Entry #057: Friday, January 31, 2014 (Tauranga, New Zealand)

With this being the end of January, and the fact that I only have three more bus trips scheduled, it is really starting to sink in that my time in New Zealand is coming to a close. That's the weird thing about staying in one country longer, I guess. Some may say it was too long - others may say it was too short - but after giving it some real thought, I've decided that like everything else, it's exactly what it needed to be. On a less philosophical note, I did some cool stuff the past few days! Let's have a look at them!

Wednesday was a bit of a long day. I had to wake up at 6am to make sure that I had everything settled before leaving. In order to be polite, I pulled all of my bags and stuff outside of the room before I did my final bits of packing, and then brought everything into the kitchen to have breakfast. I was considering having some of the hostel's eggs, but wasn't really in the mood to either pay 40 cents apiece (actually a decent price), nor steal them, so I just settled on what yogurt I had left, mixed with some cereal (and even though it's similar to milk with cereal, in that it's also a cereal/dairy combo, it's amazing how much more filling and unrefreshing it is to eat). I then decided to head out a little bit early, because hey, why not. I walked down to the bus pickup spot and sat down, a good 25 minutes early. I noticed there was some WiFi in the area, so I tried using it, but to my disappointment, the connection kept cutting out (it seems like the Telecom public WiFi service got worse after I began paying for it). So I was pretty pleased when the bus arrived, and as I sat on board, I saw that it also offered free WiFi. I think it was the first NakedBus I've been on to do so. My excitement was a bit tempered when it turned out that I had a 25mb limit which, after a few unfortunate webpage visits, was drained within a matter of minutes. Not that I minded too much, though; I was still tired, and just put on some music to sleep on my way to my bus change at Hamilton. I did manage to nod in and out a bit, but not enough to really make me feel refreshed or anything. At Hamilton, I hopped off my bus and onto a new one. When the driver was checking off passengers on his cell phone, I noticed that there were a few others listed as going to Jun, it o Hall, the hostel where I'd be staying at. I knew it was going to be essential for me to be quick when disembarking in order to get my precious lower bunk. Anyway, the trip itself was pretty short, and had some nice views of the area along the way. Once we arrived at the hostel, I jumped off, grabbed my bags, and hoofed it up to the reception desk. A nice girl from Maine checked me in, and I was indeed fast enough to get a bunk I wanted (again, it's amazing the kinds of priorities you acquire in these kinds of situations). The hostel itself seemed pretty nice; nothing to write home about, but comfortable nonetheless.

It was only a little past 11am, but I was already feeling pretty hungry, so I made myself a quick lunch. Then I looked at the clock; I still had roughly two hours to go before I was going to be picked up for the day's activities. So, I decided to walk around the place. I first went around the area immediately surrounding the hostel. There were a couple of horses (perhaps even a horse couple) next door, and they were quite friendly, at least with me, as they came up and let me pet them. I wanted to hop the fence to get closer, but figured I should be respectful of, y'know, private property. There was also a friendly goat on the other side, who I called "Jasper" (as I think Jasper is a good name for a goat). I then got onto the road and walked most of the way to the actual Waitomo Village. I probably would have made it had I not stopped so much along the way to enjoy the view and pick blackberries. Like, the landscape here, while completely unnatural compared to what New Zealand should be, was still one of the types I love, love, love to see: endless rolling green hills, minimally-populated countryside as far as the eye can see. The kind of thing I would have loved to just walk forever if I didn't need to worry about food or shelter. And as for the blackberries, there were a bunch of wild blackberry bushes on the roadside, and while most of the berries were not ripe yet, there were a few good ones (and man, were they good) among the thorny bushes. Like I mentioned last time, there is something so awesome about eating freshly-picked berries from a plant that nobody owns. Or maybe somebody did own them, but I really couldn't tell, because this was a really unpopulated area; one of the types where there's not even a supermarket in town. And it seems like the only two industries here are small-time farming, and caving.

Speaking of which, I had to get back to the hostel to be picked up by the caving company I was going with. As it turned out, there were two others (girls [or lasses, I suppose] from Ireland) who were on the same bus as me, staying at the same hostel, getting the same bus out the next day, and were on the same tour with me. They were asking the reception about how to get to the caving company's office, apparently unaware that it was bout 10km away. I told them I was getting picked up, so they could probably tag along. They did so, and we got picked up and taken to the office/shed, where we signed in and chilled out until 2pm, where I spoke with other people and a cow outside in equal measure. (The cow was very fond of licking, I might add.) Eventually, it was time to go. In total, we had six people in our group (two Irish girls, two German girls, a local Kiwi guy, and yours truly), a guide, and a guide-in-training. We first drove down a few miles until we got to an equipment shed, where we changed into our gear, which included wetsuits, climbing harnesses, and "gumboots" (rain boots). We then drove a little further until we got to the cave. We got a little practice using our abseiling (aka rappelling) equipment, and then hiked down to the base of the cave. You couldn't see much from the top, but it was exciting nonetheless.

We went abseiling one at a time, with me going second (after the Kiwi). Some of the others in the group were a little nervous (and I hate to say "some of the girls", because that makes me sound somewhat sexist, but really, it really was only the gals who seemed concerned at any of the parts), but I was taking it all in good stride. As I was going down, I had to fight competing urges - one to just go straight down the 27-meter (almost a cool 90 feet) drop, and one to stop every now and again, to enjoy the views. Because even in just the entrance, this cave was pretty spectacular and surreal, with light gently filtering down from above, though the trees and mist. It was genuinely pretty awesome. The Kiwi guy and I were also able to chat while waiting for everyone else to get down, mainly discussing what it must have been like for the first explorers, be they Maori or European, to just come down to a completely uncharted place like this, armed only with fire-based lights, and say to themselves, "Yeah, let's check that place out." We also followed an eel that was swimming casually through the crystal clear water. After some time, everyone finally made it to the bottom, and we could start caving.

Now, for the most part, "Caving" just means going through caves. It doesn't matter how tricky or treacherous it is; walking through a cave is caving. But while doing that, we had a few opportunities to go through pretty small holes. More on that in a second. For now, we were just wading through the river, which was anywhere from ankle-deep to waist-deep, carrying along some inner-tubes we'd be using. Along the way, we saw some glowworms here and there, but it was only one we got into a big chamber and turned off our headlamps that we could really see them en masse. I'm talking lots: hundreds, if not thousands. But then our guide took her inner tube and, without warning, slammed it on the water, creating an almost-deafening bang. Suddenly, the number of glowworms went way up, perhaps even doubling. I knew immediately that part of the reason was to create vibrations that the glowworms would mistake for insects, and thus light up to attract them. Just as interestingly, the other reason for doing this (and not warning us about it) is to create a fear sensation in us, which causes our eyes to dilate, thus seeing the lesser worms. But yeah, it really is an amazing sight. While the few glowworms I saw in the overhangs at Zealandia may have appeared to be a distant fairy village, this was a bright night sky, bright enough to actually see where you were going. It was remarkable.

After appreciating the glowworms for a time, we continued on our way, and did some black-water rafting, which is not as similar to white-water rafting as you might imagine. In fact, there's no raft. You're just sitting in an inner tube, just letting the quite gentle current of the water carry you along. We would occasionally link up into one long snake of people-in-tubes, and just flow along for a while. It was pretty relaxing and cool, although there were a couple points where we'd get stuck at a shallow point (since it hasn't rained here in a bit). We then got up and continued our caving, this time going through small holes. Some of these definitely looked doable. Others...less so. Still, I went into each of them with the same level of enthusiasm, and despite having possibly the broadest shoulders of anyone, I actually had less trouble than some of the others (and all because I believed, man). I did just scratched up in a few places trying to manipulate my arms, but that was to be expected (and I was hoping I'd end up with something that'd give one of my desired cool scars, but no dice). One funny little moment during all this is that, in one hole, I was at the front of the pack, so I doubled around to a side pocket which had a small opening looking into the hole, and I totally scared one of the girls to a screaming fit, what with my goblin-esque face. I comforted her afterward by quipping that that's the reaction I get on first dates, as well.

We then did a little more black-water rafting, and then some final caving back to the entrance. While we were going, the guide held me and the Kiwi guy back, saying that even though the group as a whole were a little behind schedule, she wanted the two of us to do one final hole, and this was a tiny one. In fact, I think the guide felt that we'd be the only two willing to try it out. In fact, I actually did get stuck in there briefly when my wetsuit got caught on a rock. But overall, we both made it through, feeling pretty good about it. We then got back to the mouth of the cave, put on our harnesses, and the rock climbing portion of the trip began. It was a 20 meter climb, mostly fairly easy with a couple steep portions. I was the second-to-last person to go, and I think I handled it very capably, especially as I was later told I took the more difficult path up. I wasn't a fan of the gumboots I had to wear, though; I think it would have been easier (and possibly more fun) barefoot. But still, I got up there quickly, despite some of my equipment being caught on the rocks. Once everyone was up, we drove back to the equipment shed, stripped off, took some quick showers, and then headed back to the office, where we watched a slideshow of all the pictures the guide took while eating surprisingly comforting soup and rolls. There were some good pictures in there (everyone noted that I was definitely the poser of the group), but I wasn't really willing to spend $20 on a CD of all of them, especially since my laptop has no CD player. So I made a deal with the Irish girls to split the cost, and then I'd just take the photos from them.

So we did just that. We got back to the hotel, I snagged the photos off of them for $6, and all was well with the world. I then had dinner - a Healthy Choice ravioli dish that really made me wonder how I used to eat frozen meals all the time - and watched some Simpsons that was on TV (thankfully, it was from the golden years of the show; unfortunately, it was only the last two minutes of the episode). I then purchased some of the WiFi in the hostel, disappointed to learn that it was terrible. It wasn't slow, it was just...well it was slow, but I can handle that. But it would range from something like 100kbps to 8kbps and then just stop when it felt like it. Really, it's inconsistency and lack of reliability that bothers me. I'd rather the place just have no WiFi than poor WiFi. Still, I did with it what I could, because night had come upon us, and Waitomo really isn't the most happenin' of burgs, so I just chilled out in my room, speaking a bit with one of my roommates, an 18-year-old German-Austrian guy who was, more or less, just starting his long trip in New Zealand. This continued until he and my other roommate went to bed. I stayed up myself until 11:30, but then the excitement of the day, plus the fact that I woke up so early, caught up with me, and I just fell asleep.

The next morning, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. I woke up, had some toast for breakfast, and then went back into my room to pack my things. However, I didn't have anything planned until my bus picked me up at 5:30. So, after checking out and putting my big bag in their closet, I just chilled out, talked with some of the other people also loitering around the hostel, and did some writing until it was time for lunch. I made myself a sandwich, hid some of my items in a corner of the common room, and then decided to go out for a walk. I was thinking of going out on the Waitomo Walkway, which I suppose is the main walk in the town that doesn't really involve going down into caves. I got a map from the hostel owner (an older guy who I think epitomizes the concept of being cheeky. I then headed out into the warm daylight.

I first walked into the Waitomo Village (mainly because the walkway started past there), and decided to take a quick detour into their local Discovery Center. It had said on my caving brochure that I'd get free admission to it, though I didn't have a receipt for the trip, or really any proof other than my own word. I asked the person at the front desk about it, and they just asked me, "Okay, where are you from?" "California," I answered. "Okay," they responded, "Go on inside." Either the caving company gave them a list of all recent customers (listed by location), or this lady just assumed that we're honest on the West Coast. Either way, I went inside and walked around for a little bit. It was a nifty enough little sub-museum, but it seemed to be more designed for kids. As such, I was a bit hesitant to crawl into this fake cave hole in their "Crawling Challenge". I can hardly think of a more embarrassing way to spend the day than stuck in a kiddie crawl space. Eventually, I left, although not before finding a pair of aviator sunglasses (aka d-bag sunglasses) in the bathroom. I had forgotten my own goggles back at the hostel, and it was a pretty sunny day, so I decided to make use of them, completely ignoring the fact that I was placing something I found in the bathroom on my face. I then left the discovery center and continued on my way to the walkway.

The walkway was pretty nice, through the rolling countryside with the occasional outcropping of limestone, but was also confusing at times. At one point, the path led to a point where there were just fences all around (90% of them electrified) and no apparent gates. I tried looking in vain for an exit, attempting at one point to hop the electric fence by vaulting off of a water trough, but sinking four inches deep into mud (mud which had the appearance of baked clay on top) beforehand, thus sinking my spirits. It wasn't until I talked with some older couple that walked up that this was indeed the walkway (and that they weren't too impressed by the views, though I don't know what they could be expecting). I went up to the one wooden, non-electrified part of the fence and prepared to hop over, but when I put my weight on it, the bars sunk down on one side, almost causing me to face plant. However, it turns out this was how this gate was supposed to work, apparently. It's just that the sign for that side had been vandalized to illegibility. But either way, I could continue along, so I did. I went by some rivers and streams, until I eventually got to a car park (that is, a parking lot) which was apparently the starting point for a number of other types of tours in the area. As I walked around the area, I ended up going into some other "caves" (quotations used because, while they were very definitely caves, they were small and definitely not of the same type that I had done the day before), seeing some light waterfalls, and walking through the trees. It was all quite pleasant. Oh, and I picked more wild blackberries wherever they grew and looked edible. I then walked back to the hostel, where I was really, really starting to notice the pain in the front of my left ankle which had been more of a murmur for the rest of the walk. I can only guess that at some point on the caving trip, I must have gotten a sprain without realizing it. So hopefully it will work itself out before too long.

I got back to the hostel with still more than an hour to spare, so I just continued my writing for a bit while I could hear people watching The Hobbit in the background. It's funny, there was pretty much no dialogue spoken, but the Howard Shore music made it completely obvious it was some Middle Earth movie, and the fact that one of the compositions included a sample of the "Misty Mountains" song made it clear which one. I guess it goes to show how important memorable music is. Anyway, I just waited there until the bus was to show up, and then headed outside, along with a few other folks. While down there, I had a bit of a conversation with some European guy of indeterminate ethnicity (Portuguese, maybe?). I felt pretty proud of myself that I was able to correctly determine that he's spent a significant amount of time in South Africa. How? Because he says "Izzit?" (And note, I find myself doing this too. We talked for a bit about how much we both like South Africa, and about traveling in general, with him thinking that I rushed going through all the countries I've been through, with me simply countering, "I've been in every place exactly as long as I needed to be." This conversation actually went longer than I expected, as the bus was, a bit surprisingly, late by about fifteen minutes. Still, when it arrived, we all hopped on.

We first drove back to Hamilton, and there is very little I can say about that trip except that it was, in fact, a bus ride. When we arrived, I had about 25 minutes before the next bus would arrive, so I decided I should go grab some dinner, since we wouldn't have any other stops. I looked around for some speedy restaurants, but the only thing in comfortable proximity was a Burger King. And it may have been the oddest Burger King I've ever encountered. The whole place was designed like a 50's diner (think Ruby's or Johnny Rockets), and there were pictures of Elvis all over the place; it took me a little while before I got the "king" connection. One nice thing I noticed was that there was also a free drink refill fountain here. It's so weird how that's a thing, but I guess New Zealand is on the world forefront of free refills. Anyway, I decided to try a lamb burger, because the last time I had lamb were those fatty ribs in Queenstown, and I wanted to give it another shot while in New Zealand, the place to have lamb. Straight up, I didn't like it. I can now say, with little doubt in my mind, that I don't like the taste of lamb, which makes me feel better about declining it when I'm not sure how old the animal was when slaughtered. The two Irish girls also came in, and one of them noted that she didn't have a ticket because she booked so late, so I crossed my fingers on her behalf.

The bus, as it turned out, was just one of the small shuttle types, which explains why it was hard to get a booking. And unfortunately, we were waiting for a connecting bus from Auckland, which meant that we had to just wait and twiddle our thumbs for a good while. And then, when the Auckland bus did come, one of the guys came aboard, threw his stuff down, and then left to use the bathroom, much to the consternation of the other passengers. In the end, we ended up leaving 35 minutes late, which, when you're already going to be arriving late at night, can seem like an eternity. On the bright side, the driver was kind enough to let the Irish girl on by having her sit in the front passenger seat. Meanwhile, I tried to talk a tiny bit with the second Irish girl, but some older local woman was completely eavesdropping and not only interrupted, but commandeered our conversation, and quite loudly to boot. She wasn't interested in me, though; she just cared about talking about Ireland. (I mouthed "sorry" to the Irish girl for opening that can of worms.) Anyway, while we were travelling, I looked at the map on my phone, and realized that Matamata was actually between Hamilton and Tauranga. So I'm going to have to wake up early in order to get to a place that I passed over to get to the place where I'm waking up. Really, it might have been smarter just to head straight to Matamata and spend the night there; at least I wouldn't have to wake up early. Oh, well, live and learn.

As we continued driving, I enjoyed looking outside and seeing the sky gradually shift colors, from blue to light blue to orange to pink, with speckles of bright pink clouds decorating the sky like rocks sticking out in the ocean. It wasn't long after this that it got dark, and I mean, really got dark, since we were not travelling through very populated areas. Actually, I don't remember for sure, but I think this might have been the first time in a good long time (at least the first time in new Zealand), when I was going down a highway at night. It reminded me how much I legitimately enjoy night driving, like when I would make my every-so-often pilgrimage from Nor-Cal to So-Cal (and vice versa) in the middle of the night, with only the stars (and a few other cars) as company. Additionally, you could see tiny, tiny lights in the distance, most likely the single light in a farmhouse. Don't ask me why, but this gave me the particular senstation of wanting to buy a swag (like, the Australian kind that I used in the outback), and just go camping in the desert. Odd, I know.

Anyway, for leaving 35 minutes late (and experiencing some construction work partway through), I'll credit my driver in that we only arrived in Tauranga 15 minutes late, at 9:45. I said goodbye to the Irish girls, who were continuing on to Mount Manuganui, and then grabbed my stuff. Thankfully - and I really mean it, thank God - the hostel was only a two-minute walk from the bus stop, so I got there quickly, along with another guy on my same bus. While reception was closed, a genuinely bright and bubbly staff member let us in and checked us in. She gave me a key and a blanket, and I headed to my room. There wasn't anybody inside at the moment, but the lower bunks were clearly occupied, as seems to be my lot in life sometimes (specifically, the times when I am in hostels where at least 50% of the bunk beds are already taken). Anyway, I put my food away in the kitchen, and then took a shower. While drying myself off, I could hear my roommates entering, which meant that I was doing the after-show meeting (one of the more awkward varieties). In a surprise to nobody, they were German. However, they seemed to be very nice, at least in that they were willing to accommodate my request to put my blanket on one of their lower bunks when they checked out. A very quiet couple, they went to bed at 11pm, and I pretty much followed suit.

Unfortunately, I had a horrible night sleep, one of the worst on this trip so far. For one thing, one of the springs in the bed kept jabbing me in the back. The the bed, a cheap metal one, would literally sway back and forth if you were so much as to breath on it. So every time I shifted my weight for a more comfortable position (and hopefully some actual shut-eye), I felt like I was waking up the guy below me. I don't know how much rest I actually got (I'm thinking three hours max), it wasn't nearly enough. In fact, this is the first time in months that my alarm has actually gone off twice before I got up. I got dressed, got my backpack, and headed down to the kitchen, where I had a piece of toast (with added cinnamon!) to tide me a bit. It was there that I saw that, from the kitchen balcony, there was a perfect view of the Bay of Plenty, where you could see the sun rising over the water. That helped me put things into perspective; even though I had to wake up early after a bad night sleep to get to a place I'd already passed through the night before, at least I got a sunrise out of it!

I walked to the bus stop, and was picked up shortly afterward. It was a fairly quick ride over to Matamata, where I was let out. I looked at the time. Not even 8am yet. My Hobbiton tour began at 2pm. My ride back to Tauranga was at 8:30. This was going to be a long day. I went over to the local Subway to get a small breakfast sandwich, which was actually pretty good for the price. I then walked around a little bit, until i went down one street and found another Warehouse store. I decided to check it out, mainly to see their shoe selection. They did have a pair of shoes I think would be a good new pair for my further travels, but I reasoned that they'd have the same pair (if not more options) in Auckland. (Interesting note: Auckland contains one-third of New Zealand's total population.) So, I walked back, and got to the Matamata iSite, which was very whimsically done up as a Middle Earth-style home. I went inside and got my ticket for the tour, and then asked what there was to do in the meantime. The lady there asked if I had a car, and when I said I didn't, she gave a vexed "Hmm..." Basically, and unsurprisingly, she told me that there's really not much to do in Matamata. The town was a nowhere's-burg before Peter Jackson found it, and since then, Hobbiton has been it's only real draw. She was nice enough to give me some maps of the local walks, and then recommended that I could just hang out in the local library, which had free unlimited WiFi. That sounded like a fine idea, so I did just that. The library was small, but I had brought my laptop with me (mainly because I was really expecting exactly this sort of scenario to pop up when I'm in a tiny town with eight, nine hours of time to kill), so I was able to get some work done online, as well as do some writing and Spanish practice (with the unnerving knowledge that I have less than two weeks before South America, and well more than two weeks of lessons left; trial by fire, I suppose).

I left the library and had a quick late lunch, and then waited in front of the iSite for the bus to arrive. I looked around at the other folks on the same ride as me. There were bunch of people from China, as well as a few people from Japan. There were also a number of Germans, natch, and some other varieties of European. All looked...fairly normal. But oh, there was one family, the kind I was hoping to see on the trip. They seemed to be North American of some sort, but man, were they nerds. Terrible sense of tourist fashion, underdeveloped facial hair, and the son of the group even talked about inaccuracies in the movies in a high-octave voice. Oh, it was absolutely perfect! Anyway, we all huddled onto the bus until it was full, and then took a surprisingly long drive to the movie set. The bus driver explained (well, mumbled) about the history and economy of the area (there ain't much, but they have a lot of horses), and the history of the movies being filmed there. He also gave a couple personal anecdotes, as he worked on the crew (as a water truck driver), but I can imagine that only about a tenth the bus could appreciate the anecdotes, as his mumbling made it difficult for a native English speaker to understand.

We eventually got to Hobbiton, and had a new guide take over. I have to say, this may have been the most touristy thing I've done in all of New Zealand, and it's definitely a front-runner for most touristy thing on the whole trip. That said, it was worth it. Was the price too high? Probably, yes. That said, I still think it was worth it, if only for a lark. It was a beautiful day, it was a beautiful landscape, it was fun to see everything, it was neat learning about jut how meticulous Peter Jackson was to get everything to work according to his vision (minor example: the books mentioned that Hobbiton had plum trees, but plum trees are pretty small, which doesn't help create the illusions of small people; so, apple and pear trees were grown and plucked, with plums put on for filming). There were a number of good photo opportunities, and hey, it's impossible not to geek out even a little bit. I had a small circle of other folks with which I was doing one-for-one "I'll take your picture" trades. I...can't really say too much about the tour, as it was mostly just walking and talking, but it was still good.

The tour ended inside the Green Dragon pub, where everyone was treated to a complimentary drink. There was light ale, dark stout, cider, and ginger beer. I was considering the stout, just to give it a shot, but considering this wasn't just a tasting (you got a full stein), and I couldn't just trade it in if I didn't like it, I went withe the ginger beer. I must say, the pub was a very neat little place; even if it had nothing to do with Lord of the Rings, it'd be the kind of place I'd like to frequent. Fireplace, cheery music, wooden decor. All just...comfortable. While enjoying said comforts, I spoke to a guy from Vancouver who was on his last couple days in New Zealand, having cycled through it for the past several weeks. Considering the fact that cycling the country was among my original ideas (not to mention my experience in Southeast Asia), I commended him on his moxy. Shortly thereafter, it was time to go. Everyone huddled back onto the bus, took a quick detour to the souvenir shop (in which I think the winner of the most absurdly overpriced item was to a trio of poorly-painted Fellowship statues that cost $284...each), and then went on our merry way back to town. The Canadian guy and I, after both suffering the driver's parting barbs (he for being worried about being late for his bus out of Matamata, me for dressing like a hoodlum with my fingerless gloves), wished each other well and parted ways.

I looked at the maps and literature that I was given from the iSite earlier in the day, and decided to take a walk on the town's heritage walk. So, I walked down, and started along. It was...incredibly lackluster. I went through this area that was called the Centenial Drive Botanical Park, with "Plants Native and Exotic", which has to be the best (or most deceptive) marketing ever, because the place was pretty much just an empty park with some trees and shrubs. The rest of the heritage walk was only marginally interesting, but I guess it's as much as a small rural town with little heritage to speak of can muster. So, upon finishing that and still having time, I went down to the library again. Since it was a Friday, the library was open until 7pm for no discernible reason. I went inside, and began looking up activities to do during my few days in Paihia and the Bay of Islands (at the Northlands of the country). When the library closed, I went back to the Subway, ate a sandwich, and spent a good ninety minutes passing the time by going though the archive of my old webcomic, Elderly Apple. It must be said, some of them still hold up.

At 8:30, I went out onto the side of the road to wait for the shuttle. Considering my experience from the night before, I was fully anticipating it to be late, and late it was, by about 25 minutes. When it arrived, I hopped on, and the driver gave me a friendly "G'day!" He never even asked what my ticket number was; I could have been some psychopath for all he knew. (For the record, I wasn't/am not.) We then drove for an hour in the dark night, uneventfully, until we reached Tauranga, which seemed fairly busy, though that made sense when I finally realized it was Friday. (I swear, I have completely lost track of the days of the week since about July.) I didn't bother with any of this; I just made my way to my room, where I was happy to see that my old roommates had honored my request and moved my stuff to a lower bunk. I also had two new roommates, a pair of Swedish girls (who, for the record, had excellent short haircuts). We chatted a bit, but they had had a long day and were tired. (I could relate.) There was also apparently another guy in here, but none of us had met him.

And on that anticlimactic ending, that's how things were. Off to Paihia!

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