Hi Everybody!! Thanks for staying with us, and thanks for all your comments. We wrote a special post, Comments About Comments, just to respond to the bumper crop of comments from our last Fiji post.  Keep those comments coming!

Well here we are in New Zealand, where it’s the equivalent of May in the Pacific Northwest. No kidding – when we first arrived, we thought we’d been transported back in time to Oregon, six months ago. The familiar spring drizzle, everything blooming – foxglove, cherry trees, rhodies, lilacs, clematis, even honeysuckle. To make the experience maximally authentic, I even had an allergy attack, thanks to the…

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Scotch Broom! Aaaaahh! (Once a year is enough!) Luckily those giant prehistoric-looking tree ferns behind it reminded us that we’re NOT in Oregon.

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Wait…. Or are we? Very confusing. Unfortunately there was no explanation as to the name of this rose garden.

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New Zealand has 4 million people and 40 million sheep. That’s a lot of sweaters. The countryside is LOVELY and it’s easy to see why it was a perfect choice for Middle Earth and the Shire.

Most of the time we’ve been roaming around this lovely countryside in our rented CAMPERVAN, which reminds us very much of our old silver Toyota van. Quite comfy, as you can see, although a bit of a mess at the moment.

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Sometimes we need a break from camping, and that’s when we look for a “Backpacker.” Here it’s a noun with two meanings: “person who is traveling around with their stuff in a backpack,” and “place where a backpacker can sleep, cook, bathe, do laundry, update blog, etc. for (relatively) cheap.” A Backpacker is like a hostel, with boys’ dorm, girls’ dorm, shared kitchen and living rooms, bathroom down the hall – and a few double rooms, which are just right for us.

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Often a backpacker is a converted old house, or even (in one town) the former town jail. (We didn’t stay in that one.) Whether camping or staying in a backpacker, one thing that’s always easy to find is… meat pies! (And “vege” pies too.) These are so yummy. From the outside, it looks a little bit like the old Swanson’s frozen pot pies that we’re all familiar with. But it’s NOT. The crust is flaky and excellent, and the filling might be butter chicken, or bacon and egg, or tomatoes, spinach, and feta. Delicious and economical (from $2 to $5!). There should be a booth at the Fair selling these.

The meat pies are so fortifying that we thought about crossing Mordor to Mount Doom…

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…but it was a little too cold and windy. (Remember, it’s basically May here in Middle Earth!) This is probably not Mount Doom, but this IS part of the Tongariro National Park, where Frodo and Sam crossed Mordor. There are numerous good hikes/treks (called “tramps,” here); maybe we should come back in summer! Instead we headed for an area called Rotorua, which is like New Zealand’s Yellowstone – geysers, thermal vents, bubbling mud, boiling lakes.

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Beautiful and strange. Then we headed for the Waitomo area where we did something REALLY exciting… Caving!!! We loved it. Here’s Derry “abseiling” (rappelling) 100 feet down into the cave. Wow!

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Once we got down into the cave, we swam, waded, crawled, scrambled and rock-climbed our way upstream…

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…until finally we all emerged back on the surface, none of our group members taken by orcs.

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One of the NEATEST things we saw down in this cave – and in other magical places in the Waitomo area – is glowworms. They are actually NOT worms, but larvae of a particular mosquito-sized fly. They mix chemicals and enzymes in their tails to emit an eerie, blue green glow. It doesn’t flash on and off like the lights of fireflies, and is used to entice other insects to the silky threads they drape down from cave ceilings and overhangs. At night, or in caves, there are thousands upon thousands of these lights. It’s like walking (or floating, as we did while caving) through the night sky, impossible to capture in photos. (Just use your imagination!)

Tomorrow we leave the North Island and head for the South Island. There we’ll pick up a different campervan, stock our “chilly bin” with ice and groceries, and resume our pursuit of fun and pies, hopefully with the blessing of powerful dudes like this.

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OK that’s all for now…. We really enjoy reading the updates from home. Please keep them coming!

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