Around the World Trip: New Zealand, North Island
Still here, having fun waving goodbye to money at an alarming rate. Who said Oz and NZ were cheap?! I’ve finally given in and ‘prepare’ and ‘cook’ my own meals now in the delightful hostel kitchens. Alanis Morrisette moaned about the time she spent backpacking (probably) in her whinge-hit `Ironic` when she sung “10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife. Isn’t it ironic?” Well no, it’s not ironic but I understand her frustration. It’s true in hostel cutlery draws. Anyway…
Having left the humidity of Cairns behind, I took a shortish flight to Auckland, City of Sails. Not a massive amount to see there although it’s a pleasant enough place. After watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade and marvelling at the agility of unicycle-riding ‘lepricorns’, I took a walk to the Sky Tower (yes another one).
My hostel was right in the centre and quite nice. I noticed that there is a backpacker newspaper when I was eating a ‘meal’. Rather dull I thought, but there was one article that I found amusing. It explained the differences between NZ and other countries and offered a helpful tip for those used to driving on the right hand side of the road:
‘Familiarise yourself with driving on the left by taking public transport. Sit behind the driver and mimic his movements.’
I’m sure no-one would find this weird…
After sampling Auckland’s Saturday nightlife, I took a quick detour up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. On arrival I took a cruise around the islands that included watching the large pods of dolphins as they swam around and had fun. We weren’t allowed to swim with the big pod as there were babies there so we headed further out to sea to find a smaller pod of just three that had been reported. When we found them we lowered ourselves into the water and swam around with the dolphins. Well okay, when I say ‘swam’ with the dolphins, I was in the same part of the sea as the dolphins, but a combination of several things (dolphins weren’t that curious, too slow off the boat, cold sea took my breath away, couldn’t get to grips with using flippers, slightly worried about swimming in the open sea!) meant that I didn’t get to see them up close. Everyone else had a brief glimpse though. Needed a larger pod really. Gutted.
The next day I took a short ferry trip to the quaint town of Russell, the first capital of NZ, before Auckland and Wellington, and wandered around the beaches and places of interest before catching the return ferry and enjoying the trip until the ferry had power failure just as it was about to dock at Paihia and crashed into the jetty. I was wondering when he was going to slow down!
Next back to Auckland for one night before heading south; first stop Waitomo to visit the glow-worm caves. These were quite a strange and interesting sight, but what a rough life these creatures have! They spend months going through the various life stages of larvae, worm and chrysalis only to die after 5 days of being an adult fly as they have no mouth! Worth it!!
Next stop, the steaming stench-fest that is Rotorua. This place is basically built on a volcano and, as far as I can tell, is about to go up at any time. Why anyone would choose to live here is beyond me. There are pools of steaming mud that emanate putrid sulphur all over the place, most interestingly in the central Kuiaru Park. If the wind is in the wrong direction, anyone who, like me, prefers to breathe oxygen rather than inhaling the smell of a thousand rotten eggs is in for an uncomfortable time. No-one complains if you fart in this town. In fact it probably improves the air quality! Apparently you get used to the smell. Worth seeing though as it’s an unusual place.
Unfortunately it chucked it down but, determined to make the most of my time, I decided to try the luge at the circuit just out of town. As I took the cable car up to the top, I looked across at the chair lift that bore the brunt of the rain. Good job I’m not on that I laughed to myself. Undeterred by the increasingly heavy showers I bombed down the ‘scenic’ track, hoping that no-one saw that I panicked when it skidded sideways. At the bottom and by now slightly wet and cold I realised to my horror that I now had to take the chairlift towards the clouds to begin my second run. Oh shit. Determined not to die on the advanced track I nearly broke off the brake lever that was massively unresponsive due to the rain, before realising that I had to take a second chair lift ride to the top, only to then take a ride back down in a cable car. Never! Good fun on a dry day I think. I had to wait half an hour for a bus back to town as well. Grr…
After Rotorua, I caught the bus to Taupo and, on route, visited the Wai-o-Tapu thermal pools (more steaming mud and weirdly coloured pools), the Lady Knox geyser (‘erupts’ daily with a little help from a bearded bloke who puts soap down the hole!) and Huka Falls where we witnessed a canoeist trying to kill himself by paddling through a torrent shifting thousands of cubic metres of water per second. Unsurprisingly he made it through separated from his canoe and underwater most of the way. Nutter. I presume he survived but he could have been badly injured.
So then, Taupo. Nice town and the cheapest place to skydive. Yes that’s right I DID A SKYDIVE!! I’ve wanted to skydive ever since seeing the Boogie Pimps “Somebody to Love’ video with the skydiving babies that land on the attractive and scantily clad singer on the ground. What a weird experience it was, hurtling through the air from 12,500 feet. My jump ‘buddy’ was none other than Freddy ‘Skymax’ Hofmayer, the German world record holder (1995) for the highest skydive at 48,000 feet. He was, it’s fair to say, a tad on the eccentric side. As we rose through the clouds he looked out and said: “Wow man, see that? That’s my girlfriend – mother nature.” Right you are Fred, just tighten the straps. The force of the wind actually blew out one of my contact lenses but I didn’t notice until I landed. I’m glad I actually did an adrenalin sport in NZ – that’s what it’s all about! The last word from Freddy. When asked if he liked his job he shook his head solemnly: “No, it’s not a job – it’s a passion”, before making a twisting motion with his wrists and asking me: “Do you play?”. Er, come again? Oh, he meant table football. Game on then in the pub later (and my God, did he take it seriously – what a guy!).
After this excitement it was back on the bus to Wellington. Nice place with scenic views but nothing special compared to the rest of NZ. Went to the ‘must-see’ museum that I was told you could spend a day looking around. Finished after 1 1/4 hours…
Next it’s the stunning south island.