Tauranga, New Zealand 2010 – Day 17

05/11/10

At our hostel the day before, we had used Skype to call and try book surf lessons as we missed the opportunity to surf in Australia. We ended up booking surf lessons with Discovery Surfing NZ (89.95NZD for 2 hours beginner)and headed to Mount Maunganui Main Beach in Taraunga. Our awesome instructor Tully took Andrew, myself and an American from Seattle named Brendan out to catch some waves. He outfitted us with wetsuits to stay warm as it was the first week of autumn then taught us the basically instructions. We practiced on land for a bit to get in the motion of popping up off the board and what foot naturally leads. My left goes naturally forward but Andrew’s was goofy (right foot first).Did you know that when you pop up, its your comfortable leg that leads. If your right foot leads; its called a goofy foot and if left; your a natural. Basically when you pop up, you want your lead foot to be where your sternum was when lying down. When you are lying down, you use your foots position at the back end of the surfboard for reference thus your weight isn’t to forward etc. For me I have to have my feet further back. I can tell you its tiring. I worked with 3 different boards. The first one I had gave me trouble trying to balance and then he switched it for a smaller one which I think was the best one for me. He then made me switch with Brendan and his longboard which was a heavier and bigger board which meant pulling it over the waves was that much more difficult.

There are technically 2 techniques Tully showed us; the easy way and the hard way. The winning combo that worked for me best (where I actually stood and rode the waves) was a combo of the 2; Get on the knees and then pop up.  There were many times I nose dived in and some where while I was about to pop up my foot got tangled with the cable as well as 2 that I think would of been perfect rides my left leg didn’t charlie horse. Even Tully was riding hard and broke a board on a wave. Now I can say I’ve surfed and surfed in New Zealand to add to it. Hopefully next time I go surfing, it will be warmer.

I drove back in the direction of Rotorua for about an hour and we went zorbing. Zorbing is pretty much a giant inflatable ball that looks like a hamster ball that humans jump into. Andrew and myself both did Zydro (39NZD) where there is water in your zorb. I chose the straight a way and basically I went down a huge hill in this hamster ball with water inside. At first, I was turning all over the place then my back settled near the end. I should’ve done what Andrew did because the zig zag course made him do a few flips. I also made a friend with one of the zorb guys – Che. We did a bunch of jumping shots which are my favourite type of shots. Be prepared and bring a change of clothing as you pretty much can go zorbing in anything from a swim suit to full clothed. It was very chilly leaving. We got back to Rotorua and ate bentos. There is a large amount of Japanese and Korean restaurants in Rotorua (mainly Korean).

Taupo, New Zealand 2010 – Day 16

05/10/10

The agenda for the day was to head south towards Taupo for a day of hiking in Tongariro National Park (Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand) also known as the site of Mordor.

Since Andrew drove yesterday, I drove today. It took about 2 hours and a bit. It’s a weird feeling to be driving on the left side of the road but you get the hang of it. The turns still get me though. This Hyundai Gatz has absolutely no pickup when you try to gun it. There are passing lanes on the highway which are nice. I tried to floor it past a truck and almost didn’t make it.

The first stop of the day was to Huka Falls which was a recommendation from a fellow traveller and told us it was a must see. And it was. Huka Falls is where New Zealand’s largest lake drains into its largest river; the Waikato.

Driving past Lake Taupo and passing by a few small towns we made it to Whakapapa Village – the village/chateau area inside Tongariro National Park and we decided to hike one of the smaller trails inside – Taranaki Falls which lasted about an hour and a half. This park is the first park to be both a cultural and historical world heritage status. We then wanted to hike up to emerald lake but we were running short on gas so we went to find a gas station to fill up first because we didn’t want to get stranded in the dark on unfamilar roads (no street lights in this area). Its a 46km drive out of the Tongariro area to the station. Our real destination was along Mangatepopo Road, the Tongariro Alpine Trail. By the time we got back we started hiking toward the Emerald lake by teh Red Crater (its actually a 4hour hike in and a 4 hour hike out) and Soda Pop Falls but the sun was already setting fast. To get to either locations (springs or lake) we had to go up rocks and I mean rocks.  No actual bridge or path and when there was a path or bridge, it quickly would turn into cliffs and hills of rock. The ranger or person who worked there flew by us so quickly but told us we weren’t too far from Soda Pop Falls and that we would have maybe an hour left of sunlight. We finally made it to Soda Pop falls but it wasn’t as exciting as it would be made out to be. We did however see other people hiking nearby and because its a national park, there were cabins where people could come and just stay the night. We quickly turned back out the way we came since the sun started setting fast (6PM) and the paths become very unclear. Our eyes did adjust to the lighting and we could partially see nocturnally. We ran parts of the way back and would stop on occasion just to stare up in the sky. With no light pollution for miles, the sky was lit up with stars. Let me tell you though, I haven’t seen stars that since Toronto had the blackout in 2003. It was magnificent. It’s also weird to see Orion’s belt on the opposite side I usually spot it. What I also noticed and found strange is that I haven’t seen the moon since Sydney. The drive back to Rotorua took about 2 hours and night driving is very intimidating not being able to see 100M ahead so we were driving with our highbeams on and switching between passing cars.

I do have to say so far, Tongariro National Park is my favourite spot. Being outdoors and hiking through this magical place… I think I left a piece of myself here and I’m sad that we never got to finish our main hike to Emerald Lake. I guess it’s something to make note of on my TO DO list one of these days.

Rotorua, New Zealand 2010 – Day 15

05/09/10

Heading out of Auckland today and we wanted to rent a car to continue our journey to Rotorua and area. We got picked up by the car rental van. The guy was a total jerk and we definitely didn’t vibe with him. Ill refer to him as jerk. Anyways, we were told terms beforehand which couldn’t be offered for example parking. We will be driving back on the 12th as our flight is on the 13th at 7AM meaning we need to check in at 5AM. The jerk put us through a lot but luckily there was a customer who had just returned a car and was getting dropped off at the airport so we asked to be dropped off at the airport where we can rent a car for the rest of our trip and also drop off the car anytime. We rented with Europcar and prices were a little higher because we are “young drivers” under 25 and picked up a Hyundai Gatz. We drove straight to Rotorua as this was a hitch in our day with the jerk who took away 3 more hours than we would’ve liked.

GPS is our friend. I highly recommend making sure your rental has GPS included. Andrew was driving and well… I hate how he drives in toronto… Add new zealand driving on top of that…. Great… but I get to drive tomorrow! New Zealand/Auckland feels like a mixture of Pasadena/NYC filled with the hustle and bustle but its not crazy busy as NYC is. The streets especially residential are filled with slopes similar to Pasadena terrain. Getting on the highway from Auckland going towards Rotorua, the hills reminded me of LA like the the route heading up to Golden Oaks Ranch.

3 hours later we arrived into Rotorua and its got a very distinctive smell of rotten eggs due to all of the geothermal sulphurous gases. We checked into our hostel Crash Palace Backpackers (1271 Hinemaru Street) and basically strolled the town or surrounding streets. Can I tell you how dead it was… Mind you it’s Mothers day and a Sunday. The streets were empty and very much like Ottawa at 8PM.

We booked a Mitai (Mitai Maori Village – 196 Fairy Springs Rd) and Kiwi (Rainbow Springs) encounters upgrade for tonight and it was not let down. The Mitai was run by one family for generations but now is run by multiple families. They also called themselves the Maori. Aoeteroa – land of the long white cloud. We went to Mitai to enjoy a ceremonial hangi dinner where we participated in the burying lamb chicken potatoes and sweet potatoes in the earth where the heat would slow cook it making everything perfect. As we waited for the food to cook, we were led down to a river where a canoe arrived with men welding torches appearing then led us to a stage where they performed a cultural piece for us. In this performance, they showed us their traditional weapons, instruments, fighting techniques, training, music and games – well done!

They also explained the meaning behind the moko tattooing of birds. The story begins with a god and goddess in a quarrel where the god strikes his wife. The wife runs away and the man goes after her. On his adventure, he comes upon another god who has a beautiful moko tattoo on his face. He befriends him and asks him to give it to him as well. That man decides that he will only if he gives him his bird – owl, parrot, bat and kiwi in return for a custom/unique design. On the women, they have owls tattooed on their chin as they are the protectors. The males have bats on their foreheads with wings spanning over their temples. The face represents a home where the bat represents intelligence and wisdom. By doing so, the bat is historically placed in the very top of the house. The next bird they present on the face is that of a parrot being the watchers. They would place the parrot on the windowsill. the parrot’s eyes become the person’s eyes thus seeing both sides of the beak on their nose. The kiwi; the flightless bird remains on the ground, protecting the home by eating intruders. The beak and head of the kiwi is tattooed around the mouth. On the left hand side is the design of the mother clan (intelligence, calmness, femininity) and the right the father clan (rage, anger, power, masculinity). Yin and yang.

After a wonderful dinner and show, we went on a 45 minute tour at Rainbow Springs to see the kiwis at night and other animals. The Kiwi’s are nocturnal with very sensitive hearing and sight. The park had 4 on site and we would catch glimpse of them at the back of their cage.

Rotorua is the largest tourist area in New Zealand and it thrives off of that. This town is in it’s down season at the moment because its fall and snow hasn’t fallen just yet.

Tongariro National Park tomorrow!