, and walk among the colorful birds, particularly the parrots and cockatoos.

A tour continuation, which entailed a drive past Windsor and across the Hawksbury River, ultimately pinnacled in an ascent up Bell Bird Hill for a spectacular view from Kurrajong Heights. The Great Dividing Range was later visible as the coach passed canyon ridgetops and towering sandstone cliffs, before arriving in Katoomba, the main town in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.

Lush vegetation, steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, and silky, sun-glinted waterfalls blanketed the area.

The Three Sisters, an unusual rock formation and one of the area’s most-visited geological formations, represented the three sisters from the Katoomba tribe, who fell in love with three brothers from the competing Nepean one. Since tribal law forbade them from getting married, the brothers decided to capture the sisters, sparking a war between the two tribes. In order to protect the three sisters, a witch doctor cast a temporary spell on them, transforming them into current rocks, with the intention of turning them back after the danger had passed. But, because he was killed during the war, the sisters remained in their present sedentary state for eternity.

The Scenic Skyway gondola, one of two mountain-ascending means, facilitated spectacular views from the summit, where its Skyway Revolving Restaurant served lunch, Devonshire teas, cakes, and pastries.

A second escorted tour taken the following day-this time on a modern, double-deck bus-offered insight into Australia’s Washington, DC equivalent in Canberra. A drive through Mittagong, a town in New South Wales’ Southern Highland, a skirt of Berrima, and a cross of Lake Burley Griffin led to the national capital. Its sights included a tour of the New Parliament, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library, and the Australian War Memorial, then a drive past the numerous embassies and diplomatic residences, and finally a view from the top of Mount Ainsley, the city’s highest point, which offered demonstrable proof of its carefully-planned, laid out, and structured configuration.

After its brief evening rush hour, the city itself was left virtually vacant.

NEW ZEALAND

Although New Zealand is the second largest landmass in the South Pacific after Australia and therefore always stands in its shadow, perhaps it should be the other way around, at least in terms of its diverse offerings in such a compact area.

Consisting of North, South, and Stewart Islands, the latter the smallest and often considered the “forgotten one,” it boasts a 3.5 million-strong population, seventy percent of whom live on the first of the three.

Initially settled by the native Pacific Maori people around 750 AD, it traces its first European exploration to Captain James Cook, whose sea voyages sparked interest by adventurers, traders, and settlers alike. While it is an English-speaking country today, it is still a mixture of cultures, particularly those of the Maori and the Polynesians. Its main export products include dairy, meat, and wool.

Because of its location between two harbors, Auckland, its capital, is refereed to as the “City of Sails,” and its Main, or Queen, Street offers a myriad of shops, businesses, arcades, and restaurants.

My first hotel, the Novotel Auckland, located on the intersection between Customs and Queens Streets, was touted as follows.

“Situated on a picturesque harbor, Novotel Auckland offers the perfect venue for business travelers, corporate functions, or family holidays. Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor opens up with an abundance of water sports, bars, restaurants, and shops. This idyllic harbor location places guests in the heart of the city’s shopping and business district, and close to many of its popular entertainment spots and tourist attractions, making it the ideal venue in the City of Sails.”

It certainly supplied me with a hospital welcome. I was offered coffee upon arrival because my room was not ready, despite the fact that I had made the reservation for it only 20 minutes earlier at the airport. A dinner of lasagna with pine nuts in the city-overlooking Vertigo Restaurant was particularly memorable.

Always avoiding the congestion and parking problems associated with a rental car in major cities, I initially elected to tour Auckland on the hop-on/hop-off, double-decked Explorer Bus.

A ferry across Waitemata Harbor to historic Devonport became the threshold to a peruse of its Victoria Road and its intersecting streets.

Pickup of a rental car-in this case, a Ford Falcon Futura-always signaled country coverage of a destination, as it did for me the following day. A 133-kilometer drive on State Highway 1 led to an intermediate stop in Hamilton, New Zealand’s fifth largest metropolitan area and center of the Waikato faming region. Located on the tree-line banks of the Waikato River, the town offered a mixture of art and culture venues, gardens, and shopping, and, for me, an extensive lunch at Valentine’s Seafood Buffet.

An inward, 108-kilometer continuation-this time on State High 5-led to an overnight stay in Rotorua.

“Rotorua is the inland jewel of the Bay of Plenty,” according to the New Zealand Visitor Guide (Jason Publishing Company, 1996, p. 42). “It is famous for its areas of intense thermal activity-bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers, and steaming vents-and as a Maori cultural center.”

Lying on the volcanic fault line that runs through the Pacific within the Ring of Fire, it was subjected to the forces that created its thermal landscape. It also offered an introduction to the origins, culture, and lifestyle of the Maori people.

Discovering the area when they migrated from Hawaiki, which was near Tahiti, in canoes, they built villages ringed by trenches and protected by fences.

Although current descendants have been westernized, they still practice the customs that led to their culture, such as celebrating in “hangi” gatherings, in which food is cooked in underground, heated stones and a subsequent celebration entails chants, action songs, stick games, and speeches.

“Wooden carvings and buildings, tattooing, finely crafted jade, spiral-patterned paintings, and textiles are all part of a distinctive Maori arts and crafts heritage,” according to the New Zealand Visitor Guide (ibid, p. 11). “No other Polynesian culture has produced such elaborate arts or such exacting buildings. They are expressions of tribal dignity and visible proof of pride in a remarkable ancestry.”

My own nightly domicile took form as the Lake Rotorua Quality Resort, which it self-described as follows.

“All 227 rooms have views, with many overlooking the lake just 20 meters away. The center of town is but a brief walk, as are the Government Gardens and the magnificent Tudor-style Bath Houses, and the therapeutic mineral waters of the Polynesian Pools.”

The surrounding area was a veritable cauldron of boiling mud pools and silica terraces, and the center piece of Waimangu Volcanic Park was the world’s largest boiling lake.

Area-indicative sights were many.

Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, for example-30 kilometers from Rotorua on State Highway 5-was a scenic reserve, whose walking paths led through an other-planetary surface of flora, fauna, and geological formations. Its abundant natural colors, such as yellow, purple, and orange, respectively reflected their Sulphur, manganese, and antimony chemical compositions.

“Colors, innumerable of every tint and hue, are displayed in pools, lakes, craters, steam vents, mineral terraces, and even the tracks you walk on,” according to the Wonderland’s brochure. “Waiotapu lays claim to be New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse thermal reserve. The walk through the area takes visitors through stunning geothermal activity.”

A cross of the Waiotapu hot stream brought views of steaming cauldrons, bubbling mud, and hissing fumaroles.

“The area is literally covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud and water, and steaming fumaroles,” the brochure continues. “It is drained by the Waiotapu Stream, which joins the Waikato River.”

Another related sight was Orakei Karako Geyserland and Caves, located an additional 72 kilometers from Rotorua.

“Orakei Karako is a pocket wonderland of geysers, sinter terraces, hot springs, boiling mud pools, and the Ruatapu Caves tucked away in a Hidden Valley on the edge of a beautiful sheltered lake, where even the swallows stay all year round,” according to its own brochure.

Access was by an included boat ride.

“As we move across the sheltered Lake Ohakuri, the Emerald Terrace seems to grow larger,” it continues. “Often mistaken for an old lava flow, this silica terrace is the largest of its kind in New Zealand and is about 20 meters thick. It continues another 35 meters under the lake.”

Orakei Karako’s numerous highlights included the Rainbow Terrace, which was earthquake-formed in 131 AD; Rainbow Lookout; its own Artist’s Palette, which was created by hydrothermal eruptions between 8,000 and 14,000 BC; and the Ruatapu Cave, with its Pool of Mirrors.

The brochure offers a concluding perspective, based upon a view of the complex’s main lodge.

“The log cabin lodge looks minute nestled beneath the proud volcanoes that once spat fir and lava into the air and one wonders in awe that, from such a turbulent past, is born such serene beauty,” it states.

Located in Wairakei Park, Huka Falls, another area sight, was created by the narrow, 20-meter-high volcanic ledge causing the large volume of water to collide with itself and crash into the Waikato River, which itself drains Lake Taupo.

Imprinted and impressed with New Zealand’s natural sights, I drove to Taupo, a holiday resort on the shores of 600-square-kilometer Lake Taupo, which, as the country’s largest, was formed by an eruption in 106 AD and today offers trout fishing and water skiing.

Endowed with grape growing soil and climate, the area afforded a taste and a glimpse of its fruits at the Park Estate Winery, which was located on a 13-hectare site between Rotorua and Hawkes Bay.

“Park Estate wines are full of fresh flowers. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay are all successful varieties in Hawkes Bay and are complemented by the classical full-bodied reds-Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot,” it explained.

Offering a winery, a tasting room, a restaurant, and shop designed in Spanish mission style, using locally grown timbers, and sporting heavy wood beams to create warm, naturally-toned interiors, it was the ideal location for an excellent lunch within a Mediterranean atmosphere.

Its Fruitlands Shop offered a selection of blends and juices from locally grown fruits, including boysenberry, apple, grapefruit, orange, grape, and blackcurrant, along with homemade jams, honey, pickles, and chutney.

A return drive to my “secondary home” in Rotorua’s Quality Resort, interspersed with a restorative rest in Taupo’s Robert Harris Tea and Specialties Café, offered greater immersion into the Maori culture.

Populated by only 65,000 permanent residents, but more than two million sheep, Rotorua contained two villages where tribal life and traditions were preserved.

“Nowhere in New Zealand is it easier to understand and enjoy the remarkable story of the origins of our land and people than here in Rotorua,” according to the Rotorua Visitors Guide (Tourism Rotorua, 1995-1996, p. 16). “On every hand are the stark reminders of once convulsive volcanic activity that millions of years ago thrust our massive mountains high in the air. Enormous craters, slumped surfaces, and blocked up valleys have left us with a multitude of gem-like lakes… “

The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute provided insight into the tribe’s lifestyle and culture.

A café, gift shop, art gallery, and carving school were located on the side of the main entrance, which led to walking paths that wound their way through the village that consisted of a weaving school, a Maori canoe, the Kiwi House, geysers, boiling springs, fumaroles, mud pools, and the Lake of the Whistling Duck.

Contrast was achieved at the midway point between the nearby Blue and Green Lakes, the former 150 hectares in size and appearing its turquoise blue because of its pumice bottom and the reflection from white rhyolite, and the latter 440 hectares in size and appearing emerald green due to its shallow, sandy bottom.

The Te Wairoa Buried Village chronicled and preserved the once-quiet settlement that was devastated by the June 10, 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera, which claimed 153 lives and scattered ash, mud, and lava over a 5,000-square-mile area. Then the center of the Tuhourogi, a Maori subtribe of the Arawa, the Te Wairoa Valley was awash with gentle slopes and fruit orchards. A stream from Gran Lake powered the mill that ground the locally grown wheat. Today, the Buried Village preserves both the excavations and the scars that the eruption created.

Performances entailed Haka, the Maori dance; the poi dance, done with two string-attached balls; and love songs and legends.

Rotorua views and breakfast followed a 900-meter-ascent on the Skyline Gondola the following morning, and lunch, in the Waitomo Caves Tavern, after a boat cruise through the Glowworm Grotto’s limestone caverns.

The day’s 500-kilometer drive, from Rotorua to Taupo, Te Kuiti, Hamilton, Auckland, and Takapuna in a northerly direction, ended in an overnight stay in Takapuna Cho’s Motel, whose dual, living- and bedroom suite was decidedly lacking in heat during the southern hemisphere’s winter onset, despite the calendar’s late-May indication.

Route 1 unfolded to Orewa for human fueling otherwise known as “breakfast” and Paihia in the Bay of Islands, my itinerary’s last major destination.

A jewel of islands surrounded by the varying blue hues of water, its seaside setting offered swimming, boating, sailing, kayaking, and dolphin dabbling, but was historically significant as both the Maori and European cradle of civilization. After Lieutenant James Cook set anchor off its shores in 1769 on the HM Endeavour, he proclaimed, “I have named it the Bay of Islands.”

Paihia, one of its main towns, was instrumental in its development, but began as nothing more than a five-house and single-church community in 1890. Until a road was constructed to it from Opua during World War II, transport was by water to Auckland and one-way travelers primarily consisted of herded cattle.

“From its hard-earned beginning, Paihia is now the main center of the Bay of Islands,” according to the Guide (ibid, p. 16). “Adventure activities, sightseeing, cafes, bars, and accommodation are all here.”

Sights included the Waitangi National Reserve and the natural Hole in the Rock formation, which required a boat to reach.

Lunch was in the Café on the Bay, dinner in the upstairs Pizza Pasta Café (both in Paihia), and accommodation was in the 145-room Bay of Islands Quality Resort, Waitangi.

“Situated on over 60 acres of parklands and surrounded by sea, the Quality Resort Waitangi is located in a unique setting in the beautiful Bay of Islands, just a short walk from the Treaty Hose,” according to its self-description. “The hotel is surrounded by water and probably the most breathtaking golf course in New Zealand. With its own boat jetty, the Quality Resort Waitangi becomes an integral part of the water-based activity on this bay. There are boating excursions, game fishing trips, coach tours, yachting, and nature walks.”

The following day’s ferry ride to Russell, another of the area’s major towns, invited exploration. Serving as New Zealand’s capital for a single year, in 1840, before it was moved to Auckland, it was characterized by white picket fences, weatherboard architecture, and craft galleries. The historic, 29-room Duke of Marlborough Hotel, featuring a wood-paneled bar and lounge, was on the waterfront.

An outdoor lunch at the Whangerei Visitor’s Center served as a welcomed break during the southerly drive to Auckland International Airport the following day and the return of the rental car, which, in a way, had served as my “home away from home” during most of the trip.

As the Air New Zealand 747-400 took to the black skies that evening and I settled down for the more than 12-hour Pacific Ocean crossing to the US West Coast, I reflected on my kaleidoscopic North Island itinerary and some of its staggering statistics; 11 days, 11 nights, two in flight, eight in six different hotels, 1,950 road kilometers, and more than 36 airborne hours.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

THE PACIFIC ISLANDS

Fiji:

Fiji, an archipelago of more than 300 islands in the South Pacific characterized by its rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches, coral reefs, and clear lagoons, consisted of its Viti Levu and Vanua Levu major islands, which supported most of the population. The former, home to its capital, Suva, was a port city with British colonial architecture. Both were tropical paradises.

Buffets beneath thatched-roof huts were typical of meals.

Two island excursions-one by sea and the other by land-offered an overview of local life.

The first, a four-island catamaran cruise on the 25-meter-long, 300-passenger Island Express, plied the deep blue waters, calling at two Fijian villages and six resorts and sailing past some of the Mamanuca group’s most pristine, sunbaked beaches.

A descent to the lower deck revealed a small boutique and a coffee shop ideal for a light lunch.

The second excursion-to the Pacific Harbor Cultural Center-entailed a drive from Nadi that passed sugarcane fields, pine forests, and other Fijian villages, before arriving in Sigatoka Town and affording an opportunity to peruse the local Market Place. Continuing through the Coral Coast and passing coconut trees, resorts, and reefs, it pulled into the recreated pocket of the country’s past, brought back to life through its exotic gardens, specialty shops, thatched roof houses, and natively attired craftsmen. Lunch at the Treetop Restaurant was followed by a traditional South Pacific show and float along the surrounding river.

French Polynesia:

To me, it seemed like little more than a dot to be aimed for, I thought, as the quad-engine Airbus A340-200, draped in Air Tahiti Nui’s blue-and-green color scheme, took to the skies from Los Angeles, intent on closing the gap between a continent and an island in the south Pacific-specifically, Tahiti.

“Nui, incidentally, connotated French Polynesia’s newly-launched intercontinental airline, and translated as “big,” to contrast it with the local, and obviously smaller, Air Tahiti, whose routes could be considered little more than hops in comparison to the current eight-hour one.

Canvassing 1.5 million square miles in the eastern South Pacific, the country was comprised of 118 islands and atolls, but Tahiti itself was only one of eight grouped in the Society Archipelago, the other seven being Bora Bora, Huahine, Manihi, Moorea, Raiatea, Rangiroa, and Tahaa. From where did its inhabitants come?

“The history of Old Polynesia is vaulted din the mists of time,” according to Tahiti and her Islands: Travel Planner to Islands beyond the Ordinary (Papeete, Tahiti, GIE Tahiti Tourisme, 1999, p. 34). “The discovery of buried villages and stone petroglyphs are pieces to the puzzle. Yet the mystery of origin is still unsolved.”

Nevertheless, seafaring Mahi people, it is believed, travelled there from either Samoa or Tonga in double-hulled canoes.

My own mode of transport, on the country’s first international airline, was decidedly faster and more comfortable. Small menus, even in coach, detailed the onboard repasts, which included appetizers of seafood marinated in lime juice and coconut milk; entrees like sautéed veal in berry and black pepper sauce, roasted tuna in orange sauce, grilled fillet of mahi-mahi, and chicken in mushroom wine sauce; French cheeses; wines, and desserts, such as lemon meringue tartlets. A second service consisted of a snack on westbound sectors and a hot breakfast on eastbound ones. Audio entertainment and movies passed the time as the blue Pacific surface passed beneath the wing.

The island’s warm, scented breezes, swaying palms, turquoise lagoons, and tropical color palette were draws for artists. Impressionist painter Paul Gaugin, for instance, traveled to Tahiti twice before he permanently settled there in 1895. Henri Matisse identified its unique nature, when he said, “The light of the Pacific has a special quality: it intercedes the spirit just like the heart of a gold cup when one gazes into it.”

Catching the first glimpse of French Polynesia during the aircraft’s approach, I thought of M. Somerset Maugham’s words.

“And I looked up and I saw the outline of the island,” he said. “I knew right a way there was the place I’d been looking for all of my life.”

Tahiti:

Turtle-shaped, crowned by French Polynesia’s two highest peaks, and skirted by black, velvet beaches and pink coral reefs, Tahiti, the country’s largest island, consisted of Tahiti Nui (large) and Tahiti Iti (small), which were interconnected, but rose from separate volcanic eruptions millions of years apart. Their paved road coverages measured 71 and 11 miles, respectively. Papeete was the capital.

My hotel said and scented “Polynesia:” an open-air, thatched-roof lobby (there were no seasons here), rooms with lanais (balconies), an overwater restaurant, and sunset bars and lounges. Views took in the expansive Pacific.

Henri Matisse, who spend three months here in 1930 and left impression-filled notebooks, once said, “With wide open eyes, I would plunge under the transparent water that is green as absinth in its depths.”

Several tours acquainted me with this Pacific-transplanted version of France. Papeete was lined with sidewalk cafes. A travel agent I met in the hotel was from Paris. And all the houses sprouted long, birdhouse- or mailbox-resembling structures. Locals, I concluded, must take regular delivery of very long packages. In a way, I was correct, because the length accommodated the daily delivery of freshly baked baguettes, as occurred in France.

But there were differences. While shops sold French fashions, they also stocked local handicrafts. Transportation took form as “Le truck,” colorful, open-air truck-buses with bench seats. And female fashion in this paradise was often nothing more than a pareo (wrap-around skirt) and a flower tucked behind the ear. There was no concept of “winter wear”-not here, anyway.

Fern-covered Mt. Orohena, the island’s highest at 7,353 feet, triumphantly rose and was always visible. The blowhole of Arahoho, the waterfalls of Fa’arumai, botanical gardens, and Point View-the black sand beach where the crew from the Bounty (as in “Mutiny on”) first came ashore-rounded out its natural highlights.

An interior-island safari created distance from the harbor and served as a transfer to the island’s foothills, which were tufted with coconut palms, waterfalls cascading down green valleys to ultimately feed streams, and a canvas of pink, Impressionist-painting-like bougainvillea. Interspersed within the fern and bamboo forests were vegetable plantations and stone tikis.

Mt. Orohena, always towering above, was considered the dwelling place of the ancient gods.

The guide, I surmised, viewed his van as a dual-purpose vehicle: the transportation means of tour to the interior he conducted and the delivery method of his family’s dinner, since a freshly caught fish lay in the back of it.

The experience was capped with a beach buffet and a Polynesian show that evening, lit by strategically placed torches in the sand and the stars.

A brochure once suggested that Polynesia gave rise to the word “paradise,” and that its beaches, beautifies, and intoxicating scents hold a place in visitors’ collective imaginations. I found the philosophy pretty accurate.

Moorea:

Traveling a long distance to French Polynesia certainly invited-if not beckoned-travel a short distance to its other islands. And so, I did. Moorea, just eleven miles off in the distance, was reached after a short boat ride.

As I approached it, I thought of James A. Mitchener’s words, which said, “… But nothing in Tahiti is so majestic as what faces it across the bay, for there lies the island of Moorea. To describe it is impossible. It is a monument to the prodigal beauty of nature.”

And its origin? The answer comes not from science, but from legend, which states that it was formed as the second dorsal fin of the fish that became Tahiti, from which I now separated during my crossing of the Sea of Moons. It has been described as “a long sierra of broken pinnacles and crags that resemble a weathered and dismantled castle, with slender minarets, escarpments, and rugged encasements through which fleecy clouds peep from the high horizons,” according to the Tahiti and Her Islands: guide (ibid, p. 68).

After a buffet lunch, an island tour made a 37-mile circuit on its coastal road past its crystalline waters, lush mountain slopes, and volcanic peaks, capped by a view from the Le Belvedere Lookout.

“Views from Le Belvedere Lookout of Mt. Rotui, Cook’s Bay, and the fertile Opunohu Valley, with its agricultural farms and miles of spiky green pineapple plants that dominate the mountain slopes (are spectacular),” according to the travel guide (p. 68). “Under towering basaltic cliffs of the dinosaur ridges, cattle graze peacefully on bright green grass, while the nearby river stream gurgles its way toward the sea.”

Bora Bora:

An excruciatingly early, 0600 departure the following morning from Papeete on one of Air Tahiti’s ATR-42 inter-island aerial inks took me to Bora Bora. As it closed the gap, lyrics from the South Pacific musical circled in my head.

“Where the sky meets the sea. Here am I, your special island. Come to me, come to me. Bali Ha’I, Bali Ha’I, Bali Ha’I.”

There may have been a good reason for this. Then-naval officer James A. Michener, stationed in Bora Bora in 1942, wrote his successful Tales of the South Pacific as a result of his experience and the book inspired the musical itself. The idealized Bali Ha’I was based upon the island I currently approached and, yes, it even has a Bloody Mary’s Restaurant.

Lying 150 miles northeast of Tahiti in the Leeward Society group, it consisted of a main island, almost serving as the nucleus of an atom, encircled by emerald islets, as if they formed a string of pearls surrounding a multi-colored lagoon. From its center rose the basalt, chisel-resembling Mt. Otemanu.

It was the only destination that required a boat launch cross of the lagoon from the aircraft ramp on the offshore motu island to the main one that supported the passenger terminal and baggage claim area.

Although budgetary constraints restricted my accommodation to the Beach Club Bora Bora, the thatched-roof overwater bungalows nearby were experiences in themselves. Propped up on stilts rising from the turquoise, they offered views through their translucent glass floors, as if they served as horizontal aquariums, providing endless contemplation. At night, gentle waves lapping below sang sleep-inducing lullabies.

But I still shared the water in my own hotel.

“Listen to the water calm nature,” Pierre Loti, French naval officer and novelist, once wrote: “the monotonous, eternal murmur of the breakers on the reef; look at the stupendous scenery, the peaks of basalt, the dark forest clinging to the mountain’s flank-all this lost in the midst of a vast, immeasurable solitude–the Pacific.”

Vaitape was Bora Bora’s main town and an 18-mile, partially-paved road encircled the island, passing colorful villages, archaeological sites, and World War II bunker and cannon remnants. But the breathtaking views were from below and above.

In the former case, I experienced underwater vistas in the almost spaceship-resembling “Aquascope,” which was equipped with a buoyancy-controlled system based upon ballasting. Remaining on the surface, it afforded views from the submerged, glass bubble-appearing sides of tropical fauna, coral reefs, and multi-colored fish.

In the latter case, a four-wheel jeep gently followed the ring road and then turned into what seemed like bush and forest, scurrying up hills and mountains, sometimes at significant angles. And the view from the top? It offered an artist’s palette of blues and greens, ranging from aquamarine to turquoise, cobalt, sapphire, emerald, and jade. Coconut palms seemed to quiver like a mirage on the horizon below and a baker’s confection of white sand beaches slanted into crystal lagoons. Warm breezes, carrying the scents of orchids, frangipani, hibiscus, pineapple, and vanilla, perfumed the air, and peace infused the soul.

Yes, this was paradise.

Article Sources:

“Bay of Islands and the Maritime Park.” Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 1995.

“New Zealand Visitor Guide.” Auckland: Jason Publishing Co., Ltd., 1996.

“Rotorua Visitors Guide.” Rotorua, New Zealand: Tourism Rotorua, 1995-1996.

“Tahiti and Her Islands: Travel Planner to Islands Beyond Ordinary.” Papeete, Tahiti: GIE Tourisme, 1999.

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