Australasia | New Zealand | North Island | Auckland – Auckland to Rotorua
That’s Maori for ‘be healthy/Hello’ in that kind of Shalom means ‘peace/Hello’ kind of way. May sound cheesy but I like the expression probably because it’s the one Maori word I can pronounce. [I think I avoided cycling in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve last week just because I couldn’t summons up the courage to ask someone how to get there!]
Anyway so I’m here in Wellington chez Beverly Paris whose family lives in the wonderfully named neighbourhood of Haitatai (I think that’s it see what I mean) and who are being great hosts to me for my one non-youth hostel night in New Zealand. My short stay in Wellington (I leave tomorrow afternoon) marks the end of my trip on the North Island. Tomorrow I fly by (12-eater-you-get-to-see-the-pilot-eat-his-lunch-plane) to Picton to start my South Island traverse but that is for next weeks e-mail…
So where have I been since we last ‘spoke’? (Thanx all those who wrote back btw. If I haven’t already replied I hope too soon) My basic itinerary so far has been as follows:
I arrived in Auckland on Wed afternoon totally confused because I had just traveled and put my clock forward and traveled and put my clock forward for what seemed like 24 hours or maybe it was less and hadn’t really slept. Who knows? The hostel wasn’t bad despite bunk beds that might as well have had an escalator going up they were so high. Collapsed into bed and then went insomniac later so chatted to fellow roomies (1 Israeli and 1 English – for this I travel thousands of miles?) and then went to an Internet café at 11:30pm and surfed.
I left Auckland early the next day and by all accounts this was not a too short amount of time to have spent there. Was picked up by the Magic bus – no this isn’t a bus with wings or any other Chitty Chitty Bang Bang impersonator but rather the name of the travelers’ network I am using. Basically I’ve bought a pass, which takes me a certain route around the country within a minimum number of days. I can choose to stay with the same bus or to stay longer in one place or go off the beaten track and pick up the next bus at a later stage. My fellow passengers are a mix of 20-30’s from all over the world with a few older still travelers. Drivers are quite funky mixing the role of driver with tour guide, logistics and personnel manager and general motivator. Also up to now (sample size 3) they have all seemed to be quite idiosyncratic about their music and sounds on the bus, wanting to ensure we travel with a good soundtrack. Any of you know me well you’ll know I totally appreciate the effort.
Anyway we drove out of Auckland stopping for an overview from Mount Eden and then passed through several towns on our way down to the Waitomo caves. Won’t bore you with the details except to say that was honoured to pass through the town of Te Awamutu – birthplace of Neil Finn, lead singer of the sadly disbanded Crowded House. In honour of this wonderful group I am dedicating this weeks installment to their discography and have hidden 12 of their song and/or album titles within the letter. First person who writes back with the full list will be guaranteed a Kiwi souvenir*.
*Please allow 128 days for delivery. The competition organizer reserves the right to interpret the word souvenir entirely as they wish. In the case of a tie, competitors will buy the competition organizer a welcome home present instead.
Anyway so onto the Waitomo caves. These were Stallegmites and Stallegtite caves with added glowworms. Floating on a boat in an underground cave lit only with insects is pretty awesome. All of this was hidden away under rolls and rolls of beautiful New Zealand countryside. This is just the beginning I am getting so much from the many shades of green and stunning tall trees that surround us all the time.
From here we’re onto Rotorua the place with the smell, spas and bubbly mud. This is an area of very high thermal activity, so much so that all the water in the area is heated by thermal activity. It is not uncommon to see steam rising from geisers (pronounced gayzers – geezers are old men) near house and of course to smell the rotten egg smell of sulphur.
Despite my legendary memory for wedding dates and what you were doing this time last year, geology and history seem to have rather less tenacity for the Gold cerebrum. Thus I will not attempt to accurately explain the science and legends behind the amazing wonders I am seeing but that’s ok because there are plenty of great guidebooks who do a much better job than I could ever do. I could try and sum it up though and say that in New Zealand most of the natural wonders come down to volcanoes and major (its not my) fault lines and most of the history is either due to Maori legends or 19th century European explorers getting lost or having accidents or both. Read the books and you decide…
Our first evening in Rotorua was spent attending a Maori hangi. This consisted of a warrior dance (‘Haka’ a la the All Blacks but no rugby after) and welcome ceremony followed a festive meal cooked in a special under earth oven. This all took place in a mock Maori village, which looked a bit like the Temple of Low Men but was very impressive all the same. I particular liked the demonstration of all their weapons and instruments used to develop hand-eye coordination for use of weapons. On return to the town I went with Katherine from Melbourne, a friend from the bus to a bar at one of the louder youth hostels. Without going into details here, suffice to say this experience did much to confirm that the locals of today are developing customs that are really no less bizarre than those of their ancestors.
This discovery continued the next day when I decided to attend a local attraction called the Agrodome. Teaming up with Mali of Jerusalem (ten minutes away from where I live to be exact) we made our way down to this attraction primarily known for its sheep shearing shows. Now some of you may have the impression that the weirdest thing New Zealanders do is use sheep for various recreational activities however it would seem today that this generation of Kiwis have been smoking something stronger and have come up with far more bizarre activities to while away the time. Mali and I chose to do the ‘Zorb’! How can I
explain? Ehm? Well we both sat in a huge plastic ball partially filled with water, which was then pushed down a hill! My best way of explaining what it was like is to say wash-cycle! Whatever absolutely hysterical! I guess you’ll just have to wait for the pics to really see what I mean.
From there we did actually go and see the sheep show, but nothing could seem that bizarre after our Zorb experience. On the shuttle bus we had met up with Ron from Northern Ireland (met briefly the night before) who had been working in Oz and was just making his way home. Nice guy and among other things had some v interesting conversations with him discussing what it was like living with bombs near your house and how you just get on with normal life as much as you can and how home is home and you cant just move away. Understandably there aren’t that many people doing the traveler circuit who can empathize with that.
It’s funny. I had worried on the first night when the people I had got to know that day were leaving that I wouldn’t find anyone to do stuff with the next day. When I woke up and started chatting to Mali it went to show (and has continued to since) how these things just fall at your feet in the travelers world. It’s so easy to pick up with people, as you all want to do the same type of things. You can have great chats with people about what to do and how without even knowing their names. You can get away with asking first names but age and surnames are almost taboo! Plus there’s this wonderful phenomenon of seeing people you met in one place a few days later somewhere else and its like you’ve bumped into old friends. Its kind of like we’re all here together alone.
Anyway our day was by no means all deep discussion and we finished off wacky New Zealand country day with a couple of rides on the ‘Luge’. These are sled like vehicles on wheels that are ridden down concrete tracks Nigel-Mansell-style down a hill. It was terrific fun and totally scary. Returning from the luge tracks in a gondaler looking out onto the distant sun – a perfect end to my first full day in New Zealand. Spent a nice low key day the next day taking walks round the Lake Rotorua and attending the Polynesian Spa and then got ready to move on the next day.
Everyone promised me rain in New Zealand as apparently this season has been rather diabolical and British-summer-like but since coming from the all sunny Singapore it had remained all sunny here too. Maybe you really can take the weather with you. Anyway up until Sunday morning the weather had really been beautiful and so the sulphur smell that everybody had warned me about was really not that bad. Sat night it started to rain and the smell changed! Nevermind I was on my way out and the rain it was good for viewing the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Amazing place, timed exploding geisers, lots of bubbling mud and strange coloured lakes. Then due to bad weather we ended up playing a kind of laserquest game (the girls won) instead of a mad rope dare thing. Then we went onto the quite impressive Huka falls of the Watekei river which runs from Lake Taupo up to Auckland. Played a quick game of Pooh Sticks (Kiwi rules) and then went into Taupo to find out that weather still wasn’t ok for sky diving. Shame although not the end of the world (although this is supposed to be the cheapest and highest place to do it but whatever…) We then had 2 hours to walk around town instead by which time the weather had cleared up to reveal the true splendour of Lake Taupo.