It's my birthweek!

Trip Start Aug 14, 2008
Trip End Sep 25, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 198 - Got woken up by Unkle Boy to the sound of ABBA blasting through the hall - what a great way to wake up - I felt like dancing to the bathroom to brush my teeth!  After breakfast I took the opportunity to take a walk along the river to the beach, where I saw a number of locals fishing for whitebait (a NZ speciality).

So we set off to Rotorua, which is a hotbed of thermal activity (and therefore very smelly) and had an hour or so in the town.  Had a walk around the park, which was full of steaming geysers and bubbling pools and the place was beautiful and blossoming with the start of spring.  Myself and Richard (from Sweden) had a walk around the city centre and nipped into a charity shop en route.  The city is nice in itself, but the area is mostly famed for it's mineral rich mud pools.  Turns out the only ones you can actually go in are out of town and we managed to convince Thumper to take us there.  When we got on the bus to go, Thumper had blown up a load of birthday balloons for me and Lisa (who's birthday is in two days).  Although my birthday is not for 6 days, Thumper had got wind of it, which means that since today is my last day with the group, I am celebrating my birthweek!

The mud baths were expensive at NZ$70, but worth it and something I think you have to do when you're in Rotorua.  Only Lisa, Kelly (from Ireland) and myself went in and we had a lovely relax in the mud, before hitting a cold shower and a hot water spa.  Our skin afterwards was glowing!  I loved that it was outdoor and natural and the whole complex was pretty awesome - like the top of a volcano.

As we left Rotorua for Taupo, we stopped to see a pool of violently bubbling mud and then at a confluence where a hot and cold river meets, and we all jumped in for a swim - very nice and free!  Before we reahced Taupo we stopped at the Huka Falls, which is where the Waikato river flows through a gorge at a phenomenal rate and volume (in 2 seconds enough water passes through the falls to fill and Olympic sized swimming pool!)  I was totally awestruck and got very excited by it - I felt I could have watched it for days - so powerful and magnificant.

It's a nice day in Taupo today, which means... skydiving!  We pulled up at Skydive Taupo and 8 (out of 12) of us decided to jump out of a plane 12,000ft in the air!  I also decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted a film of it and all in all it cost just over 150 pounds, which is a bargain!  Four of us went up at a time and I was in the first batch.  My skydiving partner was a huge Brazilian called Mac (or the Terminator) and he was so lovely, making me fel very relaxed and telling me that he would look after me!  He was very funny too, which helped a lot!  We were the last to get into the pink plane and that meant prime position facing the others and by the door... which meant we were going first!  As we flew up we were getting pretty high and thinking we must nearly be there, Mac showed me his elevation device and I saw that we were only at 5,000ft - the height we will open our parachute, and not even half way!

When we reached 12,000ft the door opened and we perched on the edge of the plane for what seemed like ages as my legs got very cold.  Then we jumped out and what shocked me most was that we went upside down backwards and I had no idea what was going on!  The 40 second freefall was the most amazing (and terrifying) thing I have ever done - and the view was bloody beauitful too!

After watching the others do their jumps, we got driven back to town in a limo!  In celebration of our birthdays, we decided to go out tonight and I felt I'd earnt a drink - I was on a high!  So after a shower to wash away the smell of rotten eggs, we went to a Mexican restaurant nextdoor and the whole group came out, which was great.  The waiter kept giving us free tequila shots and cocktails - particularly for me and Lisa (that's the problem when it's your birthday!)  We left and went to a backpackers bar/club and stayed there all night dancing and having fun - it really did feel like it was my birthday!  In the end, everyone had gone home except me, Kelly and Richard and we stayed a fair while longer tearing up the dancefloor.

We finally started to walk back to the hostel and found ourselves outside the BP garage opposite the hostel.  We were stood outside talking to a local couple and one way or another, managed to get two strapping young lads to do the hakka - right there in the petrol station forecourt! It was brilliant!  Kelly and I imitated the poi a little before the staff in the shop called the police and put an end to our cultural show. 

Day 199 - Was astonished to see that myself, Richard and Kelly (the last in) are the first up!  After breakfast Richard and I went for a walk to the lake (Lake Taupo is the biggest crater lake in the world - you can fit Singapore in it!).  After saying goodbye to the group and Thumper (for the final time this time) I went back to bed and amazingly slept all day!  I am basically spending time in Taupo in a hope that I might get to do the Tongariro crossing - not happening tommorrow, hopefully Monday! Apparently there's a political situation stopping groups going out.

Bit of a crap day really except sat in the tv room at 10pm and watched the All Blacks vs Wallabies Tri Nation test game - awesome match!

Day 200 - Walked around taupo and explored the town - took about 30 minutes and decided to braoden my exploration and walked out of town to the thermal spa next to the Waikato River, which is the longest river in NZ and the only river to feed from lake Taupo.  I walked along the river all the way to the Huka falls and enjoyed the exercise and the peaceful surroundings - the river itself is quite striking with clear water giving it a lovely turquoise colour and surrounded by natural bush.

Spent a little while preparing for my trek in the Tongariro National park tomorrow and opted for the $5 chilli meal at the hostel - met some new Straycomers in the queue (Irish) and was quite impressed by the standard of the meal (included sour cream and nachos) and the decent serving!  Spent another evening enjoying solitude in the tv room watching a period drama.

Day 201 - Got up at 5:15am to have breakfast before waiting for my bus to the Tongariro NP at 6am.  As I was in my room, one of the Irish guys I met earlier stumbled in, looked at me squarely and then staggered out - I came to the conclusion he was just making his way to bed (in a roundabout way) after a night out.  I waited outside the hostel, as arranged and after an hour started to lose hope and the feeling in my extremeties - it was a cold foggy morning and I waited as the sun came up, unable to call as I didn't have their number or my phone and unable to get back in the hostel as I didn't know the electronic code (and reception didn't open for another hour or so!)  Just as I was giving up, a trainee Stray driver called Brad came out and told me I was supposed to get on the Stray bus to the NP at 7am and that there should have been a note on my door last night - seems they put it on room 12... I am in room 18!

So good news that the trek is still on... but by 7:30am only 2 of the 5 Stray passengers were ready to go and eventually the driver went and roused the three Irish (including the one I saw going to bed as I was getting up!)  We finally left an hour late and I was amazed how lively the boys were - they were indeed still drunk and I knew then I wasn't in for a quiet day!  We therefore arrived at the NP an hour late to find the guide Stu and a few others waiting for us and we all claimed a tyre puncture!
The Tongariro Crossing is not being used by any guides until December at the earliest, due to an issue between the DOC and a small maori village that owns 400 metres of the trail.  Instead we were walking a route around the tama lakes.  I must admit I was disappointed to not be doing the crossing initially, but the walk had such incredible views that meant it equalled / excelled the crossing.  We walked all day for 18km mostly on moorland covering the Tongariro lava fields in between Mt Ruapehu (still active) and Mt Ngaurhoe (aka Mt Doom) and the views of the snowy volcanoes were stunning - looking at their best in winter for sure and getting better and better the further we walked.  The turquoise tama crater lakes added to the scenery - one of the best walks I have done.  On the way there we went off the path and across country, which was excellent as, unlike to crossing, there was not a soul to be seen for the most part - wow!  At one point we reached a really steep snowfield and using our ice picks as brakes, slid down very fast on our bottoms! Awesome fun - the irish boys were dangerous!  The walk was also enhanced by the fantastic weather - it was worth waiting in Taupo to do this.

The Irish, true to Irish form, seemed to spend the day "having a crack" at my expense!  It was all in good spirits though and even Stu picked up on it, finding it very entertaining.  I was called a range of nicknames from 'Spannerhead' to (my personal favourite) 'Teaspoon' and we gave each other riddles to work out along the way - exercising the body AND the mind!  They were great company and it was a great day.

After walking around the crater and lower Tama lake, we started walking back towards our starting point and all stopped dead with the sound of rumbling! It really did sound like Ruapehu was making some noise and I think even Stu was a little worried!
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