22: My Non-Adrenalised Version of the North Island
21 November 2002
I would have to describe my experience of New Zealand as one of extensive study from ALL angles (from a car, a ferry, a parachute, a bungee rope, a raft, a snowcapped mountain, a pair of skis, a flying fox, a cave…) and not necessarily as ALL of New Zealand from one angle. In other words, I missed SO much. Worth mention are the Bay of Islands and more of the Coromandel Peninsula, including White Island (an island so alive with volcanic activity that it appears to be the key outlet valve for the ring of fire!). Next lifetime, eh?
But emails to friends and family during my last days in NZ relayed my exhaustion at being the eternal tourist. I was rapidly reaching the point where if the Taj Mahal was the only remaining tourist attraction left in the world, after horrible natural disasters and was due to be levelled by anti-tourism protesters in just 24 hours and I was only 10 minutes walk from there, but the Sultan of Brunei stopped by with a caravan of camels with luxury covered carriages on top and offered me his vast fortune to join him on his visit of the temple, whilst I was fed Haagen-Dazs ice cream by Brad Pitt… I would simply send him away and curl up in the foetal position and slip into a deep and dreamless sleep!
So, pushing the boundaries of my already shaky endurance levels I moved full force into the activity of character building.
I got so into this new activity that I found myself making some really good new friends, of which I was sure I had reached my full quota for the year. You know the saying, “A friend to all is a friend to none” (18th-century English proverb) and I was beginning to dilute like a Las Vegas margarita. Yet nothing makes you want to make friends more than being in a dark cave in cold water, wishing collectively that you had listened to your mothers and eaten more carrots to improve your night eyes!
But prayers for “glow worms to light our way” were answered, and emerging from the Waitomo Caves we then made our way to the Coromandel Peninsula. After a steep descent we arrived at Cathedral Cove, the kind of place you dream of being washed up after a shipwreck. We made our way to Hot Water Beach where we “dug ourselves a hole and got to sit in it too”. It was the solution to that nice hot bath you take that keeps turning cold, needing constant topping up. The thermal water pumped out of the ground, often a little to hot too stand. Adorned with scorching red blotches all over our bodies and smelling like rotten egg (an intoxicating perfume called ‘So Sulphur’), we headed to Makutu, a Maori-owned farm for a traditional “Hangi”. A hangi is a traditional Maori feast and feast we did, followed by a talk by a part-Maori man about his life growing up and living in New Zealand.
Close to Rotorua (aka Rotovegas, Sulphur City) we stopped at a thermal village called Wakatereu (pronounced with an ‘F’ – say no more). It seemed that our last breath of fresh air was well behind us, and we attempted fruitless efforts at adjusting to this new aroma. The whole village is the perfect backdrop for Macbeth as geysers erupt, pools of water boil and hiss and you lose each other through the misty haze. And I began to look the part of the witch as my hair frizzed up with all that steam – all I needed was “eye of newt” to toss into the bubbling inferno.
We then watched a traditional Maori dance where sumo-like men wore traditional war paint and pulled that famous Maori war face that left beachcombers of the past wishing they were facing the witches of Macbeth instead.
And that night I learned the rules of Rugby League as the Kiwis lost to the Ozzies in the National Rugby League final – a brutal and exciting game. Next was my aforementioned luge ride, where I literally turned a go-cart into a contraption the Wright Brothers would be proud of. This turned out to be excellent preparation for my skydive over Lake Taupo where I did an excellent impression of a bug trapped against a grill in a wind tunnel. An excellent end to this day was making camp for the night in a hotel with spa and sauna at the foot of 3 active snow-capped volcanoes, Mt. Monganui, Mt. Rhuapehu and Mt.Something-or-other (don’t quote me on the last one).
I spent my last few days in Auckland wandering the streets and markets looking forward to Fiji, particularly after I was white-washed by a militant pigeon – “the poo that broke the traveller’s spirit”! I don’t know how it can be considered lucky when you just feel so picked on.