The Shortcut

The colorful Champagne Pool in Wai-o-tapu even in the rain

13-November 2004 to 15-November 2004: After spending a stormy day in the thermal wonderland of Roturua yesterday, it was time to make the adventurous drive to Wairoa. When I planned out this trip, the one part that concerned me the most was the 120km stretch of unsealed road between Rotorua and Wairoa. Any number of things could go wrong when you're driving that deep into nature. Besides, I had read somewhere that this road tended to break up marriages as couples would argue after finding out it wasn't the shortcut one of them hoped it would be. Since Julie and I just married a week ago, I prayed this would not be our fate.

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It was about 5am when I awoke. Julie was still asleep, and I figured that since at least one of the targeted waterfalls of today was near our accommodation here in the Bridgeway Motel in Tauranga could be visited until I get back to the motel in time for her to wake up and check out.

So by about 5:30am, I was out the door in my hiking gear and I immediately proceeded to drive towards Rerekawau Falls (or Kaiate Falls). From what I recalled, it was a pretty straightforward drive though it was still a little dark even though daylight was imminent.

By about 6am, I made it to the car park for the falls and immediately proceeded to walk on the trail. After briefly exploring a separate trail that took me in the opposite direction I wanted to go (apparently that went to a separate trailhead or something closer to the road I took to get here), I was then on the correct path and found myself walking alongside a tall three-tiered waterfall as I descended on steps alongside it. I didn't really start getting a good view of the falls until I got near the bottom.

Then, I took the photos and continued hiking downstream as it appeared that there was another waterfall to see here according to the signs. Given that I was in forested terrain, the daylight still was struggling to get to where I was so photographing the falls was an exercise in holding my breath. But in any case, the lower falls was pretty impressive as it was more of a straight plunge.

First look at the Upper Kaiate Falls Probably my most satisfying view of Kaiate Falls Frontal look at the Lower Kaiate Falls Looking back at what appeared to be the lower drop of Kaiate Falls through some thick foliage

When all was said and done, I was back at the car park but not before getting some nice views towards Mt Maunganui and the Port of Tauranga. The time was now about 7:45am. And I knew I could still sneak in another visit to another pair of waterfalls before returning to the Bridgeway Motel to see Julie again.

Looking towards Mt Maunganui and the Port of Tauranga So I went ahead and drove back towards the city and then onto a state highway (SH29) headed southwest of town until I eventually reached a bridge with what appeared to be a car park on one side of the road and a lot of bare rocks on the other side of the road. The time was about 8:40am. The rocks basically had a few strands of waterfall, and I'd imagine that this was the McLaren Falls.

Looking towards the regulated McLaren Falls which was a shadow of its former self I briefly tried to see if there was a way to get closer to the base of this potentially wide waterfall, but eventually I realized that it was probably not worth the effort since the falls was hardly flowing at all. Still, it was one of those waterfalls where it could have been a "what might have been" fantasy.

Looking down towards part of McLarens Falls where I suspect some people might try to go swimming So I got my photos then continued to drive into the McLaren Falls park, which ironically enough didn't seem to contain the waterfall that I had just seen. However, from looking at the sign maps, it looked like I could drive towards a waterfall in here, which turned out to be somewhere near the Marshall Animal Park within this complex.

A rest bench with Marshall Falls So by about 8:05am I did the short walk and finally got to see the attractive "Marshall Falls", which had a pleasing shape. About 10 minutes later, I had my fill of this waterfall and got back to the car, where I then drove back to the motel. When I got back, Julie was awake and almost all packed up and ready to go. Good timing!

And with that, we headed out to the west of Tauranga and into the Mamaku-Kaimai Ranges to see Wairere Falls. This was a waterfall that I anticipated seeing because it was one of the larger ones on the North Island. Eventually at around 11pm, we would make it to the waterfall after a drive through what appeared to be farmland to even get between Te Aroha and Matamata, and so we were at the unpaved car park with a handful of cars already here.

Julie and I proceeded to go on the walk, which indicated that it was going to be at least 90 minutes to a couple of hours.

One of the signs at the trailhead for Wairere Falls One of many bridges we had to cross on our way up to Wairere Falls More bridges on the way to Wairere Falls

The hike was pleasant though it was starting to get quite warm. Initially, we were hiking over a lot of sturdy and swinging bridges as we straddled the stream that I'd imagine was responsible for the falls. The trail was gradually uphill during this stretch. But after about 35 minutes, we'd finally get to a part where the trail really started climbing as it went up a series of steps.

Looking up the steps we had to take to get higher up the trail to Wairere Falls Julie checking out Wairere Falls Clean look at Wairere Falls Following Julie back down the stairs towards the trailhead

Next, we then were briefly back in the bush trail where a junction indicated that the falls lookout was to our left. Apparently, we had the option of going right and continuing to the top of the falls, but we were more interested in seeing the waterfall as opposed to getting the views from the top. So eventually after 45 minutes from the trail, we made it to the lookout for Wairere Falls and were pretty impressed with its size and its volume.

Having earned our way here, we basked in the accomplishment for a bit watching the clouds block the sunlight from time to time, which was the best time to take the photos since there were no shadows when the sun was covered.

Still on the trail on the return hike to the Wairere Falls Trailhead Following the fringes of farmland towards the trailhead of Wairere Falls Back at the sign at the trailhead of Wairere Falls Looking back at Wairere Falls from within the Waikato Plains

There was another couple who showed up and chatted with us a bit, and then when they left, another family was about to show up. That was when we started to leave and head back down to the car park. At least it was all downhill now.

At around 1pm, we were back at the car park. Now that we knew where the waterfall was, we stole some glimpses of its top from the farmlands within the easternmost plains of Waikato. Quite impressive.

Next, we drove towards Rotorua, which was where Julie and I were going to stay for the next couple of nights (at the Gwendoline Court Motel). After checking into our motel, we dropped off our stuff and then went to Te Whakarewarewa, which was a geothermal park along with some Maori cultural centre.

We knew that there was the Prince of Whales and Pohutu Geyser here, and we looked forward to seeing it. Of course having been to Yellowstone earlier in the year, we couldn't help but compare the two experiences. However, the differene here was that it seemed to be more commercialized than the more primitive and natural experience in Yellowstone. There was no way we would have seen people boiling eggs in the sulfur-rich springs in Yellowstone whereas it was a far different story here.

Looking across some mud pots at Te Whakarewarewa Looking over some terrace towards the Prince of Wales and Pohutu Geyser spots Looking back over the thermal complex to the hotel in the distance

So we arrived at the thermal park at around 3:40pm and walked around the premises for at least an hour or so just to take it all in. After seeing the geysers we targeted (which went off in short fits and starts quite frequently but not very high like Old Faithful high), we then went into a captive kiwi area, where the bowling-ball-sized flightless birds surprised us with their size though it was hard to take photos of them given the very low light area (they're nocturnal). Flash was definitely not allowed.

Looking in the direction of where Prince of Wales and Pohutu Geyser are supposed to be Looking over a terrace to the geysers in Whaka Watching the Prince of Wales and Pohutu Geysers go off somewhat Looking towards some kind of crater formation with steam coming out

We didn't quite have the energy to do more exploring of the Maori cultural areas, which was a shame, and we'd ultimately return to our accommodation by about 6pm. At that point, we went looking for a place to eat and wound down this eventful day.

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Today, Julie and I were planning on going to see the Lady Knox Geyser go off, but that wasn't scheduled until about 10:15am. So we knew that we could sleep in a bit to ensure that we would arrive at the Wai-o-tapu Geothermal Area in time to see the show while also exploring the thermal features in that park. We really anticipated how it might contrast with our recently-done Te Whakarewarewa experience yesterday.

Looking along some thermal stream as we tried to kill time before the Lady Knox Geyser would go off Looking into some rumbling thermal pool in Wai-o-tapu A mud pool seen along the walks of Wai-o-tapu

Anyways, we left our accommodation in Rotorua and we'd ultimately make it to Wai-o-tapu at about 8:30am. Since we had some time to kill, so we explored the geothermal pools around the area knowing that we had a bit of a time limit so we wouldn't miss the geyser show. I always wondered how this geyser could go off at precisely 10:15am, and I guess we weren't going to be denied finding out why.

Broad contextual view of the Champagne Pool Closer look at the colorful Champagne Pool in the dreary conditions Some bright colors in the thermal pools of Wai-o-tapu

Julie and I walked the trails and boardwalks that went by features named the Devil's Home, Devil's Ink Pots, and especially the attractive Champagne Pool, which reminded me of a smaller version of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone. Unfortunately, the skies were threatening and even raining on and off so it kind of muted the colors a bit.

More thermal pools and springs in Wai-o-tapu A deceptively calm yet strikingly colorful pool in Wai-o-tapu Contextual view back towards the thermal wonderland of Wai-o-tapu despite the rain

We'd eventually make it towards the Artists Palette, then the so-called Bridal Veil Falls, which was really some thermal runoff going down a small terrace, and then an acidic lake, which I think was called Lake Ngakoro. Even with the overcast skies, the incredible colors of the lake were both beautiful yet menacing. It was definitely one place we wouldn't want to be swimming in!

Looking back towards the so-called Bridal Veil Falls This was probably as far into Wai-o-tapu as we went before retreating to Lady Knox Geyser A menacingly calm Sulphur Lake

Anyways, we'd make it back to the Lady Knox Geyser area at around 10am. By then, there was already a bit of a crowd of people anticipating this geyser spectacle. And sure enough by about 10:15am, a ranger came out and talked about the geothermal history of this place, including the geyser. And then, he dropped a bag full of stuff into the mouth of the geyser and a minute or two later, the geyser started going off.

Quickly making our way across the thermal wonderland towards Lady Knox Geyser A very neon green pool seen along the way to Lady Knox Geyser The ranger giving a talk before depositing something into the mouth of the geyser to get it to go off

I thought it was a little contrived to see the geyser go off in such an induced manner, but I guess that was how they could guarantee a precise eruption time. At least the geyser did present a neat photo op, but as the water shot up into the grey skies, it was hard to discern the geyser's waters from the steam and the grey skies. I learned from Yellowstone, that you really want the blue skies to contrast the white spray of the water.

The Lady Knox Geyser going off Now that the spectacle was over, it was about 10:30am and we took the time to go to the next attraction in and around the Rotorua area, which was the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. I knew there was a waterfall there so I looked forward to seeing it.

The walkway around Te Wairoa Falls I had learned prior to the visit that this village suffered a similar fate as that of Pompeii, where a volcanic eruption literally buried an entire village or city. This happened back in the 19th century whereas Pompeii was way back in ancient times. The Mt Tarawera eruption that did in Te Wairoa also destroyed the famous Pink and White Terraces, which was sort of New Zealand's answer to the Minerva Terrace in its prime in Yellowstone (which we missed by a decade or so as it was mostly white by the time we saw it earlier in the year).

Clean look at Te Wairoa Falls' main tier We'd eventually make it to the Buried Village at around 12pm or so, and we'd follow a one-way walking path that took us by some museum-like displays showing how life was like in Te Wairoa before the eventful day in 1886. The trail took us past a bunch of displays that I'm sure would take an entire day to fully appreciate. However, we were focused on getting to the falls, and it wasn't until about 11:40pm that we'd finally get to the impressive falls.

Looking directly upstream from the bridge towards Te Wairoa Falls It actually had multiple tiers, but the main tier was the most attractive one. It was hard to photograph the whole falls given where the trail was and how much bush had surrounded the watercourse and trail.

Looking in the direction of Mt Tarawera except clouds shrouded the volcano And with that, we left Te Wairoa at around 12pm. It was too bad that it was so overcast with on-and-off rain because the clouds shrouded Mt Tarawera, which I thought the view would have been pretty regal had it been a clearer day like yesterday.

Next, we made a long drive around Lake Rotorua past Hell's Gate (we'd come back here later) towards Tarawera Falls, which turned out to be pretty non-trivial to get to. It felt like we were leaving the hustle and bustle of touristy Rotorua towards a more subdued area as we were approaching Whakatane even though we wouldn't go all the way to that town.

We then followed a pretty rough unsealed logging road that would ultimately take us to the trail for Tarawera Falls. Unfortunately, our fuel gauge was running low and I wasn't sure we'd make it as the fuel light had been on for much on this unsealed drive. Further unnerving Julie and I were that there was one rough spot by a bridge where I might have hit either a pothole or a bump that really jarred the rental car.

Seeing how it was very quiet and remote out here, we were definitely concerned about getting stranded. Further fouling the mood was that the rain was really starting to come down a bit more now.

Julie on the trail as we went looking for Tarawera Falls Looking over a bridge we had to take in search of Tarawera Falls Contextual view of the gushing spring-like Tarawera Falls

In any case, Julie and I were mercifully on the trail at around 2pm. At least the trail was pretty easy to follow and barely 10-15 minutes after we got started, we finally saw the pretty elusive Tarawera Falls emerging from the cliffs before us. It seemed like the trail kept going beyond the lookout we were at, but we were pretty content to check out the falls and then come back to the car as we were quite concerned about the state of the tyres and whether we'd still have enough fuel to make it to at least a petrol stop on the way back to Rotorua.

Checking out the context of Tarawera Falls and its surrounding cliffs Fortunately for us, we eventually made it out of the logging roads to Kawerau (the gateway town leading to those logging roads), and then we found a petrol stop for some much needed gas.

From there, we drove back to Hell's Gate where we then got to check out this thermal area at 4:30pm.

The place was actually pretty quiet during our visit and there seemed to be peacocks strutting around both inside a spa area (where Julie and I got some much-needed snacks for a late lunner) as well as outdoors. It was definitely raining for good during our visit, but we came prepared with rain ponchos and slowly explored this thermal area in search of Kakahi Falls, which was our waterfalling excuse to check this place out.

More thermal mud pools, but this time at Hell's Gate Looking right into a dark muddy and smelly pool Our first look at Kakahi Falls

We'd eventually get to the falls at around 4:50pm, and then we'd continue to walk around the complex to see other sulfur-smelling features like the Devil's Cauldron, Sulphur Lake, and the Mud Volcano before getting back to the entrance complex where there were the peacocks again.

Contextual view of Kakahi Falls Looking towards a different section of Hell's Gate Looking into another mud pot

Eventually at around 5:30pm, we left the complex to return to Rotorua looking forward to getting out of our wet clothes and into something more comfortable for dinner. We'd eventually eat at this place that made pretty good NZ mussels and scallops, and we returned to our accommodation pretty satisfied.

Looking at some intriguing mud volcano in Hell's Gate Looking at a menacing sulphur lake at Hell's Gate Back at the welcome area of Hell's Gate with a peacock strutting around

We then had to spend the remainder of the evening doing laundry as we were running out of clothes and this motel just so happened to have a laundry machine. Of course, we had to wait our turn, which made our evening even longer (we had to wait for a Canadian lady to get her clothes done), and it ultimately wasn't until well after midnight before I got our clothes out of the dryer.

Still, the clothes were damp, and I'd have to spend even more time in our motel room hanging up these clothes (while starting to stink again), knowing that we were supposed to get an early start to drive through Te Urewera National Park. Indeed, there was a long day of driving ahead of us when we get up, and the rain was really coming down hard now. No rest for the weary, I guess. And I doubted the clothes would be dry when it came time to get up and go...

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Our clothes were still wet due to the miniscule laundry facilities the neighboring sister motel (of the Gwendoline Court, Rotorua) had. Consequently, they started to stink. Oh well, can't worry about that now. We had to jet.

After spending a stormy day in the thermal wonderland of Roturua yesterday, it was time to make the adventurous drive to Wairoa. When I planned out this trip, the one part that concerned me the most was the 120km stretch of unsealed road between Rotorua and Wairoa. Any number of things could go wrong when you're driving that deep into nature. Besides, I had read somewhere that this road tended to break up marriages as couples would argue after finding out it wasn't the shortcut one of them hoped it would be. Since Julie and I just married a week ago, I prayed this would not be our fate.

It was 4:45am when we left the Gwendoline Court Motel in Rotorua and took SH38 towards Murupara. It was still heavily overcast with showers dumping on us on and off. The road was quite straight as we got closer to Murupara.

Sign for Totarapapa Falls and Stream It was only 5:45am when we passed through Murupara. Good thing we pumped up fully at Rotorua because it didn't look like anything was open. It wasn't long before the road became unsealed and quickly the driving slowed down and became a winding affair.

Totarapapa Falls After about 45 minutes of unsealed driving, we saw a sign that said "Totarapapa Falls and Stream." I hadn't planned on seeing this since I had never read about it before, but I pulled the car over and decided to have a look. Just then it was raining cats and dogs. I got drenched as I was photographing the seemingly hidden waterfall as it was covered by a thick layer of foliage. Julie stayed in the car wanting no part of the inclement weather.

And so we continued along the rugged gravel road as it twisted and turned its way through the native and unspoiled forest of Te Urewera National Park.

The northern end of Lake Waikaremoana At 7:45am, we finally started to see something to break up the plethora of green that surrounded us...

...a lake.

...and not just any ordinary lake. It was Lake Waikaremoana.

Formed by a landslide that blocked the flow of the Waikaretaheke River, this lake now lies in the middle of some of the largest tract of native forest in the North Island.

It was a welcome sight as it signaled to us that we were getting close to the waterfalls we were after...

The rental car on the unsealed road through Te Urewera National Park Even though the skies were starting to clear up, the wind was blowing very hard. Even as I got out of the car to take photos of the lake, the car was rocking, which was a little unnerving that the wind could be so powerful that it could do this. So we didn't stay away from the car for long before we got back in and kept moving.

Mokau Falls Finally at 8am we reached a pullout where the 37m Mokau Falls tumbled beneath us.

At last a major waterfall!

Looking back towards Tauwhare Falls So we took some photos and also noticed the weather started to clear up as sunlight was breaking through the clouds. We even saw a rainbow looking in the direction of the lake.

Next, we proceeded to the bridge that stood above Mokau Falls. When we looked back towards the spot that we saw the falls from, we noticed another white column tumbling its way through the dense forested cliff. It was Tauwhare Falls. While not as impressive as Mokau Falls, it was worth a stop and a look.

Behind the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre In another 30 minutes, we finally started to see some civilization as the Aniwaniwa Visitor Center stood near the Aniwaniwa River. We parked the car and finally had a chance to spend some time away from it.

We paid a visit to the nicely built center, where we bought some maps and some literature on the region. Soon thereafter, we headed straight into the Hinerau Track in search of the three Aniwaniwa Waterfalls.

First up was the Bridal Veil Falls. This waterfall flowed down a slope in a sheet of water before settling in a quiet plunge pool surrounded by native forest.

The Bridal Veil Falls near the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre A sign for the Aniwaniwa Falls' components This was where I stopped on the very steep and eroded path to a view of the Aniwaniwa Falls This was as much of the Aniwaniwa Falls as I could see through the foliage

A few minutes later, a signed turnoff led to a precarious overlook through foliage of Momahaki Falls and Te Tangi-o-Hinerau. These falls fell one after another, but getting a closer look required scrambling down a nearly vertical drop-off, which we opted not to do.

Start of the short 2-minute trail to Papakorito Falls Direct view of the attractive Papakorito Falls Back on the road going around the east end of Lake Waikaremoana

After getting our fill of these waterfalls, we returned to the car and proceeded to drive to Papakorito Falls. The weather continued to improve as we made the short drive to its open car park. The walk to get closer to the falls was just a couple minutes away. The 20m waterfall was quite satisfying and provided a nice way to end the waterfall hunting along SH38.

Going back through the road to Wairoa in Te Urewera National Park with Lake Waikaremoana in the background Still the adventure wasn't over. There was a considerable amount of unsealed driving beyond Aniwaniwa towards Wairoa.

While we didn't stop anymore, we didn't arrive in Wairoa until 11:30am.

Julie and I were hungry and opted to try out some of the town's award-winning meat pies. It was a pleasant way to unwind while the Wairoa River flowed before the row of restaurants and shops.

On our now-satisfied stomachs, we drove the Tiniroto Road in search of Te Reinga Falls. The car park was well signed and positioned on the opposite side of a long and sturdy bridge over the Ruakituri River.

We took the short trail out to its end where an overlook provided views of the falls...

...from above and behind it!

Julie on the short walk to the overlook of Te Reinga Falls Looking down over the top of Te Reinga Falls with faint rainbow Looking down more towards the brink of Te Reinga Falls

Needless to say, this was a rather disappointing view as we couldn't see the falls. We only saw the mist rising from its crashing waters at the base. The only consolation prize was the presence of faint rainbows in the mist.

I had seen other photos of the falls before and I knew there had to be a better view than this! On the way back to the car, I had noticed a faint trail leading down a vegetated gully. While Julie went straight back to the car, I decided to explore this off-track path.

First look from the alternate and much better viewpoint though still not the best view The path eventually curved around the hill we were on and led to a dropoff. I ran into a couple of people here who said it wasn't too bad (one of the two went down).

Profile view of Te Reinga Falls So I opted to try it out. The dropoff was probably about 7 or 8ft tall. It was tall enough that your feet won't touch the ground right away. I saw there were branches and trunks I could climb on to get back up, but I wondered if those would be there for the next person who wanted a decent view later on.

Looking downstream from Te Reinga Falls When I made it to the bottom of the drop, I was on a slippery but wide outcrop. From here, I could see the profile of one of the Te Reinga Falls. It was certainly more satisfying than the official one, but it was still far away. I decided I had to settle for this view rather than risking life and limb finding another way.

At 2pm, I made it back to the car where Julie sat inside waiting for me. We proceed to head back the other way towards Wairoa and ultimately in the direction of Napier. However, we were going to make one final stop for the day at Shine Falls.

The drive to Shine Falls was a bit of a tedious and lengthy drive on rough unsealed road through strangely scenic yet remote tracts of farmland. We could sense the isolation of the area, but the farmland assured us that civilization was still present.

Finally at 4pm, we made it to the car park for the falls. A ranger just so happened to be in the area so we engaged in a little chatter before we started the two-hour return hike.

Initially, the trail went over a stile and into a large grassy paddock area. Sheep were scattered through this open grassy area backed by scenic wind-swept cliffs. Even though we weren't in the Austrian Alps, I couldn't help but think of the opening scene from the Sound of Music.

In the scenic grassy area at the start of the hike to Shine Falls Following the signposted arrows across the grassy knoll When we crossed the grassy area, we then went through a lightly forested area towards the Boundary Stream Reserve

So we passed through the area as the sheep kept their distance from us. Maybe they though we were ranchers. Anyhow, it wasn't long before we crossed into a lightly forested area and then another stile.

Some colorful wildflowers were blooming along the trail Entering the Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve Noticing Shine Falls in the distance

At this point, a Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve sign greeted us. Apparently, the authorities have set up traps hidden along the trail in the hopes of killing the pests threatening to kill off the native plant and animal life in the area. It was all part of a so-called Mainland Island project that sought to restore the conditions of yesteryear. Needless to say it was a tall order given all the possum roadkill we had been seeing throughout the country.

Getting closer to Shine Falls Crossing over a bridge to get closer to Shine Falls Looking up at the impressive Shine Falls Last look at Shine Falls before it was time to leave

At 4:45pm, we finally saw Shine Falls. The tall waterfall towered over the foliage below and beckoned us to come closer. So that we did.

Julie returning to the grassy paddock that for some reason reminded me of the Sound of Music Looking up at sheep keeping their distance from us Julie finally returning to the car park

After going up and down a few hills and crossing over a bridge, we made it to a lone picnic table with a nice view of the falls. The strange shape of the falls almost had a contour of a hooded figure. And so Julie and I took a few photos here. We had the falls all to ourselves as well as the entire trail it turned out.

We regained the car at 5:30pm. To our surprise, the doors weren't locked...

That was worrisome. So we checked our belongings and didn't see anything get ripped off.

Whew! Must have forgotten to lock the door...

Anyhow, we ultimately made it to the McLean Park Motor Lodge in the art-deco town of Napier at 6:30pm. When we checked in to our motel, even the rooms had an art deco feel to it - with loud colors on the walls and interestingly-shaped furniture.

We went back to the Marine Parade area in search of a good place to eat. The town seemed kind of dead for a place that somehow reminded me of the touristy parts of Santa Monica. Nonetheless, we managed to find decent food at the Masonic Establishment and soaked in the environment.

And so we returned to McLean Park Motor Lodge. Exhausted from a very long day of sightseeing, we had no trouble falling asleep.

No drama resulted from today, which was a relief considering the ominous reputation of that "shortcut" that we took earlier in the day. And so our life as newlyweds on a honeymoon could continue unabated...

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