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Published: March 2nd 2005
No worries, mate!
Am now solo and halfway down the North Island in a little place caled Taupo. It's only Thursday but it feels like I've been on the Kiwi bus for about 3 weeks! Will hopefully catch up with Rach somewhere around Wellington, or the top of the South Island, but at the moment am having a great time meandering around on my own.
Spent our last night in Auckland in style - there was a chinese festival celebration going on in the Domain so we went to check that out. Auckland has a very high Asian population so it was heaving - a literal people jam in most of the park. According to Dave and Claire this is pretty much what we can expect in most of Asia when we get there as well.
Also tried out the reverse Bungy machine outside the flat. We'd been watching it for the past fortnight and more often than not were woken up by the screaming so we thought we'd better give it a go. Against her better judgement Rach B was finally persuaded into it, although I think she started to regret it when the straps were being locked into place. Rach
F is blessed with very little ability to think things through to their logical conclusion so she didn't start to panic until the man with his finger on the button started counting down from 3. And he pushed it on 1.
For those of you that don't know, reverse bungy is pretty much what it says on the tin - instead of jumping off a high platform with elastic tied around your ankles you are strapped into a chair in a little pod that is secured to the ground and two elastic ropes attached to cranes are slowly tightened. When they are fully taut, they let you go - the rest is simple physics. You go from 0 - 200 mph in about 2 seconds and experience 5 atms of pressure - apparently astronauts in training only get subjected to 3. We got a good view of the city though.
Finished the night off with a few drinks and dancing in the backpacker bar and then headed back to the flat as it was an early start in the morning.
Saturday, we said our goodbyes and headed out on our own. Got to the Kiwi pick up
point at 8.20 - yes, that's in the morning - and started the long trip down south. Rach B will obviously update you on the Bay of Islands but here's what I've been up to
Auckland - Whitianga
From Auckland I headed to Hot Water Beach. A lot of the middle of the North Island is a hot-bed (see what I did there?) of geothermal activity so if you dig a hole in the sand in the right place you can create your own little spa pool. Sadly, there were only two spades between 30 of us so I didn't get to do any back-breaking digging in the midday sun - I had to settle for having a kip on the beach instead. As it turned out it was all pretty pointless anyway because the water on Hot Water Beach was surprisingly cool - something to do with the tide being high and the sand level being low, I forget the specifics -and no spa was had. It was a lovely day though and was good to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Arrived in the tiny little town of Whitianga that evening. There's pretty much
Hot Water Beach
You have to admire their naive enthusiasm.
nothing to do there except visit the beach and go to sleep, which was fortunate as that's all I wanted to do.
Whitianga - Rotorua
A very early start (apparently Norwegians think that 5.30am is an acceptable time to get up if the bus leaves at 7.15) today but we were in Rotorua by lunchtime which was good as it meant I got to explore for the afternoon instead of having to spend an extra day here. Rotorua is situated on Lake Rotorua, which means 'Second Lake', the larger of two imaginatively titled lakes - the other being 'Small Lake'. Which it is. It has loads of hot pools and mud baths dotted around the place and I went for a walk in the local park where they are the main attraction. All over the park you can see steam rising from large holes in the ground and hear the gurgling of mud as it bubbles away. The whole place smells of rotten eggs too as it's sulpher gas that's being emitted.
According to legend, the pools were once cool enough to swim and a beautiful young girl named Kuirau used to bathe in them. Sadly for
her, there was a monster called a Taniwha who lived in the lake who fell in love with her and one day he grabbed her while she was swimming. She either died of fright or was taken back to the monster's lair (this bit was very unclear) but either way the gods made the pools boil to get rid of the Taniwha and the biggest lake was named Kuirau Lake in memory of the young girl. And they are very hot, too - I scalded my fingers when I tried to find out just how hot. You'd think the fact that there was steam coming off the water and they are fenced off from the public would have been a bit of a warning. But no.
That evening I went to a Maori concert. I was (slightly misguidedly I think through no one's fault but my own) under the impression that we were going to an actual, existing village and meeting real villagers so when we arrived I was a bit dissapointed. It was a little bit like being at Disneyworld - all the songs and dances were very well rehearsed and clearly no one, except maybe Maori midgets
The path to Hell
The bridge across Lake Kuirua
lived in the model huts they had going on. Anyway, that aside, it was quite an interesting look at Maori culture and I'm glad I've seen a bit more of that side of New Zealand. All the food was cooked in a hangi earth oven (one of those set-ups where you heat rocks for four hours then put them over the food, cover the whole thing with earth and voila! - three hours later everything's cooked to perfection. It wasn't exactly 'traditional' food - pasta, treacle pudding and meat, but, to be fair, what I would have accepted as 'traditional' Maori fare I have no idea - I know very little about it. Maybe I was expecting a cannibal offering? Or at the very least a goat or a bug of some kind.
Hideous stereotypes aside, I did have fun. It gave me a chance to meet people from the bus, which is nothing like the Feejee experience, thankfully, and despite the hammy acting, the Moari warriors at least had enthusiasm.
Rotorua - Waitomo
The next day we headed straight to Waitomo - a tiny village with one shop, a museum and a school. What makes this
Solo at Lake Rotorua
Travelling without Rach has finally forced me to work out the timer on my camera. Sadly, I wasn't quite ready for this one...
place worth going to is the gloworm cave system they've got. There are amazing natural caves and tunnels where you can do blackwater rafting (sitting in a truck inner tyre and floating down the river in pitch darkness) or you can just go for a walk through some of the tunnels and see the gloworms. They were AMAZING. Easily my favourite insects now - they're much smaller than I imagined and they are a pale bluey-green which, when they are all grouped together, makes the cave glow a beautiful colour. Definitely worth the walk.
In the afternoon I thought it would be a good idea to walk up to the natural tunnels. It was a good idea in the end, but it was a good 3 hours there and back. The scenery was typically beautiful - very Middle Earth - and the tunnels themselves were spectacular so well worth the sore legs the next day
Waitomo - Taupo
And so, to Taupo. This is also a town based around a lake and we're still in the land of hot pools and geysers so on the way down we stopped off at a place called Craters of the
A Maori welcoming
Not to spoil the illusion, but the guy standing over the entrance has a nipple ring and a Nike tattoo.
Moon - less mud pool type activity, these are just giant holes where the steam seems to be coming directly out of the ground - no water to be seen. (It was all very impressive but you just know that by the time I leave the North Island I'm going to have about 57 pictures of steamy holes in the ground that will interest no one but me. And even then only briefly). Visited Huka Falls too - not particularly high but certainly trying to make up for it in force - and the water was beautifully clear blue.
Checked into the hostel and went out into Taupo town for the night - every so often there is an organised night out for the whole bus, which basically means the driver gets really drunk and everybody dances like an idiot. It was great fun - humiliated ourselves in the Irish pub quiz and ended up at the local club Holy Cow! where you have to have a stamp on innappropriate parts of your body to get cheap drinks, they play Bon Jovi really loudly and have a strict, almost to the point of death, winner-stays-on rule on the pool
tables. I also now have the aformentioned Holy Cow! stamp in my passport - I swear, at the time it was hilarious, but now I'm concerned about deportation...
Woke up on Wednesday with a sick feeling. Sadly not a hangover either - this was skydiving day. Taupo is the cheapest place to jump in New Zealand and the view over the lake and mountains (one of which is Mount Doom) is unbelievable. So I signed up.
Once I got to the hangar, I was surprisingly calm. Occasionally my heart would go into overdrive and I felt the panic rising but throughout most of the kitting up bit I was eerily composed. I mean, much of my thought process was consumed with the first bit - the getting to door and jumping. And that doesn't scare me at all - if you think about it, nothing can hurt you when you are just falling through the air. It's only when you collide with the ground at 200mph that it's going to hurt, and you won't know whether that's going to happen until after about 45 seconds. That's when you should be panicking, not in the plane.
Natural tunnels in Waitomo
See what I mean about Hobbit country?
tandem jumper - a Swede called Patrick who was lovely and all of a sudden we were on the plane. It takes about 15 minutes to get up to 12,000 ft (which unsettled me a bit actually - I kind of just assumed we got there quicker) and then they open the door. We were about 4th to go I think so I got to watch the girls in front of me go first. You drop like a rock, you really do.
Then, I had to shuffle to the door and sit on the edge. Actually, Patrick sat on the edge, I was just hanging off the front of him over nothingness. You have virtually no control over anything from the point you start shuffling to be honest - they make you hold on to the straps of your harness and not touch anything, not even to help get yourself into position. And after that, you put your head back and wait for the drop. Which, mercifully, was pretty soon - there wasn't a lot of hanging around. You fall out backwards which is bloody terrifying and your stomach stays in the plane for a bit, but then you
The bridge of Doom
This bridge on the way to the tunnels is brilliant - it sways and bounces, and if you stand in the middle while someone else jumps on it you get propelled into the air. Undoubtedly a hazard but hours of fun.
are facing the ground and are free falling. Although it doesn't feel like you're falling because you can't see the ground getting any closer really, it's just very windy. After about 45 seconds there's a massive jolt and that's it - the parachute worked (thank the Good Lord) and you're floating to the ground. There isn't even time to think about the whole will-it-open -won't-it-open debate before it's already happened. It's so quiet up there and the view is truly amazing, it's not just a sales pitch after all. Loved it, loved it.
Can't top that really, so am going to stop there. Weather is a bit crummy today so couldn't go to the National Park and do the walk I'm supposed to do, that'll have to wait til tomorrow I fear.
As always, thanks for the comments - especially now we are on our own. It's great to hear from you guys. Lots and lots of love
Rach x x x x x x
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