Archive for November, 2010

In Pursuit of Woolies

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

We were treated to one last edition of Zak’s famous delicious breakfasts before he and Kim had to hit the road to make their flight out of Auckland.

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We sadly parted ways in the Rotorua campground.

One of the things we’ve been looking for in New Zealand is a nice woolen blanket or sweater, and although we’ve been taunted by thousands of roadside wooly sheep, our search for affordable “woolies” as they’re called here, has not been very successful.  So on our way out of town we decided to stop by  Rotorua’s “Agrodome.”

The Agrodome is a place where city slicker tourists can pay to be carted around pastures in a tractor-driven tram for the opportunity to observe various farm animals in their unnatural habitats.  They can also see a sheep shearing show, and other demonstrations of sheep and wool management.  We were just interested in checking out the woolies in their shop, but as luck would have it, we parked our van right outside the fenced area where a sheepdog herding exhibition was about to begin.

Three large newly shorn sheep were minding their own business at one end of the paddock, when a man brought in a small but lean and muscular dog named Dot.

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Once inside the fence, Dot immediately dropped down into a stalking position with her gaze fixed steadily on the sheep.

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Though they’ve probably been through this a hundred times, her stare made them a little nervous.

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Dot’s trainer explained that she was still a young dog, only 18 months old, whereas it takes at least two full years before a sheepdog is fully trained.  Though she was far more obedient than any other 18 month old dog we’d ever seen, it soon became apparent that Dot still had to learn to control her dogly impulses.  She was very good at getting the sheep moving,

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but then would lose herself in the thrill of the chase and couldn’t resist trying to taste them.   Very bad form for a sheep dog.

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The trainer noted that one of the hardest parts of training a young dog is slowing them down.   When Dot was in hot pursuit she had a tendency to scatter her sheep.

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But when he would tell tell her to slow down or “go behind” him, the sheep would automatically regroup and bunch back together.

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Dot succeeded in herding her sheep between several gates, to the applause of the audience.  But her real test was to be to get them into a small enclosure.  She got them close a few times but really just seemed to revel in just chasing her sheep in circles.

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Her trainer thought Dot had selective hearing that day, and all of us in the crowd who’ve ever owned a dog chuckled sympathetically.  Though she still has a bit of learning to do, Dot’s level of training was impressive and it was fun watching her having such a good time.

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38°25.80′S 176°09.00′E 27-NOV-10 00:00 UTC

The Maori of Rotorua

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Kim and Zak are relentless in the pursuit of vacation excellence and even though none of us had pockets deep enough for the $150/head Maori cultural show and dinner, they had the the instincts to pull into a Maori cultural village and ask if we could see the gift shop. We immediately met Aroha who told us the gift shop was closed because the nightly show was starting.

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But after chatting with us a few minutes and determining the very sad level of Maori cultural understanding in our midst, she took pity on us and snuck us in to watch the welcoming ceremony called the “challenge,” where a dangerous looking, wild-eyed warrior was screaming quite menacingly and threatening to skewer us in the traditional method.

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During the performance various senior staff kept trying to throw us out but Aroha would not back down. She called us “her people” and “borrowed” a full-sized tour bus to drive the 4 of us around to the back entrance of the property, where she unlocked some fences and told us to blend into the crowd who were making their way among the live village displays (here’s one of them – the little house on stilts in the background is a traditional food storage unit).

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We learned a lot about these fierce and hardy island dwellers and their way of life.

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At each break in the program we expected to leave but Aroha would hustle us off to the next venue. We got to watch a concert (Zak got video) and see the unearthing of the Maori “hangi,” an underground oven similar to the Tongan umu.

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We left the paying crowd to stuff themselves with these rock grilled chickens and lambs, while we went to have dinner at the Indian restaurant next to a stretch table of what must’ve been Rotorua’s complete population of transvestites having a birthday party. But that is another story.

38°31.80′S 176°09.00′E 26-NOV-10 02:55 UTC

The Geothermal Anomalies of Rotorua

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

The central part of the North Island is volcanically active with hundreds of geothermal springs, mudpits, and geysers.  

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The fields on the drive into Rotorua are literally venting steam from low spots and every house seems to have a geothermal heat pump and a smoking mudpit in the back yard. Although these bubbling mud pits stink of sulfur, it’s hard not to stare for hours at the bubbling mud.

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Each pit has a slightly different viscosity and temperature, making the mud bubble in unique and interesting ways.

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No two mud bubbles are identical, (like snowflakes, only muddier).

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The biggest bubbling mud ponds had explosive steam venting through the mud.

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It all looks oddly inviting, but there were barriers to keep the overly curious from getting scalded.

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Lots of visitors ask if they can get into the boiling mud and the locals delight in telling them they can get in but they won’t get out.

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We took a break from the mud watching to soak in some hot springs. There were dozens to choose from but our favorite was an undocumented (and free!) one known by the locals as “Hot and Cold”, at the junction of a cool stream and a hot one. We couldn’t get enough of this place,  it was the classic combination of a frigidarium and a caldarium right there in the woods. And as any plumber will tell you: Hot’s on the left, colds on the right. 

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38°30.80′S 176°08.00′E 26-NOV-10 01:55 UTC

Tongariro

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

outh end of the North Island is a very hilly place where even the primary highways are just two-lane roads that defer to every curve and roll of the voluptuous topography. There are countless streams to cross on one-lane bridges and more scenic overlooks than we could count.

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After miles of driving though steep rolling pasturelands north of Wellington we were surprised by the snowy peaks of Mount Ruapehu creeping up behind the green hills.

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Zak and Kim came across some local sheep being herded by the hundreds under the backdrop of the mountain (see Zak’s awesome sheep video). The mountain is part of a national park where much of the Lord of The Rings trilogy was filmed. Soon we had a clear view of “Mount Doom” (or Mount Ngauruhoe).

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We spent the night in a campground next to a weird golf resort beneath Mt Ruapehu and resolved to visit Mt Doom with all the other vacationing Hobbits.

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We were four and we called ourselves The Fellowship of the Big Breakfast.

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The hot trail meandered through a terrible field of razor sharp rocks – newborns, geologically speaking -

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…with views of the Taranaki volcano to the west.

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Sulfurous streams stained the black ash and sulfury fumes spread on the wind.

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But the Fellowship was not shaken, in fact it made some of them hungry (K was already having Second Breakfast and planning for Elevenses). As we neared the volcano we could make out various huge river-like deposits of volcanic rock that had flowed down the mountain as recently as 1975.

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The deposits were bounded by levies that channelized the flow.

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The geologists among us were very excited by this nascent earthbuilding.

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After many hours and no battles we reached the high plateau at the base of the volcano.

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There was very little life in the harsh new land. The only thing growing was tussock grass and these glossy yellow flowers.

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We crossed the desolate plain…

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and eventually caught up with Zak & Kim, who were into their third course of a leisurely lunch and politely commented on how speedy we are.

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It could have been time to turn back but S was still longing for adventure.

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and so we pressed on to the ridge high above the Lunch Plain of Desolation.

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Soon we had the altitude over the slopes of Mt Doom…

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with good views of the summit and its wisps of volcanic steam.

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There was a great rift on the east side of the ridge where a lava tube erupted from the base of the mountain and minerals stained the slopes.

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And so it was that the Fellowship of the Big Breakfast came to dominate the alpine trail to the red crater of Mount Ngauruhoe and return to their un-burgled green van with blistered feet and empty water bottles and ziplocks.

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39°07.00′S 175°32.00′E 25-NOV-10 12:30 UTC

Candid Wellington

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

We reconnected with Zak and Kim  in Picton, and very early the next morning loaded our vans onto the first car ferry of the day headed across to the North Island.   The trip across the Cook Strait, which separates New Zealand’s two main islands, took 3 hours, during which we enjoyed a full-on New Zealand (or is it Irish? or English?) breakfast, took in the sights from the ferry’s various vantage points, and took naps in the comfy seats.  

Ever diligent, Zak was the first to see all the neat stuff.

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The ride passed quickly and smoothly and soon we were passing the twin lighthouses of Pencarrow Head and landing in the city of Wellington.

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Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the Parliament buildings show a mix of history in the architecture.

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The oldest ones are framed in Victorian roses and white camelias.  A plaque nearby explained that New Zealand, in 1893, was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.  The camelias were planted by the women of parliament one hundred years later to commemorate those who have contributed to advancing women’s political rights in New Zealand.  Goodonya, mates!

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We had a lot of driving ahead of us, but we spent a couple of hours strolling around downtown.  As you’d expect, we found the city full of well dressed power brokers.

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And while the powerful share the responsibilities of the nation, their children learn the downside of owning all the balls…

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and wearing shoes.

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Wellington is a very busy urban city were even the youngest commute on the hazardous streets.

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Lots of young Wellington ladies prefer two wheelers.

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The city center is packed with the matronly, the stylish…

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and the fresh faced.

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They flood the streets during the lunch hour in search of coffee and a bite.

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Some of them have sushi, others have problems.

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All the while the well dressed Indian taxi drivers keep up a constant stream of hindi kibitzing.

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Wellington is a place were the young are painstakingly shielded from the sun,

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dogs are walked without leashes,

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and cold shady men play the hose-organ.

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41°14.60′S 174°54.70′E 23-NOV-10 12:30 UTC

The Southern Alps

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

We wound our way through countless hilly pastures, much of it on gravel roads where only the livestock noticed our passing.

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Soon mountains were erupting into the postcard farmscape.

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The drive took us across many one-lane bridges spanning braided riverbeds that poured out of the mountains,

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and the scenery became more dramatic as the road rose to meet the cloud ceiling.

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We found Arthur’s Pass to be a dry saddle between the peaks with the aptly named Castle Rocks sprouting from the empty high plain.

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And then we were across. The western valleys were covered in purple alpine flowers…

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and wide braided stream beds.

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We stopped for lunch and then sped quickly through a twisty piece of road called “Death’s Corner.” 

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The road led down through many small towns and more one-lane bridges. We were soon back among the sheep, who ran whenever we stopped,

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until we met these friendly twins and their mother.

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43°20.00′S 171°06.00′E 22-NOV-10 01:30 UTC

North from Dunedin

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

The Otago Peninsula encloses a large natural bay with the town of Dunedin at the head.

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The peninsula is a wild windswept place where albatrosses breed and sheep and grass tussocks cling to the hills above the sea.

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There’s a lighthouse on Taiaroa Head above crystal clear kelp beds where you can watch the shadowy underwater forms of sea lions pass gracefully over the seafloor.

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After a quick morning inspection we turned our van north towards the foot hills of the Southern Alps.   We were taking the high road to see the mountains, while Zak and Kim were sticking to the low road in search of whales.  We were to meet the next day in Picton.

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We passed more green fields speckled with sheep and cows, and found valleys full of doe-eyed deer farms.

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After a full day of driving we hid the caterpillar behind some bushes in a state park,

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and grilled up a double ration of lamb chops.

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Well rested from our woodland sleep, we hit the rode again the next morning, climbing out of the pastures and up toward an alpine pass named after Arthur.

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45°46.48′S 170°43.70′E 21-NOV-10 01:00 UTC

The Penguins of Katiki Point

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

After playing with the Moeraki beach mudballs, we took a hint from a posted tourist flier and headed to Katiki Point to look for penguins. 

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Katiki Point is a remote and scenic headland.

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It’s marked by a classic lighthouse.

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Every night as as the sun sets on the sheep pastures,

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yellow-eyed penguins emerge from of the sea and and make their way to the grassy uplands where they spend the night.

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First they mingle a bit on the beach, swapping stories of events far out at sea (video).

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Then they climb the shoreline bluff with tiny strides and great patience, into the upper shrubs and grasslands above the beach, past the few astonished tourists and the sea lion with his nose in the air.

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They make their way into the luxuriously thick grass in areas specially fenced off just for them…

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…where they gently touch beaks with their friends and try to stay awake long enough to have their pictures taken.

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45°23.50′S 170°52.15′E 21-NOV-10 01:30 UTC

The Beach Balls of Moeraki

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

We flew to Christchurch in the South Island and picked up a couple of rental mini-campervans.  Thanks to Zak and Kim’s trip planning, we scored a Jucy Rentals deal that offered us 1-week free rentals as long as we agreed to deliver their vehicles to Aukland – just in time for the North Island tourist season. These tricked out Toyota Previas have a super groovy paint job and are crammed with  amenities, including a 12 volt dc fridge, a gas cooker, a sink, and a big nesting area with a monster thick comforter.

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We loaded up with groceries and sped off southbound down the left lane of highway 1 like a pair of jucy green caterpillars.  We passed miles and miles and miles and miles of sheep and cow pastures.

A few hours later we stopped at Moeraki beach where huge great stone balls have all come to rest in one spot.

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These big balls are enormous fun. Zak and Kim gave a beach ball ballet.

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Then Kim tried to sail away in a half a ball.

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Zak tried using his superpowers to fix a broken one…

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and S kept looking for the chewy caramel centers…

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K just enjoyed the symmetry.

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These balls are huge ancient concretions that are left on the beach as the mudstone cliffs nearby weather and erode away.

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We thought the mudballs were all there was to see at Moeraki beach.  But then we saw a wet llama nearby.

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And some really weatherproof sheep.

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We admit we underestimated the fun factor of the beach balls of Moeraki but we’ll never make that mistake again.

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45°18.00′S 170°50.00′E 20-NOV-10 01:55 UTC

The Coromandel Peninsula

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

We left the developed vacation communities of Waiheke Island and sailed a dozen or so miles across the Firth of Thames.

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We were heading to the deserted anchorages and grassy stocklands of the Coromandel.

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On the way across we trolled up a beautiful Kahawai …

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who went into Zak’s sushi rolls for lunch.

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We anchored in Te Kouma harbor with only the cows for company.

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And there were a great many cows in this perfect pastoral setting.

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We hiked among the bovines on the small headland and found hidden pocket beaches where Oystercatchers stalked their wily prey.

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Fired up by the success of the trolling and the resulting delicious sushi, the girls hopped in the dinghy with a couple of poles and many and various lures to try their luck among the kelpy rocks.

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Unfortunately they only caught the weeds.  But the Baja pole spear also came out after a long sabbatical, and K shot a couple of snapper. It was great to be back in the fish.

The offshore birds were in the same frame of mind. Gannets were plunging into schools of bait.

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It was a perfect place to unwind, but we had to move on to make our flights to Christchurch for a week of hippy road tripping in two rented camper vans.

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36°49.40′S 175°25.57′E 18-NOV-10 01:55 UTC