Entry #055: Saturday, January 25, 2014 (Taupo, New Zealand)

So what a difference a few days (and a couple hundred kilometers) make. I've gone from a fairly dull place, staying in a really uncomfortable hostel, to being in a pretty laid-back-yet-happenin' place, in a hostel that's quite comfortable. I've gone from rednecks getting stoned off their asses to tastings of honey-based alcohols. I've gone from walking for hours to...walking for hours. Huh. Actually, yeah, walking for hours has apparently become that thing that I do, so much so that I've now added a new tag for these entries for it. (Not that I'm going to retroactively tag all the old posts; that would require actual work.)

So, I'll just start out by explaining why I think I chose the hostel I did in Hastings, because hell, even I was surprised at the kind of place it turned out to be. The majority of hostels I've booked in New Zealand have been via a national organization called BBH, or...actually, I can't recall what it means. I'm sure "backpacker" is a part of it. Anyway, most of the hostels I've booked through this method have been, to varying extents, good. (As a tangent, the two Base Backpacker bookings were not done through it, and in fact, when asked to fill out a review survey, I laid waste to the Wellington one in a manner I'm not entirely used to.) The reason I attribute to most of them being good is the fact that I tried to keep my standards high, as there are review ratings for all of them, 0-100. I would pretty much keep my selections exclusively to, like, 80 or higher. The thing was, for Hastings, there were three options. Two of them had scores hovering down about 65, and the other one - AJ's Backpacker Lodge - had an "I" for "More Information Needed." I can only imagine my reasoning at the time was that this place could be a brand new listing. So, I could either go with a sure bet of a kinda-not-up-to-my-standards place, or I could take a gamble with a place that could conceivably be great.

And y'know, not all gambles work out.

Now, let me not give the wrong impression. The place is... relatively clean, the beds aren't uncomfortable, and the people have a real familial connection to each other and to the house. But the thing is, that's because it seems like everyone there is in for the long haul. When I asked one guy how many people were long-termers, he said, "Ah, yeah, about five. Then a bunch more are just here for about six months." Like that's just a flash in the pan. People seemed surprised - weirded out, even - that I was only staying for a couple days. And like I mentioned before, they all seem a bit on the dim side. I know that's a real terrible thing to point out, especially when pointing it out as some sort of fault, but the main issue is that, I personally have issues really connecting to and communicating with people at that level. Some context: I may be proud of my vocabulary, but I am by no means a pretentious "intellectual" speaker. In fact, I've heard some people note how I can range from the highfalutin to the crass in a single goddamn sentence. So I have no problems speaking with most people. But these guys, generally, seemed a bit below my floor. I wasn't joking when I said they were like rednecks. So call me judgmental if you will; it's just as hard on me.

Now, because I was on the top bunk, and my phone was charging well below, I could never check the time conveniently. But sometime, I'm guessing right after dawn, I heard the other three guys in the room getting up. And they just started talking. One of them asked if he could just turned on the light, and started cursing when he was reminded that I was here on holiday (he didn't realize I was awake). They then opened the door and didn't close it again, which was a nuisance when some old men sat on the porch, smoking. There was a mere eight-foot path the smoke had to travel through the open front door, our room door, and to my nostrils. I then heard people getting up, I heard people going out, I heard people coming in, and I heard people settling down. When I finally did get up at about 9:30, I saw that all three guys had gone back to sleep.

I got up and went to the kitchen to make some breakfast (no milk this morning, so I just had toast, a banana, and a plum). Inside, guy was cooking up some breakfast, I guess for multiple people. Toast topped with a rasher of bacon/ham, a fried egg, and baked beans. We talked a little bit, me being a little taken aback when I asked what he did around Hastings, and he said, "I do engineering. That's right, cuz, I went to school, y'know." I hadn't suggested otherwise. In any case, he offered me one of his extra little breakfast creations, which was quite kind - and I told him as much - but I didn't think I could (or, rather, should) eat one of them. "Cuz, what you ate ain't breakfast. Take it!" He was actually getting a tad aggressive, but I assured him it really would go to waste with me. I was close to breaking out something like, "I'm allergic to eggs," but got out of the kitchen early enough. I went back to my room, where the young guy was lying in bed watching something on his laptop, the angry guy was gone, and the sleepy-drunk guy was just standing there, breathing heavily. As I was gathering my stuff, I had to quickly avert my gaze, as the big guy suddenly disrobed, revealing something like 380lbs of nudity. I didn't turn back until I could be reasonably sure that he had re-clothed. I then went to the kitchen to pack myself a lunch. Some guys came in and introduced themselves, energetically enough, but these were exactly the kinds of guys I would have rolled my eyes at in college (like, one was walking around in nothing but boxers that left little to the imagination, in front of a couple under-ten kids that were living here as well for some reason).

In short, not many people here were really my type, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn't totally comfortable with the whole situation. So I decided I wanted to head out and stay out as long as I could reasonably manage, returning back just to shower and retire to my own little upper-level corner of that world. I got back to my room to grab one more thing and just saw the guys in basically the same positions as before, not doing anything. I was genuinely confused - it was past 10am. All of these people seemed to imply that they were working in Hastings. Why were none of them...y'know...working? What a mysterious place.

I didn't have much in the way of plans, which wasn't helped any by the fact that it was drizzling in town. I made my way down to the local iSite, and asked what was cool to do around here. The lady there seemed to be big on art, so she gave me a pamphlet of public art pieces and galleries in the area. Seemed to be good enough, I thought, so I got going. Though I actually stopped at the local library, both to see if they had any easily accessible WiFi (as the hostel's was limited, both in bandwidth and in the fact that it had a range of about seven feet from the router), and to take a look at the books around. The first of these turned out to be a bust, but I did enjoy walking through and checking out their selection. I even tried out microfiche for the first time, which was a neat novelty. After spending some time there, I looked at one of their biggest outdoor public art displays, the Pou, a series of 18 different carved wooden statues representing a different tupuna (ancestor) from each of the 18 marae within the Hastings district. (I took that straight from the brochure, so don't commend my cultured nature.) I then went into the Hastings City Art Gallery (which I think they should have eliminated the "City" from to make a more memorable acronym). It was pretty small - they only had a single exhibit open, but it was pretty nice, and free, so I'm not going to complain.

I then walked around the city a bit more. Wandered, really. It's not really the most exciting of cities, but one thing that really stood out to me was the youth. The youth here - and by "here" I mean numerous places in NZ - seems a lot more...I dunno what the right word is, but "trashy" is what I'll tentatively use, though that's not the right word. Like, there seems to be a higher proportion of the "slackah gangstah" style of dress and mannerisms than I'm used to. And by that, I mean New Era caps (the kind of caps with flat brims and sale stickers still left on them), sleeveless shirts, and either above-the-knee shorts or sweatpants as the attire, a slovenly attitude, and a lot of smoking. Seriously, so many of the young people smoke, it's actually a bit worrying. I'm not sure if NZ is just a few years behind the US in terms of trends like these, but hopefully it blows over soon, because it is not becoming. Anyway, putting my arthritis medicine back in the cupboard, I then walked to the nearby Cornwall Park (taking an unnecessary and, even at the time, baffling trip around a local supermarket). It was a nice park, with a good number of plants, and some nice open spaces. I was particularly tickled when I was sitting on the ground taking pictures and, suddenly, a chicken appeared behind me. The place is partially rural, and this chicken seemed a bit unkempt, so I was guessing he had escaped some time ago and was now somewhat feral. He definitely wasn't afraid of me, as he basically came up to me when I made some simple click-clucking sounds. I was legit hoping that he'd follow me when I left, and I swear that, for a few seconds, he did. But a feral chicken need be feral, so I just left him to his devices as I went to the park's aviary to look at some more birds.  Not much to say about that, other than that it seemed like half the birds in there were obsessed with murdering the other half.

I walked back to the town center, continuing to look for public art displays. And I did find a few, though there are definitely some disparities in both quality and interestingness of the pieces. Some are pretty neat, some are just...eh. But I guess that's the nature of art, eh? At this point, I decided there was not much more I needed/wanted to do for the day, so I decided to walk back to the library, because I personally feel there are few public places more welcoming and comfortable than libraries. As I was walking there, I noticed a large hill in the far distance. I'm not sure what hill it was, or how long it would take to walk there, but I figured, Hey, maybe that could be my activity for tomorrow. And if I still had some time after that, maybe I could go into the town's water park. Anything to keep me occupied and out of my technically-fine-but-personally-uncomfortable hostel. Anyway, I got in the library, looked around a bit more, and then sat down at one of their tables to do some writing on my laptop. I took a research book from the shelf to make it appear as though I was doing actual academic work, rather than writing for some two-bit blog. And I stayed there until I decided to go out to dinner (because oddly, they remained open until 8pm on Tuesdays only). I decided that for dinner, I wanted to try that Carl's Jr. I saw, because really, it's been 9.5 months since I'd seen one, and apparently it's new here, and I wanted to see how it holds up. (I was especially curious to see what they're version of the "Six-Dollar Burger" would be, as an actual six-dollar burger in New Zealand would be considered pretty cheap. Answer: They renamed it the "Thickburger".) As it turned out, it actually held up pretty damn well. I got a jalapeƱo burger, lettuce-wrapped, and criss-cut fries, and if I had been blindfolded and brought here, you could easily have convinced me that I was in some one-horse town on the 5 freeway. So yeah, nice surprise there, at least in the odd artery-clogging realm of fast food.

I tried to linger in the Carl's Jr. as long as I could, practicing my Spanish, but at about 8:30, I felt I was overstaying my welcome. So, I walked back to the hostel. (And by the way, apparently everything in the city center closes no later than 5:30, so even at a decent dinner time, the place was a ghost town.) I got a couple hellos, and the younger guy noticed how I've been gone all day, but after settling in, I was immediately reminded about where I was. There was a buck knife on one of the beds, and there was a small radio on an end table. Upon closer listening, it turned out to be a police signal. Wait; is one of them on the force? I wondered to myself. Then I saw the packets of, um, herbs next to it, and the thought immediately left my mind. When the gruff guy came in, I asked him about it, and his response was something along the lines of "They're always listening to us, so I'm gonna do the same to them." At this point, I was just waiting to see some toothless granny sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, cradling a shotgun. And then there was a parade of smells coming from the various burning cylinders coming from the few feet away that technically made up the outside.

Good to be home, eh?

I tried to ignore it all as best I could. I made some small chat with the gruff guy's son, who was apparently visiting for the night. He seemed marginally more normal than the rest. And, to be fair, they were polite to the fact that I didn't drink or smoke. But still, I was mostly content just to keep to myself, answering any random, chemical-induced questions they decided to ask me. And so it went for the remainder of the night until they all went to bed, after which I silently did some gaming and went to bed.

By 8am, I was up and unable to go back to sleep, mainly due to a combination of the always-sleepy-drunk guy snoring up a storm and, to a greater extent, the light coming in through the sheer window blinds. I decided there was really no advantage to me trying to stay asleep, so I just got up and had breakfast. There were few people up and about at the time, mainly the kids that were staying in the place. Another piece of toast, banana, and plum, and I was ready to start my day. I had packed my lunch the night before, so I just hopped into my room, quietly grabbed my things, and left by 8:30. (I think that's the earliest I've ever left a place on my own accord, without needing to leave.) I was considering taking a bus to take me to my destination of the Te Mata Peak trek, a good 12km away, but that wouldn't arrive until a sniff past 9am, and I sure as hell wasn't going to wait. So I just decided to walk (and damn did I do a lot of that throughout the day). I briefly tried hitchhiking, but gave up on that within ten minutes. As I was walking, I decided not to listen to music, and so instead I just...talked to myself. I should note, I do this a lot. And maybe I mentioned this before, but it's not me having conversations with myself; it's more like me thinking up dialogue for stories in my head. Today's subject, which I might have mentioned before, was a hypothetical TV show (like, one you'd see on AMC) called Enlightened, about a young guy who's a gofer (and son of a leader) in the Illuminati. It's a great way to keep my mind engaged, though I always have to be aware if there's anyone around, else I look, well...nuts.

The walk there wasn't too bad until I reached the uphill portion reached the park. And even that wasn't bad in terms of difficulty, but rather that it was a narrow road with nary a sidewalk to be seen. Especially when approaching blind curves, you only had to hope oncoming traffic was going at a sane speed. But about two hours or so after leaving the hostel, I arrived at the entrance to the park. I sat down for about two minutes while looking at the view. I then started off on one of the trails. And then turned onto another trail. And then went onto another trail. And then turned around. And then turned onto another trail. It was all amazingly confusing. There were a couple maps showing the differently colored trails, but it basically looked as though somebody had dropped a few lengths of yarn and just glued them where they lay. The lack of identifying markers at forks in the trail didn't help. I could only choose the path that appeared to be heading toward higher ground. And eventually, I did make it up to the peak. Seeing the fact that there was a road that could be driven all the way up made me laugh, quietly but aloud. I sat down, attempted to shoo away the dozens of small flies (possibly sandflies?) surrounding me before giving up (and thanking my goggles for protecting my eyes). I opened up my bag and had a sandwich, and as a special treat, I had an avocado. It could have used an extra day, as it was only 2/3 ripe, but spreading what I could onto my crackers made this an imminently more enjoyable lunch.

I then headed back down, as I didn't want to dally in the sunlight (this was actually one of the sunnier, hotter days I've had here). I again attempted a little bit of hitchhiking wherever there was a shoulder on which to pull over on the narrow road, but this was met with nothing but exhaust. So I just made my way back down the hill, and headed into the town of Haverlock North. I felt super dehydrated, and with good reason: I had only brought a single liter of water with me, and never found a single refill spot. That, combined with the heat and sun, was not smart. I wish I had my CamelBak, but I couldn't fit both that and my laptop, which I brought primarily because I didn't want to just leave it back at the hostel. Anyway, in the town center, I looked for a drinking fountain, but failing that, I found a juice and smoothie bar, so I got a juice and sat down, deciding to use my computer because, hey, it was there and, hey, there was WiFi available. I then ever-so-briefly went into their library to check it out, but it just looked like a smaller, less impressive version of the Hastings library, so I headed out and waited at the bus stop.

 I had pretty good timing, because I only waited at the bus stop for a few minutes before the hourly bus came. But I didn't take it all the way back to the Hasting's city center, because I decided to I was in fact going to go to the Splash Planet water park. Since I had to get off halfway down the road, the trip seemed really short, making me feel like I just wasted the time and money to use the bus. But I tried to make myself feel better by noting that I was talking on the phone at the time, thus protracting time. Anyway, I got off and walked a number of blocks down until I arrived at the entrance at Splash planet. They had a special where, if you entered the park after 3pm, you got in for $16, half price. I looked at the time. 3:07. Perfect. I got in, changed into my trunks (I had brought my swimming trunks and towel in case I ended up deciding to go to the place), and then put my stuff in a locker. I will say that I think that water parks are probably bet enjoyed in larger groups (let's say, five), where one person either doesn't want to do anything, or where you alternate who sits out and holds onto the group's stuff (sunscreen, towels, food, etc.). Because every time I had to set down my towel and flip-flops, I said a quick prayer to make sure people remained honest while I was gone. (Thankfully, they did.)

I started my day by going up to the top of this surprisingly true-to-life castle (it even had parapets), which had a number of slides on it. Two twisty slides (one open, one enclosed), two straight-and-quick slides, and an inner tube-specific slide. I ended up choosing the enclosed twisty tunnel slide.

And - I'm not joking - I was terrified.

Now, a bit of background. When I was younger, I was super afraid of water parks. It wasn't my family's main theme park M.O., but we went to them a couple times. And no matter how excited I was at the beginning, I wouldn't be happy by the end, mainly because of slides like this. And this actually goes into another topic - what I fear. I've had some conversations with folks, both on my travels and before, about our biggest fears or phobias. And the thing I've come to realize is that, for the most part, there's very little I fear. In fact, there's only one thing I can distinctly point out - drowning. The concept of drowning doesn't sit well with me, especially considering because other means of death don't bother me. I've tried looking it, and the only name I've heard associated with it is aquaphobia, though I think that's more of a generic fear of water, which doesn't apply to me. Like, I would consider an aquaphobic person to be afraid of going into a pool. I'm not. However, if you were to playfully hold my head under the water, I would lose it. Lose it. I know because it's happened before. So it's very specifically triggered, but real nonetheless.

So, the thing about this slide is that it is, for the most part, pitch black. You can't see a thing. All you know is that you are moving down, you are occasionally moving up and down the side walls, and there is water occasionally splashing onto your face. It's that last part that got me. Like, not being able to see, but feeling the water splashing just got me. And it was in a very kinda unsettled way. I wasn't screaming or anything like that; rather, I just started involuntarily talking, or rather, stuttering. I don't know what I was even attempting to say, but it was just coming out as gibberish.

Once I got shot out of the end, though, I was fine. Maybe if I were a little kid, I would have been broken for the day (which is, in fact, probably what the case was way back when), but I could keep going. I tried most of the other slides on the castle, and they were all really tame in comparison. I had some issue going on the inner tube slide, though, mainly because you needed an inner tube, and whenever a kid came down with one, they just...kept it. Most of them went back up the slide, but some of them just stood around, refusing to give up their precious cargo. Thankfully, adults seemed to be more understanding, and so there was an open exchange between people of above 20. (I soon came to realize why the kids were so loathe to give up their tubes; despite the fact that the park openly billed itself as having a "full day of fun", it was actually a bit limited in term of activities, water slides in particular. As such, giving up your tube meant giving up your potential to have fun.) I then went into one of those "endless rivers", but that ended for me after a single loop around because...well, it was pretty dull. Also, it's kid-friendly-depth of 80cm meant that lowering my legs even a little meant that my toes got stubbed and/or scratched on the stucco-like surface below.

After finishing this, I got out for a bit and decided to check out some of the other attractions. As I walked around, I dried off almost immediately, thanks to the intense sun rays coming down. I first went on a small "Fantasyland Train". Even just in name, the thing was overselling itself. It made a small loop around the park (never passing by any even fake fantastical elements), and constantly sounded as though it were going to fall off the track while simultaneously being dismantled. So that wasn't so great. I then went to a nice little go-kart track. Since it was only six cars at a time, the wait was fairly long, but man, was it worth it. I completely killed during my run, passing up everybody, all while maintaining a strict no-contact policy, which meant I had to break when some folk going particularly nuts. So that was quite fun. I then went to an off-road-ish track where they had "Jungle Jeeps". Interesting concept, but the things were basically PowerWheels, but slower. It looked pretty boring, to be honest. So I tried a flying fox, one of those small ziplines you sit on. This was fun until the end, when the ground reached up to my ass and got those cedar woodchips in my swim trunks. Finally, I tried out these bumper boat things, which never really provided a satisfying bump, but were crazy enough to be fun regardless.

Time was running short, but I had done most of the activities there (really, doing the late pass was a great idea; you only really needed a couple hours anyway). I decided to try out the slides again. I first did the open-topped twisty tube slide, which didn't bother me at all. I then decided to do the enclosed one again. As I was going up, a bunch of jackass kids ran up the stairs, literally pushing me aside. They got to the tube entrance and, with a complete lack of respect as to the stop/go light, started jumping in. Then it was my turn. I tepidly sat down on the entrance, waiting a little bit to make sure people had gotten through, when I hear yelling clearly coming from inside the tube. "Don't come down!" Good enough for me. I stood back up. Seriously, I had enough issues going down that tube alone. Had I gotten stuck down there in a mass of bodies and water, I would have probably...well, I doubt it would have been pretty. I told the staff member, a slack-jawed yokel if ever there was one. He looked down the tube. Some young teen came up. "You want me to jump in really fast and unclog them?" The staffer shrugged and said, "Eh, just try to move them through." The teen started prepping himself. "Wait," I asked hurriedly and with a furrowed brow to the staffer, "You weren't being serious, were you?" He shrugged again as the teen jumped, head-first, into the tube. I heard more commotion, and the staffer said, "Alright, keep going." A few more guys were in line behind me, but I let them pass, as I wanted to be sure that thing was clear when I went down. When I had enough assurance of that, I went down, noting that it wasn't nearly as bad this time, though still a bit uncomfortable. Still, when I got to the bottom, I saw the lifeguard pointing up to the staffer atop the castle. "We're going to have a talk," he said, "You do this again, I will personally see you fired." Standing next to him was a crying child, his hand covering his mouth, with small rivulets of blood escaping. If there was ever anything that I can say "I saw that comin'" to, it was this.

Pretty much immediately after that, a bell chimed to note the park was closing. I went to grab my stuff from my locker and change (though I left on the trunks to let them dry), and then started hoofing it back to Hastings. I stopped for dinner, and again stayed at dinner for as long as I possibly could before heading back to the hostel. When I got there, I took a shower and them started packing my bags. When I got to the kitchen to reorganize my foodstuffs, I spoke with a couple American girls who had just arrived that night. I gave them some tips for places to go around the area before they went to bed, and then I went back to my room. I did some writing, and spoke a bit with the gruff guy's 15-year-old son, who was actually the most sober person there, so could actually hold up a conversation. (One topic I brought up: why the hell mullets and tat-tails are so goddamn popular in New Zealand. It's really weird.) Everyone else in the room basically dropped all pretext and were just getting both drunk and stoned. Like seriously, it seemed like whenever these guys weren't smoking something, they were arranging stuff to be smoked. It was like being in one of Judd Apatow's terrible movies. Even when I was trying to explain my writing style to the kid in somewhat competent language, one of the others just said I was "speaking Chinese". We all stayed up a bit longer before going to bed, me last of all.

However, some of them got up at...I don't even know what time, but in the darkness I could hear them talking about the munchies, then the sounds of things being eaten, then a window being opened, and then the gruff guy yelling - like, straight up, yelling - out the window. I was able to fall back asleep until the bright sun again woke me up. I tried being lazy and going back to sleep, but eventually I was like, It's probably already 9am. I should get going. I got up and checked my phone. 7:05. Goddammit. In any case, I grabbed all my stuff and moved it out of the room to do my final packing. I went into the kitchen, had breakfast (fruit and cereal-sans-milk), and then sat down in the back, where I could get the house WiFi. I took that opportunity to use up the voucher they gave me, and then continued writing until about 8:40. I knew the library would open at 9am, and there was nothing I could do there that couldn't be done in the library. So I got all my stuff together, said goodbye to the two guys who were awake, and headed off into town. I got to the library, grabbed another "hey-yeah-I'm-doing-academic-work-here" book, and then wrote for awhile, while messing round for the rest of the time I was there.

After finishing a quick lunch at the local Subway (in which the lady making my sandwich seemed to refuse to give me tomato unless I called it "to-mah-to"), the bus arrived, and I hopped on. And, as sometimes seems to be my luck, some guy insisted on sitting next to me despite the fact that there were numerous rows available. Not that it made much of a difference, because once we made a stop in the more popular town of Napier, the bus filled up to capacity. We then drove for another two hours through some nice environment. Not...not particularly much to say about the drive, but we eventually got in to Taupo. It's a nice little town, but I didn't give myself much of an opportunity to look around, because I had my mind set on getting to the hostel before I missed the opportunity to get a bottom bunk.

Turns out, that wasn't much of an issue anyway, because the hostel was a bunk-less hostel. In fact, it's a really nice one overall. Based on the fact that the rooms have en-suite bathrooms, as well as the remnants of a kitchenette, and just the overall layout, I'm guessing that it used to be a motel converted into a hostel. Also, the kitchen had a gas stove, which is a first. In any case, I quickly came to meet my roommates. First was Tess (whose full name I can't even presume to be able to spell) from Holland, then Liam from the UK, Michael(?) from Germany, and Matt, also from the UK. (Funnily enough, Matt, in some regards, got his own room, as he was able to get into the side room, since I guess the place was fully booked. He enters in the same door as us, and shares the bathroom, but otherwise has his own space. I found this a bit ironic in the sense that, had I been more lax in making it to the hostel quickly, I would have been the one they put in the single room.) I got along quite well with all of them (well, not so much Liam, but that's because he never said a word after introducing himself and was only here for a night). After the last couple stops, this was quite a relief.

After settling myself in a bit, I decided to go out and do some shopping. There were a number of supermarkets around town, but I was told that the local Pac&Save (which, due to the Aussie/Kiwi accent, sounded exactly like Pic&Save, causing me a brief moment of confusion) was the cheapest option. Plus, it was right next door. So I went there and spent a good while there. The design of the place was quite...I dunno, industrial; it didn't seem very homey. But I cannot argue that the prices were not cheap. In fact, they were the cheapest food prices I've found in a store in New Zealand so far. However, when I was checking out, I realized the reason for the place's name: while you do indeed save, you have to pack yourself. At the register, they'll just scan your items and put them back in your cart. Want bags? Those cost extra. Then, there's a long table near the exit where you can see people packing their own bags. It's actually an interesting concept for a supermarket, one I'm surprised I haven't seen more like that elsewhere. In any case, I bought a good amount of food, with the intention of cooking a bit for myself (and not having meat pies) to last for the next several days. I then got back to the hostel, and since I had plenty of time in Taupo (five nights), I didn't feel any rush to do anything, so I just looked at the potential activities around the area for a good while.

I then talked to Liam, which proved to be a very enjoyable talk, because while he hasn't been to as many different countries as I have, he's also traveled for a long period of time, and has come to a lot of the same conclusions I have about many things. Basically, we were able to have a very grounded talk about both the ups and downs of traveling to different places, how you simultaneously want to keep traveling and go back to work, and other such topics. It's good to know that my ideas at least have enough basis that somebody else shares them. Anyway, we kept talking until he went to dinner, and I decided to cook for myself.

Now, my dinner plan was...not really much of a plan at all. When I was at the store, I was like, Huh, this ground beef is cheaper if I get over a kilogram. 1.3kg? Sure, why not. Oh, veggies, gotta have that. Okay, this mixed veggie 1kg pack is cheap, we'll go with that. Hey, this dented cans of baked beans are only eighty cents. I'll get two. In fact, the only thing I got with any real intent was a packet of powder to add some flavor/texture. But once I actually got into the kitchen, it suddenly was made clear to me that the 2.5kg I was cooking was a lot of food. So much so that I eventually had to split it into two big pans. While cooking, I spoke with a nice Canadian family (who I correctly guessed from their accents were from Ontario) and Matt, the other British guy from my room. Once the food was finished, I took a quick bite of it. I didn't go blind, so that was a start. But when I actually ate in earnest, I was pleased to find that it was actually quite decent for just being a case of "put a whole bunch of food in a big pan". I put the vast majority of it in the fridge, and then shared what little was left with Matt, who noted that it was basically cottage pie without the mashed potato lining. So that was a nice little surprise, and there was enough for me to have generous portions each of the nights I was here.

After dinner, I went back to my room and continued looking up activities, making a general plan for the following day. I then just relaxed for the remainder of the evening (it was quite late at this point), doing my thing while some of the other guys were laying down and Tess brought in some other girls, who just stayed inside talking for a half-hour or so. Thankfully, I was able to ignore them when I was trying to get stuff done, but I tried even being friendly and saying a little bit to them. Then everyone went to bed shortly before midnight. I stayed up a little bit longer, but was worried that perhaps the light from my computer might be bothering them, so turned in for the night.

I woke up the next morning about 8:30 or so, and had a nice breakfast of cereal and a tiny apple from a 2kg bag that I had bought. (I think I actually know why I like cereal so much - it's the milk. I just like milk.) But I did mill around the hostel room for a little while, speaking with the other folks inside. While this was going on, not only did the staff come in to clean the place (and I have to give them credit; they run a tight ship here, and everything is clean and comfortable), but they also removed one of the beds. It was of the German guy who had only stayed a night, and it was just removed for no discernible reason, though I can guess there was a larger group who wanted to be together in another room. None of us were too worried about this; in fact, the prospect of of having the bed stay out for a couple of days was quite enticing. But I didn't have much time to think of this myself, because I had packed my bag and left for the day.

I was basically heading north for a good while, to a place that was somewhere more than 10km away from town (I didn't look it up precisely). I mainly followed the local river, and while I did so, I passed by a free hot pool. I was informed of this beforehand, and had brought my swim trunks just in case, but I was planning on saving that for the way back (and even then, I didn't see anything like a changing room around). It was interesting how many folks were already there, especially considering it was before noon. In any case, I continued up, through some forests with some of the loudest cicadas I've heard on my travels, and basically stumbled across the famous Huka Falls, which was a waterfall. Not a terribly big waterfall, mind you (it couldn't have been more than 15 feet tall), but it was pretty neat nonetheless.

I then continued up for a couple miles, until I got to the Huka Honey Hive, which was basically a place that had a couple beehives and a lot of honey products available. And, oddly enough, I really enjoyed it there. They had some live hives behind glass, so you could see the bees at work, and then they had tastings, and that was one of the things I was looking forward to most (I was also hoping I could get a beard of bees, but they didn't seem to offer that). I probably sampled a good fifteen varieties of honey and honey-infused items. Of the honey, I enjoyed Tawari Honey (which was firmer than they stuff we're used to, very pale in color, and light but sweet in flavor), "Beenut Butter" (exactly what it sounds like, peanut butter with honey, and also some caramel flavor), and "Ginger Bee" Honey/Ginger/Lemon concoction (which actually surprised me, as there were two other honey/ginger varieties that I found revolting; maybe the tartness of the lemon reflavored the whole thing). In addition to that, you also could get three free tastings of mead and other honey-based drinks. So here I go again with my alcohol reviews:

  1. Wild Clover Honey Cream Liqueur - No joke, I actually really enjoyed it. (I was told it was similar to Bailey's Irish Cream, so maybe I'll give that a chance when I get home). Basically, the cream and honey masked the fact that it was alcohol, so that may be the trick.
  2. Bemrose Larnach Gold with Manuka Honey and Scotch Whiskies - This stuff had an okay-ish taste, but man did it burn going down. It makes sense, considering it was 38% alcohol by volume. But it wasn't terrible.
  3. Bemrose Excalibur Oak-Aged Mead - Oddly enough, this had too much of a fruity flavor that didn't jive well with it being a honey-based drink, and I didn't care for it all that much.
Overall, better than I was expecting, so that was a pleasant surprise. I was considering buying some honey ice cream, but figured I really didn't need it, and so just went to a bench outside and ate my lunch. I then walked across the field I was on, past a...I dunno, one of those things where you have to walk across tightropes to get over your fear of climbing, hopped over a fence (taking care to avoid the barbed wire) and got onto the Geothermal Highway, where I continued walking. At one point, I saw a hot river by the side of the road. Like, seriously, it was just steaming. I also saw a path nearby, but I couldn't see a clear way to get in. I eventually found a clearing in the bushes and - after a little tangle with some sharp-thorned vines, made it to the side of the river. While doing this, I saw that I lost one of my earbuds; or at least, I lost the little rubber tip to one of my earbuds, thereby making them fairly worthless. (Really, it's just as well, as I was just mentioning earlier that even though the earbuds I had [Monoprice 8320's] had good sound for the price, they had so many issues with tangling and coming apart that I was over them.)

I took a quick look in the river, in which everything seemed to be completely white and calcified. In fact, at one point, I saw a dead mouse which had taken a too-long bath start to have his fur become white and hard. I walked along this river until I saw a path, which then followed into nothing, unless you went around a tree on one side, and then suddenly I was on a geothermal walkway. Absolutely nobody else was there, so I was curious if I was supposed to be. I saw a number of steaming pools as well as a small geyser, but when I got to the other side and saw a building that the path came from, I felt pretty sure that I had, by pure accident, snuck into this place. I didn't want to cause a commotion, so I just hopped a couple other fences and snuck out. For curiosity's sake, I went into the building to ask for information, and found out that the walk I had just done would have cost me $15. I thanked them and left, quite happy at my accidental trespassing, because nifty as it was, it was not worth that much.

I then walked another several miles until I reached another geothermal park, the Craters of the Moon. With the exception of geysers, it had all the stuff you would expect from such a place: steam coming from the ground, hissing and whistling sounds, odoriferous mud pits, the whole lot. I was actually surprised how much vegetation there was there, though, as when you hear a name like "Craters of the Moon", your mind immediately thinks moonscape, not unlike what I saw at Kilimanjaro. But anyway, I walked around there for, maybe 45 minutes (all the while thinking about a new story concept, this one being a postapocalyptic world, but if the apocalypse had occurred during the Old West), and then headed down. By this point, I had been walking for a good seven hours, give or take, so the though of having to go back another 10+km was one I was hoping to sidestep. As I walked out of the park, I put out my thumb to the few cars passing by. The first zipped by, but the second one pulled over and let me in. It was a nice Canadian mother/son combo, of which the son had been hitchhiking in the South Island, so knew the feeling. They brought me into Taupo and dropped me off when they stopped at the lake. It was actually well past where the hostel was, but I hadn't explored that part of town, so I didn't mind too much. I thanked them for the ride, and then walked along the lakefront, watching the birds, the para-sailers, the golfers, the loafers, all just doing their own thing. I then made my way back to the hostel, where I lay down on my bed. I was feeling a bit tuckered out, so I took a quick nap, which ended up being an hour or so.

After getting up from my nap, I had dinner (which was more of the same food, plus one of the avocados I had which had sufficiently ripened). I then got back to the room and just talked to the others. I was actually hoping to finish this blog entry that evening, but every time I looked at the clock, it was later and later. The time seems to pass so quickly here. I thus didn't really feel comfortable typing when some of the others went to bed, which was even earlier than normal, as both Liam and Matt had to be picked up at 5:30 to go out and cross the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. (Which, I will admit, sounds interesting, but the thought of having to start my day that early makes it less interesting.) So I just did some more quiet activities, like filling out some of my tax work (and seeing that I might, in fact, make a little money back, seeing as I didn't work for three-quarters of the year). And then I went to bed.

And that brings us to today, which was a bit of a down-day. I didn't have anything specific planned, though I had looked up activities online. There was a food and beer festival in Taupo that seemed like it could be interesting, but the entry fee was $40, and this only got you a beer glass that could be used for tastings. If you actually wanted food, you'd have to pay for whatever you bought. Had I gotten a set of vouchers, I would have probably done this, but since I'd be paying for something I wouldn't be drinking...nah. Anyway, I ate breakfast, and went down to talk with Tess, who was the only one around, since the other two were walking. We both noted that we didn't have very much set in stone, but also that we both had to go to the Warehouse (not the failed VHS rental place, but a generally cheap all-purpose store). She also said that someone told her about a market in town that was open today.

We first walked to the market, which was small but nice, with music and little stands open. I was considering buying some fresh juice, but they were selling it at $7 a cup, which was way too rich for my blood. nd while some of the fruits and vegetables being sold were of a good price, I just didn't have any need for them at this point. Tess and I stayed there for a little bit, discussing an odd variety of topics, from the correlation between income and obesity and race relations in Australia and New Zealand. We then walked to the Warehouse, where we just decided to split up to find our various things. I decided to start by looking for shoes, many of which were actually a very reasonable price. But then I looked online and saw that, yes, there was also a Warehouse in Auckland. If I was going to get a new pair of hiking shoes, I should do so pretty much right before I leave New Zealand, otherwise I'm going to have to be hauling them around for the next couple weeks. I then checked out the electronics section, and got a new pair of earbuds. At $20, I'm sure I could have found a better deal on, say, Amazon, but hey, when you're limited, you're limited. And hey, they work perfectly fine, so I'm not going to complain.

I got back to the hostel, shortly followed by Tess, and after talking for a while longer, we both decided we were going to write in our respective journals. And she, despite writing with traditional pen-and-paper, finished well before me (possibly because my entries are occasionally around the range of 10,000 words). So she went to the lakefront to read. I, meanwhile, had lunch (which was more of my not-cottage-pie and toast, because I don't think I can finish it off during dinner alone), and then went back to writing for the next little while. I was actually enjoying having a little bit of off-time, which made me happy that I had scheduled five nights in Taupo. When you're only in places for one or two days, you feel pressured to do everything, which makes it harder to relax (and also to document it all). Here, not only do I have a nice town with great views, but I'm in a lovely hostel with good roommates, and I can just have days where I'm doing stuff, and days when I'm not doing stuff. It's a good balance.

Anyway, after reflecting on this balance, I went on a short trip around town. I had a couple little things to buy at the store (and ended up buying a new shaving razor because it was cheaper than buying new blades), and then went down to the local i-Site, where I tried to get some more information about activities in the area. In particular, I was interested in a 5-hour wet caving tour in Waitomo, which would include abseiling, black-water rafting, glowworm viewing, caving, and rock climbing, all for only $155 (which is a really good price). The issue is that this wouldn't be a day trip, and I'd actually have to go to Waitomo for a night. This is possible, to be sure, but would require me to change some of my plans, namely losing pretty much all of my time in Tauranga (though I've heard there's not much to do there). So, I got that information and left, and, after doing a little more exploring and finding many places sadly closed, I went back to the hostel. I spoke with Liam, who seemed to have enjoyed his hiking trip, though he mentioned he now was getting new-found allergies, just like me.

We spoke for a bit longer, and then I went up to have dinner. After that was done, I decided to take another walk, this time down to the lake to watch the sunset, which ended up probably being about five miles or so, so not a bad walk. But it was mostly on the beach, which was really pleasant, listening to the sounds of the lapping water, watching black swans swim around and dogs frolicking with each other. I even went into the water (to take a cool picture; an unsuccessful venture), which got deep faster than I anticipated, which was only an issue because I wasn't wearing proper swimwear. I finally stopped when I got to a boat launch station that a had a direct view of the sunset. I sat down and waited. It was quite a nice one; I don't know if it was the reflection of clouds or just distortion in the sky, but it looked like a massive explosion in the sky. Once the final rays of the sun had moved past the horizon, I walked back to the hostel, swatting away the many insects who had come out to play and watching people sitting on their motel room balconies. When I got back, I decided to have some yogurt for desert, mainly because I forgot I had bought it (and when you spend five bucks on something like that, you don't want to forget it). I noticed that Tess was up in the dining area eating, so I joined her, and we again talked for a while about a variety of topics, pausing every now and again for me to check Google Translate for the Dutch equivalent to one of my highfalutin words. After that

I have a couple more days in Taupo, and overall, I'm enjoying it very much here, seemingly regardless of what I'm doing. So that's good. No guarantees that I'll be doing anything super exciting the next few days, but I think that if I don't end up doing that Waitomo caving thing, I'll be doing a white-water rafting trip here instead (it was that or bungee jumping, and considering they're about the same price, I'll go for the one that lasts multiple hours).

So please get excite for that, if you're so inclined. Ta.

No comments:

Post a Comment