So I’ve finally managed to score some time to put together a few photos from the first leg of the trans-global reconnaissance mission I was assigned to starting back in April. Our first waypoint was New Zealand, where we would meet up with Task Force Chad for a force recon of the North Island before Chad and Michelle would be inserted into deep cover on the South Island for a geological expedition for Michelle’s earth sciences studies.

First course of action? Some R&R in Auckland. We spent a couple days there to catch up things and reminisce about old times (like once, when Chad and I fought robot polar bears in a wacky misfortune-filled field trip way back when we were in space academy together (soon to be made into a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt)).  We drank beer from Fiji, we laughed and we ate Korean food.  Nice.

In addition to stopping at the Auckland museum to visit some of Chad’s homeys (above; apologies for blurry photo), we stopped at the planetarium to check their astronav charts against the ones stored in my Viper MkVII’s navicomp. There, Kate discovered that Zubenelgenubi is her favourite star. And with a name like that, why not?

The latter half of the holiday was spent in the area around Rotorua, which is pockmarked with all sorts of kooky geological wonders.  We saw the Lady Knox Geyser (which goes off on command, as long as you’re willing to feed it some organic laundry powder), some bubbling mud pits, some volcanic craters and lots of multicoloured hot springs.  New Zealand straddles a fault line, and it certainly shows it off wherever you look.  There are volcanic craters everywhere, and Auckland itself has some fifty-odd volcanoes ready and waiting to go off some time in the next hundred thousand years.

That is not data from the orbital probe I fired at Io last week, I promise.

And that is definitely not an image from the surface of Venus.  Both of the above photos were taken from the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park.  Despite the sometimes-overpowering stench of sulfuric gases bubbling up from the deep and dank beneathy bits of the planet, it was an absolutely astounding place to visit.

And, of course, we went to a Maori village for a hāngi (traditional feast). Unfortunately, I stuffed up all of the photos of the warriors performing the haka as we approached the village, so all you get is a dark photo of some creepy carving that awaited us inside the gates.  I learned all sorts of nifty things like: the Maori never invented ranged weapons (hunting and killing is something a real man does with a pointy stick or axe, and you do it nice and close to prove how macho you are), traditional Maori children’s games were training for hitting things with axes or pointy sticks when you grew up, and they have some pretty gay traditional songs.

Definitely another successful sortie.  The locals were some of the friendliest and most awesome folks I’ve ever run into (and that’s saying a bit, given my Canadian heritage). Kiwis get the Viper Pilot stamp of approval.

I didn’t pick up any music while I was in New Zealand – about the only time we might have listened to music we were either babbling too much to bother with tunes, or we had Chad’s iPod plugged into the car’s extreme-o-weak stereo system.  I’ll try to keep it antipodean, at least: The New Sound of Trash.  The New Sound of Trash is a weekly podcast by three DJs from Sydney who play pretty much anything as long as it’s dirty, bangin’ and crunchy.  The track selection is fantastically ecclectic, and more than makes up for the odd occasion when they get off topic.