Published: December 24th 2005December 1st 2005
Just about to jump...
Thankfully, the decision to go was out of my hands
I had contemplated avoiding the East Coast of the North Island completely, but came to my senses when I heard that it was the Art Deco capital. The sense of style and elegance from this period has always intrigued me, and I´ve never seen an entire town developed with this style. So Napier it is.
In 1931 there was an earthquake that shook the foundations of everything that stood in and around Napier. The town had been almost completely flattened with a death toll of about 250. For the next 6 years designers from around the world made their mark with geometric shapes, zigzags and angles on all the newly built shops, banks and hotels. Even though Starbucks occupies the corner building along the promenade, it was a pleasure to stroll through the streets looking up to the second storeys. This town has style unlike any other in New Zealand, so I was hardly expecting my night to enfold behind bars later that night.
There haven´t been many times during this trip where I´ve actually booked my accommodation ahead of time. For some reason, Napier was the exception, thinking the hostel would be a hotspot. I pulled
Art Deco Water Delights
the car into the parking lot, grabbed my gear and walked towards the stone wall topped in barbed wire, that encompassed the hostel. I pounded on the door knowing that this would be the only time that I would be trying to get into prison. Yes, I was voluntarily putting myself behind bars as the actual prison had been shut down in the 90´s and re-opened as a joint for backpackers. I decided to splurge a bit and took a room for myself, kindly named the Penthouse though luxury it was not. Having said that, I have also experienced hostels that were in far worse shape than this one. This one was trying to be bad, and I was just along for the ride! I wasn´t served any slops in the kitchen (I made myself a lovely stir fry) and the tv room was filled with vegged out inmates like myself. An interesting experience to the say the least, and the last time I ever expect to be in jail.
After touring the town some more in the morning, I made tracks for Lake Taupo. I had heard of this place from travellers all along my route, as
Rotorua Maori Warrior
This was the nice face, struttin his stuff for the ladies
the cheap hotspot for a skydive. My time had finally come! There are actually many other things to do in Taupo, walking the Tongariro Track is the top of most people´s list. But for me, it was all about the skydive.
I arrived at the airport and was quickly suited up and plonked in front of a video screen to watch a few last minute tips before taking the plunge. I wasn´t feeling the nerves, but then I wasn´t even in the air yet. My eyes kept veering over to the parachute packers who were diligently pushing air out through yoga moves lying on top of the colourful canopies. Have they really been trained thoroughly? Shouldn´t the instructors pack their own shutes? I was then introduced to the guy that I would be attached to from the moment of sitting in the plane. He was not ´gonna be my knight in shining armour, but at least he was adventurous enough to choose a career in the sky. 15 years of jumping out of planes, can´t be all that bad eh? The plane kept creeping higher in the sky and we ditched those that had opted for the 12
000 foot jump. Then I was instructed to hold the oxygen mask to my face-do I really look that bad? Procedure I guess. And then it was my turn. I did feel a little queazy, but that´s the thing about signing up for something like this-there is no chance to back out as you´re not the one taking the actual leap out of the plane! A very good thing in my case as Í´m sure the plane would have run out of petrol by the time I chose to exit!!
So there I was, flying through the air glancing at the lake and the surrounding snow capped mountains. There was no fear, just lines of slobber escaping from my gaping wide open mouth. I couldn´t stop grinning and then a minute was up and we were jerked up before sauntering down at a more calming pace. My only panic during the entire leap of faith was when my instructor neglected to tell me that I would actually drop a few inches when he pulled the cord. Momentary panic!
Back in the car I started driving towards Rotorua, New Zealand´s smelliest town. I stopped off at a
couple of lookout points before arriving and saw areas where the earth shot out steam from large craters. It was another neanderthal feeling as if a dinosaur would come rumbling around the corner. Either that or life on another planet.
For my first full day in Rotorua, I had to put up with a bit of rain. Not really a huge bother when I was sitting in the Polynesian hot pools in the center of town. My nose had acclimatized to the eggy smell, and I lay back in a choice of pools varying in temperature by a degree or two. A relaxing day followed by a tour in the local museum. I learned of some Maori legends and how the Bath House was used in the Victorian days by the elite wanting to cure all their ailments. I filled my evening by going to a traditional Maori hangi, a meal prepared in the morning and cooked all day underground. While we waited for the food to be dished out we sat in front of the warriors strutting their stuff with their tongues hanging out. Each region has its own characteristics to the dances, seen performed by the
All Black rugby players at the start of each game. It was a mesmerizing show that showed masculinity at it´s finest. Sitting in the front row certainly had it´s advantages as the lads wore so little.
Leaving Rotorua the following day I stopped off at one more tourist spot called Hells Gate. This is where I saw the bubbling mud and took a few too many photos. I´m now en route to the Coromandel Penninsula to escape the stink.
There are more photos below