I decide to drive on to Rotorua
as I realized that there wasn't much going on in Waitomo other than the caves.
Gore-bay East Coast New Zealand
I go about an hour before getting a flat tire and subsequently veering off the road. The first car that goes by stops and an amazingly nice Kiwi offers me his phone, taxi service and even a place to stay if I need it. I decide to man up and replace the flat in no more than 15 minutes which was crucial as it got dark about 12.5 minutes into the job. Mind you that the car weighed less than I did so jacking it took all of about 10 seconds. I made it the rest of the way going a mere 40 mph on a spare and checked into my room in Rotorua with just enough time to have a drink before passing out. First stop, the alpine luge.
The luge goes as fast as you want it to and there are really sharp turns and not much in the way of protection. I manage to avoid the tarmac despite having a most thrilling 3 rides down the mountain. Next, I move on to the Agrodome where I meet two Irish girls (Anna and Nikki) at a ride called the Agrojet.
The Agrojet is basically a souped up jet boat that rides around like a go-kart in a small circuit with many different paths. The only thing exciting about it is that it goes a good 80mph and then stops on a dime and heads the another direction in the snap of a finger! The driver is amazing and never touches the narrow canal sides.
Moving on to the Swoop, the three of us are harnessed into sleeping bag type contraptions, laced together and then hoisted up to some ungodly height before it is my elected duty to pull a rip cord. had no idea what I was doing when I pulled the cord, but we proceeded to fall towards the earth at a mere 180 kmph before "swooping" back up into the sky!
Believe it or not, it is still just 10am and we are off to the Zorb.
.. What great names, huh? The zorb is a big plastic ball that you are zippered into the middle of after water is put in it and then you are hurled down a hill bouncing around like a shoe in a dryer. I manage to get up a bit and propel the ball with my feet but am quickly tossed on my rear and lose all orientation quickly on the unfortunately short ride. I really enjoy the thrill but wish it had lasted at least three times longer! Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we are off to do some white water rafting and sledging (white water rafting on a boogie board essentially) on the Kaituna River. The white water is nothing but Class V including a 21 foot waterfall that submerses the entire raft and everyone on it before resurfacing further on down the river. The rush of falling into the rapids when a fellow rafter inadvertently falls into me is only surpassed by the sheer beauty of the surrounding forests.
As if I hadn't done enough yet, I shave for the first time in over a month and head to a Polynesian spa to relax after a tough day.
The sulfur pools smell horrible but feel so good and I enjoy the naturally bubbling hot tubs for a good hour before heading back to the base to shower and get ready for the night's activities. Dinner is done after a Mauri (traditional Kiwis) culture show and hangi dinner. Hangi is the term used for the traditional method of cooking in a hole in the ground. The all-you can eat buffet is almost as good as the dance show proceeding it. I fall asleep a happy yet exhausted guy.
I meet up with Nikki and Anna and we take off towards Taupo
via the geothermal parks of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The moon-like terrain is amazing and seems like the perfect place to conduct a 4th grade science class, which we see going on during our hour long hike through the craziest landscape I've ever seen.
More New Zealand pics
There is a geyser, Lady Knox Geyser, which is ignominiously induced to go off but I still am amazed at the "natural" wonders. Interestingly enough, the geyser was discovered when local prisoners attempted to do their laundry in the warm waters around the geyser and the soap suds reduced the water's surface tension, releasing the superheated steam and water in a jet that reaches about 40 ft high. Pretty cool stuff.
The rest of the walk includes gurgling mud pools, steaming waterfalls, hot lakes, bubbling pools, and various other naturally alien evidence of the most active volcanic region in the world. The names of the various sites include Devil's Ink-Pots, Artist's Palette, Devil's Home, Thunder Crater, Frying Pan Flat, Oyster Pool, Inferno Crater, Champagne Pool and Devil's Bath.
.. see the trend?
Advancing to Taupo, we find accommodation and we meet a Swedish girl who wants to go bungy jumping and needs another for the free DVD. I am having so much fun that I decide to join her and book the package on a whim. We show up and it all becomes way too real when I see the ~150 drop.
Before seeing anyone else go, I am laced up and I hurl myself off the platform only to get a mere foot from the water before being rudely tossed back up into the sky. It is easily one of the best rushes I've ever had as well as one of the biggest fears I've ever conquered! I'm pumped and ready to try it again before realize how crazy that was. The Irish girls decide that I've motivated them enough to try a sky dive and we all book it right away and head for the airport,Before I have a chance to think about what I just did, I have a flight suit on and am heading up to 15,000 feet for a sky dive!!!!
One of the cooler things I learn about Taupo is that the lake I sky dove over was actually a crater from a volcano that erupted in 186 AD. The volume of the ash and debris released by the eruption was at least 10 times more than Krakatoa and Mt. St. Helens, combined! The Chinese noted a blackening of the sky and the Romans recorded that the heavens turned blood-red after the eruption. Today, the rage of the volcano is only evidenced by an absolutely gorgeous landscape surrounding a peaceful lake.
Crystal blue waters New Zealand
Dinner is taken with a huge adrenaline rush still in effect and I'm asleep early as we have signed up for a hike up Mt. Doom in the morning.
Up and ready to go around 5am, we head to Tongariro National Park for what is supposed to be one of the best hikes in the world. The Tongariro alpine crossing passes over Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro used as Mordor and Mt.
Looking down into a valley
Doom in Lord of the Rings.
The lunar-like terrain is clearly the result of the volcanic eruptions and the 19km hike is perfectly challenging. The views are beautiful but slightly lessened by the cloudy skies. Even still, I am in awe of the active volcanoes, mountain springs, lava flows, volcanic desert, emerald-colored crater lakes and horrible gaseous sulfur smells! I keep one eye on Mt. Doom and throw a rock as far as possible into the crater from the top
Back at the carpark by 2:30pm and start the 4-hour drive south to Wellington
through some army training areas and more beautiful vistas.
Trudging along a road in New Zealand
I make it into Wellington at 6:30, just in time to make it to the toilet before I almost pee my pants and find accommodation before sunset. I go out for a bit, but make it an early night after exploring most of downtown Wellington by foot. It seems like a fun yet slightly sleezy place and I don't feel like I'm missing much when I hit the bed around midnight.
Tonight was the first time that I shared a room along my trip. I looked around at a few places and everything was booked between the big rugby match that I missed (as it took me a while to find a room) and a few conventions that booked the capital city. Anyways, I wind up in a 4-share room at a hostel with 2 guys from London and one from South Korea.
spectacular views once again
Everyone seems nice enough and I really don't mind sharing my room as much as I had presumed I would.
Bright and early I get ready for the coolest trip ever... I'm going to hop on a plane in Wellington and cross over to Picton
, on the south island, where I'm supposed to sky dive into the airport, just like James Bond! Only problem was that the weather didn't cooperate... Instead, I have to hop on the Interislander Ferry and make the three hour cross through the Queen Charlotte Sound. The trip is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous but there is a thick fog that destroys most of the panoramic views. Even still, you can tell that this place is beautiful!
I meet two Irish girls (different ones, Anne and Louise) on the ferry and offer them a ride as far as Nelson
, where I have a B&B booked.
A bush robin!!
We make a pit stop at St. Clair winery which has some amazing 'Sav Blanc' and a tasty lunch. We arrive in Nelson with just enough time for the lingering clouds to ruin my paragliding ambitions. There is always tomorrow!
I check into the cute B&B, Monaco Hotel, and head to the Boat Shed restaurant for dinner. I had local tuna for an appetizer, local scallops and local lobster (or crayfish as they call it) for a second appetizer, and local salmon for my main course. Everything was absolutely delicious and it was easily one of if not the best meal of my trip so far! I head back to my room absolutely exhausted without realizing that it is Saturday night and fall asleep for a much needed long night's sleep.
I take the morning to explore the coast line and find so much more. I stop at Rabbit Island for a walk on the beach and relax on the beach to read my guide book a bit.
head to a weekend market in Motueka
and wind up running into the last person I ever thought I'd see there... JORGE!!! So, as the story goes, it turns out that Jorge hadn't been monkey-napped at all but had run into one of his best friends, Donkey. The two of them had a little too much to drink and got lost in paradise for a while. It was a heartfelt reunion and the two of them decided that we had to celebrate so we went right to Seifried winery for a mid-day taste test.
A little liquid courage later and we soon found ourselves getting strapped in for a hand gliding trip which was AMAZING! We (only) went up to 3,000 feet, being towed up by a microlight plane, before taking about 30 minutes to descend while enjoying some of the most amazing scenery in the world.
South Island Weka!!
My guide, Guy, let me drive for a while and I found it extremely difficult to keep the glider straight but quite easy to dive, stall and spin.
After that exhilarating experience, I decide that I need a brief break and take the late afternoon to nap, do laundry, plan out the next few days and update the blog. Dinner is at the restaurant near the hotel and I enjoy more local seafood that doesn't disappoint! I have a big day of kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman Park tomorrow so I crash like my north island car after the tire blew out.
I wake up and drive to the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park
where the kayak tour leaves from. Our group includes Simon (Austrian), 2 girls Pia and Frauke (German), and our tour guide Jenna (local girl with some killer dread locks).
An unusual cloud formation
A water taxi takes us to a secluded bay and I get put into a kayak with Frauke, who seems a bit shy but quite nice. We kayak back towards base via the seal colony of Tonga Island, Bark Bay and land at Anchorage where I decide to spend the night in the park... the only problem is that I don't have any of my stuff and the water taxi won't bring me back into the park by the time we get back to base. There was only one rational solution and that was to rush back to base camp and then do the 4 hour hike back into the park!
Once back at my car, I get supplies and hike/run back to Anchorage just as the sun starts to set. I set out on a "4-hour" trail and have just a short hour before it will be dark. The views are amazing but I barely have enough time to snap a few pictures as I know the pending darkness will spell trouble as the path is narrow and treacherous at best.
My water bottle lid snaps and the nalgene bottle falls down a steep cliff. I contemplate the lost time needed to retrieve the water bottle and then I realize that without that water I could find myself in a spot of bother quickly. A 15 minute detour and I am back on my horse, double time, but a bit tired from scaling back up the steep wall. In the end it winds up taking me about 1:23 to do the "4-hour" trail, including my detour, and the final stretch was done by moonlight.
After a much needed shower, we sit around and share the bottle of wine I brought with me and I enjoy a complete dinner of snickers, cashews and chocolate chip cookies, which was amazing! We meet another german girl, Johanna, and the four of us set up shop on the beach and talk as we search for shooting stars that highlight some of the best star gazing I've ever done. The night is ended in a sleeping bag in the camp-style bunk for 12.
Breakfast on the steps consists of another snickers bar, a diet coke and a piece of bread with nutella on it. We set out on the hike out of the park, retracing my steps from the evening before. It takes us 3:14 to do the same route I did the night before... and I'm ready to hit the road as soon as we get back to the base camp.
I give the German girls a ride back to Nelson and grab some chicken and chips before moving on to Westport. The girls decide they are going to join me and follow behind in their rental car. On the way, we stop at the largest swingbridge in New Zealand which hangs over the Buller Gorge at a mere 17 meters, and I briefly contemplate a swan dive before seeing the jagged rocks exposed by the low water level.
We get into Westport and find a dorm room to share at the Tripp Inn.
Little guy !!
The room is nothing special but seems like a five-star resort compared to the DOC huts of the night before. Shortly we find ourselves having dinner at Dexerrila's bar and New York style pizza and we wind up staying for drinks and a little pool with Dex himself. This place was the epitomy of my new favorite word, bogun, meaning podunk, hillbilly or hick. We had a great night and I didn't want to leave when the girls decided it was time to call it a night.
Waking up nice and early we get on the road by 9:30 and stop repeatedly to enjoy the expansive vistas and beaches of the west coast on our way to Punakaiki
where the pancake rocks and blowholes are unique if not a natural wonder. We stop at Razorback Point where we see the elusive Weka bird before continuing on to Greymouth
A tasting at Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth proves that checking out breweries is the same no matter where you are... a darn good time! We get the opportunity to head behind the bar and pour our own drinks. You can't find that kind of fun too.
From Greymouth we drive inland and start the ascent to Arthur's Pass traversing some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever imagined. The Otira Viaduct is an engineering wonder where there is a roof on the road to protect it from a cascading water fall.
We skip the various hikes at Arthur's Pass, which are supposed to be amazing, in hopes of seeing sunset over Christchurch
, but do manage to stop at the Wobbly Kea for lunch. The kea is a green parrot that lives up in the mountains and is infamous for causing mischief by opening bags, stealing food, and even biting through some car tires.
Bay of islands
We go on a short hunt for the elusive animal but come up empty handed and start the descent to Christchurch. I did, however, manage to pick up a hitch hiker named Yanus from Austria for the trip into Christchurch.
The city looks amazing on the drive in. There are a bunch of parks and I get the exact opposite feeling as I had when I went into Wellington. We find accommodation (I don't really need it as I have an early morning flight) and head directly to the Christchurch Gondola to see the sun set over the Southern Alps mountains.
We are greeted with a fireworks show over Lyttelton Harbor (still not sure why) and relax before venturing back down to explore the city's nightlife.
A brief walking tour lands us in a great little restaurant called Viaduct where we enjoy live music and share some quality conversation. The waiter screws up and brings the wrong bottle of wine, which I am quick to point out after we have consumed our first glasses. We enjoy dinner over a free bottle of wine and get into some really good game playing.