The part of the trip I was most eager to hear about and see were the glowworm caves I've heard so much about. Alas, photos not allowed. But Johnny says it was like starlight on the ceiling because of how many glowworms there were. Except they weren't worms, like we have, but rather larva of fungus gnats.
From Wikipedia: The larva spins a nest out of silk on the ceiling of the cave and then hangs down as many as 70 threads of silk (called snares) from around the nest, each up to 3 or 4 cm long and holding droplets of mucus. ...Larvae glow to attract prey into their threads, perhaps luring them into believing they are outdoors, for the roof of a cave covered with larvae can look remarkably like a starry sky at night.
Although Johnny could take no photos, there is a video on the web that shows the glowworms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC41M7RPSec
They toured one cave on foot. Another cave they walked into but then boarded a boat since there was a river flowing through it.
Here is a sculpture at the visitor's center by the Waitomo Caves.
The koru (Māori for "loop") is a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos. The circular shape of the koru helps to convey the idea of perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin.
Air New Zealand uses this shape, in a stylized form, as its logo.
Johnny said this was all one falls in multiple stages. He took the photos in stages from the top to the bottom.
Then it was off to more excitement, a luge down a mountain. Each person gets their own luge... push the handle forward and it goes, but too far forward it slows and stops to prevent you from flying out. Pull backward and it stops. It was tricky to figure out how to operate it.
A gondola lift took them up to the start of the run. This chair lift took them from the bottom of the luge run back to the top.
The luge track is visible under the chairlift.
Somebody is coming down the track in their luge as Steve and Cedrus and Johnny and Kestrel go up.
And here goes Kestrel!
There were three levels of tracks: beginner, medium and advanced. The first time down, three of them did the beginner track while Steve did the medium. Next time Kestrel and Steve moved up to the medium. Johnny and Cedrus stuck with the beginner run.
Johnny's next set of photos are from a Living Maori Village, Whakarawarewa.
From Wikipedia: Whakarawarewa is a geothermal area within Rotorua city in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand. This was the site of the Māori fortress of Te Puia, first occupied around 1325, and known as an impenetrable stronghold never taken in battle. Māori have lived here ever since, taking full advantage of the geothermal activity in the valley for heating and cooking. Whakarewarewa has some 500 pools, most of which are alkaline chloride hot springs, and at least 65 geyser vents, each with their own name. Seven geysers are currently active. Pohutu Geyser, meaning big splash or explosion, erupts approximately hourly to heights of up to 30 m.
The Maori make their living in Whakarawarewa now from tourists. Here they give a traditional performance.
Just to show that he and the others were not on the go every minute, Johnny took a photo of relax time in their airbnb.
The Maori performances had featured lots of tongue lolling, for reasons Johnny did not learn. But when in New Zealand, do as New Zealanders do, so...
Johnny said that everywhere along the roads in the lowland areas were hedge rows of various kinds of trees. They were apparently planted as windbreaks, all neatly trimmed no matter how tall.
At last, it was time for Johnny to board a bus for Auckland and the airport. He sat up top and front where he could see the scenery.
At the airport was this statue, perhaps a tribute to the filming of the Hobbit movies in New Zealand.
The inscription reads: On loan from Middle Earth. Do not touch.
Thanks to the time difference, Johnny arrived in San Francisco before he left New Zealand, but it took him a whole day to do it, then another day (thanks to layovers) to get to Oregon. The rest of the troops stayed another two weeks after Munazza's retreat was over. They arrived back in the U.S. on Saturday, Nov. 26, having left New Zealand on Sunday, Nov. 27. Time travel is real.
It was a grand adventure and I'm glad I got to see it through Johnny's eyes via his photos.