I woke up on...Saturday, I think?...well, the first of the month, thankful that I had had a marginally better sleep than the night before, and looked over to the other side of the room. The bottom bunk there was empty. Untouched, in fact. The mystery roommate, the one that neither I nor the Swedish girls had met, never showed up. So that would forever remain a mystery to me. After a brief sequence where I nearly saw one of the Swedish girls in the buff (I was coming out of the bathroom and she was changing in the middle of the room; it was a tragedy waiting to happen), I went and had some breakfast. I then went back to the room and packed away all my stuff. The other Swedish girl never woke up - not while I was there, at least - but I silently tipped my hat in farewell regardless (just to be polite) and went downstairs to check out. I left my big bag with the reception, and then went out. I looked at my options for the day, but soon came to the realization that I didn't really have the time for much. Like, really, I would have liked to walk to the nearby Mount Maunganui, climb to the summit, and then come back. But that would have been about four or five hours total, and I had only about three to work with. So instead, I just walked around town. While I'm still glad I took the time to go to the Waitomo Caves, Tauranga seemed like a nice enough place. I walked along the harbor-side, watching people running up to benches and doing some manner of calisthenics on them (which I'm not a big fan of, mainly because it seems like, I dunno, like you're showing off). I also walked alongside some train tracks, including over a bridge. I would have liked to have walked on the train tracks on that bridge, but hey, Mama didn't raise no fool...insofar as trains are concerned. Eventually, I made a big loop back to the central business district, where I took a quick stop at a Starbucks (which seemed to be the stomping ground of a particularly cheeky house sparrow). I used the WiFi in the area to make some bookings of activities in the Paihia area, to fill up some of my time there. I then continued walking around a bit more until I went back to the hostel, made myself a sandwich for lunch, chilled out for a bit, grabbed my stuff, and then headed on my way.
And think, that few-hour period was really all the time I spent in Tauranga, despite being booked there for two (and originally four) nights.
Anyway, when I got to the bus stop, my bus was already there, and it was just opening the bay doors for packing bags. I put my stuff in there and hopped aboard. This was the first of two buses I'd be on, this one heading to Auckland. For the most part, I was just dozing along the way. So was my seatmate, for that matter. And he was a leaner. Like, the kind of person who, when they sleep on a bus or airplane or other vehicle, lean on the person next to them. This is an interesting phenomenon, I feel. It definitely doesn't happen to me, by which I mean that I'm not a leaner. Now, if I'm in the window seat of an airplane, sure, I'll lean over to the corner, but a corner isn't a person, or even sentient. Normally, I just do the arms-folded-forward-tilt, which never seems to bother anyone. Of course, I've dealt with this kind of thing before, and I have learned the polite way to deal with it if you really want them to get off. Instead of shaking them off or coughing loudly or something, just breathe deeply. The expansion of your lungs makes you move up and down slightly, which wakes them up just enough to readjust themselves. Bonus points if you're half-asleep yourself (or just pretending to be). Sorry, long tangent, but that really was all that occupied that trip, except during the parts when I was awake, it was then that I was just looking outside, appreciating the clouds. (And really, the clouds on that drive, and more-so the clouds in Matamata, were some of the nicest I've seen since leaving Australia (though they don't actually have anything on the Aussie clouds).
Once I got to Auckland, the bus driver informed us that the connecting bus to the Northland (where I was going) was leaving at 5:15. That's odd, I thought, According to my reservation confirmation, that bus left at 5:30. Damn good thing I checked, though, because apparently, that had been changed in the last two months, and if I had been sent a notification, I didn't remember it. So thank you, surly driver, you saved me the hassle of missing my bus and the multitude of issues that would cause. Anyway, the bus leaving at this time also meant that I had about an hour to spend in the Auckland CBD (and I will note, it hasn't been since I've gotten to New Zealand that I've ever heard anyone shorten "central business district" to CBD, but it makes sense, no?). This obviously wasn't much time, but I tried to use it well. I did a bit more looking around for shoes, more carefully this time, seeing as this would be the city I'd probably buy them if, if I bought them in NZ at all. I then also bought some milk, so I'd be ready for breakfast the next morning (man, this is thrilling commentary, is it not). I then looked at dinner. It was too early to have dinner, but I knew I'd get hungry on the way up there, and I doubted there would be any long stops. So, I just got to a Subway and got myself a sandwich to take along with me. I pushed my way through to get back to the bus area, where the bus was already starting to load up.
I will note, if you were to ask me about my opinion of Auckland based on this small experience in this, the transport center and possibly most crowded area of the city, I would say I'm not a big fan of Auckland. Too crowded. That said, I am holding off any sort of judgment about the city until I have seen more than just a city block for an hour. So really ignore the last couple sentences.
Once I got inside the bus (and was able to spread out my stuff as I had nobody sitting next to me), we were on our way. My bus driver, though, shattered my dreams by announcing that no eating was allowed on the bus. (It's weird how the rules seem to vary from bus to bus.) I suddenly wished that I had sat back further, far enough away that he wouldn't be able to tell I was eating unless he was paying close enough attention to become a dangerous driver. Still, I had my ways. Once I did get hungry, I waited until we got to a point where we were dropping someone off. If that person had a large piece of luggage, the driver would get out to help them retrieve it. During those precious thirty-second intervals, I would unwrap my sub and take a bite, sometimes even two. Underhanded, but effective. My punishment for my misdeeds, though, was that I was sitting on the wrong side of the bus, and had the sun in my eyes pretty much the entire time. So I could either draw the shade and miss out on a good portion of the environment, or leave it open and be able to look outside with squinty-eyed views. Eh, it was only mediocre terrain anyway, so I just pulled the shade far enough to hide the glowing orb. (I don't know why, but I was expecting some pretty majestic scenery.) Even so, I spent a portion of the time looking at the scenery while listening to some music, and then some of the other points watching some video, and then the rest of the time seeing people get off the bus, turning around each time to see how much it had cleared up. In fact, when we had reached my stop in Paihia (the end of the line), there were only three passengers left in the entirety of the bus.
Upon being dropped off, I immediately walked over to where my hostel was, just about a kilometer away. When I got there, the office was closed (definitely not surprising), but there was no after-hours number to call. After checking the BBH website, I called their normal number, and some woman picked up. After explaining my situation, I heard an audible "ech" and she said she'd be right down. I can only guess that this woman was the owner - or at least manager - of the hostel, and while I try to keep my assessments of people as positive and profanity-free as possible, this woman was a complete bitch to me. When she opened up the door to the office, I gave a friendly smile and jollily apologized for being in a bit late. Rather than saying, "It's alright," or "These things happen," this woman admonished me: "What were you thinking? We close the office at eight. We're not a hotel; you can't just come in whenever you want. You're lucky I was around or else you'd be stuck down here." A bit taken aback, but still trying to remain cheery, I noted that I'm somewhat beholden to the bus schedules, and this was the earliest I could come. "There are always earlier buses. You could have come here before eight. You really have no excuse. That's how all hostels in New Zealand work. You need to learn how this works."
Okay...okay. Now, there were about three different ways I wanted to approach this. First was just to give a simple, "I don't need this," kind of response, because I've had a long day on buses. The second was to go off the rails. The third was to explain that I had booked two months in advance and noted that I would be this late, and received no communication regarding it, and also that she was being a terrible host. However, I chose to simply stay endure. I didn't know this woman, and I had no idea if saying these things might get me kicked out. I still intended to say one of them (most likely the third), just not at that time.
So this lady begrudgingly gave me a tour of the place (during which, in the kitchen, I innocently asked, "I assume kitchen rule is wash, dry, and put away the dishes," to which she snapped at me, "Where have you been?! Of course it is," with such ferocity that everyone else turned and looked). She then went back to the dinner party she was having, which she reminded me that I had interrupted by coming in late. I then went to my room. For as much as I was not a fan of this lady, I couldn't complain much about the room. It seems to have been, like, a converted apartment of sorts. There was a central bedroom with several adjoining rooms. I got one of these side rooms (and there was nobody else inside, so I had it to myself for the night), and there weren't any bunks. So, even though there was no WiFi (actually, I was supposed to be provided some for free by the office, but the manager/owner doesn't seem like the type to do me any favors), I thought the place itself was fine. I put some of my stuff away, talked briefly with the others (who would exchange the most basic of pleasantries, but seemed very...off put with the idea of talking to me at any great length; it was actually a little bit weird). I then went back to my room, where I just did nothing but relax and stay up late...well, later (1am instead of going to bed before midnight).
Almost as if by habit, I woke up earlier than I would have liked to. However, this time I was actually able to force myself asleep and thus got myself an extra two hours before I felt I actually had to get up. I had some cereal and milk for breakfast (seriously, it's amazing how much of a difference having cereal and milk makes me feel so much better in the morning than having toast or something else), and then went back to my room to prepare my bag for the day, including some swim trunks, a light lunch, and my laptop. While this was going on, several people came in to clean, each one asking me if I was leaving today, which I found a bit funny in its own way. The owner lady also came in. I was hoping she was going to be nicer to me, so I gave a friendly "Good morning!", which she responded to with, of all things, "Yeah." Flabbergasted and somewhat incensed by this woman, I got my stuff together and left, heading over to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, about a mile away.
A little bit of background. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, as the name pretty much spells out, is the place where the Waitangi Treaty was signed, which is basically the New Zealand equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. It basically said that the Maori chiefs were united in declaring New Zealand an independent nation, and asked Britain to recognize Maori ownership over the land, and to have British protection (as there was some French baron coming in to take over). It was signed on February 6th, which makes that day - I think it's actually called Waitangi Day - more or less their Independence Day. I had absolutely no idea about this, and it's a bit of a shame that I just missed being in this, the birthplace of New Zealand, on one of its biggest national holidays. It would be like being in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, except with fewer cheesesteaks and crime. But it was still a neat place to visit, and I'm glad that I decided to take the opportunity.
I also had booked myself to watch one of their cultural performances (this was one of the things I had gotten on sale online). I got there just about right on time, and I, along with a decently sized group of people (I was well below the mean age, I can tell you that) waited outside their meeting hall. Eventually, a Maori lady came out, and described what the goings-on were going to be. She then asked for a volunteer to represent all the tourists as their "chief". I considered the option, but didn't want to take it away from someone who really wanted it, so I waited to raise my hand. But wait, nobody else was raising theirs. Huh. I gave it about two seconds - my statute of limitations, you could say - and then finally raised my hand. In this role, I had a couple things I had to do. First of all, I had to accept the peace offering from the men of the tribe. They came out and performed a traditional meeting dance, which was basically a war dance ending with them dropping the peace offering on the ground. I have to admit, even though it was all staged, the dudes were still pretty intimidating; I can only imagine how tense it would be if this were all legit. I walked forward, picked up the offering - a really beautifully crafted rose made of flax - and then stepped back. We were then all let inside, where everyone but me sat down (I had a special seat, as well as one for "Missus Chief", but since no such woman existed, some old dude with a mustache sat next in the chair next to mine). The head dude then gave a speech, first in Maori, then in English, welcoming everyone. The floor was then turned to me, since I - as the chief of my people - had to give a return speech (this was why they earlier specified the role as needing a "brave" volunteer). Thankfully, I'm pretty good at coming up with stuff on the fly, so I countered with something like (to the best of my memory), "On behalf of everyone here, I thank you for allowing us to join you in this place. We come in the spirit of acceptance and community, to learn from you and to get a better understanding of our Maori brothers and sisters." You might as well have had a Harlem Globetrotter swishing a three-pointer in the background once I finished, it came out so smoothly. I was then asked to give the Hongi, a traditional handshake with the head dude which involves (and I didn't realize this for the first second or two) the two people embracing hands and putting their heads together, nose to nose, for a couple seconds. I tell you what; I am 100% all for this gesture. Never have I felt such strong bonding with a complete stranger. Forget those "Free Hugs" signs, I'll hold up "Free Hongi" signs; people won't know what I'm talking about, but they'll appreciate it more. Give it a try; seriously, I think you'll get what I'm talking about.
Anyway, after I sat down, I was pretty much just like all the rest of my tribe, watching them do their thing. And while I am notoriously critical of luaus and other such things, I actually really like the Maori dances and performances, because there's a certain combination of basicness to them, but they're also serving sophisticated purposes. Like, most of the music involved (with the exception of the European-introduced guitars), is just percussion and shouts. I actually like that quite a bit. Additionally, many of the dances actually promote posture, hand-eye coordination, or even combat skills, so there's additional value to be had in them. So with all that, it seemed like the performance was not just some watered-down hula meant for geriatrics. I will also note that I particularly liked an instrument-thing called the poi, which is just a wool-filled sack on a string. At longer lengths, this seemed like some kind of Cirque du Soleil prop to swing around, but when the string was only about half a foot long, it flung around the users' hands, hitting their body and producing a percussive sound, like a kind of musical nunchaku. So yeah, I enjoyed the performance, even though it seemed too short. Afterward, everyone took pictures around the front, and many folks complimented me on my speech, one of them even saying she thought I was part of the act (though she admitted that was also partially because of how I was dressed). For my part, I was really happy that they allowed me to keep my beautiful flax rose as a gift for volunteering. So that's the lesson, kids: always be willing to put yourself forward for new things.
After that, I walked around the grounds for a couple of hours, learning about the history I described a couple paragraphs back. In general, it was a nice place; it didn't have the same level of detail that you'd find in, say, the Te Papa museum in Wellington, but there was definitely the feel of history and culture there. One thing I found a bit amusing is that, in the house of James Busby, the British Resident and an instrumental figure in the treaty signing, it was shown that the many children of the family slept in the same room as the parents. This is just after hearing about how this was a common thing done during those days in my Bill Bryson audiobook of At Home...okay, so it's not really that amusing, but it's still pretty cute to see my reading catch up with what I'm seeing. Having seen everything the grounds offered, I left and walked back to Paihia. Along the way, I saw a kayak rental place. I asked if I could hire one for two hours, to go and see their local waterfall. Unfortunately, they were closing up at 4pm (and it was already sometime past 2pm). I thanked them and went on. In retrospect, I should have just done an hour rental and been happy with it; it was only $15 and I wouldn't be able to have a good two-hour period for the rest of my time here. Oh, well, live and learn. Once I got back into town, I walked around a bit, where I passed by some craft markets (of which, the only thing that interested me was a wooden kaleidoscope that I initially mistook for a full-on telescope, as it was so big). I then continued on, going to a walk to the Paihia Lookout, which was a fairly short distance up one of the local hills. It wasn't a great lookout by any means, but the walk was nice enough. I later learned there were a couple others which would have been nice to have done (including one to that waterfall), but I didn't have the time to do them at this point.
I walked back down, got a small gelato to enjoy in the warm summer heat, and then ate it while sitting on some rocks on the shore, the water reaching just under my feet. When I finished, I took a walk along the waterline, along the beach, over interesting formations of rock, and under piers. It was actually a bit odd how few people were down there. Granted, it wasn't like the kind of beach you'd find in California (or even like the lake beach of Taupo), but I was basically walking alone while everyone was on the sidewalk about twenty feet away. I then walked back to town again, where I just sort of soaked in the ambiance of the central area, which was nice and quirky without being overly pretentious or hipster-ish (just a little bit). I did take out my laptop to do a few Internet things (including the initial stages of looking at some activities in Auckland), and then walked around the central area once more, enjoying the guy playing ragtime music on the public piano just place out in the middle of the park. I think my favorite little thing they had there, though, was the "Paihia Little Library" which was basically a large modified phone booth that had a couple of shelves filled with books. No explanation, no rules, just books. Were you borrowing, trading, or taking? Who knows? All I knew was that there were a number of German books, a Tolstoy book (Anna Karenina, I believe) in Russian, some random pulp books, and a couple of old ones. I took particular interest in the old ones, as is one of my quirks. The oldest one there? Mona Maclean, by Graham Travers, which I could date by a gifting note in the front (you know, "To John", etc.) of 1910. The concept that I was holding a book that was over a century old sent a shiver up my spine. I was tempted to take it, but my limited luggage space thankfully prevented such a morally dubious deed.
I looked for someplace to get some food. I was originally thinking of getting something simple, like fish and chips, but I remembered that fish and chips were exactly what the recommended dinner for my trip the following day was. So instead I went to a gourmet-ish pizza place, which made me realize that I haven't had pizza in a good long while. I got a personal pizza with chicken and substantial amounts of roasted veggies, and then grabbed a liter bottle of soda at a nearby store (as it cost 60% what a can cost at the restaurant). I brought my food back the hostel, where people still seemed really hesitant to speak with me (I dunno, maybe I'm not their type here), and ate in the comfort of my own bed, which was a truly cathartic experience, lemme tell ya. I was initially hopeful that I wasn't going to have a new roommate, because 8pm passed without anybody coming in (I thought that maybe the "No Vacancy" sign that had inaccurately been up since the night before was driving stragglers away), but at 8:30, a new girl from Canada was brought in. I asked if she had been chewed out for arriving late, but she said that it was fine (she was let in by a different staff member, I should note). I then spent the remainder of the night doing an initial look through the Auckland activities I had looked up, and writing. I was also hoping to do a bit of photo filtering as well, but unfortunately I just didn't have the time for that to pan out, especially since I would have to wake up early the next morning. So I just set it aside and went to bed.
My alarm rudely went off in the morning, and I slowly but surely got up and got all of my things together. I was told to have a towel, hat, spare clothes, etc., so I stuffed all those into my backpack, and tried to sneak out of my room as quietly as possible. I went up to the kitchen and had another bowl of cereal for breakfast, all while reading an article about "bushcraft" (survivalist living, basically) which I found interesting, although I objected to the fact that they noted that most "apocalypse alarmists" are from the US, where "CGI-powered movies come from", like that's how it works. Anyway, another person was also eating breakfast, and when we started getting ready to go at the same time, she asked, "Are you also going to Cape Reinga?" I said I was, so we went downstairs and introduced. She was a nice girl from Ireland named Alison, and we hit it off immediately, getting into a nice conversation and finding that we had plenty to talk about. (For the record, I know it seems like I'm running into the ladies a lot more than the gents, but that's basically because it seems like there's more of them for me to run into, for whatever reason. Nothing more to it.) Anyway, when the Dune Rider bus shows up - and I should note, I will continue to refer to it as a bus despite the fact that it was more of an odd bus/truck hybrid; maybe like an all-terrain bus - we both notice that the clientele inside seem...well, old. Like, it seemed as though the average age prior to me stepping in was in the late 50s. I was honestly confused; I didn't know much about the tour, but I did know that it was supposed to include boogie-boarding down a big sand dune. Were these old folks going to be doing that? "Wow," I noted to Alison, "A lot of geriatrics on our tour." (Side note: Geriatric is one of my favorite words.) "Well, at least we'll be able to keep each other company." Almost as if on cue, the driver looked at our passes and said, "Actually, miss, you're on a different company's tour. You'll have to wait here for their bus." It was pretty perfect, I have to admit. So I sat down in a seat, and in all the following pickups, nobody sat next to me. This was good for my sense of space, but terrible for my sense of wanting to occasionally converse.
We did a number of additional pickups (the driver/guide [named Paul] said that there were 22 pickups), and then were on our way. Paul did a good job, especially considering he only had half a voice to work with, describing the surroundings and giving a real sense of the area, both in history and culture. Apparently, he's been in the Northlands his entire life, and it's an unpopulated enough place that everyone kind of knows each other, so he was as much an institution in the area as anyone. So I guess if we had any guide, it was good we had him. Our first stop, which I think we reached after about an hour, was just at a cafe to get some coffee and breakfast. I didn't need either, but during this short period, I scoped the group to see if there was anyone who wasn't already separated into their own group that I could perhaps talk to. I found one, a girl (see the note above) from Canada. Something about her seemed a little odd when I was first talking with her, but I couldn't put my finger upon it in those couple of minutes, and she was sitting in the front seat of the bus, so I didn't get to continue any conversation. After that, we continued to our second stop, which was an old gumdiggers camp. So, "gum" is what they call amber, and a gumdigger is someone who would, unsurprisingly, dig for amber, to sell to England as a varnish ingredient. (Also, apparently gumboots - what we call rain boots - are named after this, since gumdiggers were the first to wear them, so to handle the horribly swampy areas where they worked. It's all coming together.) The area we walked around in was marginally interesting, with the most intriguing part being the remains of a Kauri tree (the second largest species on Earth, next to the Giant Sequoias), which at something like 100,000 years, was the oldest tree to have been perfectly preserved as a tree. That is, it didn't rot away, and it didn't petrify. It was uncovered in 2011, and if you looked at or felt it, it seemed like it could have fallen just a couple of years ago. So that was neat.
We then continued up, and stopped in this small "restaurant" for a "buffet" lunch. It had said on the online brochure that we'd be getting a packed lunch, so I was intrigued by the notion that we were being bumped up to buffet. But the name was a little confusing, as it was more like a cafeteria - you got a plate, one woman would put on some meat and mashed potatoes, and another woman would put on some salad. You couldn't get more of anything, but you could always ask for less. Truth be told, it was passable, sans the roast beef, which was a good one-third fat. I sat with the Canadian girl and tried conversing with her again. She had apparently been in Australia for over a year, and would be traveling another couple of months. So fairly similar to me, just fewer countries. I was curious if she had come to the same kinds of conclusions that people like myself and Liam from Taupo had, but she seemed...different. First, she noted that she goes to places to see places, and doesn't give a rat's ass about culture (my words, not hers), and she seemed even more obsessed about taking photos than me, but for less discernable reasons. The weirdest thing, though, is that despite the number of questions I asked, she never asked me anything. Not even once. I have been accused by my close friends - accurately, it should be said - that I occasionally ask people questions simply because I have my own answer to them and want them to say "What about you?" She never did that, and it actually did bug me, which I found pretty funny in its own right. By the end of the conversation, I was thinking that it was either one of two things: she either hated my guts (which is very possibly, especially with some folks have been treating me in this part of the country), or she was one of the most asocial people I've met on my travels. (Not antisocial; that's an actual medical disorder.) I couldn't figure it out in this scenario, though, so I just let the issue drop, and tried speaking with some older folks (I think they were also Canadians) while we waited for the bus to start up again.
After another 45 minutes or so, we finally reached Cape Reinga. I actually had no idea what this place was until this point, but being handed a map, I could see that this was the north-most point of New Zealand. In many ways - including the fact that it had a lighthouse on the cliffside - it was just like Cape Point of South Africa. It also was the place that, in Maori tradition, spirits of the dead would go to jump off the cliff into the sea and...something. Like, rejoin the Great Spirit or some such thing. So it was a bit of a sacred place as well. The problem was, we only had 45 minutes to explore the place, even though there were tracks going in many directions for much more than 45 minutes worth of enjoyment. Still, a bunch of people had reservations for a dinner cruise, so we had a schedule to keep. For the older people, this time frame meant that they could just walk to the lighthouse and back. I was able to use my youth and good uphill skills to travel to some additional spots and get some wonderful views of the cliffs and surrounding areas. (By the by, the Canadian girl basically went off without anyone else, bypassing all signs explaining the history of the area, lending credence to my asocial theory.)
We then got back in the bus, and drove a relatively short distance until we reached the 90-Mile Beach (which, despite the name, is only 60 miles long). This was originally called the "90-Mile Desert Coast" by the explorer Abel Tasman, due to the fact that for the majority of the beach, there are huge sand dunes, the kind one would imagine to be in the Sahara (although I can say, from experience, the Saharan sands are much more red and in softly-rounded dunes). We got there just slightly before everyone else, which was good, because apparently this is a more popular tour than I realized, and between all the different companies, somewhere like 250-350 do this general path daily. So we had a few minutes of the place to ourselves, and we got to work and got out the boogie boards. I'm not sure how tall these sand dunes were, since I'm terrible with judging distance and height, but I can imagine they were at least 50 feet tall, and quite steep. This being the case, walking to the top of the dune was a real workout for the calves and legs. Still, I was able to make it to the top before anyone else. I rolled up my pant legs, placed myself on the board, and then went down. I went down, down, down until I reached the bottom and slid across a creek, splashing water and sand upon me. I got up. It was messy, but damn if it wasn't fun! I immediately started my way back up the dune. Since there was a trail of pre-compressed footsteps this time, it was easier getting up. I even helped some of the folks who were on their first trip up. Once I reached the top, I went down again. This time, I never put my legs down to break, so I only got faster and faster. However, because of the bumps and ridges in the sand, my board turned ever so slightly. By the time I reached the creek again, I was nearly sliding forward with my board at a 45-degree angle, and this eventually resulted in me wiping out in the creek, rolling over a few times in the water and sand. I actually found this pretty fun in its own right; really, the only downside was that I now had sand in all the crevices - all of them. Still, I didn't want to waste this opportunity, so I went up the dune a third time. This time, before heading down, I placed my board down and just sat for a while. This was partially because going up the dune a third time made me a tad breathless, but also because it gave me a chance to look at the environments, like the dunes behind me. With all the emphasis on going down, I hadn't had a chance to appreciate what was up there. I also tried encouraging a guy who was really scared of going down, but when I felt like I couldn't wait anymore, I hopped on and slid down a third time. I'm not actually sure if that guy actually did go down, but I will say that I was surprised and, moreover, impressed, by how many of the folks went down. Some of the oldest in the crowd didn't even bother (like a 75-year-old woman who could hardly manage up a stairway, much less a huge sand dune), but well over half, and maybe even two-thirds, participated. So good on them!
After everyone was finished boarding down, all the stuff was put away, and we continued driving out to the beach beach (which is to say, the waterside). Once we got there, we just got out, took some pictures, and just walked around, enjoying the area. Apparently, the Abel Tasman Sea was remarkably calm that day, though some of the waves were still at about four-foot curls or so. (One thing I found interesting, though, is how many "layers" there were to the water. By this I mean how many rows of wave crashes you can see. Back home in SoCal, I can only remember there being, like, two or three layers of wave crashes, max. Here there were something like seven or eight simultaneous layers. I'm sure there's a technical term for it all, but I haven't the foggiest what it could be.) We enjoyed our time out here until the other buses came, so we all huddled back inside and then drove back down south...on the beach. Yeah, seriously. We were driving - and pretty fast, too - along 40 miles of nearly completely uninhabited beach, just feet from the water line. It was a really awesome prospect. And apparently, it was a good day for this, because it was the last day when the tide would be going out when we were driving by. Starting the next day, the tide would be coming in at that time, which would make the drive near-impossible without damaging the bus. We continued along, waving to the red snapper fisherman standing on the shore, until we more-or-less ran out of beach and had to get onto a traditional highway.
We made a brief stop at a Kauri tree woodworking exhibit shop, the centerpiece of which was a spiral staircase literally carved out of the trunk of a 50,000-year-old tree. That wasn't for sale, but there were plenty of other tables, chairs, and sculptures, all of which were ridiculously expensive, even considering the wood source. We then continued to our last stop of the trip, a fish and chips shop, where I got...well, I got some fish and chips. (I'm almost sure I'm going to get sick of fish and chips again before leaving New Zealand, similar to how I did in Australia, but it's okay, since I doubt it'll be very prevalent in South America.) I also confirmed once and for all that that the Canadian girl was super asocial, because not only did she not sit in the empty seat near me (which could mean anything), but sat in the corner, alone and away from everyone. While I didn't care insofar as the girl herself was concerned, I was feeling pretty proud of my meager observational deduction skills. I spoke with Paul (the guide, remember) and discussed the tour a bit. Apparently, the groups usually weren't this old, and he actually saw the fact that many of them were doing the dinner cruise as a hassle, because you couldn't just relax and spend more time in the places you traveled so far to visit (something their generally slow movement also didn't help). We then drove back to Paihia, dropping off a couple people in the meanwhile. I myself was dropped off just a short distance away from my hostel. Instead of going straight back, though, I decided to take advantage of my dirty close by unzipping the legs off my pants and walking into the water on the beach, letting the waves come up and crash upon me without a care in the world.
It was nice.
I then made my way back to the hostel. Inside the larger room area, I saw that I had some new roommates, who seemed at least nicer than the girls who were in there before. After putting down my stuff, I went into the bathroom to take an early shower. I began by simply taking my clothes and dumping out whatever sand was left, which was a surprisingly large amount, coming out of parts of my clothing I didn't even know existed. I then washed off... most of the rest of the sand (I still had some left in my ears for a time), and then went to my room to dry off and relax. I later did some more writing, did some initial packing for my heading down to Auckland the next day, and did some initial photo filtering for the past couple of weeks. I was also supremely thankful I wouldn't have to wake up before 7am again.
That said, the girl I was sharing the room with did her damndest to make it difficult for me to stay asleep in the morning. I'm sure it was unintentional, but she had opened our window shade (for reasons I can't fathom) just enough that there was a slice of light coming in and resting upon my face. Still, a well-placed sheet over my head allowed me an extra hour of rest before I got up. I had myself the last of my cereal, and left what milk I had for the vultures to have (I could have taken it with me, but I questioned the wisdom of drinking about 1.5 cups worth of milk from a pre-opened jug that had been out of the fridge for six-plus hours. I then went back to my room, got everything packed up, and with a minute to spare, I went to drop off my and check out. And I had a plan: I was going to saying, "One note before I go. I had made this reservation two months ago, and noted I'd be arriving late; I even said 10pm. You had my contact information; you had two months to contact me and inform me that this went against your policy, but you didn't. Instead you treated your guest as a nuisance." And the speech would go on for a bit until I would tell the owner woman that for someone in the hospitality business, she is woefully ignorant of the concept of hospitality.
Unfortunately, she wasn't there. Nobody was. I had to just drop off the key and leave.
Maybe it's for the best. Who knows if it would have made things better; maybe it'd make her even more bitter. And really, at that point, I didn't so much despise her as pity her. In any case, I left it behind me, and walked into town. And thus begins two days of not doin' much. I had a couple hours to kill, so I first just sat down around and used the internet in the town center. When my computer got low on battery, I put it away and walked around town for a bit. They again had their arts and crafts market up. For the most part, it was your basic crafts fair, with little to get excited about. But there was one distinct exception: a kaleidoscope stand, with this husband-and-wife team who makes their own kaleidoscopes, some of which have the standard little capsule of jewels in one end, but others that were meant to, uh, kaleid whatever you looked at. There were a couple big ones, one which kaleided soap film, another which used flowers floating in a little pond. There was even one that used the bass of music to move the doodads around. I really think it's worth a shout-out, so if you want to check it out, look at ScopesNZ.com.
After this, I went to a small cafe where I got a chicken wrap for lunch. There was a nice elderly waitress there who seemed to epitomize that Kiwi hospitality that I've heard so much about. I can't really point to anything specific, but sometimes it just shows through, y'know. After finishing my food, I went back to the bus stop, where I just waited. (I found it kind of funny, there was this one guy there who I've shared a bus with four times and a hostel with three times, and yet have never talked to. I said a friendly, "We can't get rid of each other, eh?", he replied, "Yeah," and that was that.) While waiting, some old lady, apparently an emigrant from Georgia, came over and started talking with me, and was kind enough to offer me a mandarin. She then got into a bit of evangelical talk, so thank God I am well-versed enough in my religion to sidestep her attempts to re-baptize me or something. (Example: "Do you know the name 'Andrew' has strong ties to Christ?" "Yep, first to answer the call.") The bus then arrived, about ten minutes late or so. I wished the Georgian woman well, and then hopped on. I got comfortable, and listened to the driver's introduction speech, which went on a good ten minutes and may have been one of the most entertaining things I've ever heard from a bus driver.
Not much to say about the bus ride to Auckland, though. It happened, that was about it. When we got to the CBD, it was quite crowded, being just after 5pm. My first order of business when getting off was to find a transport center information desk and buy a week-long bus pass. The place I am staying at (which I booked via AirBnB) is a little out of the main part of town, and while it technically doesn't require a bus to get from one point to another, you'd be walking for a good couple hours each way otherwise. However, when I asked how much a pass was, I was told, "$190." What?! I almost exclaimed aloud. Turns out, this was for a month-long pass. When I enquired about week-long passes, I was told such things don't exist anymore. As such, I was forced to just pay cash. This isn't terrible, because I have NZ cash I'd prefer to get rid of rather than suffer a double exchange rate transition when heading to Argentina. So, I wait for my bus, the Northern Express. At first, I saw it drive away and thought I had just missed it, but looked back and saw that there was literally a line of Northern Express buses, picking up people from an equally long line. So, I waited and got on. $4.50. Ouch, that basically raised my rent $10 for every day I wanted to go into Auckland and back.
The bus ride took somewhere over a half-hour (I'm assuming rush-hour traffic didn't help), but I was eventually dropped off at the Smales Farm stop, which is a weird name that seems to have no bearing upon anything else. At this new station, I asked again about bus passes, but no dice. So, I walked to the home I was staying at. I initially got confused by where I was supposed to go, as their address number was 2/17. I initially went to the 2 house on the street, but was a bit iffy about it, so I checked in the most dubious way possible - I dug into the mailbox and checked the name on the envelopes inside. Nope. So, I went down to 17, where I saw there were multiple houses. I called the host, and found my way into the second house. It was there that I met Jessica, the host of the house. Not too much to say about her, as it was made clear on the listing that this would be a more hands-off kind of tenancy (unlike, say, Navine in Cape Town). She and her boyfriend are very nice, are very accommodating of me, and take showers together (and, like, not in an erotic way or anything; I can hear them, they're just carrying on conversations. Water conservationists, maybe?). My room was also very nice in its simplicity. A big double bed, a couple nightstands, and that's about it. But it was mine. That's what's important. No bunk beds, no other people. I could close the door and be by myself. After all this time in hostels, that felt good. In fact, the only thing I can really say against the place is that it's super out of the way of the main part of Auckland, even with a nearby bus station. That being said, that might be fine, because I was never envisioning this part to be a super Auckland vacation. I'll do some touring, to be sure, but this is mostly decompression time, so if I'll just be lounging around in a bedroom, it matters little where that room is.
Oh, and there's free, quick, and basically unlimited WiFi. That means it'll also be a photo uploading time.
After settling down, I walked to the nearby Pak'n'Save to buy some final supplies. To be honest, I may have gotten a little more than I can practically use in the five, six days that I'm here (like, did I need four liters of milk?), but hey, I can always donate whatever I have left. (It was also at this point that I finally realized, after quite a while really, that I had left my hard tupperware container in Rotorua. Oh well.) Among this was a quick frozen dinner that I popped in the oven when I got back and enjoyed in the comfort of my room. I was thinking that this would be a good time to start uploading photos to Facebook, but...I dunno, one thing led to another, and I just ended up goofing off all night. And I mean all night, because for the first time in a while, I went to bed at 2am. I know that may sound horrible to some of my readers, but it's like a return to normalcy for me, so it's really a good thing.
And that brings us to today. Not gonna lie, you can stop here and you won't miss much. Today is almost like bullet points, primarily due to the fact that I was uploading photos. Now, as I've explained before, this is a time-consuming process for me, because I also provide information and individual commentary to each photo. Is it worthwhile? I...I hope so? But regardless, it keeps me in one place for a long period of time, during which I'm not doing anything new or exciting.
Anyway, I woke up, had some cereal, and then got to work. I'm also in the middle of doing taxes, and I had a humdigger of a situation where...well, I won't go into the particulars, but TurboTax wanted me to pay $50 to upgrade to a higher-level product, so that I could report an additional $1.89 of income. I took some issue with this, but now it's all taken care of. Once finishing this, I uploaded photos from cycling in Southeast Asia (see how far behind I am in that?!), particularly from Pailin, Battambang, and the Boat Ride to Siem Reap. If you're interested in looking at those, you can find them here:
Upon finishing this, it was already lunchtime. I still had some peanut butter and jam left, so I had bought some bread at the Pak'n'Save and decided to keep at it. After having my sandwich, I milled around for a little bit, and then decided to go out for a bit, to explore the local area (which, for the record, is called the North Shore). After goddamn nearly poking out my eye by stupidly walking into a tree branch - and I'm not exaggerating; the twig actually took some skin off my upper eyelid - I walked to the nearby Lake Pupuke, and then walked around...or rather, tried, because there were only certain parts you could walk on the waterfront. For the majority of it, you had to just walk on the nearby streets, without so much as seeing the lake. It was pretty dull. So then I walked to the nearby harbor. Hey, there were at least people here...but not much was going on. So, I left the beach and then hopped from volcanic rock to volcanic rock in the sea, for a good mile and a half, actually. Still, it wasn't super fun. So, I walked back into town, stopping quickly in a shopping center to see if there was anything I needed/wanted (there wasn't), and then continued back to Jessica's house.
Yeah, North Shore = super dull.
Upon getting back, I uploaded my photos from around Siem Reap, which I must say is probably one of the more visually interesting albums of my whole trip so far (well below, say, Everest Base Camp, but still pretty high up there). If you want to take a look, you can do so here:
By the time I finished this, it was already, like, 8pm. And I hadn't eaten. So I went out to a local Chinese takeaway place (which also served fish and chips, though I'd been informed the fish was "dodgy") and got myself some chicken chow mein, which I brought home and ate. I then did writing, and that brings me to here.
Yeah...that might be how a couple days this week go. Or any day where uploading photos are a big part of it. Sorry, folks, ya ain't gonna get gold all the time (he says as though you ever get gold). But I'll be doing a few things in Auckland proper, and I even have some meetups planned, so that should be fun. You'll hopefully get one more blog entry from me before my flight out - no promises regarding quality there - and then that's all she wrote...for New Zealand, at least.