Sunday, May 27, 2007

North to South : Driving up the fish

You could say that I was driving down to Dunedin. The Scotch Pacific enclave is 1400 kilometres closer to Antarctica than Auckland. I took the mighty Carat over every centimetre of that glorious drive/float. But if you asked a Maori, he'd say I was going up to the South Island. The islands of Aotearoa are 1) an overturned canoe containing a few Gods and 2)the fish on the other end of the line. To drive geographically south is to motor up the fishing line and into the boat, hence I was going up to Dunedin. When you're told everything is backwards in the Southern Hemisphere, believe it.

Anyway, it was a completely grand drive. Only a few stretches of the Colorado Plateau and Intermountain West can really compete with the sheer variety and overwhelming beauty of the transect south through New Zealand. Good roads - no interstates/motorways - but real roads. Old-fashioned motor tracks that rambled along hills and through towns made for exciting and worthwhile driving in the Kiwi countryside. I stopped in the center of the North Island at lake Taupo, a flooded volcanic crater. I had lunch with a great view after exploring the geothermal powerplant nearby.

From a hill overlooking the valley, you can trace the intertwining network of pipes that conduct steam from dozens of vents into a turbine facility cranking out loads of magical electricity. The chrome tube network is festooned with crazy expansion joints big enough to drive through with the Carat (I made sure I did). These allow for the nearly 15 metres of growth the metal tubes endure when they reach operating temperature, somewhere around 300 degrees Centigrade. Pressure valves hissed and spouted all around me at unexpected times. It was a steamy valley of ethereal, scalding creeks. Imagine select portions of the Yellowstone backcountry - but commonplace enough to harness for sheer energy.

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