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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.