My Time in Taupo

Hello hello travelers! I finally find myself with enough time to sit down and write a blog for you. I’ve been on two trips in the last week and didn’t realize how tired I was until I got home yesterday morning. Now I’m deliberating on taking one more trip before I start work. Hmmm.

But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here for you to read about my recent adventures!

I spent the first half of last week down in Taupo, a little lakeside town about an hour and a half south of Matamata. Mom and I stopped in Taupo for a couple days when we were here visiting three years ago. During our stay we went out sailing on the lake to some not-so-ancient Maori carvings. It was quite a chilly day when we went so I decided I’d go back and try again.

(It was still cold, but less so, but I’ll get to that later.)

Check in at my AirBNB wasn’t until after five so I had a whole day to kill at home, which was fine with me. It gave me a chance to get packed, do some reading, eat (I’ve been doing a lot of eating lately) and a couple other housekeeping things.

I set off feeling a little anxious about the drive. I still don’t fully trust my car’s reliability but these last couple of trips I’ve made have helped in that regard. I made it, obviously, or this would be the part in the story where I went on a rant about my car troubles.

I was greeted at the house by my hosts and their two dogs, who were yapping shrilly as I stepped through the door. I dropped my things in my room then went and spent some time chatting with my hosts. They were very cool people, my age, and one of them had even been to Colorado.

I would’ve been happy to spend the night in chatting with Mikki and Ben but I felt I had to go out at least for a bit on the night of my arrival. Now here’s the part where I rant about my car troubles. Sooo, on my old subby, the headlights would turn off automatically when you turned the car off. Not so with the Corolla. It had been rainy and overcast all day so I had my lights on during the drive down for better visibility. I’m guessing you can see where this is going. I had forgotten to turn them off when I arrived, so when I went to make the short drive into town, well, I found I wasn’t driving anywhere.

Ben had gone off to the climbing wall and Mikki didn’t know where the jumper cables were. But she was nice enough, not just to take me into town, but to take me back to the house after I realized I had left my bag (with my passport in it) in my car. I’ll get to the rest of Mikki and Ben’s generosity later.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that going out to drink, alone, in a small town on a Monday night when the weather is miserable is a bit on the depressing side. I walked up and down the empty streets of town for several long minutes, peering in windows, scoping out what looked like my kind of bar. Nearly everything was empty but for the staff and I couldn’t bring myself to step inside anywhere.

I finally settled on the Pub ‘n’ Grub (classy, I know). There were a few people inside already so I didn’t feel as uncomfortable walking in alone. I ordered my beer and some chips and took a seat at one of the windows. Nights like these are why I always carry a book, or at least a notebook, with me nearly everywhere. I drank my beer and ate my chips as I read about invasive species. Party animal right here.

Mikki was nice enough to bring me down and Ben was nice enough to pick me up. Half way through my second beer, I sent off a text to let them know I’d be ready to leave soon. When we got back, Ben pulled out a battery charger and put some juice back into my car, for which I was very very grateful. Once I was sure the car would start, the three of us finished off the night with a bit of telly then were off to bed.

The next day wasn’t really all that exciting until the afternoon. I started the day by visiting the Fine Fettle Cafe. Happy Cow had turned me onto it, claiming they had a separate vegan menu, which they did, which I also think I mentioned in my last post. Anyway, happy times. I ordered the Vegan Breakfast and savored my big and tasty meal.

After that, rather out of character, I went shopping. Not like, frivolous shopping for shoes and accessories. I just happened to walk by a few shops that reminded me of things that I needed. Running errands; do I know how to vacation or what?

When I’d walked up and down all of the main streets in city centre, me and all my shopping left town behind for the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve. It was a bit of an adventure getting there. Google, in all its infinite wisdom and power, does not always do the best job of getting you where you need to go. When I punched in the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve, it took me there but it didn’t take me to the entrance. I was driving beside it on the highway when my GPS cheerfully informed me that I had arrived at my destination. So I had to improvise a bit and fortunately managed to navigate the streets to the actual entrance.

Even when I got there I was a bit perplexed. I was expecting something like I’d seen at Hamilton Gardens or Eden Garden in Auckland. Some sort of main car park by a visitor center and the start of a trail that snaked through the reserve. Instead what I found was a single winding road leading up into the bush. For a second I thought this was going to be it, that I would just drive through the reserve and view the flowers from my car window.

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After another minute of driving I came across a small pull out where two other cars were parked. Thank goodness! I pulled in behind a silver sedan and switched off the engine. ‘Alright,’ I thought, ‘I guess this is how we’re doing this.’

The single lane road was dotted with pull outs at random intervals and at each of these spots the beginnings of one or two trails could be found, the rest of their length devoured by the thick plant life. I spent the next hour or so carrying out this routine: drive, stop, wander, repeat.

There was hardly anyone else in the reserve that day. I could take all the time I wanted meandering down the gravel paths, uninterrupted, admiring the array of colored flowers lining the walkway, and, quite literally, stopping to smell the roses.

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(This thing looked like some weird body snatcher plant. Best to keep an eye on it.)

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Hearty as my vegan breakfast was, all the tramping was starting to wear me out. I went back round the flat to make myself lunch, giving myself plenty of time to eat and watch some bad daytime telly before driving down to the harbor to catch my boat.

There was a decent sized group of people already gathered around berth 31. I took a seat on a parking block and waited for the captain to return. Like I mentioned earlier, I had been on this boat before. It looked just as it did all that time ago: orange sails, green deck. Even the captain was the same (which I guess isn’t all that surprising).

When David (the captain) appeared walking back down the path, everyone began to stir and gather up their belongings, ready to climb aboard. I was feeling a little out of place since everyone else climbing onto the boat seemed to know each other or at least had someone they were traveling with.

I took a seat near the front of the yacht, roughly the same spot mom and I had occupied years before. I was sitting next to a German couple that was on holiday in Australia and New Zealand. We chatted a bit as we made our way out of the harbor and into the main body of the lake.

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There had been a fairly robust wind blowing across the lake all day. David told us that the trip that morning was one of the roughest he’d had in a while, that he had to go so far as busting out the life jackets. Luckily for my trip the wind had subsided considerably and the waves weren’t much higher than a meter (about three feet for my Imperial friends). At least, at first they were.

I hadn’t booked the trip to go and see the carvings. I’d already seen them and had pictures to prove it. I went because I wanted to be out on the water. Sure the wind was brisk and I hadn’t worn quite enough layers, but there haven’t been many times in my life where I get to be out on open water. Being on a boat kind of reminds me of being on a horse. Your body has to move with the rising and falling of the yacht beneath you. And, at least on a sailing vessel, there are times where you have to makes sure you don’t get pitched over the side. The whole experience is a bit mesmerizing. You lose yourself in the motion.

The water grew rougher and rougher the further out we went. More and more water came raining down on the deck as the bow crashed through swell after swell. I went from sitting in the front most seat to scooting back to somewhere around midship. Many of the other passengers retreated to the back of the boat for fear of getting wet. I’m a glutton for punishment though.

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When we finally reached the carvings, the water was just as choppy here as it had been for the last 20 minutes. We made a few passes so that people could take pictures. David did his best to shout out some facts about the carvings over the wind and the splashing of waves against the rocks.

After a few short minutes we were on our way back to the harbor. We had to endure more of the white caps bouncing the boat along but the closer we got to shore the calmer the water got. People came back out to the front of the boat, David let a few people steer the yacht and others took up a pirate hat and knife and climbed the rigging for a photo-op.

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David and I got to chatting a bit and I told him how I’d been out on this trip before with my mum. He remembered us and the thank you email I had sent him several months after we’d returned home, telling him what an enjoyable experience the trip was. It was good I mentioned this because it got me out of having to pay for the ride.

I didn’t get off totally free, though. David mentioned he was going out the pub afterwards and said I (or anyone else) was welcome to join. I had no other plans and drinking with a friendly stranger sounded better than drinking alone. So I bought him a beer as payment.

I spent the rest of the night chatting with David and all his friends that came through the bar that night. I even ran into a guy I met on my Hobbiton tour last week. It was a night well spent, especially when the alternative was drinking alone or spending the night in.

The next day my only plans were to go on a brewery tour at the Crafty Trout. It was unlike any brewery tour I’d ever been on before, mostly because there was no walking involved, only sitting and listening. The tour consisted of me and an older couple visiting from Tauranga.

I stopped upstairs to pay and pick up my tasting rack (they don’t call them flights here, which makes me sad because I like saying flight more than tasting rack) then went back downstairs for the tour. The gift shop made up the front half of the shop and beyond that was a long wooden table set to the right side of the room. Directly across from it was a row of silver brew tanks. The table was laid out with a few laminated diagrams, a semi-circle of jars filled with hops, a jar of barley and a mortar and pestle.

The three of us took our seats and the brewmaster came over a moment later. He was a funny chap, and had no problem taking the piss out of any of us, me for being American and still using the Imperial system, and the wife, who was originally from the UK, for English beer being so terrible. We were all having a great time.

The ‘tour’ started many years ago, back when beer wasn’t quiet beer, it was just a sequence of happy accidents that eventually became beer. I can’t recall all the steps in detail but there was some barely and it got wet and sprouted a bit, then someone decided to put it over a fire and the shell split and there were some sugars and fermenting and, you know what, the end result was beer. Let’s just focus on that.

I may not remember everything but I remember it was all very fascinating. I learned where the term India Pale Ale came from (some travelers fermented beer in the bottom of ships and by the time they got to India they had a very light colored beer, hence India Pale Ale), and that to make beer sweeter you make it warmer and flatter (maybe the English are onto something). Beer! The tastiest of all the sciences.

We also got to see there super new and fancy brewing technology. It essentially allowed everything to be managed remotely if needed. So that was pretty cool. We also got to sample a taste of their porter that was brewed with an infected yeast or something. Effectively it turned the porter into a sour beer instead.

When all the beer had been drunk, I went in search of a raw, vegan shop I’d found on Happy Cow (another point for Happy Cow!). I needed some food after my tasting rack, so I picked up a smoothie, this coconut energy bar thing and a piece of cheesecake and took them all down the road to an open space overlooking the lake.

It’s been almost a month now but I’m still adjusting to having so much time to do things like sit on a hill and eat lunch while watching ships glide across the royal blue surface of a massive lake. I’ll be starting work soon, so I won’t have as much time to do things like that. But I do imagine the free time I have will feel much different to how it did at home. My responsibilities are so few here. I don’t have anyone that relies on me and not that many people are vying for my time and attention. It can be a little lonely sometimes, and cause me to go a little stir crazy sometimes, but it is also very refreshing. Maybe I’ll even get some writing done that isn’t blogs, eh?

When the wind on the hill became too much I gathered up my rubbish and drove back to the flat and spent the last few hours of the day chatting with my hosts. The next morning saw me off home to rest before I set out on my next adventure.

~Ren

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