Taupo, Rotorua, Auckland

Trip Start Oct 08, 2005
Trip End Oct 06, 2006

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Monday, May 29, 2006

I was absolutely giddy about going to Taupo cos I was going to skydive, something I have been looking forward to doing forever. I didn't bother doing it in any of the other places we've been through as Taupo is meant to be the cheapest place in the world to do it, and yet you still get awesome views of Lake Taupo. But unfortunately Taupo also seems to be the wettest place in the world, as it didn't stop raining for 3 days and there was no skydiving to be done. Unfortunately the weather also put a kebosh on my planned walk of the Tongariro Crossing, the challenging 17km walk across the volcanos in the area. So I didn't have the most exciting time in Taupo - did a lot of reading and sleeping whilst waiting for the weather to improve (which it didn't). I did eventually get off my arse and walk to Huka Falls, which was worth it, but there wasn't a lot else to do. Oh, I got a haircut too. Woo-hoo.

Then from there it was the short journey to Rotorua, home to lots of geothermal parks and therefore smelling quite badly of rotten eggs. Interesting place though, as there is a strong Maori presence there and the culture is everywhere. One evening there I went to a Maori Cultural evening - a total tourist thing, but it was actually really good. It was set up in a mock village, we were traditionally greeted by men in costume (Maori men = hot) then got to see different aspects of village life, before the family put on a show for us with dancing and singing (and the famous Haka), and then we had an awesome dinner of food cooked in a Hangi (a pit filled with rocks and wood). I have not eaten that much in ages - typical backpacker attitude of "I have paid $60 for this, therefore I am going to eat $60 worth of food"!

On my other day in Rotorua I went caving at Waitomo Caves, about 2 hours away. Now I'm not a big fan of caves usually, but in the spirit of overcoming my fears that seems to be prevailing on this trip, I thought I would do the full 5-hour underground experience that was on offer. About 9 of us got kitted up in fleece, wetsuit, booties, jacket, shorts (over the wetsuit, such a good look!) and caving helmet complete with headlight, and headed off on a guided tour of the caves. However it wasn't easy - getting into the cave involved abseiling down a 35-foot drop through a tunnel barely wide enough for me (especially after last night's dinner!); then we had to pick our way along narrow damp ledges to a zip wire that we had to shoot down; and then jump into absolutely freezing water attached to a rubber ring. Only then did we get to relax and float along the cave looking at the millions of glow worms on the walls. That was pretty special. However, the relaxation didn't last long, as we then had to walk through the freezing water (sometimes it was ankle height, sometimes there was no choice but to swim, brrrrr!) to get out of the cave, sometimes squeezing through tiny holes on our stomachs. I loved it, and didn't feel at all scared until it came to getting out of the cave, which involved climbing up a steep waterfall. I just couldn't bring myself to try it - I don't usually bottle out of stuff, but not even imagining a naked chocolate-covered Robbie Williams waiting for me at the top could make me climb it. It seems I can jump out of or off stuff but not climb. We all have our limits I guess. So the guide took me the easy way out which was much nicer! Great experience overall though, such good fun!

And now I'm in Auckland, on my last day in NZ. Since I have been here I've walked around the city a bit; been out to Devonport, one of the lovely suburbs, for a good view back over the city across the harbour; and last night I met up with Charles from my India trip. He lives here, and he took me out to a fabulous dinner, then drove me round a bit to see the city at night, and up the city's Skytower, which was great. Its a bit strange being in a bustling city again though, Auckland is loud and busy and is full of people and cars, and I'm just not used to that after 3 weeks of peace and quiet and nothing but beautiful scenery. Not sure I like it!

So, highlights of NZ: erm, everything. I can't really pick one thing or place that I liked best as its all been amazing. I guess Franz Josef, Wanaka and my bungys stick in my mind the most, but its all been fantastic, and definitely my favourite country visited so far. Can't imagine anything is going to beat it really.

For the next 2 weeks I'm off to Fiji for some R&R and lots of diving. Think its going to be a bit isolated (no net, phones, power) so if I disappear for a while, don't worry! Will be flying to Canada on 10th June (day of England's first World Cup match, good planning Smith, not...) so will be back in civilisation around then. So get in touch you lot cos I've not heard from some of you in ages!! :-)
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