Tag Archives: New Zealand

Stories Published!

October and November were good months as several of my stories were published in magazines and online!   All are online — click on the links to the right.

“Destination Discovery:  Israel” is in the December issue of Porthole Cruise Magazine, now on the newsstand.


My story on the history of Tabasco Pepper Sauce is currently in the online edition of  AAA Home&Away magazine.


“Houston:  Larger Than Life” was in the October issue of SilverKris, Singapore Airline’s inflight magazine.




GoWorldTravel.com recently published two of my stories — one on “The Face” appearing on Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain on the South Island; and the other on my island hopping adventures in Fiji.

Walking on Thick Ice: New Zealand’s Tasman Glacier

By Richard Varr

Above the Tasman Glacier. Photo by Richard Varr

Our helicopter swerves over the sharp and peaked edges of the snow-packed mountain range, where our final destination is now in clear view.  We’re headed for the flat, ice-covered floor of the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s largest.

Upon landing, I can hear the crunch as my feet step onto freshly-fallen snow that will soon be part of the thick glacial ice.

Walking on the Tasman Glacier. Photo by Richard Varr

There’s not a footprint in sight as I gaze at the frozen valley of white before me – snow-covered mountain peaks shrouded by both wispy and puffy layers of cloud bands above.

Richard on the glacier.

“It’s just something that can’t be touched – it’s totally natural,” trumpets Mark Hayes, our chopper pilot and guide.  “The glacier is alive – no two ways about that.  It moves during a 24-hour period, eight inches a day, and it changes all the time.”

Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake: helicopter view. Photo by Richard Varr

Within Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Tasman Glacier is now 27 kilometers (17 miles) in length.  Slowly receding like most glaciers around the world, it blackened rock-covered edge breaks apart into icebergs and melts into the milky pale-blue waters of the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, the water’s opaque color due to a high concentration of “rock-flour,” or finely ground rock from the moving glacier.

Local guides tell me the glacier is losing about 200 meters a year, but snowfall continues to add to its thickness, as it takes 30 feet of snow to compress into one foot of glacial ice.

Aoraki/Mount Cook in a cloud swirl. Photo by Richard Varr

I stayed one night within the National Park – part of my three day adventure in this mountainous region of New Zealand’s South Island.  At every corner of the park, with its commanding rocky ridges and sturdy pine tree forests, it’s easy to catch a glimpse of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country’s tallest mountain.

Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary with Aoraki/Mount Cook in the distance. Photo by Richard Varr

At The Hermitage, a multi-story upscale hotel in Mount Cook Village offering excellent views, a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary stares intently at the 12,316-foot-high Mount Cook.  A New Zealand native, Hillary climbed Mount Cook in 1948, but became a legend five years later when he and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay were the first known climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Hiking in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Photo by Richard Varr

Several hiking paths in and around Mount Cook Village lead to rocky outposts, scenic river and lake vistas, and closeup views of the area’s three nearby glaciers.

Later that day, I gaze upon yet another view of the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake from above; this time reaching the top of an adjacent mountaintop traversing rock and gravel-filled roads in 4×4 vehicles.  “It’s a bit of a moonscape and it’s so crystal clear up here,” says guide Willy Nunn.  “And the air taste delicious.”

“When there’s no wind, there’s dead silence,” he adds, “with only the sounds of the gravel falling down in mini avalanches.”

Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake from atop a mountain, with blackened glacial tongue. Photo by Richard Varr



Mount Cook Ski Planes (and Helicopter Tours): www.mtcookskiplanes.com

Tasman 4WD and Argo Tours:  www.mountcooktours.co.nz

The Hermitage:  www.hermitage.co.nz


Rotorua: New Zealand’s Geothermal Wonderland

By Richard Varr

Thermal crater in Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Photo by Richard Varr

Greater Rotorua is an astounding dichotomy.  The natural beauty of rolling hills and aquamarine lakes contrasts to its volcanic activity with boiling mud pits, hissing fumaroles, yellow-streaked sulfur mounds and spitting, gurgling geysers.  And there’s no mistaking the sulfurous smells wafting through the air. Nonetheless, the area’s geothermal characteristics make it indeed a one-of-a-kind attraction.

Champagne Pool. Photo by Richard Varr

I visited the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland with its craters filled with chalky-green waters, sulfur residues and crude oil slicks; its trickling waterfalls; and the bubbling and steaming Champagne Pool, named so because of its orange-tinted mineral deposits lining the pool’s perimeter.

Lady Knox Geyser. Photo by Richard Varr

Nearby Wai-o-tapu is the small Lady Knox Geyser which spouts daily just after 10 AM.

The Whakarewarewa Thermal Area includes the large Phohutu Geyser, shooting steaming water as high as 100 feet and erupting on average of 10 to 25 times a day.  “There are so many things I see in a geyser.  There’s a power, a strength and the ability that has to change,” explains Whakarewarewa guide Shane Marshall.  “When I look to the base of the geyser, there’s all that strength you can see from the actual base.  When it first comes out of the ground, there’s intense strength pushing the water out.”

Pohutu Geyser. Photo by Richard Varr

“We as a people, we pull all of our strength from the environment around us,” Marshall continues.  “So what that tells me is anytime I need strength I just need to look to the environment to remind me of it.  As the water comes up it changes, so again that offers me the ability to look and see change, going from intensely hot to cold.”

Meeting House. Photo by Richard Varr

Whakarewarewa also has the Ngā Mōkai-a-Koko Mud Pool, formed by volcanic acid gases and steam decomposing minerals to form clay called Kaolin.  Nearby is the Thermal Village with its indigenous people’s Māori meeting house and village; and Te Puia with the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute and its own village as well, offering live cultural performances, carvings and weavings.  “The village and meeting house give people the opportunity to come and see who we are and to see our living  and ceremonial areas, without actually intruding on us as a people,” notes Marshall.

The “Devil’s Bath,” a crater with water colored by ferrous salts and sulfur. Photo by Richard Varr

Other natural wonders and attractions include the expansive Lake Rotorua, popular for water sports, fishing and boating; the Buried Village encompassing what remains of a village after the 1886 Mount Tarawera volcanic eruption; and the Polynesian Spa, with thermal pools fed by underground springs.

For more information:    www.rotoruanz.com

VIDEO: Pohutu Geyser

Rotorua’s Geothermal Wonderland: VIDEO of Lady Knox Geyser

Nearby Wai-o-tapu is the small Lady Knox Geyser which spouts daily just after 10 AM.


New Zealand: Māori Performance During a Pōwhiri Ceremony

Photo by Richard Varr

Māori singers perform on November 8, 2011 during the opening pōwhiri ceremony of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) annual convention in Wellington, New Zealand.  The country’s indigenous people, Māori make up about 15 percent of New Zealand’s population. The pōwhiri ceremony is a formal Māori welcome for visitors; in this case, the American and Canadian travel writers.  An image of the traditional Māori meeting house is behind the singers.

Watch the performance: