World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
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Well here we are. The last chapters of the chronicles, making it higher in number than Game of Thrones, though not quite as long :). It was only fitting for our final foray in New Zealand that we head to the beach. But not just any beach – Mount Maunganui is a fantastic spot where smooth sand splays out in the shadow of an extinct volcano. Perfect place to reunite with our travel buddies Grant & Jess for a day of relaxin’ and exploring the beach's rock outcropping. We had so much fun with the couple that we all started traveling together for the next few days as we headed inland to Karangahake Gorge via a campground at Dickey’s flats. But first we passed by one of the ancient Kauri Trees that grows in the north – this one is more than 600 years old!   

Once at Dickey’s Flats Campground, the hike to the Gorge via the Crown Track was a pleasant bush-walk along the river, but things got more interesting as we approached the ruins of the gold mining operations that had taken place there between 1880-1950s. Diana Clement from the New Zealand Herald gives an informative snapshot of our time there:
“The Crown Track Tunnel is 180m long and not much more than 2m high. Just high enough for the horse-drawn mining trucks that carried quartz back to the Crown battery on the Ohinemuri River.
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Grant & Jess in the Crown Track Tunnel
We learned from the numerous signs how water- and steam-powered stampers crushed the quartz, and cocktails of potassium, cyanide and other nasty chemicals helped with the extraction process. One of the batteries even cooked the quartz to remove the valuable metals within.”
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The Gorge with the walk along the old mining route below
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Grant goes out the "window"
It was a brutal process on the environment to extract all the gold, but luckily these days the whole area is a protected park. One fascinating features of the old mines was the “Windows Walk” alongside the canyon wall of the gorge. The tunnels burrowing through the rock here have “windows” where miners would dump the debris while digging their tunnels through canyon. It makes for a lot of fun to walk through these old tunnels as sun beams stream in from the intermittently spaced windows. To cap it off, on the way back Scott directed us to some hidden pools near the tunnel entrance. We splashed through a dark tunnel with water flowing through it and popped out to some beautiful pools with waterfalls at the far end. Time for a swim!

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Swimming in the hidden pools through the tunnel (click link above to see tunnel entrance)
With our rivers and waterfalls quota met it was back to the beach with Grant and Jess! Waihi Beach was a perfect freedom camping spot right on the sand and we all cooked up together and played Rummy to the sound of the waves. The next morning saw a beautiful walk to Orokawa Beach, an isolated “pristine stretch of sand and surf backed by sprawling Pohutukawas”. 
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Getting ready to chill at Orokawa Beach
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Perfect place to inhale the fresh herbally infused air and have a day chillin’ on the beach with G&J (Grant & Jess aka Gin & Juice). The fun took a brief hiatus when a local council member wearing a sweet-as cowboy hat told us to move on. That is always the risk of freedom camping, even when it seems like a legitimate place! Luckily, some German campervanners told us about a back-up freedom camping spot also with a public bathroom on Tuna Road so we took our chocolate porters to the beach. I woke up to the sounds of a local Kiwi woman in her 80’s running an automated sled out to her “torpedo" - essentially a little mini-submarine with a fishing line attached. As she pulled the torpedo in she had caught 8 snappers on it! Then she rolled away – all under battery power. Now there is a Kiwi who refuses to bow to age! As the Kiwis say, “Good on ya mate!”.

  Next stop was heading up north to the Coromandel for some classic tourist attractions. The score was split with the Hot Water Beaches getting a thumbs down due to being way overcrowded and only offering the tiniest bit of hot mineral water spurting up through the sand into the beach – not nearly enough to compete with all the people busily digging holes with rented spades. 
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Hot water beach was a hot mess
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Yoga in sea cave
Cathedral Cove was nearly a bust with an overcrowded car park and heavy crowds but the lush scenery won the day. A 45 minute walk past several beautiful bays brings you out to the gorgeous beach. This place truly has everything with a high cathedral-like rock arch, multiple offshore rock formations, and good rocks for jumping down into the sea. It also features hidden sea caves only accessible with a short swim. Inside the ambient light darkens whenever an incoming wave occludes the entrance. Could it get any better? Yep, just throw in a freshwater waterfall at the end of the beach where you can wash the salt off after all those adventures. Truly one of the best beaches we’ve ever been to!

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A drive over some coast hills took us out of Whitianga and to some of the only affordable camping on the Coromandel at Simpson Beach. Our last night with Gin & Juice was a memorable one as we stayed out late drinking on the beach and singing 90s song we all remembered with no one listening but the wind. The unruly mosquitoes forced us to say our goodbyes to G&J as we headed around the top of the peninsula and down into Coromandel town. There we indulged in a bit of paid tourism as we took the Driving Creek Railway (DCR) toy train up to the “Eye-full” tower. The DCR is interesting not just for the ingenuity of the track, which features multiple switchbacks, direction changes, and bridges as it snakes up the clay filled hills. It is also interesting because the potter turned conservationist who founded it has used the money for a massive native forest restoration project. 

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The view from the "eye-full" tower
After a triple espresso milkshake to get me prepped for the windy road down the peninsula we were on our way back to Auckland. A short stop-over at the Miranda Hot Springs provided Neda and I with our final camping before we headed into town to meet up with Eve & Wayne. Eve is the mother of Frank, who we met along with girlfriend Cat in Laos 

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Neda's oreo truffles won over 3 generations of Kiwis!
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The couple is fantastically generous. We walked to the store to get some groceries and when we got back they had already cleaned up the outside of Faith to get her ready for sale. A post on Gumtree yielded quick interest. As Neda and I were driving downtown to put up flyers a couple contacted us who was nearby. Their mechanic thought our car was in great shape and well cared for so we agreed on a price and it was over! With the sale we covered all of our transportation costs in New Zealand (minus petrol) making it a heckuva lot cheaper than a rental which would have cost $5-7k!

The rest of the week with Wayne and Eve was full of fun socializing, cooking Bulgarian and Kiwi dishes, playing a bit of poker and also some "work" as Neda and I sort through heaps of pictures, write blog after blog and do research so we are prepped and ready for our trip off to Sydney and then later to Japan! New Zealand has proven to be one of our absolute favorite places with a great mixture of kind people and unbelievable landscapes. The Campervan Chronicles were a unique adventure for us, but between you and me (and the rest of the internet), we don't mind sleeping in a bed one bit now that its over!

 
“This is my last word," said Elrond. "The Ring-Bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid..."
                                                                   - J.R.R. Tolkien
We awoke in the darkness of a new day, eager for what is touted as the “Best Day Walk” in all of New Zealand – the Tongariro Crossing. As we boarded the shuttle bus to head to the trailhead, the sun crested above the horizon and for a moment we glimpsed Mt. Ngauruhoe (a.k.a Mt. Doom) outlined in fiery hues of pink and orange. Was it the heat of Sauron’s forge we were seeing?
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Emerald Lakes
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Red Crater
The walk itself is truly spectacular as it traverses the active volcanic terrain surrounding Mt. Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. Flowing water merges with wildflowers and volcanic rock as one tramps along this unique landscape. With each footstep, we got a bit closer to Mt. Doom until we passed her on the eastern side. From there, a climb up the Red Crater gives stunning views of the mountains and of the Emerald Lakes found below. The Lakes are filled craters which get their brilliant colors from the dissolved minerals present in the thermally active area.

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Steam rises out of a vent near an Emerald Lake, which is fed by a blood red creek off to the left...
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Clear Hot Springs
Mt. Doom isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to romance, but the walk’s beauty proved both amorous and exhausting. As we finished up the walk the perfect end to the day for our sore bodies presented itself. We drove down out of the park to the shores of Lake Taupo where the little village of Tokaanu is nestled. There the local Maori people have a wonderful hot-spring which is heated from the depths of the earth and filtered through the rocks so that it lacks the sulphuric smell and cloudiness of other thermal pools. Neda and I splurged for a private pool and sat in our birthday suits enjoying the soak and each others company. To top it off, we found a sweet-as freedom camping spot at the Tokaanu Wharf and toasted a unique and splendid Valentine’s Day while drinking white wine and watching the black swans float idyllically by the water’s edge.

To see all the pics of the Mt. Tongariro crossing, click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEbBaC5

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Huka Falls with a rainbow
Then it was off driving along the shore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Its fascinating origin goes back nearly 27,000 years when a supervolcanic eruption in the area left behind a massive caldera hole which would later fill with water and become Lake Taupo. For the modern day tourist, this volcanic activity means lots of fun! Our first stop in the area was the Spa Park Hot Springs, a local park where the Waikato river is joined by a flowing hot spring. The fun part is to sit in the water where the cold river mixes with the burning spring and enjoy a free temperature controlled soak courtesy of nature! Even better, while hanging out at the spring we happened upon our travel buddies Grant & Jess (mentioned at the end of Chronicles Park 6) and camped up with them that evening at the free Reid’s farm campground outside of town.   
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Craters of the Moon
The next day we cruised through Taupo’s other attractions like the phosphorescent surging waters of Huka Falls and the hissing cauldrons of Craters of the Moon, a geothermal area that was created when the nearby hydroelectric power plant siphoned off water for electricity and left the remaining liquid near the craters to boil up to the surface. The last stop was the Aratiatia Rapids, where the Waikato River is diverted out of the turbines and into its naturally flowing path every 2 hours. The result is a dry canyon transforming into raging rapids as the dam releases to oohs and ahhs from the watching crowd.
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The Aratiatia Rapids are released!
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Farting mud pools
The thermal wonders continued as we drove up to Waiotapu, where it seemed like magma was bubbling just below the surface of the whole area. We giggled at the belching and farting noises of the Mud Pools. The hot water here has turned the soil into liquid-hot mud that splatters and shoots into the air at random intervals. Then as the sun began its descent Jeff charged up Rainbow Mountain for a 360 degree view of the whole area. Up at the stop sat a firetower where a local ranger named Barry was scanning for possible danger due to the dry climate. Barry pointed out the various geological formations surrounding us, including hills that were shaped like waves when a shockwave from a long-ago eruption had emanated outward only to rebound off of the distant granite hills and come back to strike the volcano. The evening closed with freedom camping along the banks of the tiny Lake Okaro, where Jeff enjoyed a swim in the warm waters.

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The "shockwave" hills and various Lakes in the distance. Lake Okaro, where we would camp that night is the little one in the front.
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The vibrant colors at the Champagne Pool in the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland come from the interaction of the mineral waters with various compounds such as arsenic and antimony sulfides.
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Devil's Cave
For our commercial fix the next day the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland was on the ticket. This thermal park involves a 90 minute self-guided walk through a particularly geothermally active area. Highlights included the multi-colored steaming champagne pool and the vividly green Devil’s Cave. On the way out, Scott gave us a riddle to find a wonderful secret in the area. A hidden waterfall hot spring! With no signs and no people, a short tramp through the bush led to Neda and I  enjoying our own personal hotspring showers- wicked! 

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Though you can't tell in the picture, that is hot mineral water pouring over me in a secret spot in the woods! No tourists here!
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Taking the plunge
Then we headed to Rotura for a quick viewpoint hike and new warrant and an oil change for Faith. Last stop was the Okere Falls/Kaituna Rapids where we saw a raft plunge down Tutea’s Falls, which at 7 meters is the largest commercial raft drop in the world! Having gotten our fill of rivers and waterfalls, we knew it was time to get back to the beach to finish off our journey! We'll finish up the Chronicles on the Coromandel Peninsula in the next post...

To see all the pics of thermally wonderfully New Zealand click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEbM6Y3.



 
After leaving Hokitika, we were ready to depart the west coast of the south island, but not without a bang (or a sea-surge I should say). The Punakaiki rocks are a fascinating formation of layered limestone created over many millennia as hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediment stacked up over time. To add to the beauty, the rock formations create multiple blowholes at high-tide, where salt water sprays up into the air and the resulting mist casts rainbows over the rocks.
The surging of the blow-holes wasn’t constant however. There were moments of pause where the sea held its breath before unleashing its power. In this moment, all things seemed to come together as one. As Zen Master Dogen, founder of the Soto Zen school, says in his writing “Uji” (time-time):  
“Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any
being or any world is left out of the present moment.”
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Often as we travel we see such beauty that the present moment seems crisp, vivid and alive. But Dogen reminds us that each moment – whether it be the grocery store or the splendours of Punakaiki, is complete in itself and contains all other moments within it. While we were pondering these thoughts and  also waiting for high-tide at Punakaiki, we visited the splendid rock formations along remote Motukiekie Beach. There were plants clinging to rocks that jutted out of the sea at different angles and the great sea arches were sculpture of the highest order. One could lose oneself in their intricacy and unique fingerprints. As Dogen continues:

“Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses
throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the
entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice.”
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Double Sea-Arch on Motukiekie Beach
Can we take each object we see in everyday life and see it as the whole earth? Each moment of time as our whole existence full of unlimited possibility? This point was hammered home even more as we veered off the west coast and swept upward to the Abel Tasman region, named after the Dutch explorer who explored the northern part of the island in 1642. The beaches there are known for their glittering golden sands (each one of which is Dogen tell us is the entire earth...), but a cloudy day left us with a few detours beforehand.  
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Cows munching on Faith
The first was Rawhiti Cave, a fascinating stalactite filled cave brimming with life. Its “phytocarst” formations are among the most wondrous natural phenomenon in the entire island. It is where rock comes to life as the mossy light-seeking flora that grows along the stalactites pulls the rock up at jutting angles towards the sun. The sheer number of stalactites makes for a stunning effect as you stand at the mouth of the cave. Rawhiti packed one more surprise for us as we exited the walk to find that a farmer had let his cows out on the land surrounding the trailhead. They were ravenously licking all the vehicles and munching on whatever rubber components they could rip off! Trouble-makers! After quickly extricating Faith, we sped out of Rawhiti and spent a few more hours exploring the limestone formations of the Grove before the sun cleared up and we headed to Taupo Point for our first glimpse of the beaches of the Abel Tasman.

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Taupo Point in the distance off Wainui Bay
The next day we traversed the gravelly and windy road to the Totaranui DOC site, the base for our grand expedition to Anapai and Mutton Bays. As we walked through the Bush over hills and along the beach we came out to Anapai beach with its gorgeous waters and a swing set up on the trees in the middle of the beach. Another hour saw us to Mutton Bay, where a rocky outcrop splits the bay into two parts, which I happily swam around in the warm ocean waters. As my breath mingled with the movement of the water and view of the golden coastline, Dogen whispered through the breeze:
“The time-being of all beings throughout the world in water and on land is just the actualization of your complete effort right now.”
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Anapai Bay, Abel Tasman
In zazen (meditation), when we sit wholeheartedly with everything that arises (both joyous and painful) within the present moment, we connect fundamentally with all things in space and time. This ability is always available to us with right effort.
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Swimming in beautiful Mutton Bay
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Ironically after all this talk of unity, our lunch that day was at “Seperation Point”, but it refers simply to the point where the Tasman Sea and Golden Bay split apart on the rocks and is also the home of many cute fur seal pups who were diving and playing in the pools below! The rest of the day saw some R&R as we hung out with our Kiwi camp neighbours and enjoyed a nice evening time fire at Totaranui.

Now it was time to head even further north with a stopover at the beautiful Wanui Falls, where the surging falls inspired us to meditate together nearby. Then it was to the northernmost tip of the South Island – Farewell Point and Wharariki Beach. A stark contrast to the Abel Tasman, Wharariki Beachs’ winds howl with discontent and mystery. The sand burned at our skin from the piercing wind, but the allure of the looming sea caves drove us forward. With the tide low we took our torches into the caves as crabs and cave-wetas scurried out of the way to reveal hidden parts of the beach swathed in color. 
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The fun continued back at the campground where we met Marty and Lane over dinner. A newly-wed couple from England who were each others 2nd marriage, they were a delight to talk to and before we knew it we were driving with them out to the local Mussel Inn to catch a didgeridoo player who had played at the recent Illuminate Festival nearby. As we approached the inn in the middle of nowhere, cars were packed together outside and we knew were approaching a local happening. Sika, the didgeridoo player, sounded bass-thumping tunes mixed with native wisdom while two voluptuous dancers writhed alongside of him and sweaty hippies crowded in to absorb the vibes.

The Mussel Inn is also a notable brewery and Neda fell in love with the “Captain Cooker” brew, which is notable because it is brewed with tea-tree leaves instead of hops. Apparently when Captain Cook came to New Zealand he was out of hops and the crew morale was getting low. The boats botanist said that the Manuka (the local Maori word for tea-tree) would do the trick for brewing and Manuka-based beer was born. The tradition had died, having only recently been revived by the brewmaster at the Mussel Inn. In the end, our evening with Marty and Lane was one of our most memorable of the whole trip!
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A flight at the Sprig & Fern
Our time on the South Island was coming to a close, but first we stopped for a hike at the northernmost point of the Island, Cape Farewell, before heading down south to the Nelson region, where most of NZs’ hops are grown. Stops at the Monkey Wizard Brewery, the Spring & Fern, and the Freehouse in Nelson gave us ample opportunity to sample the local hops and say goodbye to this part of the island. But with travel every goodbye is a chance for a new beginning. As we scoped out the sign at a bay in the Marlborough Sounds for freedom camping, another Estima pulled up and the two travellers reassured us that we could sleep there the night. We ended up hanging out with Grant & Jess from Cincinnati that night, but little did we know we’d be running into them a lot more as the journey continued!

As we look back on these wonderful times, it is strange to see them flowing away behind us. And yet we understand, with Dogen’s help, that each of those moments is still perfectly present. This truth encourages us in our practice – beyond time and within it. As Dogen says: 
“People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly
understand that the time-being abides in each moment. This being so, when
can they penetrate the barrier? Even if people recognized the time-being in
each moment, who could give expression to this recognition? Even if they
could give expression to this recognition for a long time, who could stop
looking for the realization of the original face?”