August 10, 2006

North Island in a Nissan - Part I

So, what have myself and Andrew been up to for the last week?
Well, Thursday morning saw us up and out at 9 o'clock, hair and teeth brushed, bags repacked, and we even managed to squeeze in breakfast - one meal of the day with which we were neve familiar in South America. We picked up our white Nissan Sunny (the most desired of all rental cars, tis true) and drove out of Auckland with a full tank of petrol and a map. The sun was shining, spirits were high and we were both looking forward to the week ahead.
Our first port of call was the small town of Hamilton, about 2 hours south of Auckland. Not much to recommend this place, except the absolutely OUTSTANDING bangers and mash in the Irish pub on the main street! The drive was pretty interesting with the scenery becoming more interesting the further south we went. We decided to head for Rotorua, in the middle of the island, for some serious soaking in the thermal springs. The guide book informed us that we would smell Roturua long before we would see it....and we did! GOD THE PLACE STINKS! They say it's the sulpher....
We found a hostel with a car park, dumped our stuff and wasted no time in getting to the Polynesian Spa. The water in the natural springs is 42 degrees! and there we soaked our tired limbs for 2 long hours. I had a particularly disturbing time in the ladies changing room when a flapping bunch of naked japanese ladies descended upon my quiet time in the shower...but that's another story. Quick shower.
Next morning, we had an early breakfast and headed for the local forest for a 3hr trek. Packed a lunch and off we went. It was great to get back into the outdoors again, breathing clean air (both us noticed the difference in the air between here and SA immediately upon arrival). After lunch, we checked out the local Zorbing centre...What's Zorbing? Well, basically you get into a giant plastic-like ball and roll down a steep hill! This time around though we decided to participate only as spectators...$45 for 1 minutes fun was just out of our price range this time. But we will be back! In the afternoon, we were back in the car again bound for a little place called Waitomo.
When we arrived in Waitomo darkness and a dense fog were descending on the area. The town is literally in the middle of nowhere and would surely b bypassed by most travellers were it not for the famous glow worm caves. The landscape is quite unique - full of hills and saucer-like depressions indicative of vast subterranean cave systems. We found some cheap but adequate accommodation for the night in the form of a cabin. Andy took himself off for a soak in the hottub while I indulged in an hour of girlie pampering before we hit the hay, both of us hugely looking forward to the next day's planned activities.
Saturday morning - up bright and early ready for action! We got ourselves to the Black Water Rafting Center for about 9 and decided, after some deliberation, to sign up for the Black Labyrinth tour. Part of me was quite terrified, as those who know me know that Im not so great in the dark or in deep water. But, I decided to face my fears! The trip sounded quite intense, involving two backward jumps down waterfalls aided only by a rubber rube, not to mention the floating into pitch darkness and some serious scrambling about in the underground rocks. Gulp! However, the thought of gazing up at glowworms in the dark was enough to spur me on. Having half an hr or so to wait around before our tour, we headed into "town" to the Museum of Caves for a bit of a run down on what makes glowworms tick (and other interesting stuff about limestone and so on). At 10:30a.m. we were met by Lucas our guide for the morning....good looking Maori guy with a slightly unhinged sense of humour. I had a feeling he was just going to suddenly disappear into the black abyss leaving us in the dark....because it would be funny....thankfully, he didn't!
Next, came the most unsavoury part of the week so far...stripping off, donning an already sopping wet bikini, and then struggling (and I mean STRUGGLING!) into a wringing wet, freezing cold, icky wetsuit. Ugh! Not only did it take me an ETERNITY to wriggle into the accursed attire, but in one of my usual ingenius moves I managed to put it on backwards. Off to a great start! This didnt bode well for the rest of the tour.... A short van ride brought us to the mouth of the caves where we had to select a rubber tube big (or small ) enough to fit our respective bums. I'n telling you, if looking sexy or dignified matters in any way to you, Balck Water Rafting is not for you! And, then came the hard part....we watched as the group in front of us vaulted backwards on their tubes into the 10 degree water. I looked desperately for possible escape routes through the trees...but suddenly, it was my turn. As Lucas counted down 3, 2, 1, I tried to think about diving into a vat of warm chocolate or something. That didnt help at all! It only made the shock of the ice cold water on my body 10 times worse! But it did wake me up! We paddled after Lucas like a trio of physically challenged swans to where the water disappeared into the black underground. No going back Lucas disappeared into the darkness. We stumbled over moving unsteady rocks, fell into holes, and waded through rushing waist-high water until we came to our second waterfall. My adrenaline levels were pumping as I launched myself backwards and down into the water far below. The current took me and swept me further into the caves, as a thrashed about looking blindly for a rope that Lucas swore existed on the side of the cave wall. I found it and clung for dear life as I waited for the boys to follow. Lucas then directed us to form into a line each of us holding on to the white boots of the person behind us. He took hold of my feet, turned off his headligth and pulled us gently in the dark through the caves as we lay back and gazed transfixed at the sight above our heads - thousands upon thousands of glimmering lights clinging to the black canopy above. It was a thing of rare beauty.
An hour later, we emerged into the daylight again shivering and teeth chattering but on a high after our experience. Lucas took us straight back for hot showers, followed by soup and bagels, and our bodies slowly warmed up again. An excellent adventure! Worth every penny. Once we felt human again, we boarded the Nissan again, this time bound for Lake Taupo and the skiifields. I couldnt wait to go snowboarding! It was quite a long drive that evening through bad weather to Taupo. We stopped there for some sustenance and to weigh up our options re where to stay. The Whakapapa skiifield is about an hr and a half south of Taupo so we decided to look for somewhere to stay in a nearby town. We happened upon some great accomodation and spent the evening soaking our still chilled bodies in the heat of the jacuzzi and sauna.
HOwever, sadly, our skiing trip was not to be. Next morning, the weather on the mountain was wet, extremely windy with almost no visibility and only the lower pistes were open. We sat at the base of Mount Ruapehu in dismay watching a few hardy skiiers and boarders battling against the high winds. Back on the road again, having no real plan for where to go next. We had planned 2/3 days in Whakapapa. What were we going to do now??
As we drove, the weather worsened and driving became tiresome. This part of the north island is a bleak place \, populated only by forest. After some hours, we arrived in a little town called Waiouro. Just outside the town, we spotted a sign for an army museum. I really wanted to check it out, so we decided to get out and stretch our legs for a bit. The museum was maassive and covered NZ's involvement in all the major we ended up spending a few hours there. I really enjoyed it! Before we left, we had some lunch...and stole some cake from a group of veterans who were there on a tour! Hee hee.
And so, back into the Nissan YET AGAIN! not knowing where we might end up........

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