I’ve been in New Zealand for five days now and I’m finally adjusting and enjoying the place. It is definitely culture shock to be here. Every Kiwi I’ve ever met says Auckland is a big, disgusting, dirty city. It is the most quiet, organized, clean and prosperous looking city I’ve seen in months. No honking motorbikes, no tuk tuk drivers accosting you to go visit the gem store, no piles of garbage burning. Even the air is clean and fresh off the ocean, not a brown cloud obscuring the sun.
I am most grateful for my father, his friend Geoff from New Zealand, and most of all, Geoff’s parents Bill and Margaret who have graciously taken me in and made me feel so at home. Bill even met me at the Albany bus station near their house and drove me home, then they promptly fed me and let me clean up and relax. They have been my home base and I will stay with them again before I leave next week. Their son Larry and his family were staying with them the first few days which was fun because his two young daughters were always running around and being excited about the beach, which is only five minutes away. It’s quite different than the beaches I’ve been on; as in it’s windy and cold and cloudy but people are still swimming. Not exactly Ko Tao but still beautiful.
I spent one day in Albany being jet-lagged and shown around by Bill and Margaret. There are tons of beaches and rolling hills and they have a great view of the city from across the bay. It was a beautiful drive and fun to see kite boarders and wind surfers playing in the waves. Then we went back to their house where three out of their four children’s families were congregated for “tea”, or dinner as we call it in the states. There were tons of kids running around and we all enjoyed salad and fish and chips (thank God, I finally got some French fries! I’ve been craving them since Thailand).
The next morning I caught a bus us to the Bay of Islands, a beautiful coastal town with lots of lovely forest and islands and walks to take. I arrived early in the afternoon to be swooped up by an Israeli man with a guesthouse, then I went walking to a waterfall and got caught in a brief rainstorm that blew over and left a vibrant rainbow over the turquoise waters of the bay. It was spectacular to eat my tea by the water and watch the rainbow.
The next day I was up early and rented a kayak to paddle around for an hour. I found a beach on the back side of an island in the bay that was protected by the strong winds and explored the rocks and sand completely by myself, then fought the wind back to shore.
In the afternoon I went jogging on a trail through the forest which was delightful and led to an overlook of the entire bay. It was sunny and warm but cool in the trees and felt great to run again. Then I caught the bus back down to Albany and spent the night with Bill and Margaret before getting up early the next morning to catch a bus down to Waitomo Caves where there are glowworms! I arrived late morning and that afternoon I was suited up in a smelly wetsuit, gum boots, a helmet and harness to go blackwater rafting. This entailed a 27m rappel down into the lush mouth of the cave and being able to see the water flowing below me. The underwater stream wasn’t too high, it was easy to walk through but deep enough in places to jump into and not touch the bottom. We walked upstream first and squeezed through rock openings and began to see the glowworms twinkling on the ceiling of the cave like thousands of blue-green stars. We turned off our lights for a few minutes to let our eyes adjust while our guide taught us that glowworms are actually maggots and they glow to attract food and mates. Then he scared the hell out of me by slapping his tube against the water as hard as he could to create a vibration that made the worms light up even more. Then we floated back down in our tubes, did a few more rock squeezes and jumps then our guide gave us hot drink and chocolate and we did an easy rock climb back out of the cave. It was beautiful and surreal and I loved it!
I stayed in the backpacker accommodation offered by the tubing company because it was the only cheap vacancy (cheap meaning 28 New Zealand dollars…ouch). But I didn’t realize how far away it was from any kind of food source. By the time we were done caving it was 7pm…luckily I had some cheese, an apple, a cucumber and five Tim Tam cookies. I was up the next morning to jog along a lovely country road through rolling hills, grazing cows and sleepy farms. It was partly cloudy and partly sunny and perfect for a jog. Then I caught another bus to my current location in National Park, which, astoundingly, is situated between two national parks. The view from the hostel is spectacular; there are three volcanoes dipping in and out of the clouds.
Tomorrow I’m hoping to do the Tongariro Crossing, a very popular day hike on and around one of the volcanoes. The landscape is supposed to be similar to Yellowstone with hot pools and geysers and things like this. Hopefully the weather will hold and I’ll be able to summit!