Day 14, Auckland, New Zealand (Monday)
Landing in New Zealand was uneventful. I followed my usual routine of declaring everything, controlled substances (medication), dairy (protein bars), shells (Hawaiian lei), etc. As usual I was asked about each one and let through. This time they did perform an x-ray of my bags, but nothing turned up that they were interested in. I walked out of customs and within ten steps was greeted with a cheerful “Craig?” from my New Zealand cousin (1C1R) Terry. I guess my father’s Christmas letters which he always titles “New World News” paid off since Terry recognized me on the spot without sending him a picture. He drove me back to his place and we had a discussion of orientation that left me completely baffled when we were headed north and supposedly off to the left of the car was the east coast. Later I realized he lives on a large northern pointing peninsula of the east coast, so the east coast was in fact on the western edge of the peninsula.
Because of my chaotic experience with purchasing new toys, changing clothes twice, and misplacing credit cards, I immediately unpacked my bag, checked my inventory, and regrouped one he showed me his guest room. I met his partner Tanya, who is originally from Russia. They offered me tea and then gave me a tour of the seaside around their home. Tanya cooked a lovely dinner, and then I sat down with both my laptop and tablet to plan out my stay on the North Island. Because of my hurried experience booking a flight out of New Zealand I only left myself a week and a day in New Zealand. I got plenty of advice from Terry and consulted the advice I was given from other travelers in Hawaii and scheduled an entire week. Unfortunately I had to make some hurried phone calls because my reservation for my first stop came back as a private room booking for $50 a night. The biggest drawback to booking as you go is 24 and 48 hour cancellation policies, since if you book less than 24 or 48 hours ahead of time, he second you click the purchase button online the sale is final. Fortunately the people at a the hostel were forgiving and I only lost my deposit of $10. I the found much more reasonably priced accommodations and booked them.
I then asked very kindly if Terry would drop me off downtown quite early in the morning so I could catch my first bus. I made my first three bus reservations with NakedBus. Contrary to their name they are an exceptionally professional budget bus line. I bought a pass of three segments for $99. After his kind reply to drive me in far earlier than he often wakes up we started discussing genealogy. As many of you know I’m often an advocate for precise language. Often I’m lecturing on the difference between damping and dampening, or the subtle differences between perambulation and circumambulation, but I also strive to get the terms for relations right. Terry and my father share grandparents, that makes them first cousins (C1). Terry thought that I would be a second cousin, but actually I’m his first cousin once removed (C1R1). His children are my second cousins (C2). For a long time I didn’t understand the cousin removal system, here’s an explanation:
As is commonly known, someone who you share grandparents with, but not parents, is your first cousin. If you share great-grandparents with someone you are second cousins, if you share great-great-grandparents you are third cousins. The term removed helps fill in the gaps between tiers. You take the lowest level of cousin that applies, and you are removed once for each generational difference. Take someone who has a great-great-grandparent who is someone else’s grandparent. The level of cousins for sharing a grandparent is first cousins, then there is a two generation difference so it is twice removed. They are first cousins twice removed.
Day 15, Auckland, New Zealand – Rotorua (Tuesday)
My first bus segment was Auckland to Rotorua. I got up early (but not quite early enough) and repacked my bag. After I finished repacking my bag there was no time for breakfast, and Terry drove me to the downtown bus stop. I found the crowd waiting for the bus and started chatting with a couple. As there was 15 minutes before the ride and I was hungry I followed the lady of the couple to a coffee shop around the corner. I grabbed a muffin and waited far to long for an espresso (I had arrived in fancy coffee land, where on demand, instant drip coffee doesn’t exist) and saw busses pull up just as the cashier started making my coffee. I got back to the busses as quickly as I could and there was still a que for loading bags and getting on the bus.
The ride itself was uneventful. There was one half hour stop two hours in for stretching legs and in a couple hours more we were in Rotorua. The town of Rotorua is a popular tourist stop and is located in a volcanic coldero. Volcanic springs abound and the air is constantly filled with sulphur. It was still to early to check in, so I left my bags at the hostel and did what I do best, wander.
I soon found the government gardens. They were a beautifully landscaped park with several lawns for English bowl, which is a bit like bocce, but you roll the balls instead of throwing them. There were thermal bath houses near by. And my first look at a steaming thermal pool. I then noticed another tourist headed down a path and followed. It was a walk way around a the thermal lake. It had nice historical and factual placards along the way and while there were signs warning that the thermal pools were dangerous there was nothing preventing you from going up to them. Welcome to tourism outside the USA where they assume people can make their own decisions about safety. I wondered up to a pool with a medium amount of bubbling. The heat of the pool definitely seems to be proportional to the amount of bubbles. I waved my hand over to judge the heat, then trusting my thermally resistant hands dipped a finger in. It was hot, but not quite boiling. Other pools were only lukewarm and the most furious ones I wouldn’t go near. I wanted to test my new virtually indestructible toy so I mounted the new GoPro on a pole and stuck it in the medium heat geothermal pool. The casing got a little warm, but no leaks and the camera was fine. The video is really just muddy bubbles, but I had to give it a try. Another traveler came along while I was making the video and they called me insane. They then made a strong recommendation for Wai-O-Tapu as a must see attraction near Rotorua.
I checked into my hostel and logged on to the fortunately free WiFi. I booked two half day tours for the next day, Wai-O-Tapu and Hobbiton. A lady then came into the room, introduced herself as Katey, and invited me to join her and another lady in going to a pub to watch the Melbourne cup. The other lady introduced herself as Krystal and we went to the Irish pub a few blocks away. After a very exciting horse race, where Katey’s horse didn’t win, and a beer Krystal said she had to go catch a bus for a Maori cultural show and dinner. I expressed that it was a shame I hadn’t booked something like that as I had nothing booked for the evening, and Katey suggested that her and I could try to book the show last minute. We asked the booking lady at the hostel, she made a phone call, and some how it worked out. Despite a little false communication we were booked on the same tour and for the same table. The bus driver was a bit of a bad comedian. He kept talking the entire way to the village.
The Maori cultural presentation was smaller and far less commercial than the Luau in Hawaii, tough it was in essence the same style event. After the welcoming ceremony we split up into groups and were given cultural presentations in small rotating groups. This made the presentations much more personal, though the village we were in was clearly constructed just for tourism purposes. The first presentation was on the Haka war dance of the Maori. They made a few man in the crowd dance with them. The second station was on Poi, which has demonstrated and the a few women were asked to come up and try. Krystal volunteered. The third station was on agility games for warriors. I volunteered for this station. It started with four men facing each other holding staffs. When a command was given for either right or left (in Maori) you needed to let go of your stick and catch he stick to that side before it hit the ground. The stick hitting the ground meant elimination. I came in second place, though a feel that the winner adding some velocity to the stick before letting go was not in the spirit of the game. The fourth station was traditional weaving; no real demo there. The fifth station was traditional weapons and more training games, involving a stick ladder on the ground with decreasing spacing. You are out if your foot touches a stick. The sixth station was on the meaning of traditional tattoos. Then we gathered again as a group, they discussed the underground oven which was very similar to the Hawaiian one, pulled all the food out of the ground, and asked us to continue to the village hall. They discussed the traditional construction of the village hall, how it related to the head, spine, and ribs of the ancestors. The song and dance routines followed, beginning with traditional instruments and eventually adding guitar. We then continued to the feast. It was clear that they had two banquet halls in order to host two groups each evening in close succession. We were led to the further hall so the next group wouldn’t see us when they were done with the song and dance. They had a fascinating tisane that was a traditional cureall. I think I have a photo of the name that I need to find. I spoke with an Indian couple across the table from me, and they had suggestions for my trip to India. The feast was great, they opened the gift shop with desert, then we were back on the bus. The bus driver wanted to sing songs of all nationalities on the way back, when others didn’t join in he kept crooning, not well, all the way back.
Day 16, Rotorua, New Zealand (Wednesday)
I was up early and showered. I ran into Katey again and said goodbye. I noticed that the time on my watch was off, so I had less time than I thought, my bus to Wai-O-Tapu was around 9. There was a continental breakfast available at the hostel that included cereal, toast, tea or coffee, milk, and jam for $6.50, but I wanted to go to a grocery store to try and find something that would last me a few days. It was a long walk to the grocery store and after tallying up the prices and considering how large the boxes were and how much leftovers I would have to haul with me, I decided the continental breakfast would be better. After the long walk back I purchased the breakfast, asked where it was and they handed me a brown paper bag with a box of cereal, a carton of milk, etc. I was unsatisfied, but I had no choice at that time. I wolfed down the food and headed to meet the bus.
Since I’m one of the only people traveling alone the driver suggests I sit in the front passenger seat of the small bus. As we were waiting for the last few passengers I hear two ladies discussing the bus roster, which is sitting between the driver seat and the passenger seat, and they said something to the extent of “It looks like this person named Craig is doing a half day trip as well.” At which point I turned around and introduced myself. We were soon on out way and first stopped at bubbling mud pools. Another tour bus pulled up and I noticed our group was headed back to the bus, so I followed suit. Once on board the guide asked if we were missing anyone and we were missing two, the ladies who were sitting behind me. We waited a couple minutes, the the guide had to go and get them. They looked quite embarrassed and had gotten mixed up with the second group. We got to our second stop, which was the biggest geyser in the park. People crowded into the large amphitheater. The park ranger gave a detailed history of the geyser, back to the convicts who discovered it while washing their clothes. He explained that the natural cycle of the geyser was around 28 hours and how a small packet of soap (surfactant) could trigger the geyser early for a regular daily show. The geyser got up to a sustained height of at least 20 feet, maybe nearer to 30 for almost a minute. When it started tapering off the park ranger told us that we had seen the best of the show, and it would continue to flow at lower levels for at least 15 minutes. I got back to the bus and sure enough we were waiting on the same two ladies, who weren’t far behind this time. When we got the main entrance of the thermal park the bus driver stated that there were three people doing half day tours who had to be back by 12 sharp, this was me and the late ladies, who promptly suggested that they should stick with me and I would be their time keeper.
Once in the park I asked them where they were from. They were on holiday from India, one from north, one from south. I said that I was pleased to meet them in Hindi. The response was along the lines of “That is so cute.” and “Your Hindi is better than mine.” Since that’s one of only a few phrases I know, I found the praise very hard to believe, but graciously accepted the compliment. I mentioned my plans to visit India and they planned my whole itinerary out, more out of fun for themselves than to help me. They also debated about which of them knew which parts of India better.
The walk through the park was gorgeous. We made it along all three loops with 15 minutes to spare. That time was spent in the gift shop, where I picked up a post card and a New Zealand pocket game called Tantrix. In the parking lot the late ladies and I parted, since they were going to a Maori show for the afternoon and I was headed to Hobbiton.
The tour bus dropped us back in downtown Rotorua. I hadn’t realized that the tour I took merely booked a tour with the official Hobbiton tours for the second half of the day, rather than taking us there.
I grabbed an inexpensive meat pie for lunch on the way back to the bus stop. A little after the scheduled time a very professional coach bus emblazoned with the finesse and artistry of a major motion film and large lettering for “Hobbiton” pulled up and I was off again. The fancy coach bus put the little 12 passenger bus I had spent the morning in to shame. I hadn’t realized that the set was so far from Rotorua. It is actually in the small town of Matamata. The bus ride was quiet and I dozed. Once we hit the property the bus driver started discussing the set’s history, the original secrecy of its construction and how the New Zealand military actually built the road to the set and did the heavy lifting. My unspoken question regarding why they decided to build the set out of permanent materials was answered. We picked up a tour guide and were dropped off on the far side of the set. Unfortunately it was a guided tour. The map we had been handed had given me the hope that I would be able to casually wander the shire, alas, that was not to be. The tour was filled with a myriad of fun facts that I won’t put down here. The tour started with gorgeous weather but turned quickly to a downpour near the end. When we made it to the Green Dragon? At the end of the tour we were offered a free beer. I chose the stout, but also got a sample of the golden ale and the cider. All three are brewed especially for the set and not sold anywhere else. All three were spectacular. After being given plenty of time to enjoy the beer and the atmosphere were were ushered back to the bus and then given 15 minutes in the gift shop, which is located on site but off set over a hill. Not everyone that came with us left with us and new people joined, which was mind blowing. Busses for the tours come from as far as Auckland and Taupo, so you can arrange to go back on a different bus, essentially cutting out the need to travel the next day. I wish I had known that. It’s such an awesome idea to get both a tour and a ride to your next destination.
It was still raining and the combination of rain and beer made for a nice nap on the way back. When I got back to the hostel I broke out my new game and played the solo version, then made for bed.
Day 17, Rotorua, New Zealand – National Park (Thursday)
Day 17 was a travel day. I could have skipped this day and spent a day in Wellington had I known of the Hobbit tour trick, but I have no regrets. Since my bus trip to National Park didn’t start until 1? I got up, showered, and went for a long walk. I had wanted to visit the museum next to the government gardens, but didn’t gather a sufficient quantum of time to do so. I did purchase a broad rimmed cloth hat for 8 NZD with New Zealand emblazoned on it at the gift shop. I returned to the Hostel and checked out. I contemplated going back to see the museum, but knew I didn’t have the time. Instead I wandered around and almost bought some expensive, light weight, and compact gloves for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the crossing). A combination of a long line, not wanting to miss the bus, the expense, and the sale associate insisting that I should take “just a few minutes to sign up for their rewards program” caused me to leave without purchasing the gloves.
I returned to the station and hopped on the bus. We had a stop in Taupo and had to change busses. There I saw some fluffy, bulky, snowboarding gloves for $35 AUD and bought them. The flier I had for the crossing said that gloves and hats were available for purchase but not rent. I figured it was better to buy before getting to the actual crossing where the supply would be limited. My next bus was a little late and more late after we finished loading. Once on the road I could hear the drivers side of his radio conversations with the dispatcher, and the climate was not good. He was supposed to switch drivers with another bus in Tungari, but was 30 minutes behind schedule. Our new driver was already waiting at the stop, and wasn’t happy about the prospect of two busses being 30 minutes late if he had to wait. The solution was an unorthodox driver swap at a small gas station half way between. Our new bus driver was fuming when he got on board and apologized to us while adding some unnecessary choice words about the bus driver that had just left.
When we got to Tungari I had to switch busses again and fortunately my connection hadn’t left. It was a small passenger bus like the one that brought me to Wai-O-Tapu. Upon arriving at National Park I went into the gas station/grocer (This was indeed a very small town) to look at their winter gear and ask where the hostel was. They had some very nice reversible fleece jackets and I was sorely tempted to buy one, rather than renting one later. They also had a very nice thinsulate lined wool beanie which was pretty inexpensive. I put that decision aside and checked into the hostel. Having shed the burden of my bags I returned to gas grocer and picked up groceries for my stay and the beanie. I decided to rent the jacket. The predicted temperature for the top of the climb the next day was 12 F after wind chill.
I cooked myself a pasta dinner, played with Tantrix some more, fleshed out some of my Hawaii blog posts and headed to bed. Unfortunately some Swedish travelers watched movies in the room until late in the night.