after leaving the surf town of Raglan, the stray bus headed to Waitomo for some serious caving. as some of you might remember, I’m not a big fan of caves. to me they all look the same in the end… and the trips you can do there are quite pricey. so while everyone went off to do black water rafting (which i had done in Laos, although I’m sure the one there was much, much better) i joined the “granny” tour, aka the least expensive cave tour. Waitomo though has one thing going for it: glow worms. these little creatures shit glow in the dark poo that illuminates the roof of the caves and i have to say that i was blown away by them. slowly cruising on a raft in a cave in pitch darkness with a glow-in-the-dark green ceiling was magical. obviously the pictures turned out like crap but the magic is all in my head. i have to say though that the guide we had was wonderful and she made caving a whole lot more interesting. the caves were also really well presented and the one that was illuminated was quite pretty. way to make caving fun for once!
we then made our way to Rotorua, the capital of smelly. see, Rotorua is on the of the few places on earth where the earth crust is thin, and by thin, i mean very thin. the whole city sits on geothermal grounds and stream comes out from everywhere… along with the wonderful smell of sulfur. the whole place is on a big volcano, just waiting to blow. and sometimes, if the pressure builds up too much, steams blows up a road, a house… anything! it’s really cool though, because in some spots you can touch the earth and feel the heat, stamp the ground and make it shake. OK, that last one is kinda scary! but still.
that night most of us went to a Maori cultural night at Slim’s, an ex driver for kiwi experience. that was costly but worth it. the girls (aka, we) got to learn how to use poise, these balls on a string thing and it’s a lot harder than it looks. the guys learned some Maori war dance thing and then we all had a go at this stick game they have. all of these things are war-related, mostly made to make you more fit with suppler wrists or better vision. not easy though! we then ate some good food and watched/participated in a play about their culture and traditions. a lot of fun! later on we all went to the hostel bar for too many drinks… and some serious bonding!
the next day i visited a thermal village and it was my first time ever on a real aboriginal village anywhere and i have to say that i quite loved it, was taken by the culture and the traditions and the passion. made me remember why i studied anthropology! made me want to stay there and just learn and learn. our bus then went to Taupo, the city located beside the world’s largest crater lake (this country is all about volcanoes and their eruptions!). i tagged along to watch fellow travelers skydive and it was really cool to watch. kinda made me want to have a go at it! but money and extreme fear of heights got in the way of things… oh well! and then, more bonding over cheap beers and table dancing… hehe!
with 4 hours of sleep and a hangover, i was still super, über excited for where we were going next: the Tongariro crossing. the national park (that’s what it’s called, as it was the first national park in NZ) is UNESCO protected and one of the few sites in the world to hold both a cultural and environmental status with UNESCO. the entire hike takes 4 days but we hiked a section that takes between 7-9 hours as stated on the sign. some in our group did it in 5h, i did it in 6h36.11!!! but i did take two 30 minutes breaks and took far too many pictures and movies of the place. i have to say that the Tongariro crossing was the best hike of my life, with incredible views and changes in scenery. mt Fuji is an active volcano but nothing like this one. this one was fuming, smelly, like a volcano should be! along with beautiful lakes, deserts, etc. for the lord of the rings fans: you walk right beside mt doom. anyhow, I’m super happy i’ve done this hike and can’t wait to do it again one day. i think i might have also appreciated it a lot more considering how fit i’ve gotten backpacking… i was breezing through the rough sections, running uphill, downhill, just smiling the whole way through!
so some did it in 5h but 2 of our group did it in… 11.5h. they decided to hike mt doom but didn’t tell anyone, which led our bus driver to wait for them at the end of the trail for hours and for everyone to worry. the cops were called, but thankfully search and rescue didn’t have to be sent after them!
the next day, yesterday, was the last day. the express back to Auckland. i didn’t want to go! didn’t want off the bus, didn’t want to leave the group, didn’t want it to end. it was all very sad really… they had to kick me off the bus! haha. I’m just kidding. but i had to cheer myself up with some ice cream. and a tacky picture of myself in Hobbit-town. yep. that’s right! sight.