The Airport Connection

Finally, I’m getting to the New Zealand blog posts!  Things have been a little crazy since getting back—after ten days of no phone and no internet, I re-entered a world of being available seemingly 24/7, a world in which I’d just published a book.  Apparently this leads to obligations—who knew?  Plus, I’ve just started my first business (or started starting it, anyhoo), so time is even more scarce than usual.  So to make up for the delay, I’m going to write you a very exciting blog post about airports.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to write a post about the magic of airports.  I spend a lot of time in them, so perhaps attributing a certain’je ne sais quoi’ to them is my brain’s way of dealing with the extreme boredom, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.  Firstly, I’ve got an awesome airport routine, specifically for Sydney international airport.  If I’m going away for a year or more then my suitcase is usually a bit epic, so there’s the weigh-and-throw when entering the terminal.  I’ve thrown out a really random selection of stuff in those bins over time.  Then there’s progressing through, all of my things already in the appropriate location for scanning and seeing and generally security-ing.  Once I’m through, I have a gander at the cameras before going straight to Victoria’s Secret (the first to open in Aus) and trying on every single moisturiser.  Seriously.  There’s usually at least 8-10 that I put on, until I smell like I’ve been rolling around in a particularly delicious garden.  Next is a slow meander to my gate, playing with every soft toy I see on the way (one day I’ll learn to be a grown-up.  One day!) before getting some munchies and jumping on the flight.

My favourite thing about the international airport though is its the transience.  The building itself is this incredibly sterile and grey place, yet it’s full of such passion: people are farewelling those they care about, or welcoming them home with hugs and tears.  There’s the anticipation of going somewhere new, maybe even anxiety.  There’s the loneliness and possibility of solo travel.  I think of airports as kind of like a chicken’s egg: it’s crisp and plain and terribly beige to outer appearances, but on the inside it’s full of life and delicious yolky goodness (somewhat disturbing simile—anyone feeling the sudden urge to go vegan?!).

Next is the fact that the airport is full of my people: the international long-haul travellers who make wherever they are their home.  They’re relaxed, in their own little world; shoes off, on the floor, curled around a power point.  They look so lonely, but so perfect in it.  They’re not anywhere they actively want to be, but instead in the Eternal Land of Airport—timeless; placeless.

This would be my third time in New Zealand, though my first time to North Island.  I was meeting my friend Guma (Gurmatjeet) at Auckland airport, and we’d be spending ten days seeing and hiking around the place, plus seeing glow-worms.  I freaking love glow worms.

Guma and I are very, very different people.  If not for the firm bonds of alcohol (!), we’d never have met—he’s an electrician, very low maintenance, and pretty quiet (until he drinks, that is!), whereas I’m like a big ball of enthusiastic energy. But I go into this in a later post, so you’ll just have to wait for Guma’s hilarious characterisation of his culture and my very different one.

After meeting at the airport, we picked up the van which would be our home, and set off to find food.  We started heading north.  A very helpful guy at BP not only told us where to find a supermarket, but which radio station was half-decent: vital, given our lack of other music!  So, music-ed up, we trotted off to Pak’n’Save.  I was having a good old chat with the guy working check-out when suddenly he starts laughing.  “Wait, are you Australian?” he asks.  “Uh, yes?” I reply.  “I knew it!  I knew it from the way you said ‘wenning’!”  (Immediately starts trying to put on a bad Australian accent.)

More important than any of these things though as what we purchased (who we purchased?) at the supermarket: Simon Sage.  Oh yeah.  We bought ourselves a plant.  Haha there was no fresh sage, so we decided to get horticultural.  So now it was me, Guma, and Simon Sage, and we hit the road.

We were aiming to reach one of the Department of Conservation’s campsites at Uretiti Beach (“okay, we’re looking for a place ending with ‘titty'”—Guma), and so set out from Auckland (~9 in the featured image) to try and find the blasted place.  As you may have gathered from the ‘blasted’, we weren’t very successful.  Who knew that ‘SH1’ meant ‘State Highway 1’?  Well, apparently not me.  By the time we found the campsite, it had been locked up for two hours and there was no entry.  Happily, the beauty of travelling in a van is that the road is your… oyster?  So we pulled over onto a deserted-looking road and called it a night.  It would be a big day tomorrow.

Lord of the Forest

I want to precede this  post by saying that I am not Maori, I am not Kiwi, and I am therefore godawful at remembering the names of places in New Zealand.  As such, I have next to me a pile of six maps of North Island, and who even knows how many brochures.  I realised in driving around that seemingly every place name starts with ‘wh’ and that there wasn’t a hope in hell I’d be able to remember all of it, so just for you—just for you—I picked up all the relevant brochures and lugged them back to Australia with me.  Because apparently this is what happens when you go on a road trip with no phone and no internet.

After waking in our fairly awesome road-side location, it was definitely time to go for a wake-up drive before doing anything so mundane (read: practical) as getting out of my pyjamas.  Taking some kind of scenic detour, we ended up at an oil refinery.  Not exactly a tourist attraction, so we looped around to the ocean front and parked on the grass.  It was all very peaceful and beautiful—there was a broad bay in front of us, overlooked by some distinctly volcanic-looking mountains.  There was another car parked off to our left flank, and in it a man sat quietly, window open, radio on, reading the Sunday paper.

“I could retire here,” said Guma, choosing to ignore the intervening forty years.

I wandered off to get changed, and we meandered onward.  We’d seen multiple signs for ‘One Tree Point’.  ‘That sounds scenic,’ I thought to myself, and suggested we check it out.  We then proceeded to spend the next fuck knows how long driving around, with all signs pointing to ‘One Tree Point’, but every destination having far more than one tree.  It was all lies.  Lies I tell you!

After far too long, we hit the road properly, and headed up SH1 to Whangarei.  We’d done a small amount of planning the day before—Friday afternoon at work I’d taken a long break (don’t worry, I worked to make up for it!) and done some investigation.  I’d written down a list of places, looked up a few attractions and printed out some hiking notes, and marked them all on a map.  The points formed effectively a big figure eight over the top half of North Island, and we’d decided on a track that would take us up to Cape Reinga Lighthouse to start with.  So from Whangarei, we started heading north, continuing up SH1 and picking up a hitch-hiker.

Not even slightly touristy.
Not even slightly touristy.
There are no apologies for the crookedness of this photo.  The couch you can see at right folded out to make a bed, and my goodness were there a million magic shelves.  I'm pretty sure I didn't discover them all.  I got excited every time!
The couch you can see at right folded out to make a bed, and there were a million magic shelves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t discover them all. I got excited every time!

Our hitcher was a friendly Maori lady who was more than happy to perch on the couch in the back of the van.  She was going to around 30km out of town, and when she found out where we were going, warned us to be careful.  “My people like to smack tourists over the head and rob them,” she said.  This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this, especially re travelling to the Northland, and we were obviously tourists (as can be judged by the van).  However Russia has given me a probably bloated sense of confidence, so I wasn’t particularly concerned.  And no, this isn’t a moment of dramatic foreshadowing: we did not in fact get robbed.  Or smacked over the head, for that matter.

With our hitcher still inside the van, I was having a look at the map, and  I’d decided I wanted to go to the kauri forests on the west coast.  Guma is pretty much down with whatever, so after dropping off our extra person we headed back to Whangarei, thence onto the 14 and 12.  There we met our first taste of NZ’s ridiculously windy roads.  Now, it should be mentioned that I’m the girl who threw up on every school trip, and while since learning to drive I’m generally okay, Guma lives in a place that doesn’t have corners.  (This is not unusual in regional Australia—roads just go on forever and ever in a straight line.)  As such, wherever possible, I tried to do the mountain and night driving, and he did all the other bits.

After a couple of hours we made it to the Waipoua Forest.  This is, as per the brochure, “home to the best preserved and largest of the remaining kauri forests in New Zealand.”  Kauri are magnificently huge and true-growing trees, but they are dying out for some as-yet unknown reason. What I find truly amazing about these plants is that though they’re these incredibly huge and sturdy structures, their roots are tiny and run over the ground rather than under it.  How could something so massive be supported by something so small?  We went for a bit of a meander, seeing the ‘Four Sisters’ and ‘Te Matua Ngahere’, ‘Father of the Forest’.  Upon walking around a corner and seeing the latter, Guma—not given to casual religiosity—burst out with “holy jesus.”  It was quite something to see—massive, and a casual 2500 to 3000 years old.  A short drive later we also visited Tane Mahuta, ‘Lord of the Forest’.  I like trees.

Leaving the car park from Te Matua Ngahere, I decided to cook up some pine nuts to have with our salad later on.  An incredibly hot French guy came over to see if we were okay, as the stove was misbehaving.  I need to find myself in trouble more often.  Anyhoo we left the forest and stopped for lunch.  Guma, watching me prepare, turns and says to me “you’d be the best gypsy wife, eh.”  Yes, yes I would.

Next, it was heading north as north can be, aiming to get to Cape Reinga and see the lighthouse there by sunset.  Now, New Zealand may look very small on the map, especially compared to Australia.  But I’m here to tell you that all of the maps are wrong, and that travelling from point A to point B inevitably takes you halfway around the fucking globe.  After several more hours on the road, I was despairing of ever reaching the Cape.  Cresting every hill we’d see yet more land, stretching on forever.  We made a brief stop on 90 Mile Beach, and then the road went on and on and on some more.  “Fuck you, New Zealand,” I was ranting.  “Where is the fucking cape, this fucking road is lasting for fucking ever and it’s not even fucking possible.”  (Yes, I do have a favourite verb!)

An interminable period later, we finally saw the end of the road.  At last!  At last!!!!!  So we got out of the van and were hit by wind so strong that I stumbled backward.  It was ridiculous.  We could also see a storm rapidly approaching, and there was no way I wasn’t getting a photo of the damn lighthouse after all of that effort, so laughing hysterically (well, I was), we took on the wind.

There were two German girls down by the lighthouse, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.  It was really very beautiful.  It’s a sacred place for the Maori people.  This is partly because you can see ‘the mixing of the waters’, where the Tasman meets the Pacific, and according to legend this was where the masculine sea met the feminine one, and all of the whirlpools were them getting… shall we say ‘amorous’?  Secondly, it’s legend that deceased Maori spirits would gather along a sort of spiritual highway from all over New Zealand and ‘leap off’ at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga).  Here they would enter the underworld and join their brethren from Hawaiki.  It was all super interesting.

Suddenly, I heard the Germans behind me start losing their minds over a rainbow.  I turned around to see, and the sequence of shit-losing continued.  “Guma!  It’s a rainbow!  It’s a rainbow!”  (I never pretended to be cool).  Guma just nodded.  “Yup.”  Haha hilariously, earlier that day I’d been talking about rainbows, and Guma had said “yeah, I don’t know if they get rainbows in New Zealand, hey.”  I had a good giggle.

The epic drive was worth it, no?

Running on fumes, I took over the wheel and we made it to Kaitaia, thence to Paihia in the Bay of Islands for a hike the next day.

_______________

We travelled from where slept on the first night (1) to (2), via Whangarei and the west coast.  I’ve marked on the oil refinery, the start of the windy roads, the forests, and the lighthouse (that’s naturally the giant fire hydrant).

day 2 travels

(posted 25/10/14 and backdated)

 

Small Steps

This post’s featured image: an entirely accurate representation of New Zealand’s roads.

Day three started with waking up in a car park in Paihia, a town in the Bay of Islands.  Our ambition for the day was to do the ‘Bay Beauty’ circle walk, a relatively flat hike of around 23km (map here).  There were going to be two ferries for us to catch, so we hustled to what we presumed was the ferry terminal at around half seven in the morning.  We popped into the i-site (what Kiwiland calls official information centres) to ask what the go was, and the lady looked at us in complete befuddlement.  We not only had the wrong timetable (my bad), but just generally the wrong idea.  She suggested that we instead start by walking along the coast from Paihia to Opua while it was still low-ish tide, then catch the ferry to Okiato before walking to Russell and ferrying back to Paihia.

And so we strode off along the beach, munching on delicious blueberry muffins and generally enjoying the sunshine.  Until I realised that sunshine leads to burns, and I am like a living ghost.  Enter me desperately dumping everything out of my pack, looking for sunscreen.  After finding everything from my thermals and fleece through to a bikini (hiking NZ requires packing for four seasons in one day), I came up triumphant with my fairly ridiculously sized emergency sunscreen.  Because I am the kind of person who carries emergency sunscreen.  This one was in a tube about half the length of your little finger, but it did the job!

Little island on Bay of Islands.
Little island on Bay of Islands.

Apart from that, the walk to Opua was fairly uneventful.  I stopped to play with a puppy, but that was pretty much it.  We also came across a signpost to a lookout.  “Do you want to?” I asked Guma, who responded with a shrug-equivalent reaction.  So we took the turn-off, and all was well in the world until we arrived at the bottom of a set of stairs.

“Noooooo!” I wailed (slight exaggeration).  “There’s staaaaairs!”

“They’re only little,” replied Guma, possibly aiming for ‘supportive’ but coming off as ‘naïve’.  A minute or two later when we reached the top, I looked back at him and he was dying.  “No cardio,” he panted.  “I don’t do cardio.”

Stairs are nobody’s friend.

Soon enough we made it to Opua and caught the ferry over to Okiata.  We checked out an ‘historical monument’ which turned out to be a fence with some kind of piratey-looking chap on it, surrounding an old colonial well.  I threw an Australian coin in it to mess with future archaeologists, and it made a satisfying plop.

day 3
We camped overnight at ‘2’. The green marker behind it shows the location of the Bay of Islands walk, and then it was down the SH1 to Huntly (#3), where we would camp for the night.

The rest of the walk was fairly cruisy: it had a pleasant variety of beaches, dry and tropical forests, and mangrove swamps.  We made good time and were back on the road by around 2pm.  We’d decided to head south of Auckland to try and get another big stretch of driving out of the way, and vitally, it was going to be somewhere with a shower: it had now been three days and hiking, so hygiene sounded like a nice idea.  Well, to me—Guma said he’d be more than happy to go for, say, six weeks without showering.  But given that I was sharing a van with him, he was being gentlemanly.  Yup.  We drove down to Huntley, and despite the fact that the shower was pretty much the equivalent to a hot pressure washer, it was fairly mind-blowing.  I gave Simon Sage his first hair cut (for dinner), and then it was time for an early night.  (You may be sensing a theme on that one!)

(Written on 26/10/14 and back-dated.)

Drooving and Glow-worms

“Hey lady—your husband droov off!”.  It was the start of day four of our Kiwiland adventure, and a lady in the petrol station was yelling after me.  Incidentally, I wasn’t sure whether I found the ‘husband’ or ‘droov’ part funnier.  She then flagged me down again, to give me a free little plastic toy—I must say, until I was the proud owner of a fake oil container the size of half of a thumb, I wasn’t sure how life-changing it would be (/end sarcasm).

Today would be the day we went to Waitomo to go and see some glow worms, but we had a few hours to kill beforehand, so decided to take on a mountain (as you do).  We asked the Huntly i-Site lady for advice, and she in turn directed us to Pirongia.  There we picked up a fairly hilarious map which is, and I quote, “not drawn to scale and is not intended for track navigation purposes,” and proceeded to use it for track navigation purposes.

Part way up my stomach muscles realised that they existed, and immediately started rebelling: apparently five weeks with no hiking (until the preceding day) and working in an office is not conducive to fitness.  Who’d have thunk it?  So while Guma looked bemused (me: “Guess which of us does exercise?” Guma: “I’d better not say, I might get in trouble.”), I pretty much tried not to cry every time we went up hill, and did all kinds of funny manoeuvres to try and stretch out my poor abused tum.

It was a pretty interesting track (link to brochure with infinitely better directions than those which we had).  We followed the Tirohanga track and made Ruapane lookout in good time.  I was feeling ambitious, so asked Guma how he felt about seeing how far toward the summit we could get before we had to turn around.  He didn’t look overly impressed, but went along with it (as he does), and off we went.

After the lookout, the track got way more awesome: it had already involved a bit of hands as well as feet, but the next section of the trip had chains bolted into the rock and was more like abseiling than anything else.  It was great!  I was super careful because of my gimpy wrist (which spontaneously lets go, like that one time in Greece).  Happily, no gimpage was incurred.

We didn’t make it the whole way to the summit, only getting as far as what I’m assuming was Tirohanga Bluff.  It was super cool though (and nearly as high anyway).  Then it was time for a quick few photos before smashing it back down the hill, encountering as we did so a flock of seven children (with three adults) who all looked exactly the same and sounded like dinosaurs crashing through the forest.

Back at the car park, I made some cultural reference along the lines “we’d better make like Henry and get Rollins” (Henry Rollins).  All I know about him is that he’s kind of angry, some kind of music or spoken wordy person, and that he was at a festival I went to a few years back.  And he has a name which is suitable for word play.  Guma on the other hand had never heard of him at all.

“It’s so bizarre,” I said.  “We’re both from the same country, we grew up in the same place, and yet we are from completely different cultures.”  Guma doesn’t get any of my references, and as I’ve mentioned before, we have little in common.  He did, however, agree with me on this, and went into a ‘his’ versus ‘my’ people in fairly hilarious detail.  So here you go, Guma’s ‘his’ vs ‘Sydney’ people comparison table:

Guma’s people…

  • are blue collar
  • make ‘your mum’/’that’s what she said’ jokes
  • drink draft/”non-fancy” beer
  • have “real bad English” (unquote)
  • say things like “how ya garn?”
Sydney people…

  • have flash clothes
  • use public transport
  • drink flash alcohol (examples being pilsner and cider)
  • don’t go to pubs, but bars or ‘fancy’ lounge-bars
  • drink $5 litres of water
  • “sip lattes in coffee shops with baristas
  • are university-educated

The line about coffee shops with baristas cracked me up—the way he said it still makes me smile.  There was so much derision in his tone, as though it’s all the most pretentious bull shit he can think of.  Love it.

It was time to head off to the caves, and so we hit the road once more.  I couldn’t figure out why I could smell peanut butter, and it was driving me freaking crazy: it wasn’t until we reached Waitomo town-ship that I realised I’d dropped around a tablespoon of it down my top.  One of these days I’ll learn how to put food in my mouth.  One day.

Glow worms was a bit part of a reason this trip happened.  I love glow worms.  I had this really amazing experience when I was 17 and on a caving trip in Tasmania.  Our adventure ed teacher, Mr Booth, ushered me into a tunnel leading into a cliff face, with everybody else following.  We crawled along a ledge above a rushing river, until we were so deep into the ground that it was pitch black.  All you could see was darkness, and the river was so loud in the close confines that it felt like you couldn’t hear at all.  Then, slowly, our eyes adjusted, and rather than pitch black it was blackness adorned with tiny underground stars.  As I was first one into the tunnel I got to be the last one out, and so I let everybody go a few minutes ahead so that I could experience it without distraction.  It was deeply moving.

Anyhoo, seeing glow worms again was definitely on the agenda—hence, New Zealand.  A friend had recommended me somewhere free to go, but I’m a muppet and forgot, so turned to google.  I chose the company Spellbound, who only run three tours a day and only have a maximum of twelve people per tour (as opposed to the main ‘Waitomo Caves’, who have 2-3000 people going through them a day.  Nope.).

It ended up being a group of myself, Guma, and three Americans, with a big Maori tour guide by the name of Hop.  He drove us up some winding roads which were surrounded by little lambs.  They were freaking adorable: it reminded me of the lambs in The Little Prince, which only multiplied the aww-factor.

We went for a walk through a dry cave first, seeing a couple of glow worms but that was about it.  Other than a moa skeleton.  Moas, like kiwis and emus, were flightless birds.  And they were fricking huge.  Imagine like a gigantor ostrich.  The skeleton we saw was that of a moa who must have fallen down into the cave and had broken its leg.  It made me sad, the idea of this poor moa lying at the bottom of the cave by itself in pain until it died.  Poor lonely moa.

Next we had a brief stop before the glow worm cave.  I went and hung out with some cows (Guma told me I looked like a cow whisperer), and had a little chat to the other guests.  It turned out that two of the guys were engineers, and my respect for them instantly went up.  Not sure if that makes me bias against American travellers or bias toward engineers, really.  Haha I assume it’s the latter, given that at one point in my life most of my friends were engineers (it goes with the sailing).  Plus, I’ve met a lot of doctors and lawyers who were complete idiots, but I’ve never met an engineer who was.  Socially awkward, yes.  Misogynistic, yes.  Arrogant, yes.  But aggressively stupid?  No.

After a pause while Hop pulled a huge eel out of the river, we trotted on into the Spellbound glow worm cave.  It was pretty magical: we got into a little boat and drifted along the water, the ceiling just above and the walls around us covered with night sky.  It was all very romantic (not that I feel that way about Guma, obvi): just poignant, still and beautiful.

It had been an epic day and I was pretty destroyed by this point.  The guys hiked up a little hill, but I (and/or my body) decided ‘screw that’ and went up with Hop in the car.  Then and it was pizza and bedtime.  Except that no, not yet, we could still fit more adventures in our day!!!

We drove up to a car park Hop had mentioned, and waited for it to get dark.  Slowly night started to fall, and we meandered up a walking track which was filled with, what would you know, steps.  A short while later we made it to this massive cave.  Except that the phrase ‘massive cave’ just does not do it justice.  You walk down into the rock face, and suddenly you come out on this little wooden platform sited at the top of a space which is so huge it’s almost like a physical sensation.  Below you is a deep pool fed into by a short waterfall, and the waters slink off into darkness too deep for the eye to penetrate.  You can easily see where legends of rivers taking people to the underworld came from: it was easy to imagine slipping away along this river and finding yourself in a strange, dark new world.

I actually have no idea how long we were on the platform for.  I spent quite a long time trying to get a decent long exposure of the waterfall, and even longer checking out the little patches of glow worms overhead.  Eventually though we realised it wasn’t going to get any darker, and we decided to head back.

“Waaagh!” I complained, as Guma turned on his head torch facing me.  He then followed as I led us back out of the cave and toward the car park.  I told him the story of following Jairo into the night-time Amazonian jungle (“the only circumstances in which I’ll follow a half-naked man with a machete into the wilderness”).  “Well, we can do that if you like,” replied Guma, immediately shutting off his lamp.

Best.  Decision.  Ever.  After a couple of minutes while our vision adjusted, suddenly we were in this wonderland where not only where there stars in the sky and glow-worms under overhangs, but there were even glow worms all through the trees and flowers around us as we walked.  There was one alarming (hilarious?) moment when I startled a possum and it jumped over my arm, but other than that it was just an incredible experience with which to finish off an epic day.

day 4
Day 4: We started off at 3 (Huntly), went hiking at the green 2 (Pirongia), and crashed in a carpark outside Waitomo (4) that night.

(Written 27/10/14 and backdated.)

Tree, water and fire

…because I’ve never written a blog post which sounded like it might be the name of a magic system before.

Waking up in a car park (again), the mission for the day was to make it to Taupo.  After an epic number of adventures the preceding day, the plan was to take it a bit easy.  That’s probably a good thing, as given that I can’t really remember the morning, I may have been in some kind of exhaustion-induced coma.

Our first (I assume!) stop on the road was an anonymous-looking car patch (I’d say car park, but it wasn’t really worthy of the name) by the side of the highway.  My curiosity was piqued, so we did a u-y and pulled up, only to find a mysterious-looking path wending its way into the forest.  This was the Pouakani Forest, and we followed the path until we found ourselves at another giant tree.  Result!  Happily, I took a photo of the sign and can therefore tell you that this tree was nearly 2000 years old, 4 metres in girth, and 30-odd metres tall.  Trees are cool.

P1150291-2

The lady at the i-Site in Waitomo had recommended we stopped at Whakamuru Dam, but this turned out to be exactly 0% interesting.  After the dam though, the landscape changed to become really intensely beautiful.  It reminded me a lot of the Alps, and of the sights you see from the train when passing through southern Austria and Switzerland.  I saw a delightful village on an island and insisted that we stop so that I could once again take far too many photos.  It reminded me of a little Swiss hamlet, though I admittedly failed to capture that in my photos.

A bit of an interval later, we covered the last stretch of the drive to Taupo, my terrible directions notwithstanding.  We then proceeded to head straight back out of town until we found ourselves at the incredible Huka Falls.  This is apparently one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, and the sheer volume of the water is amazing: enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools every second.  It was great!

P1150380-7 P1150326-6

Now, I had little idea of what we’d actually do in Taupo, other than perhaps find some more hikes to do.  We popped into the i-Site and checked out all of the brochures, and I asked one of the rangers (or whatever they’re called) which walk she’d suggest.  “I know we can’t do the Tongariri Alpine Crossing,” I said, “due to the snow, but—”

“Actually I’ve just had a phone call,” she interjected.  “It’s open for the first day this season, there’s no snow, you don’t even need a guide!”

‘Whoa’ went my brain.  While I feel rather negatively about all things uphill, this was meant to be one of the best day-walks in NZ, if not the world.  But should we?  We weren’t quite sure, so bought the guide to walks around Taupo and went to have a nap by the lakeshore.

I completely failed at napping, instead plotting and scheming away.  I flagged all of the day-walks which sounded good, handed them to Guma, then suggested that we go and check out the Craters of the Moon.  Did not regret.  I mean, how super freaking cool are volcanoes?  And any evidence thereof pretty much makes my day.  So we went for a wander around the Craters, smelled the sulfur, and pretended we were dinosaurs from the Land Before Time films.  (Okay, so maybe it was just me doing that.)

Throughout this, I’d slowly realised that doing the Tongariri Alpine Crossing the next day was absolutely compulsory, so we booked it back to the i-Site to arrange a shuttle (the walk is one-way).  We were suddenly committed.

Picking up supplies from the supermarket, we next went in search of a shower: there was a ‘super toilet’ or something along those lines by the i-Site, but as I walked in I realised that the showers were already closed for the day.  “Nooooooooooo!” I wailed at the attendant.  “I need a showwwwwwerrrrrrrrr!!!”

“Havyewaka?” she asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Havyewaka?” she repeated, to my continuing blank expression.  “Haveyewaka?  A ka ka ka?”

“Oh!” I replied, figuring it out.  “Yes, we do have a car!”  Embarrassed by my apparent inability to understand the Kiwi accent, I hurriedly got directions to a gym with showers, and it was time to go.

Post-shower, we decided to head to the southern end of Lake Taupo so that it wouldn’t be too epic of a drive in the morning.  The lake itself was beautiful, and it was a very scenic drive.  Plus, I had this epic pita bread full of mushroom risotto, salad, and feta, and it was absolutely delectable.  Leaving town I saw a young couple silhouetted on the beach, which probably should have been sweet or something, but instead all I could think about was how clammy and goosepimply they have must been after swimming in such cold weather.  Yup, I’m a romantic.

P1150446-6After getting lost and my getting a bit shitty (me minus sleep equals cranky me), we found ourselves an official free camping site.  There we encountered our van-twin: we’d seen the van matching our own in the supermarket car-park earlier.  My observation skills are awesomely bad, and so I’d actually walked up to this stranger’s van to try and drive it away before Guma pointed out that it was not in fact our vehicle.  (One snow season in Jindy I borrowed my friend Karl’s car all season, and I could never recognise it until I walked around to check if it was the 4wd with bullets in the back.  I still have no idea even what colour that car was.)

Anyway I got chatting to the guy from our van-twin and it turned out he was a Kiwi dude, travelling around with a Canadian girl.  I wondered whether it was international romance.  I hoped so!  It’s the most impossible and yet the most beautiful when it works out.  (Okay, so I take it back about the lacking-romanticism!)

The next day would be a very, very early start, so I knew I had to get to bed.  All the same, the stars were so beautiful that I couldn’t resist watching them for a while by the river.  (They didn’t move much :p.)

(Written 29/10/14 and backdated.)