New Zealand 2001 (Part 2)
Well I left the booming metropolis of Kaiatia and headed south, a long days drive and so much more fun for the rain. The roads are not great and driving in the rain was a bit challenging. On my way south, I did stop and see this huge kouri tree that is approximately 2000 years old. Very impressive. But as I got into the car again for hours and hours of driving, I wondered if I was living a bad movie. National Lampoon's Vacation in New Zealand? Anyways, I drove and drove and drove. I think it took me about 7 hours to make it Waitomo.
Okay, so why Waitomo. There are these caves in Waitomo that host a weird species of worms that actually glow in the dark. And if that wwasn't a big enough draw, you could go blackwater rafting through the caves. And did I mention that Waitomo makes Kaiatia look like NYC? Waitomo: 1 holiday park, 1 B&B, 1 hotel, 1 country store, 1 museum, 1 cafe, and 1 tavern. And that's it. I got there mid afternoon and checked into the B&B. I then went to the glowworm caves. The caves themselves were pretty cool and then at the end we got into a flat boat and went into this submerged lagoon. When all the lights are turned off you can see the glowworms. As part of their waste making process, they emit this really cool blue light. And that attracts the flies, knats, whatever that they eat. They drop these long threads of something down from the ceiling and that's how they catch them. After the cave, I went for a short walk along the river and through some pretty cool caves/tunnels in the rocks. Then it was time to head back to THE tavern and have a beer and dinner. Wow I'm living now!
The next day I got up and headed for my blackwater rafting trip. Of course, I was the only caucasian on the trip. But they all spoke good english and were very funny so it was pretty fun. Having never been in a full wet suit before, I can truely say, WHAT A PAIN! Of course I managed to squeeze into my suit only to realize that you have to put the little booties on first. Okay no one said anything about that. After we get geared up, they drive us to the river where we get our tubes. How do you determine the right size of tube to use? It's a very scientific process where you stick your bum into the hole to see if it fits and if it is a tight fit. (NO COMMENTS NECESSARY THANK YOU!!) Afterwards, they teach us how to jump into the river using the tube. You turn around and jump off backwards with your bum leading the way. (I love the term bum by the way, so much nicer than . . .) After that we climb, in cold, wet, wetsuits, up a trail and then to this little hole in the side of the hill. We climb in and the wait for our eye to adjust to just the miner lights we had. It was very cool. First we had to walk to the underground stream. I volunteered to go first and so I'm walking/climbing through these amazing caves and you can hear the water getting louder as we approach one of the main streams. When we finally get close we hop into the tubes and are floating down the stream with the caves so close that you could reach up and touch the ceiling at points. There were a couple of wwaterfalls that we had to jump over that were really cool. Speaking of cool, the water was absolutely frigid, but it was so much fun that I didn't think about it. Towards the end of the trip, everyone turned their lights off and you just drifted with the water through the caverns with the only light being the glowworms over head. The lights looked like stars against a black universe of night. Very cool and peaceful as you drifted along. Okay, after a hot, hot, hot shower and a bowl of soup and a bagel, I was off to Rotorua.
Rotorua is in the central highlands areas and is known for the thermal activity there and the springs. I decided to go budget on the accomodations and stayed at a backpacker hotel called the Crash Palace. A room to myself with a set of bunkbeds: $42NZ. But not ensuite. I dealt. After getting settled in, I went to the museum and then went to the baths. The Polynesian Spa is the big attraction and it was only $10NZ. So took my suit and headed over. The water was good and they had several different pools of varying temperature, though the smell was just aweful. At first I noticed that there were lots of Germans there. Then the tour bus came and out pops like 50 japanese tourists. I am assuming they rented their suits since they all had the same suit on, it was just a little too surreal for me. Plus they would come it and just take over one of the pools. Too funny. Note about a backpackers hotel: they are not quiet. And I have never felt so old.
The next morning I was heading to the Waiotapu thermal park and then Tongarriro National Park. Of course, the weather is crappy again, overcast and spitting rain. But you have to love the Kiwi's. At the thermal park, they had loaner umbrellas for you to use. The park was okay, but I was geyserred out at that point and after Yellowstone and the sulfatara in Naples, it wasn't that impressive. Apparently there used to be an amazing set of pools called the white and pink terraces that were formed by the silicate deposits, but they were destroyed about 100 years ago when the local volcano did its thing. So after the park, I continued heading south to Tongarriro. Now the original plan (v1.0) had me spending a whole day here doing the Tongarriro Crossing which is supposed to be the best one day hike in NZ. But then I had issues with some of the stuff I wanted to do in the south island, as well as the 2200 ft climb involved in the hike, which made me readjust my plans (v1.1). Well as I drive, in the rain to Tongarriro, I'm thinking maybe I need to move on to v1.2 and just skip it. But I really do want to do something physical, but I'm not going to be hiking in the rain. Not today. Well as soon as I pull up to the hotel I had planned on staying at, the weather broke. The rain stopped, the clouds parted, and out came the sun. I did two 2 hour hikes that afternoon. Absolutely delightful! I walked through the alpine highlands, the wetlands and bogs, and through just pristine forests full of beech trees, ferns, and palm plants. Just amazing. The weather was perfect for an afternoon hike. They trails were in great shape and then it came to cross a bog, they had build a path over the bog so that people wouldn't damage the environment. Just really amazing. I wwalked to a couple of waterfalls and they were both just fantastic. One was sort of small, but it was full of volcanic minerals that created these smooth terraces that the water would run over. The other was a huge 20m waterfall. When I got to that one, some psychos wwere rappelling down the cliff next to the fall. Not for me thank you.
The next day, I got up and headed south to Wellington. My hotel is a little plush, but with the Rugby 7s tournament going on, I'm lucky I have anything at all. 7s is rugby with only 7 players instead of the regular number (15, just checking to see if you knew your rugby). And since it's a bit more intense, the games are really short. Apparently there is a big stir about the Fiji team. Lots of people thought they shouldn't play since they are still under NZ sanctions after the coup last year. I'm going to try to catch a game at one of the pubs. Tonight and tomorrow nights should be interesting. Apprently the drinking/partying started last night. It could be ugly.
Oh, I'm loving the kiwi radio. I've heard this one commercial like 100 times and it just kills me.
*Cue "Survivor" music. "The island, for pussies. The outback, pathetic. We're going to send you to the biggest meanest hole on earth. We're going to send you to hell. Where a murder happens every 8 minutes.” Cue: horns, sirens, gunfire.
"We're going to send you to New York! Can you survive a day in the ghetto, a week? Make it in New York City and you'll win $10,000, if you survive at all."