#6// North island, 95 points on Ross' licence & pervasive eggy smells
I finished off the last post with our worst on-record hitch-hiking performance in Kaikoura - one hour thirty minutes of people speeding up as they went past, a particularly aggressive woman who took both hands off the steering wheel to signal a 'NO', sheepish smiles and/or averted gazes. Luckily our saviour came in the form of Chris, who will always be remembered for his observation later that day..."you're a bit of a whiny pom aren't you?" (look, Chris, there were only two lettuce leaves in my veggie Subway! Two! What else goes into a veggie subway apart from lettuce?!). Nat likes to quote Chris at every opportunity.
Ironically, after stressing all afternoon that we'd miss our ferry from Picton to Wellington because we wouldn't be able to get a lift there, Nat and I actually nearly miss the ferry because we're too busy enjoying a placatory bowl of chips (cheered me up after the Subway travesty) and get lost on the ten minute walk to the terminal. The ferry company ring us to check we're alright and are still coming (New Zealanders are THE nicest people, I'm telling you) and we finally make it aboard.
Travelling across the Cook Strait from Picton to Wellington - HELLO NORTH ISLAND!
The next day we meet Nat's engineering friend Shem and Shem's sister Jesse-Ana in Wellington and have a great day at Te Papa museum, a picnic in the botanical gardens and then a couple of walks on the way back to their hometown Levin. I can't comment much on Wellington as we didn't see much of it but it's definitely more of a typical city than Christchurch (ie. there are people around). We spend a night in Levin (just over an hour's drive from Wellington) with Shem, JA and the rest of the Harris family and Nat and I are bowled over by their kindness and hospitality. We particularly enjoy an evening game of volleyball (how have we lived this long WITHOUT a family game of volleyball every night?!?) and a cutthroat game of Settlers of Catan. JA pips me right at the end and wins but I beat Nat though, so I'm still a champion.
Our next stop is the town National Park which is close to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I learn from our lesson in Kaikoura and make sure no drivers can pretend to stare ahead and not see us.
As you can see, sadly my method is not fool-proof. Luckily after a few more minutes Ross can't deny the irresistible roadside pull of the can-can and he stops to pick us up. Ross is driving a nice utility car with a swanky mountain bike in the back of it. He's planning on racing in a mountain bike competition the next day in the National Park area.
When we get in I do notice that there's a slight tang in the air and two empty beer bottles in the front but I'm working on being as carefree as Nat so I lean forward and chat with gusto. I am succeeding SO well in chatting with gusto that Ross forgets the speed limit, apparently forgets what the white line in the middle of the road is for and yaps merrily until we hear the wail of a siren. Ross jerks back onto the right side of the road (thank god, Nat and I probably should've ditched the British etiquette and just pointed out the low survival rates for drifters) and repeatedly says "shit. shit. shit. shit" which highly alarms both his passengers. As the policeman begins to walk over to us Ross flusters and asks me in a voice of controlled panic whether I can just hide his empty beer bottles. Sure! Carefree Chania busily stashes them away (rather expertly I must say) just before a cantankerous Lancashire policeman raps on the window. Turns out poor chatty Ross was recorded as travelling at 119 km/h in an 80 km/h zone which will earn him twenty points on his licence. The price you pay for good conversation, ay. His licence is checked and he's doing a really good job of seeming very unfazed and trying to make light of the situation when the ex-pat policeman points out that Ross already has seventy five points. Ross appears very innocently surprised at this information which I find quite hilarious - a very good effort on the acting front Ross, but I'm pretty sure you'd remember seventy five points worth of illegal driving. Unless you've stashed many, MANY beer bottles away in your lifetime. The policeman points out that Ross was actually going at 121 km/h but the machine only caught him at 119. If he'd been officially recorded at 121 he would have had thirty five additional points and then his licence would be revoked. Ross laughs it off (where did you go to acting school Ross?) but the beads of sweat on his forehead betray him.
After a few more tense minutes we're eventually allowed to drive off and Ross says he better put on 'cruise control' and confidently presses the full power air-con button instead. We get dropped off not long after (phew) and then get picked up by two Norwegian 18 year old guys to finish the journey to National Park which I'm only mentioning because it was the smelliest car journey I've ever experienced. If I'm brutally honest Elliot and Elias, supreme cheese Doritos, damp clothes, smelly feet and no air flow whatsoever will always equate to an uncomfortable journey. I wish I could say I am grateful that you picked us up, but I'm not sure that I am.
We have had really good weather throughout our time in New Zealand but it's typical that that breaks on the day we climb a volcano. Good thing torrential rain, single digit temperatures, dark grey clouds and biting winds are my favourite conditions to hike in. When we head down from our room to catch the shuttle bus to the base of the volcano we are faced with a crowd of very professional-looking hikers (camelbaks included) and the receptionist Tracey is horrified at our flimsy summer-wear. She says we won't be allowed on the shuttle bus unless we pack more water and wear warmer things (it can reach minus temperatures at the summit) and we feel VERY under-prepared. Tracey looks on in utter bemusement when I find some old tights at the bottom of my bag and ask to borrow her sharp receptionist scissors to cut the ends off to make some impromptu sports leggings. Not reassured, Tracey has so little faith in us that we watch her write our names down on a little bit of paper in case we don't make it back. We wave her a cheery goodbye and head onto the bus. We climb the volcano in an incredibly heavy mist which means that when we reach the top we can see NOTHING. I have put a photo of what we should have been able to see vs what we climbed two hours to see for an agonising comparison. That said, even though we couldn't see anything it was pretty cool to climb in the mist and sometimes I pretended we were on Mars.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a smelly hike and as we climbed down from the summit we were greeted with a whiffy stench of rotten egg, though it adds to the atmosphere of steaming rocks and Emerald Lakes. As their name suggests, the lakes are bright green and I'm not sure if they would - but I imagined that if you stuck a finger in all of the flesh would dissolve off the bone. Of course I double dared Nat to try it but he wouldn't, so we ate our lunch and finished the hike.
Next day we head to Taupo which is kind of like a North island version of Queenstown - there's lots going on and it's pretty busy. We visit the world's coolest Mcdonald's (literally, it's been voted that. You can sit in an aeroplane and eat your food), play mini-golf, lounge around in the local hot springs, walk to the Huka falls and I discover my favourite Indian restaurant in the WORLD.
Enjoying the (Indian) delights of Taupo
Nat's facial orifices dangerously close to the frothy water
We then head on to Rotorua, a notoriously eggy-smelling destination, and hitch for the morning to Kerosene Creek, another natural hot spring. I don't like these nearly as much as the ones in Taupo, the water looks murky and frothy and there are signs everywhere warning you not to put your head underwater in case you contract amoebic meningitis. Fun! We meet Monica, a Spaniard, and her boyfriend Matoosh, a Slovakian, at Kerosene Creek, and start chatting to them and they offer us a lift to the Hot and Cold Water stream a short drive away. My enjoyment here is limited by the sign which warns swimmers that they may find used needles and old sanitary products in the water, and I notice hundreds of wriggling tiny red worms floating around me (I did not stay in long).
We all get chatting to a local, Michael, who is our age, another bold swimmer defying the ominous warning signs to wallow in the brown water. Michael offers to take us all to one of his favourite cliff jumping spots so we hop in Monica's car and follow him. We spend the rest of the day exploring the area with Monica, Matoosh and Michael and have a really nice time. We end up at Lake Okareka, by now it's late afternoon, and Michael surprises us all by getting his guitar out. We become a total travelling cliché, chilling by the shores of a lake listening to acoustic renditions of angsty pop songs - and just when I don't think it can get any more cliché, a nearby British woman comes over to request Ed Sheeran and shows us a video of her daughter's first wedding dance. Michael dutifully croons 'Thinking Out Loud' and before he's done the woman is back, requesting another Ed Sheeran song and this time showing us a video of her cousin's first dance. I'm not very good at reacting to impromptu gigs and after six songs I feel ready to extract myself from the cheese-fest. Michael stops singing but continues to strum some other romantic ballad and begins to talk about the love of his life, his fiancé, and their love story. He starts to choke up and cries recalling his proposal and, unaware that any real-life situation involving strangers can possibly be so cliché and cringy, I laugh at him thinking he's crying as a joke. He isn't, and I hastily turn my laugh into a hacking cough.
Our next stop after Rotorua is Matamata AKA land of Hobbiton, but in the meantime here are the outrageously impressive New Zealand supermarket fruit displays.