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Published: January 16th 2007
Ben and Jamie had been telling us how much we would enjoy Rotorua as they had just spent a sun filled day ‘Zorbing’ and riding ‘the luge’ at one of the many tourist attractions scattered around the lake. Unfortunately we were welcomed to the sulphur city by low black clouds and heavy rain that forced us to retreat for lunch to an American style idiot factory precariously masquerading as KFC. It seemed that despite the abundance of bubbling mud pools, gurgling hot springs and gushing geysers, no amount of thermal activity would bring warmth to our soggy chicken and chips. The day was thankfully salvaged by the fact that our camp site possessed a comfy T.V lounge complete with sky. Of course there was nothing worth watching but at least we were warm and dry. The persistent rain gave the opportunity to do absolutely nothing for the next three days, but we were gifted with a small break in the weather on day 3 and managed to take a two hour walk around blue lake which so far we had only seen through the steamed up windows of our car.
In search of better weather we made our way via
Cambridge and Hamilton to the laid back surf town of Raglan on the east coast. We watched a surf competition (I think it was the Maori Nationals) at Manu bay that according to our guide book has the longest left hand break in the world. We were later informed by an Australian named Dave who was camping next to us that there is in fact a longer one somewhere in South America. After my appearance in ‘white poms can’t surf’ in Lennox Head had proved my surf knowledge to be on par with lotto lout Michael Carroll's knowledge of, well, just about anything, we decided to take Dave’s well oiled word for it, and spent the remainder of the evening chatting to Dave and fellow camper Shane about how we liked New Zealand and generally putting the world to rights. As well as surfing, Raglan is a famed kite surf location due to its high westerly winds that run across the estuary. An English couple, Lorna and Jay set up camp next to us, and after a brief chat we discovered that they were here with kites and boards, travelling for six months and lived only a few miles from
Dave on the salt marsh laden island of Wallasea. We quickly established we knew some of the same people drank in the same pub and spent the next couple of evenings in there company along with an eclectic mix of people from permanently drunk Aussie Dave and kiwi Shane, one of those people who has done everything, been everywhere and if not a mate has (we are still to unravel the truth from the bullshit) to Gaunt Vegan Anna from Hawaii.
After a brief visit to Bridal Veil Falls we tagged along with Lorna, Jay and Shane and hired canoes for the afternoon to take a look at the caves and pancake rock formations on the other side of the estuary. Strong headwinds and even stronger currents made for a tough slog across, but once there the wind and currents calmed for a leisurely paddle along the coastline. Getting back was the same battle against a now receding tide that if caught us would whisk us out to sea, but after taking the advised route back we found ourselves on dry land, each baring the distinct resemblance to that of a drowned rat. Aiming for an early start the
following morning we awoke to discover that our car battery had other plans. After a jump start from Jay and a trip to the local garage to get a new battery fitted we finally hit the road two hours later sad to leave Raglan and its cheerful inhabitants behind.
The town of Waitomo was our next destination, its caves touted as being the best in New Zealand for seeing glow worms. After a 4 hour walk across farmer’s fields scattered with livestock’s answer to the landmine, we took a late afternoon tour guided by a local Maori woman whose Grandfather was Chief Tane Tinorau, who first discovered there was prophet to be made from glowing larvae. The 30 dollar entrance fee will keep the locals laughing all the way to the bank, but the sight of millions of tiny worms lighting up the cave ceiling like an indoor milky way is definitely not to be missed when travelling these parts.
The road to Taupo was certainly long and winding but glorious sunshine and Dire Straits kept spirits high, and arriving at our campsite we were delighted to discover a pool and spa along with free tennis courts. Dave
had been missing a good 3 setter since we left and jumped at the opportunity to hit balls over the net, and then hurriedly retrieve them from beyond the fence whilst trying to teach a determined Lucy the basics of playing a forehand. Taupo’s lake is the largest in the country and also the cheapest place to jump out of a plane whilst strapped to a total stranger. Lucy was booked in for the next day having wanted to skydive for ages, whilst Dave was still struggling to come to terms with the need to prematurely exit a perfectly serviceable aircraft. Rain and high winds cancelled Lucy’s jump but did mean that we got to meet Alex and Amy sheltering in the campsites T.V room. After a quick chat we were invited to join them later for a few beers in their cabin, a welcomed rest bite from our damp station wagon. Lucy and Alex chatted with nervous anticipation about their booked skydives, and after some Dutch courage and the thought of the total humiliation wimping out would bring, Dave made the decision to book himself in the next morning.
We met our instructors Freddie and Brad for a
brief chat before boarding the plane and the wind-ups started early as Brad asked Dave if he was nervous, to which a confident “not at all” was met with the reply “good for you mate I’m bricking it, not done this before”. Lucy on the other hand was the one doing the quizzing, asking Freddie pointless questions like “what happens if the chute doesn’t open?” His thick German accent replied “its quite simple, you head for the bright light, I’m the one going to hell.” That all cleared up and Brad now more determined than ever to make Dave as anxious as possible, once we began our assent he changed scare tactics from being nervous and unsure of his equipment to faking homosexuality. About half way up everyone has their straps tightened meaning you get pulled onto your instructor’s lap, Brads que to comment “you’re very pretty, you remind me of my ex-boyfriend.” Dave’s swift jerk away teed up the killer line “oh yeah, I love it when they try and run.” Freddie realised there was no need to make Lucy any more nervous and joked and laughed with her all the way to 12000 feet, Lucy now wearing a
Santa hat, totally oblivious to the fact that her boyfriend was about to exit the plane tethered to Michael Barrymore. The rush of leaving the aircraft gives you no time to think about what’s happening; Lucy couldn’t find the ground for the first few seconds, later being told this was because they did a summersault out. Hurtling towards the ground at 200kmph, arms outstretched there is no sensation of falling, the air rushes past and feels like you are lying on an air pillow. After 45 seconds the chute opens and you glide gently down to the ground and make an effortless landing before kissing the ground, thanking Jesus, Mary and Joseph that you’re alive.
That evening we spoke of little else over drinks with Alex and Amy, describing with precision every detail of our experience, whilst also trying to unnerve Alex who was to do a skydive the next day. The adrenaline was still pumping by the time we went to bed, it was honestly the biggest thrill of our lives.
As Alex and Amy were heading in the same direction as us from Taupo we arranged to travel to Hawkes bay in convoy and spend the next
couple of days visiting the wineries, and drinking enough plonk to kill a small horse. After a night in Napier we headed to Hastings and toured around the many wineries, the highlight was splashing out on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to drink over a squiffy game of French Bowls. That night the heavens opened and after sitting in the kitchen for over an hour, the suggestion was put by the girls that we try and get a cabin. After some suitable swooning at the front desk, Dave and Alex secured a self contained unit, the woman on reception only charging them for two people “if they kept it quiet”. After a well overdue warm, dry nights sleep on a mattress we parted company with Alex and Amy as they headed to the South Island, and after a regrettable night in Palmerston North and a couple of days in Wellington we followed on across the Cook Straight.
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