When in Hamilton, do as the Hamiltonians do

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Well, it's been a while since I last hopped on a computer and checked in on the real world. Fortunately for you guys, there's not too much to report so I won't be here forever.

After my final night out in Wellington with an English girl, Naomi, a Dutch guy, Jasper, and this weird English bloke, Simon, a kinda creepy older guy who sounded like the Monty Python character with a really deep voice and a hokey accent, I got my hired car -- a Subaru Legacy hatchback -- and drove the length of the country. Driving in New Zealand is fantastic, and not just because it's on the wrong side of the road. The speed limits aren't terribly high, the main motorways go through towns and the roads are real windy, so you just kind of take it easy, maneuver around and look out the window. A few highlights: I passed through a town called Bulls (like the animal) and like good Kiwis, they take every opportunity to make the same corny joke with all the business names. The barber shop was called "Cut-a-bull" and the police station was home to the "Const-a-bull," for example. I drove past the National Park home to the disastrous Tongariro Crossing, and actually got to see the volcanoes from the road that I couldn't see from 10 feet away. I rolled into Paihia in the Bay of Islands at 11, about 12 hours after I started, and as I was checking into my hostel, wound up running into Tracey and Mike and Matt the Irish girl and Aussie guys I had met in Rotorua. It was Tracey's birthday and they were going pretty full on, but I was too exhausted to do much more than hang out for a few minutes before passing out.

The next morning I went swimming with dolphins out in the bay. It was a makeup for myself after I had a similar trip canceled at the last second the last time I was in New Zealand. I wound up getting really lucky -- the company I booked with was my second choice, but we wound up being the only boat that got to go swimming. The dolphins weren't as friendly as usual, but it was still cool being in the water with them. Also, swimming in the ocean is friggin exhausting, I wouldn't recommend getting stuck out there.

After the swim, I got back in the car and started to head back down the coast toward Auckland. I was going to stop for the night in Waipu, but it was all booked out. I only mention this because I want to start a contest for the best tourism slogan for a town called "Waipu." So far I came up with, "Waipu: Because it's natural," "Everybody does it," and "Because it feels good." Lets see what else you can come up with, unless you think I'm a corny dork. Then don't bother. Where I wound up stopping, I roomed with three really bizarre Chinese guys. When I walked in they were sitting around eating french fries and dipping them in strawberry jam. I have no explanation.

After dropping off the car the next morning, crash and driven-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road free, I went back down to Hamilton to hang out with Scott, the local guy I had met right at the beginning of my trip. Scott's generosity was even greater than I expected. I crashed at his place my last five nights in New Zealand, hanging out with him, his "partner," his four-year-old son (who I bought a Hot Wheels set for in a feeble attempt to repay Scott) and his two dogs who probably understand English and orders better than half the people in the US.

One day he took me out to the Coromandel Peninsula, which is the little spot just east of Auckland -- when you drive along the west coast of the peninsula, you can actually see the mainland on the other side. Unfortunately, it was rainy and overcast the whole day so the views weren't great and we couldn't take advantage of some of the more popular spots (for example, there's something called Hot Water Beach, in which you dig a hole and you can hang out in warm water that's bubbling underneath the sand).

One night, we just rented a bunch of movies, including Once Were Warriors, a movie that will forever change your perception of New Zealand as a squeaky-clean nation where nothing bad ever happens. We also watched two hands, the Aussie equivalent of Snatch, before Snatch ever came out. It's also the movie that launched Heath Ledger's career -- for better or worse. Still, it's worth checking out, especially for those of you who miss the Aussie sense of humor.

Saturday night, Scott threw himself a birthday party -- basically an excuse to invite some mates over and get absolutely pissed (which means drunk, for all you Americans). It was great fun hanging out with nothing but psycho, full on Kiwis. An interesting experience if nothing else. The one gag for the night was we had one guy convinced that I had a glass eye, and actually had him going for most of the night until we started feeling sorry for him. He wound up hooking up with two different girls, so I guess he had the last laugh. Until you saw the quality. So maybe not. If not the last laugh, he might have a few sores to keep as souvenirs from the night.

And now, I've left the overcast, cool, rainy weather of New Zealand for the bright sunshine and racial upheaval of Sydney. I was sad to leave New Zealand -- I didn't spend nearly enough time there -- but I also couldn't fight back my smile after arriving back in Sydney. Things might slow up a bit these next few days since I'll be chilling out, but come Christmas and New Year's expect some lunacy.

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