About Geoff Puckett
With a multi-decade entertainment industry career, Geoff Puckett has worked in Paris, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong and Amsterdam as a special effect designer with Walt Disney Imagineering. He created projections for Broadway's Tony Award® winning 'Lion King' and produced immersive media exhibitions within Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and San Francisco's Walt Disney Family Museum. For 'Times Square 2000' Geoff creatively produced and scripted New York City’s 24-hour long millennium celebration.
An avid world traveler, writer and photographer, Geoff has visited 37 foreign countries/territories, being first inspired as a boy by his parents on a family trip to western Europe in 1970. Today Puckett's Bay Area firm, EffectDesign, Inc., creates environments which uniquely communicate branding, advertising, educational, and entertainment stories using a range of custom media and 3D stereoscopic imaging techniques to advance the ways people absorb information.
Latest Posts by Geoff Puckett
All the positive things you’ve heard about New Zealand… are true. The scenery, clean air, wide open spaces and people are gorgeous, breathtaking, welcoming and cordial (in that order). And indigenous Māori culture is everywhere.
After driving 3,550 kilometers (2,205 miles) around the north island – from verdant coastlines to volcanic craters, my overall impression was of a dynamic land shimmering with vibrant contrasts; from piwakawakas to penguins, forest falls to fjords, hobbits to hipsters. I recommend you consider going there some day, and if you’d like some details – keep on reading!
San Francisco to Auckland flight time is approximately 12 hours, generally with a headwind, so the return is shorter. My month-long visit was in their late spring (mid-November to mid-December) which affords the luxury of reasonable weather and essentially no crowds. Only in Auckland did I see locals on the beach and in the water since the summer switch over was still underway.
Being a hiker, I was in heaven exploring dense rainforest trails, traversing spectacular vistas and ascending sleeping volcanoes while staying at well maintained campsites with few if any other people. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (“DOC”) is an excellent resource for wilderness wanderers, providing campsites with clean communal toilets and running water for $10NZ per night.
For a more developed camping experience I recommend staying at a “Top 10” holiday park – but be prepared to rub shoulders with families and empty nesters piloting moderate to honkin’ big recreational vehicles. These places also let in campervans in. The benefits of a holiday park include individual electrical hookups, shared full kitchen/bathroom facilities, a swimming pool and bubbly hot tub. Beware the smaller parks which can be “homey” in a back-in-time 1960’s class all their own. Funky fun if a lack of modern amenities suits your taste.
Now a bit of pre-holiday park history…
New Zealand’s island pair, like most south Pacific outposts, are a colorful blend of contrasts. The term ‘Polynesian’ certainly applies to this region east of Australia, with today’s Māori inhabitants cohabitating alongside mid-18th century northern European descendants.
Based on radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis it appears the first Māori tribes were of Moriori ancestry, landing on New Zealand shores around 800 AD. Anthropologists widely accept these early people sailed in long canoes from the Southern Cook (i.e. Rarotonga) and Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora), a journey spanning roughly 3,000 miles.
Perhaps most intriguing is the reality these tropical settlers navigated the open ocean by observing and paying close conscious attention to the world around them. They applied a deep understanding of sun/star paths, water currents, and bird behavior, together with an intimate cosmic connection our modern culture has replaced almost exclusively with computer-enhanced thinking machines. (Seems there were intuitive technologies prior to GPS smartphones!)
Shining along New Zealand’s western shores is the Tasman Sea, named in 1642 by Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman (great middle name) with financing by the Dutch East India Company’s pursuit of treasures in remote, unknown regions. This first voyage failed to produce any profitable precious metal relics or grabbable resources so additional Company visits were abandoned.
It was Britain’s scientifically-oriented Captain James Cook who, 127 years later, sighted New Zealand and mapped it quite differently than Tasman’s attempted career-saving description of a “vast southern continent.” Cook’s voyages in the vicinity of New Zealand’s north and south islands became the calling card of the British-heavy presence so notable today.
So here we go across and around today’s north island. The map shows my driving route; heading out of Auckland and moving counterclockwise for an Auckland return several weeks later. The numbers show where the things I’ll describe below are located.
The primary urban centers consist of the most populated Auckland (above map: #1), and hip, windy, smaller capital of Wellington (above map: below #4). I was impressed with the modern atmosphere in both cities, but if you are in your 20’s or 30’s, bypass Auckland and head south to Wellington where there is a palpable vibration of creative energy flowing through the streets.
Curious Auckland facts:
- Settled by Māori people in 1350 AD with a population of 20,000
- Today has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world
- Has land, a sea, and an ocean surrounding it
Curious Wellington facts: (other than the one on Wellington’s wharf, above)
- Harbors a fantastic design, arts, restaurant, café and nightlife scene
- Windier in November than Chicago is all winter (not kidding)
- Home of WETA Digital, life-givers to Lord of the Rings stories
Since I was focused on getting out of the urban frenzy, my time was spent mostly on the road and in nature.
1) NIKAU CAVES; where proprietors Phillip and Anne Woodward warmly welcome guests to wondrous subterranean chambers, clear pools and very cool glow worms – minus the crowded throngs of nearby big-biz cave tours. Here, Philip dons his sensible wet rock shoes & helmet, hands out torches (flashlights) and takes a group of 10 max. deep into the Earth. Be sure to have a home-cooked meal and even stay the night with them. They have a beautiful dining facility surrounded by spacious outdoor decks and lawns with emerald green sheep grazing fields all around. Quiet, friendly, refreshingly unique, and only 90 minutes southwest of Auckland.
2) MT. TARANAKI
Volcanoes are a Kiwi hiker’s best friend, and for sheer magnetic attractiveness, Mount Taranaki (aka Mt. Egmont) is the premier north island peak to ascend. Having formed a prominent west-jutting peninsula 135,000 years ago, this 2,518-metre-high (8,261 ft.) stratovolcano rises skyward with a near perfect conical shape. On first seeing it on the horizon I became mesmerized – knowing I’d have to climb it! If you plan to go all the way to the top, head for the North Egmont visitor center to grab a map detailing the quite challenging Summit Track. It’s stunning up there.
3) TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
If you enjoy diverse volcanic terrain and a lot of walking then head to Tongariro National Park, near the southern center of the island. There you’ll hear a buzz about the 19.4-kilometer (one way) “alpine crossing”, which for years has attracted ‘trampers’ (track = trail + campers) and volcano aficionados the world over. As of this writing the second half of the crossing is closed due to sporadic ash-rock eruptions of the Upper Te Maari Crater on Tongariro’s north flank. I hiked several other trails in the park and was duly impressed – without the worry of pesky airborne boulders landing on my head.
4) KIWI CAN-DO AWARD
Imagine your driving glasses snapping in half at 3 PM on a Friday afternoon in an unknown town you’ve been in for less than an hour. Where do you go for a custom repair by 5 PM? If this scenario happens to you and you happen to be in quaint Wanganui, the answer is to head to J. Williams & Company jewelers. With my separate left/right eye spectacle halves sadly laid on his counter, managing director Philip Sell worked a miracle at their micro-tooled workbench with a tiny piece of metal rod drilled and epoxied to reconnect the halves. By 5:15 and without charge I was on the road; amazed, grandly grateful and thoroughly impressed by Philip & Team’s gold star Kiwi hospitality. A warm and very human interaction which I will long remember.
5) MORERE HOT SPRINGS
Nestled within a Department of Conservation reserve, this beautiful combination of adult and child-friendly environs beckons – a short 45-minute drive south of Gisborne on highway 2. For kids there are large open grassy areas to run and play. For families; picnic tables, an all-ages swimming pool, and a simple snack bar stocked with yummy stuff. For adults, a secluded couple of warm + hot mineral spa pools open to the forest are quiet and picturesque. Reasonable entry fees, clean facilities and, once again, warmly accommodating Kiwi spirit.
6) MĀORI COUNTRY
Mid-island on a major east coast peninsula is home to many Māori people; a raw land full of thick forests and pristine coastline – without resorts, tourists or shops diverting attention. This is the way New Zealand once was – before the plethora of non-indigenous sheep and cattle ranches. Between the towns of Gisborne and Whakatane is nary a petrol station nor restaurant. (I nearly ran out of petrol passing through this region) What I did experience every so often was a community area known as a marae; with meeting and social gathering buildings around a central courtyard and a welcoming hand-carved archway depicting mortal + spirit events. If you want to encounter a non-westernized part of New Zealand, respectfully explore this region, and ask before taking photos of sacred artifacts.
7) TOURISTY (untouristy) ROTORUA
If your idea of getting out into nature finishes in a relaxing plant-bordered mineral pool, then a soothing massage, followed by a scrumptious dinner and Māori cultural show, then head to Rotorua; located in the Bay of Plenty region. Gaining it’s odorous nickname “Sulfur City” from the strangely sweet scents emanating out of hundreds of volcanic vents, this town does cater to tourists – though in a Kiwi-friendly manner. Compared to most global “touristy” areas, this locale is low-key. Many geothermal highlights such as geysers and blurping mud pools dot the area, accessed by easy and moderate trails.
iSite for the latest scoop
No, not an Apple electronic ice cream shop, iSites are well equipped visitor centers located all over the island, offering (mostly) free maps, pamphlets and personally delivered details about nearby sights and places. Some have cafés so you can peruse your fresh info-booty and still have experts across the room to fill you in further. Well organized with friendly, knowledgeable staff, I highly recommend a pre-flight online overview followed by a deeper onsite Q&A with an iSite assistant.
That’s where I leave this for now. The next post I’ll to will include great restaurants, one of the most engaging museums I have ever been through, and finish with some of my favorite images. Start planning your trip now!
All images © Geoff Puckett, except those otherwise noted.
As a blazing Big Data sun rises above our modern technological horizon, you can find an oasis of respite in Montana’s Big Sky country while discovering how all those baby bits and bytes began…
Bozeman’s Museum of Modern Human Progress (aka American Computer Museum) is a curious melange of historic recording, counting, computing and communication devices, with eclectic diversions across Cro-Magnon cave wall art, a pre-Christ analog computer replica, and an original 1623 first edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’.
It’s the ultimate pyromaniacal extravaganza with incredible artistic sculptures, chest-pounding concussions, synchronized conflagrations and orgasmic fireworks – contrasted by gorgeous filigreed religious ceremonies woven in to remind everyone of the week-long feast’s origin.
Las Fallas (pr: fayahs) literally means “the fire torch”, however it also represents the annual celebration praising Saint Joseph – the patron Saint of Carpenters. (The hammer & nails type – not Karen and Richard)
In Valencia, Spain (Catalan pr: Balenthia, per their rumored lisping king), more than 180 sculpted foam figures, surrounding figurative entourages and highly detailed vignettes are created to depict famous events, satirical statements, political opinions along with often edgy, occasionally comically off-color themes. Many of these creations are 40, 50, as much as 100 feet high – meticulously crafted by neighborhood teams who spend much of the prior year designing and building these oversized wood / papier-mâché / styrofoam masterpieces.
In case you’ve never been – Spain is THE place for festivals, with at least one major celebration a week. The Spanish adore their religious holidays and have a wondrous way of weaving multi-day music, dining and drinking parties around mere hour-long Christian rituals. Kinda gives the church social a hip new image.
I was in Valencia for the March 1999 Las Fallas, along with my wife at the time and two theme park special effect industry colleagues. Amidst sharply cracking M-80’s being tossed from apartment windows above and the never-ending strings of fizzling firecrackers, I felt as if we were in a Twilight (war) Zone party from the 1980 film ‘Altered States‘. The vibe was, eh, casual-intense with explosives going off throughout the day in every part of the city. Next time I’m bringing earplugs so I can better enjoy my elderly years.
The annual all-out party, pardon me – Christian celebration – goes on for a week beginning March 15, concluding March 19. But just in case you aren’t really warmed up at the beginning of the mid-month celebration the locals begin March 1st with lunchtime fireworks along with quaint parades, shows and related pre-party parties.
Daily at 2 PM: Mascletà (awkwardly translated as: highly powerful firecracker)
Hundreds and hundreds of seriously concussive bombs hanging from aerial fuse cords sequentially ignited to stunningly rock the central square. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Ongoing throughout each day:
Occasional street processions with elaborate, traditionally dressed ladies, gentlemen and adorable children carrying flowers toward a massive central-city wood slatted alter which, through addition of flowers all week, eventually becomes the dress of Mother Mary.
Nightly at 9-ish PM: Sky fireworks
Each night one of the five largest Spanish firework companies show off their wares. Not for 15 minutes. Not for a half hour. 90 non-stop minutes of the most colorful, unique pyrotechnics ever.
The final night, March 19: Nit del Foc (Night of Fire)
The grandest of all five aerial firework displays followed by La Crema – the burning of all the sculptural vignettes.
La Crema (cremation) is the Spanish equivalent to Buddhist mandala sand paintings – where such laboriously passionate creations are suddenly wiped off the board, released as undulating sparks back to the cosmos. Think of it as stars returning to heaven after a week’s holiday on Earth. In a few short minutes the work of an entire year goes up in flames. The symbology is thermally breathtaking as the entire flickering city of 810,000 blazes well into the wee hours with giant bonfires in every community. Mucho pagan.
Now for some personal details for all you pyro fanatics – since my life has been generally involved with theatrical special effects. Science and Art; the coolest combination! (In school I was the kid who thought a beaker explosion deserved an A+)
First, no Fantasyland castle firework display can touch Las Fallas. Not ‘Fantasmic’, not ‘World of Color’. The secret? Heavy metal aerial vapor regulations. Spanish laws appear to be more forgiving than what I’ve seen in other parts of the world – and artistically that’s a godsend, though admittedly not very ‘green’. Future health issues aside, the colors seen in the evening firework displays were incredibly deep and vibrant; cobalt blues, emerald greens, Jimi Hendrix violets and blood-Goth reds like I’ve never seen before. Just don’t be down wind ingesting the vaporized brew of toxic fumes!
The physical tricks are a wonder to behold as well. Shells explode dozens of small parachutes into the night sky, each carrying their own secondary pyro charges which hang mysteriously in mid-air to produce dimensionally dreamy effects never seen in the United States. Once again, from Valencia’s looser safety angle; with a good down draft these small yet vibrant and VERY hot spark spewers could dive right into the crowd, but if you haven’t succumbed from quarter-sticks exploding in the alleyways you’ll likely survive this.
The best physical effects were the mysterious flying saucers – again thrust into the evening sky from ground mortars, left to spin high in the sky as if visiting from Mars. Even I was taken by the size and quantity of these hovering, flaming entities – trying to figure out exactly how they became airborne in the first place.
The finale presented a visual effect I have yet to see anywhere else in the world… a 36-inch (3 foot!!) diameter shell was launched with a soul shaking low frequency thud. Ten seconds later the entire sky was completely filled with the most spectacular array of effervescently radiating light. The ENTIRE SKY! I admit Valencian fireworks have corrupted me forever. I must now scour the planet for my remaining years to get an even grander 3D firework fix. Today the Japanese regularly launch 48-inch shells in their finales.
So now for my absolute favorite; an aural/body experience no Led Zeppelin or Van Halen concert ever got close to. The Mascletà.
No, you’ll just have to book a ticket to Valencia. Well O.K. – - I’ll try.
The surrounding crowd cheers as the president of that day’s host firework company ignites the beckoning, hanging fuse with a glowing flare.
Boom – BOOM
Pow Pow KA-BLAMMM!!!
Louder and faster and louder and faster AND LOUDER for about 30 seconds. Then you begin to feel the explosions in your face and shoulders. After about a minute (if you value your hearing) you firmly insert fingers in ears. Unfortunately you have just identified yourself as a foreigner because the locals just stand with arms at their sides. Even tiny kids on parental shoulders have no hearing protection. Yiiiiiikes!
It’s not over though. 90 seconds in and now my entire body graphically feels each concussive WHAM as if Armageddon was becoming a 3D HD reality. The concussion waves surprisingly tear through a 10+ layer thick wall of people in front me. 2-1/2 minutes in and I’m beginning to wonder how far this will go because I’m feeling the ground shake; wincing from each more powerful pyrotechnic punch. Then – - silence.
Assuming it’s over the crowd cheers as dense smoke blows up and around. Then suddenly a dozen six inch diameter charges explode at once – scaring the &%#@ out of everyone as the cathartic onslaught continues. Time is in complete suspension now with crowd laughter obliterated by beyond-deafening decibel levels.
Circumstances are both scary and strangely exhilarating. Raw power as I’ve never felt before. Absolute noise becoming curiously beautiful in the midst of protective, insulative humanity. It’s hard to describe. After, I don’t know, ten minutes or so the display self-extinguishes as the final couple of massive shells detonate. At this point I’ve discovered there’s a limit as to how long everyone can respond to such aggressive pounding – and we’ve reached it. But I have to say, with my hair blown straight back and my brain asking “uh, why?” I subconsciously realize Las Fallas is not about how much money it costs to produce or how many gallons of paint were used to coat the sculpted vignettes.
Las Fallas is life and death and rebirth for five days in a row. It’s the most ‘alive’ festival I’ve ever participated in. I don’t mean lively – rather ‘alive’ in the sense of the people and their spirit. We Americans can’t fathom something like Las Fallas in the States because of our social, legal and law enforcement systems. In Europe residents have a very different view of safety and fun and community and celebration. They truly live life on another wavelength and I encourage you to give it a try.