World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
Having broken in the van with our beach side escapades, we had yet one more beach to explore before heading to Taranaki region’s crown jewel, Mount Egmont. Unfortunately, our search for the low tide boulders at Tongaporutu beach was a wild goose chase, but we were rewarded of views of sea rocks in the remarkable likeness of an Asian elephant.
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Enchanted Forest Track
Then off we headed to a windy freedom camping spot at Dawson’s Falls carpark high in Egmont National Park. Freedom camping used to be the norm in New Zealand, where campervans could park in public car parks and rest stops. However the burgeoning tourism here has led to some abuse of this lenient policy, and as a result choice freedom camping spots are a bit harder to come by, especially in the popular areas of the islands. The down side of this is not only the obvious factor of cost, but the fact that tourists tend to be huddled in characterless motorparks with little privacy. Freedom camping offers the opportunity to experience New Zealand the real kiwi way with just you and the bush. We got a good taste of that when we inadvertently observed a stoat (a pest introduced to kill rabbits, who now eats native birds) catching and killing a rabbit (which have becomes pests after being introduced for hunting by the European settlers). Our morning hike showed the weather ‘becoming fine’ as we tramped through a gnarled goblin forest and crossed wobbly swing bridges. The highlight was when shy Mount Egmont revealed herself through the fluffy clouds.

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There she is! The pay-off as the shy lady comes out for a brief viewing!
On our way out of the mountains, we couldn’t resist a stop at Waverly Beach for a famed sea arch that has since collapsed. Luckily, the trip was not in vain, because we saw the remains of petrified trees on the beach that one of Egmont’s eruptions preserved many years ago.

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no arch, but still some "wow" moments on the off-the-beaten path Waverly beach
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a flight of local brews with seafood stew
Our final stop before heading to the South Island was the capital city of Wellington, which is so windy that it puts Chicago to shame. A drive to the Mount Victoria view point saw Neda almost take flight as the wind gusts there can frequently reach near hurricane levels. We had a noteworthy experience at the Fork and Brewer downtown Wellington, where the Joe, the local bartender, gave us tips and tastes of a variety of local craft brews. He also reassured us that freedom camping on the Oriental Parade street facing Oriental Bay and just a 10 minute walk from downtown was not a big deal. We were concerned as the closest camping spot we found was 20 minutes outside of town, and the hostels didn’t have parking spaces. Sure enough, we pulled into Oriental Bay and found a host of campervans all sleeping for free for the night and using the public toilets across the street. In New Zealand, we call this set up ‘sweet as’ and to top it off, the guy at the front desk of the local gym gave us the ‘traveler discount’ of much needed free showers. We are loving the kiwi hospitality! 

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an extinct Moa at Te Papa
The morning saw an interested but convoluted visit to the renowned Te Papa Museum, where we learned about New Zealand culture and wildlife but found the rather scattered displays difficult to follow.  The true highlight of the day for us was the drive around the bay to the Weta Cave, the home of the now famous special effects studio driven to world fame when it partnered with Peter Jackson in the creation of the Lord of the Rings films. The fascinating ‘Windows into Workshop’ tour would make my uncle Tony drool as we got a firsthand look at the work of the highly skilled sculptors, painters, smiths, and computer gurus who have brought to life not only Lord of the Rings but also the Narnia films, District 9, Avatar and many other films. So how could we top off such insight into the world of Middle Earth? 

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The trolls from the Hobbit look to Jeff for a nice stew!
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How about a visit to the famous Embassy Theater where the Hobbit had its world premier! The Embassy had specially equipped speakers to screen the premier to celebrities, and the 3D high frame experience there was a true immersion experience. We felt like we were visiting middle earth after having just visited middle earth! Our action packed time in Wellington left us breathless and eager for what lay beyond as we boarded the early morning ferry to the South Island, where the scenery would really heat up! Coming soon!

To see the pics from this region, click here:


For all you LOTR fanboys out there, I couldn't resist a few extra pics:)
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Neda gets in trouble with an uruk hai
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my precious....
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What Gandalf and I? Yeah, we hang sometimes...



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