Our first full day in New Zealand was quite a busy one. A bus picked us up at 8:30am and we headed on a Hobbiton tour, which was a tour on the actual set of The Shire from Lord of the Rings. It was pretty interesting and the actual farm on which the set was located was very pretty. Unfortunately I can’t post any pictures from there or describe it due to a confidentiality agreement we had to sign – you can figure out why. After the set tour, we saw a sheep shearing demonstration and Cressie fed a baby sheep. Once we made it back to Rotorua, we headed to Rainbow Springs, which is a small nature preserve – the prime attraction which is the kiwi (the bird, not the fruit). We first did the “Kiwi Experience”, which was a tour of their kiwi preservation efforts called Operation Nest Egg. We got to see a baby kiwi sleeping and a adult kiwi running back and forth. Following the tour we went inside the preserve itself, and saw lots of fish, birds, and even a wallaby. All the kiwi were sleeping though. Following the tour we were picked up to go to the Mita Maori Cultural Experience. This was a local Maori family that put on a show of some of their traditions – they paddled a canoe on the river, sang some songs, and demonstrated weapons. Following all that was a delicious “hangi”, or Maori feast including lamb. Once we were stuffed, we actually got to go back to Rainbow Springs at night. This included a guided tour, so we learned some things we missed wandering during the day. We got to go to the Kiwi cages, and two of them were out and running about. We were close enough to touch them if we wanted and there was no glass separating us. The next day we had originally planned to go to a Thermal park a ways out of town via bus, but decided instead to stay in town and see some of the things we had missed. We started by going back to the thermal park in the city we had wandered through the first evening. At the end of the park we saw the Lake, so headed that way. I was almost able to talk Cressie into an arial tour of the area via helicopter but we ended up deciding against it. Leaving the lake, we wandered by the Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum, which was originally and old spa. Behind the museum we found a lake front path. This may have gone around the entire lake, but we only followed it for 2 miles or so. All along the path, next to and actually in the lake, were thermal pools and springs. There were a ton of seagulls and other birds as well. We eventually headed back to the city and caught the bus to Taupo. Today was an early day, with a 7am bus pickup. The only item on the agenda was Waitiomo Caves, where we were going Blackwater Rafting through caves filled with glow worms. It was chilly in the morning, and we actually rose through a snow storm on the way to the caves. We eventually made it, and shimmied into our wetsuits that were provided and headed for the caves. The tour itself was loads of fun. We started out like any other cave tour walking and crawling through the cave, but then hopped in the intertubes we had been carrying and floated down a stream in the cave. At one point we hit a waterfall approximately 5 feet high, which we got over by standing at the ledge, turning around, and jumping off backwards, landing on our tubes. Cressie even did this! At several points we all turned off our lights and just floated through the cave, staring at the glowworms in the ceiling. As I said, great time. There is actually a longer version offered that includes abscailing I want to do next to time I’m back. We are now on the bus on the way back to Taupo. Tomorrow is either going to be the Tongario Crossing (18+ km day hike that includes the volcano used for Mt Doom in LOTR) or various tours in the Taupo area. The Crossing was closed today due to snow and weather, so we are waiting to see if they are even open tomorrow or not for hiking. The following day is our last day on the North Island – we are on buses and ferries the entire day getting to the tip of the South Island. Oh, and I’m sure everyone has heard there are more sheep than people in New Zealand, but the magnitude is hard to believe. Basically, in between every town we’ve gone to there has been nothing but rolling hills out the window covered with sheep. It really is 99% of the people living in the major cities and the rest of the island being farmland and sheep. And I’m pretty sure there might be some sort of rule stating there must be 1 sheep on every square mile of the island. Kia Ora!