27 December 2009 - Auckland
After a 3.30 wakeup, made it to my red eye flight to Auckland. By the time I got to Nomads Hostel in the city it was after 2, so I spent a few hours just checking out the city. It was very nice, but I realise that I really am not into cities so I was bored before long. A very hung Rory came to meet me and we caught up after two years.
After my last long trip overseas, I was really happy to be able to do and be what I want. It's nice to only worry about yourself and make all the decisions. I'm also looking forward to the tour, nice to be shown around with no effort.
28 December 2009 -Auckland
Really good sleep in hostel. Nice and quiet etc. I hadn't had much of a break lately so today was a relatively lazy one. Went to Sky Tower to look over Auckland. Beautiful but humidity gave the view a sunless look. The rest of the day was spent near the ferries looking over the water. So beautiful. I guess I'm happiest when I'm on a holiday doing some exercise somewhere beautiful. I have to remember when booking more holidays not to spend too much time in cities. I really don't like them. Auckland is nice enough, but it feels enough like home and I yearn for different experiences.
A night at the movies in Newmarket with Rory capped off a relaxing day. I discovered I am popular with the locals; I was eaten alive by mozzies.
29 December 2009 - Auckland
I'd been debating a day package to an island but as I woke up I was glad I didn't go. Although it was humid, it had been raining and was overcast so not a great day for an island. Instead I crammed in a few art house movies. Perfect holiday stuff. I hung out in Newmarket. Very nice. Much like a lot of suburbs in Melbourne.
On the way back I had confirmed what I'd thought: I was staying on the same street as the local police and a brothel. That didn't bother be one bit though, in fact it made me feel pretty safe. Plus, it could have been worse; the other Nomads was right next to the brothel!
30 December 2009 - to Urupukapuka Island.
Of course because I raved about the great sleep I'd had at the hostel, my last sleep there sucked. For most of yesterday and up until about 10.30 last night they decided to play music over the speakers which was great while I was awake, but not when I wanted to sleep. Nevertheless I woke up early, ready for the adventure to come.
After gathering everyone from the various hostels we were on our way. Brief introductions in the bus gave us an idea of who everyone was, where they were from and what their goals for the new year were as we were so close to 2010. A vast bunch of cultures were represented in the bus including people from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic and Australia (5 from Melbourne) and by the end of the 9 days Holland, Canada and India were also represented. We headed off to Paihia via a quick stop off to hug some giant Kauri trees. Paihia is a beachside resort town that was heaving with New Years holiday makers. Lovely looking town but soon we were off by ferry to Urupukapuka Island where we were to spend the next two days. Unfortunately people often see dolphins there but we didn't. We arrived at Urupukapuka Island and got very excited to be in paradise - until we saw our rooms. I was in a room with Becky, Marcus and
Richard - all English, all 21. That was the good bit - the bad bit was that the room was teeny, two bunk beds without even a metre between them. And barely any room for the backpacks but we made do. Unfortunately it didn't meet the expectations of the three Brazilian girls and one Saudi Arabian guy and they ended up back on the same ferry to the mainland. The first day we imitated beach bums and had a fairly early night where i got to keep my fellow travellers awake with some decent snoring ha ha.
31 December 2009 - Urupukapuka Island.
New Years Eve in paradise. Woke up to beautiful sunshine. Got a bit of a crew together including Arno from Holland who had joined us a day later as his cheap dodgy Korean airlines flight was delayed and we all walked about half of the island that took about two hours. Beautiful views, great weather. Becky and I spent the afternoon just waiting to get ready for the new years festivities. We wanted the party to hurry up! The island throws a fabulous party with a marquee and two stages for bands and djs. Weather got chilly but otherwise we had a lot of fun.
After midnight, Lucky had told everyone to get down to the pier for some skinny dipping. I was very surprised that half of the tour did in fact get their kit off and have a dip even though it was pretty cold! I watched and held a lot of towels and clothes.
Richard, who wasn't that drunk or so i thought, then went to our room and finished off the half a bottle of rum and he just got smashed so fast! Next thing you know Arno and I found him in the toilets with cut up feet so I got my tweezers, dettol and band aids and fixed him up. By now that had killed the romance of the night so I was going to bed and when I put my pjs on in the toilets I come back and he'd vomited on the floor, very close to my bag! All was good the others cleaned it up and it didn't smell. Although i'd thought the romance was gone, others in my room and continued fairly loudly for a while longer.
1 January 2010 - Auckland
Most of us had an early start despite not having much sleep. We were leaving the Island at 12 so we all got packed up. Someone told Richard he should drink the around 100mls of the 1.125lt bottle of rum he'd consumed the night before. Being a competitive young man of course he didn't turn the challenge down and managed to keep it inside his body this time, even despite the ferry and bus trip we had to do that day. We made our way to Auckland for the night via Goat Island for some snorkling. We farewelled Indra and Becky who unfortunately only were booked for the 3 day tour The day ended with some fantastic steak and seafood at Tony's.
2 January 2010 - Hahei
We were out early and on our way to the Hot Springs Beach where you dig in the sand and hot water comes out. We then went to Cathedral Cove which is where they filmed The Beach. Stayed at a resort which was fantastic - 6 of us in a huge 3 bedroom place with kitchen laundry and lounge which was more than we'd had before! Lucky cooked a fabulous BBQ. Being a former chef certainly helps.
3 January 2010 - Rotorua
Another early start and the journey didn't begin on a high note after one of our recently joined tour members had to be taken to hospital after waking up the Germans Carolin and Benjamin at 5am. But all was good and we were soon on our way to the home of the stink - Rotorua. First stop was at a Maori cultural centre Whakarewarewa which is a village that 70 Maoris actually live in and it is set amidst a landscape of eruptive geothermal activity, hot thermal springs and bubbling mud pools. This was way better than I ever expected to be able to see a real slice of life of the Maori culture. A stage show finished our entertainment and was very engaging. This might have been in part to me having the hots for one of the Maori warriers but nevertheless it was all pretty amazing. We even got a hangi lunch cooked in the steam from the natural hot springs. Tasted just like it was conventionally cooked, only they don't need to pay any power bills!
Spent the afternoon exploring Rotorua, nothing to write about. Dinner and drinks were had at Lava next to where we were staying at Base. Arno, Rene, Karen, Richard, Marcus and I were very impressed with our room with a balcony overlooking the pool and a huge amount of space with really modern rooms. Fabulous. The only downside was that Lava played music very loud and we were directly opposite it so we didn't get that much sleep. The other buzz kill was that Arno managed to realise he lost his phone two days ago in Auckland. Unfortunately it was gone for good.
4 January 2010 - Blue Duck Lodge
Another early start - and with the late nights we've been having, it was not a good combination. We started off with some more hot springs swimming and then made our way to Blue Duck Lodge where we were staying in these amazing wooden cabins. Linda and Robert lucked out with the 'honeymoon suite' which was a stunning cabin half way up a hill with some extremely gorgeous countryside. Unfortunately they had to come down the hill to use the loo so maybe they weren't so lucky after all.
We took a ride around the farm with Sam and new NZer Carl (who was actually from Kansas but doing work experience on the farm in reference to the conservation project that Dan undertakes to rid the land of pests like echidnas, rats etc) on these awesome 4WDs. The farm was unlike anything I'd normally call a farm - so mountainous and covered in trees like a rainforest. Amazing.
Some of the group decided they'd like to take part in a goat hunt, where Sam shot one small goat but unfortunately they didn't actually get to shoot any of them themselves. Linda and Robert started a Savethegoat.co.nz (not a real website) petition to make it clear that they didn't want to participate in any hunting. Most of us joined in. It's one thing to eat meat but a whole other thing to shoot it yourself.
One of the available activities was an axe throwing competition, and a good deal of the group participated and I'm pleased to say the girls could really hold their own against the boys.
After sitting in front of a lovely fire for an hour or two, we sat down to goat curry and a beautiful array of salads as the sun set over the mountains.
5 January 2010 - Tongariro National Park.
Another ridiculously early morning. We were all set to go when I saw Lucky and a few others running out of the bus - turns out Marcus had done a big fart in there which was deadly. He was very proud. So with the windows open, we all posed for some pics and were on our way. Or so we thought - on the way to the farm we saw some rocks being cleared off the road and it turned out there had been a mini landslide overnight, so many photos were taken while we saw them being cleared. We were really lucky help came about two minutes after we got there as we could have been stuck for hours - there was only one road out of the farm. As it was, it was on a ridge and i'd hate for us to fall down into be river below! We were soon off to stay in our wonderful lodge that is basically for skiing in the winter so it was very cool and cosy. Our rooms had loft bedrooms which were a nice change compared to other rooms. We dumped our stuff and were soon on our way to base camp for our seven hour walk. The weather was fairly overcast when we started at 10am but that is perfect walking weather so we were set. The first couple of hours were the hardest - at one point on the way up it was all stairs and it was pretty tough. But as we got higher, it got a lot easier as it was steep but not stairs, more like rocks as we started our decent towards the lakes in the middle of he volcano, underfoot was loose mashed lava and it was actually cushioning and if you occasionally skidded over, it was fun. We had a picnic at the lake (it wasn't pleasant to discover three squashed bananas in my bag) and then were on our way back. In total it was 19.4km walk but I have to say a lot of it was fairly pleasant and I had good company so it wasn't that tough. Unfortunately with 1.4km to go, Jodie twisted her ankle quite badly so it wasn't pleasant for her at the end. The night was complete with lots of hot showers and a victory dinner at the lodge before everyone went off to bed the earliest we'd been all trip.
6 January 2010 - Wellington.
Another early start, but I don't think there are many days on any Adventure Tours trips, unless you're staying in the same place. It was a 4.5 hour bus trip, which seemed killer but was in fact nothing compared to the 11 hour drive that those of us heading back to Auckland would have to endure on the final day. Stopped off at a town called Bulls for some photos as they try to work the word bull/bulls into the names of most things - for e.g the police station was called Consta-bulls and the bins are Responsi-bulls. Cute lolly and tshirt shops but otherwise nothing that stands out. We arrived in Wellington and discovered that it really is the windy city! It looks like a very picturesque and liveable city, however the weather is a non negotiable offence so I couldn't live there. Arno and I toured the museum before meeting the others for a very special farewell dinner. The breakup of the core group who I have shared lives with for the past nine days. Some will go on to the South Island Adventure Tour, others will tour there themselves. An unlucky 8 of us had a 11 hour bus ride back to Auckland before our journey ends.
I guess the biggest learning for me on the trip was that I love travelling but I really am a person who likes organised tours. After my 3 month backpacker trip and my free time in Auckland I realised that I am at my best when everything is organised and I can relax, have fun and meet interesting new people. Another thing is to be careful about forming too close a relationship with people who live over the other side of the world. But modern technology will enable us to keep in touch as long as we wish. Where to next? I have a few ideas but we'll see.