The Hostel Life

Sooo, I’ve been living at a hostel for the last two months, dear travelers. For those of you who are familiar with hostels, I’m sure you can imagine how interesting the last couple of months have been for me. Add on top that I’ve been responsible for the housekeeping as well and you have the perfect recipe for a blog!

Here are a few things I have seen, heard, and had to deal with during my time living at a hostel.

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During the first month of my stay there were a few guys living there that I would sort of hang out with. One day we were having a conversation and somehow the joke was made that I was staying in room 69. Then a couple days later I saw this. They got me good.

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From time to time there are less than hygienic people that come to stay. And lucky for me, I get to clean up after them. This particular lodger somehow managed to spread laundry detergent everywhere (on practically every night of his stay) and caused me to spill L&P on the floor because he hadn’t put the cap on all the way. Also, yes, they are usually men…boys.

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This has been a theme throughout my stay. Apparently it is very hard to pull off a length of toilet paper without also dropping half of it on the floor. And the even more difficult part? Picking it up.

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This I just don’t understand. Like, really? Who—who does this?

At the end of August there was a girls football (that’s soccer to you Americans) team staying with us for a week. A couple things about that. 1) I really hate teenage girls, especially when they are in packs, which, let’s be honest, when are they not? 2) It was super satisfying to tell them off one night when they were being ridiculously loud. And 3) apparently teenage girls like to hoard trash. That one I didn’t see coming.

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I’m pretty okay with doing laundry every day. Especially on a day like this, when I can pretend I’m building the shittiest blanket fort ever.

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This picture will just have to stand in for all the other gross disgusting things I’ve had to deal with in the kitchen because people don’t know how to clean up after themselves. The reason this particular spill was photo-worthy is because to most people it is probably lentils, to me, it is cat puke.

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A tasty Vietnamese Pancake my roommate made for me. 

Living in a hostel can be good or bad, depending on who you are, what hostel you’re staying at, and who is staying there with you. It’s kind of like living in a really big house, only you have actual roommates, you’re probably sleeping in a bunk bed, and everyone speaks a different language.

But those are also the cool things about living in a hostel. I’ve met lots of lovely people from many different places: Vietnam, China, France, Slovenia, England, Germany and Belgium. There have been good days and bad days, but despite all the shit, my time at Aurora will always have a special place in my heart.

~Ren

Ren and Stimpy Adventures!

Author’s Note: Some of the pictures featured in this blog were taken by my friend, Carly Mann, who is a fantastic artist. Check out her blog here and her website here.

Well travelers, here we are! Finally (mostly) caught up to the present situation. After I left my WWOOFing host, I came back to Nelson, as you know from a previous blog. I had set up a couple meetings about working as a housekeeper in exchange for free accommodation at the hostel. One was at the YHA in Nelson, the place I stayed my first three night back in town. I decided about five minutes after being there that I wasn’t going to take the position if they offered it. The place was way too busy, and I didn’t want to have to deal with living with that many people for the next two and a half months.

The other place I’d checked out was smaller and quieter. The building was old and the facilities not as nice as other places I’d stayed. But the owner was nice and friendly, and I’m seasoned enough when it comes to hostels that I could adjust to a lower standard of living than what I’m used to. So I took the job. That’s where I’ve been for the last, gosh, almost two months. I wake up every morning, clean the hostel, and them I free to do what I like the rest of the day. Money is super tight, but I’m alright with that.

But just because I have little money and no real friends here doesn’t mean I haven’t had some fun. My mate Carly, who I’ve mentioned before, has been in and out of the Nelson area over the last several weeks. We’ve gone on a few fun adventures whenever our paths crossed. So prepare for another installment of Ren and Stimpy adventures!

The first adventure we had took place when I was still staying at the YHA. Carly was on, oh what am I saying, has been, still is, enjoying a cave obsession. There was one outside of Nelson she was interested in checking out so she invited me along. I had nothing better to do besides sit around at the hostel so I went.

We had planned to meet at the trailhead, but that turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. I bounced along the narrow gravel road up the Maitai Valley until I came to a small dirt lot and a locked gate. There was no obvious entry to the trail, but the sign I had passed had ‘Maitai Cave’ written on it. I guessed the start of the trail was just a short walk up the road. I had arrived early, but after waiting for about a half an hour, I decided to drive back to where I had cell reception to try and get in touch with Carly.

Here’s where the fun begins! I was maybe halfway back to town when I saw a silver car appear behind me. I couldn’t entirely remember what Carly’s car looked like but I was pretty sure it was silver. I kept squinting at my rearview mirror, trying to make out the person in the driver seat. Then one time I looked up, I saw Carly hanging out the window and waving her arm at me. I pulled over at the next turn out and we both had a good laugh about our high-speed chase down the valley.

Now that we were together, we drove back up the valley road and parked in a lot near a white foot bridge over the river. Carly thought this was the footbridge mentioned in the DOC directions. When we got to the other side and found a small residential area, we both agreed this was not it, so I told her about the spot I had gotten to. We left my car where it was and Carly drove us back up the valley.

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Pretty picture. Wrong footbridge.

As I’d thought, a short walk past the gate that barred our way brought us to the right footbridge across the river. We walked past a small pool fed by a damn that looked like it would be the funnest and most dangerous waterslide in the world, up a hill, and began to lose ourselves in the bush. Something I’ve learned about the Department of Conservation’s rating system for walks is that they seem to be decided by people who have vastly different standards than me. Things they think are easy don’t ever seem as easy as the descriptions make them out to be.

The first half of the hike was nice and relaxed. The path was well marked, there wasn’t much elevation gain. The description had warned us that at some point we would have to cross the river, but assured us we wouldn’t even have to get our feet wet. Well, either we went the wrong way or the river has changed a lot since that description was written. Carly and I had to wade through the icy river in bare feet to get to the other side. I mean, it added to the adventurous nature of our hike, but seriously, who wrote up that description?!

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The second half of the tramp was much rougher. We relied on the tiny orange arrows nailed to the trees to make sure we kept to the right path. Then the ground began to climb. I had forgone my coat and jacket long ago, securing them around my waist, trying to minimize my sweating. At last, though, we heaved ourselves up over a particularly steep cropping of boulders and found ourselves at the entrance to the cave. My first cave experience was about to begin!

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Almost there!

I had mild anxiety about going in because I’m a wee bit claustrophobic, but Carly assured me once you made it through the rocks the cave opened up wide. She slipped in ahead of me and I awkwardly followed, shuffling all my long limbs in through the opening as best I could. The first thing you notice in a cave is that it’s very dark. Not surprising. But it didn’t take long for Carly to declare this was by far the muddiest cave she had been in. And it was indeed muddy.

We found our way down from the entrance with the help of a rope secured in the rocks. I stopped trying to keep the mud off me after about a minute. There was nothing for it, I was going to get dirty. Carly had offered to bring along a second headlamp for me but forgot, so the two of us were sharing one light between us. Which was interesting to say the least. For a while the light from the entrance and the glow permeating from the headlamp ahead of me was enough to help me make out where to step. When we got to the far side is where the going slowed down a bit.

On the other side of the cave, Carly and I looked down into a gapping hole in the earth. It was filled with pure darkness and terror. There was rope in the rocks here, too, leading down into the depths, but there was no way I was going down there. And Carly, bless her, wasn’t going to either. It was certainly something looking down into that abyss though. I could’ve slipped down that muddy slope and disappeared forever.

With cold fingers and mud-splattered jeans, Carly and I emerged from the cave. It was touch and go for a bit after we’d made it down the hill. The trail was difficult to find and we had to retrace our steps once or twice in order to find the trusty orange trail markers. Soon we were back in the car and on our way out of the valley. We both cleaned ourselves up as best we could, Carly having a bit of tough time since she didn’t have a change of clothes. The day wasn’t over just yet for us. We got a quick bite to eat before heading to the cathedral for a choir performance.

A couple of the girls Carly worked with at the chicken farm were performing that night. She wanted to show her support and had invited me along to this as well. She kept telling me how she wasn’t sure what to expect, and afterwards she kept assuring me that it wasn’t her idea of a “night out.” It wasn’t really mine either, but I was in choir for many years growing up and I quite enjoy a good choral show. It was a relaxing way to end the evening.

Alright, fast forward a couple weeks to our next Ren and Stimpy adventure. The city of Nelson hosts an annual event called Light Nelson, or the Nelson Light Festival if you’d like. It takes place mid-winter, and, as you might have guessed, gives over 40 artists the chance to let their imaginations light up a little piece of the city with brilliant glowing creations.

While we waited for it to get nice and dark, Carly and I entertained ourselves with a different kind of art. The art of making cocktails. Okay, so they were only gin and tonics, with lemon instead of lime and no ice. Hey, you make due with what you’ve got. We had a good time chatting and drinking, and when it was finally late enough, we ventured out into the streets.

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It was a bit chilly that night, but the gin in my veins and uncontainable energy it gave me kept me warm (you know, that and my jacket). I’ve been to many street festivals but never one at night. Black shapes moved across black pavement as we came closer and closer to Queens Garden. Carly and I wandered toward the large group of people gathered on the sidewalk. We arrived at the entrance to the park just in time for me to realize the mass had been a line and we just cut the whole thing. Two festival workers started waving the crowd inside.

The inside of the park had been transformed into a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets college rave situation. Any direction I looked held some brightly colored shape, some easy to make out, others just a piece of a much large structure hidden among the trees. Carly and I joined the stream of faceless people around us, shuffling along slowly, taking in the works of art while trying to stay out of the river beside us.

When we’d finished a circuit of the park, we turned up the street and found ourselves outside of The Free House. It’s a place I stumbled upon back in May. I was mostly taken in by the yurt just on the other side of the fence. But Carly had been before so we went inside to have a beer. We sat for a bit inside the church turned bar before stepping back outside to check out the yurt.

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It was definitely a yurt, but it smelled like cabbage inside and, in addition to me and Carly, was occupied by a group of young hipsters. I couldn’t help but be unnecessarily critical of them, but it seemed to amuse Carly. We finished up our beers and then went back for one last glimpse of the light show. But not before I bought some roasted almonds. My festival food weakness.

Heading back the way we’d come, we found the entrance to the NMIT campus. It didn’t have the same feeling as inside the park, but there were still interesting things to see, and for some reason I found myself thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas despite having never read or seen it. After a bit of time here, the energy was starting to decline, and we headed back to the hostel.

Another fast forward moment, travelers. After a bit of time apart, Carly and I met up again to seek out New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft (not my words). By that I mean we would be hiking to the entrance of Harwoods Hole. Carly was WWOOFing at a place outside Motueka at the time, and Harwoods Hole was a short drive away near Takaka Hill. It appealed to Carly’s love of caves and my need to see as many LOTR set locations as possible. The walk to Harwoods Hole meanders through a forest of birch trees that served as Chetwood Forest in the films.

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This doesn’t have anything to do with the story, I just wanted to show off some of the awesome paintings Carly did for her host.

I set out from Nelson on a Friday evening and drove up the coast to Carly’s current WWOOFing home. We’d be making the trip to Harwoods Hole the following morning. Tonight we would be enjoying some drinks (more gin) and playing bad board games stashed in the cottage Carly was staying in. We enjoyed a meal of tasty pumpkin soup, bread, and some kumura chips. And, of course, the gin. We decided to play a board game based on the book/film The Da Vinci Code, which actually turned out to be rather fun.

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The night took an unexpected turn for the awesome when Carly dug out a melodica from a bin of toys in the living room. Whaa?! We sanitized the mouthpiece for our protection then took turns figuring out little tunes (most of them ocarina songs from Zelda) and playing along with the music playing in the background. When the gin was gone, and our compendium of Zelda tunes exhausted, we turned in.

The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of porridge before gathering our supplies, one of which was the melodica, and setting out for the deepest vertical shaft. We drove past blocks and blocks of vineyards, sliced through tiny towns and climbed up steep hills on winding roads. At last we turned off paved road and began bumping along a narrow dirt strip taking us further and further from civilization.

There were one or two moments where we wondered if we were actually on the right road, but eventually we did come to the start of the trail. A few other people started the walk shortly after we did. We let them pass us by while we were busy taking some photos of a nice pond, and after that the walk through the forest was quiet and tranquil. Occasionally I broke the silence with a melodica rendition of “Zelda’s Lullaby” or “Saria’s Song.”

We knew we had arrived when the land before us stopped being flat and instead became bouldery and was flanked by sheer cliffs on every side. I stored the melodica back in Carly’s pack and we began to climb over the rocks to the cave’s entrance. Obviously, we would not be going into this cave. It took a bit of exploring to find the best vantage point. I was a little surprised by how calm I felt crawling around at the edge of this massive drop. My heart does start pounding a bit when I think about looking over the edge though.

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Can you spot the Renee?

Carly and I took some photos before taking a short snack break. The kumura chips we’d brought along were cold and a bit soggy but still tasted nice, and the mandarins had the perfect amount of tartness to them. As we made our way back, we took a small side trip to a viewing area. It was an interesting excursion. The rocks we had to climb over were rather sharp and created a labyrinth of fissures. Cool to look at but not as fun to traverse. The view was worth it though, even if we did lose the path for a moment.

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Back at the car we both enjoyed a victory ginger beer before starting the drive back to Motueka. I left Carly to finish packing up her things. She’d be staying with me again at the backpackers for a night before setting off on her South Island adventure. We discovered that either I drive slow or Carly drives fast because we still managed to arrive at roughly the same time. It gave me the chance to knock on her car window and freak her out.

I’ve been craving good Mexican food for months now (it’s not the biggest thing in NZ) so after we’d dropped Carly’s things in the room, we walked the couple of blocks to a small Mexican place called Nicola’s Cantina. Admittedly, we were a bit underdressed for the place, and the food still didn’t satisfy my craving, but it was a nice meal and a good send off for, what we thought, was our last adventure together.

But the journey continues! A couple weeks ago now, Carly messaged me saying she’d be passing through Nelson on her way back to the North Island. So we had one last hurrah together before she boarded the ferry the next morning. We took this chance to check out a pub her WWOOFing host in Motueka had told us about. It’s an old english style pub called The Honest Lawyer.

I drove, which despite having a car has been a rarity for me lately. Carly had just driven up from somewhere around Christchurch I think, so me driving was good for both of us. The place was only a fifteen minute drive down the coast (boy, that’s a bit weird to write). It’s surrounded by a large gravel parking lot and is situated right by the water. I snapped a picture of the nicely penned and very loopy sign out front.

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I can’t say that I’ve been in too many proper old English pubs (the one time I was actually in England I wasn’t old enough to drink) but I have been in lots of pubs that have attempted to recreate the old English feel, and this one did a pretty good job (I guess). The inside was all wood and brick. The bar was long and turned a corner at this massive tree trunk set right in the middle of the room. Cool, cool cool cool.

Carly and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a beer respectively and had some good conversation to boot. When we’d finished, I drove us back into the city centre. Not to make you think ill of Carly’s character, but she’s never shown up at my door without some booze, which personally I think is a lovely trait for a friend to have. She’d brought the last dribbles of some rum with her, and we bought another bottle when we popped down to Liquorland to get some mixer. We had a few drinks while she marked images from a story I’d written that she’d later turn into drawings.

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Can’t tell if she’s thinking or doesn’t want me to take the picture.

A few rum and cokes in, we left the hostel to find another bar to grab a drink at, and I guess to, you know, mingle with the people or whatever. We ended up at a bar I think is called Rattle and Hum. It was one of a couple bars I’d been into in NZ that seemed to be emulating your average American bar. The divey ones, anyway. There were license plates from the States on the wall, signs for automotive companies big in the States, and I think some Harley Davidson junk too. They even had a mediocre cover band start playing shortly after we arrived.

We tolerated the music for a while. They did play a few songs and didn’t butcher them too badly. We kept ourselves amused by playing Marry, Fuck, Kill using our old Hobbiton cohorts and the Top 10 Turnoffs game, which was new to me. Our glasses grew steadily emptier and the music became less and less tolerable. At last we tossed back the rest of our drinks and called it a night.

That was the last time I saw Carly, or any one of my newly made Hobbiton friends. Soon, though, I’ll have the chance to see Luke and Hannah once more, as well as all those crazy kids back in Matamata. I’m hoping there may yet be one last chance to see Carly and, mostly likely, enjoy another gin and tonic together. For now, I’m spending my last few weeks in Nelson enjoying time to myself. I’m getting a bit restless for another adventure to be sure, but I feel sure once I get home and start digging into all the various things I have planned, I’ll think back to these lazy days and wish I had more of them.

~Ren

Redwood Valley: My first WWOOFing experience

My short stay in Redwood Valley is also my only WWOOFing experience to date. If you don’t know what WWOOFing is, click here to check out the site, as I’m too lazy to explain it. I know several people who have had fantastic WWOOFing experiences, so do not think the blog is meant to try and deter you from doing it yourself one day. My first time didn’t go so well, and it’s made me a bit gun-shy about the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy it!

I’ll start at the beginning. I was pulling out of Mount Cook Village by 7am. It was still dark outside, and I watched the valley get lighter and lighter as I drove. A few cars passed me going the other way, but besides that the road was empty. I took in the view of Lake Pukaki’s stunning blue water once more before I took a turn and started driving along a new road.

The day before I’d plotted out locations to stop for gas. (Mount Cook brings back memories that make me extra cautious about gas, primarily how much of it is in my car and where I can get more.) I was soon making my first stop in Tekapo. This was the first placed I’d seen some snow that wasn’t on the top of a mountain. It was also the last place, which has continued to mess with my brain for the last month. How can it be winter when there is no snow?!

The road stretched on ahead of me. My only company was my music. Sometimes long drives are nice, but they usually come to a point where they are just tedious and boring. Things got better once I got into Lewis Pass. There is a lovely braided river that runs through the valley below, so there were lots of nice views to see along the way. I considered stopping to take a picture or two, but I was on the wrong side of the road for turn offs.

The majority of my 9 hour drive went just fine. There was one doofus GPS move when I made my second stop for gas. Don’t ask me why I followed it, but Google Maps took me off the highway, had me drive through some back roads only to bring me back to the same highway, where I then had to turn back the way I’d come to reach the gas station. *insert frustrated eye roll here*

But it was the end of the trip, when I was almost there, where things really started to go south. Here’s what happened. I was about fifteen minutes away, according to Google. This is when GPS told me to turn off the highway to a smaller country road. I drove along this for a while, and eventually, after several turns, started to get that feeling like I was gonna be turning around soon. Sure enough, I found myself on a dirt road barred by a gate. The sign on the gate read “Authorized Entry Only.” Fantastic. So I tried to turn around.

Did I mention it had started to rain? No? Well it had. And the road I was on was already quite soggy. So when I tried to turn around, I pulled my car too far into the wet and muddy ditch at the side of the road and got stuck! Son of a biscuit! I spent a few short minutes trying to work myself, gave up, cursed a bit, then got out the car and hoped there was someone at home in one of the houses near by.

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There were F-bombs.

I got lucky on my first try. An older chap, who I think was Scottish, answered his door and was kind enough to help pull my car out of the mud. He told me I was the second person he’d had to tow. I guess this made me feel a bit better, but not much. He got a rope secured to our cars and with a bit of tire spinning I was back on solid road. I should’ve gotten out of the car to thank him profusely one more time, but instead I gave him a wave and smile and shouted “Thank  you!” through my window and left Pigeon Valley behind.

By the time I got to the highway again, it was getting dark. I had hoped to arrive with a bit of daylight, but getting stuck in the ditch had destroyed any chance of that. And the fun wasn’t over! I put in my destination on Google Maps again, thinking this time it would take me the right way. But no. This time it took me up a hill and tried to have me get to the house via the forestry road. Which was closed, obviously. By this point I was fed up, so I pulled over and called my hosts.

They gave me the last set of directions I’d needed, and I made my way back down the hill. It was still raining, and was now fully dark, but somehow I managed to navigate the many corner turns in the road and spotted the entrance to my host’s driveway. This is where it got really bad. I didn’t realize it, not knowing the area and never having been to this house before, but the place is basically in the middle of nowhere at the top of a hill. And if you remember, my car hates hills.

I’m not joking when I say this driveway traumatized me, just a bit. It was a dirt drive, uphill pretty much the whole way, and it was wet. And dark. Gah, I’m getting anxious just writing about it! Now, by this time I was just ready to get there, so even though I was terrified I was going to drive off a cliff or that my car wasn’t going to be able to pull itself up the slippery drive,  I knew I just had to keep my foot on the gas and keep going. I could only see a few feet ahead of me. The corners loomed out of the shadows, and the headlights occasionally illuminated hanging tree branches, my only indication where the edge of the road was.

Finally I heard a dog barking and saw the lights of a house. I had made it! There wasn’t much room in front of the house for parking, at least not parking that wouldn’t take a bit of maneuvering. I just pulled up as far as I could and got out of the car. Shaking just a bit, I walked up the wide flight of steps to the door. Rollie, the woman I had been emailing with the last few days, greeted me. She was very nice, and comforting after I told her about my ordeal getting there. She showed me the area I’d be staying in (it was basically a whole apartment to myself) then we went upstairs so I could meet her husband and have a cup of tea.

I didn’t leave that house the entire week I was there. I was that scared of the driveway. Even thinking about driving up or down it made my heart start to pound and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was one of the reasons I left the place. The second was Rollie’s husband, Liam. He’s a nice guy, but is very new age-y and into astrology and numerology and all that junk. He is also a conspiracy believer or whatever the hell you want to call them, and good god, if I never hear the word Illuminate again I will be a happy woman (unknown to me then, it wouldn’t be the last I heard of it).

I could only nod politely and say ‘mhm’ and ‘yep’ so many times in response to Liam’s crazy rambling about things. Rollie had a day job so I didn’t see much of her. The first five hours of my day were spent with Liam. He wasn’t around much when I was working on a project, but he made lunch for us everyday, so I got an earful then. I think I would’ve liked Rollie though. I got the sense she didn’t buy into that stuff as much as Liam did. I did at least get to spend a morning picking mandarins with her before I left.

Most of my week was spent shut up in my room reading and watching TV and talking with friends and also trying to figure out what I was going to do at the end of the week. I was running out of money, didn’t want to find another job, but I needed a place to stay. I had a few options, most that didn’t work out. But eventually something came up and I no longer had to worry about living out of my car. I’ll get to that later.

The work I did was pretty easy. I mean, it was work, but it wasn’t challenging. The first day I painted coats of oil onto a staircase, a few sections of baseboards and some door frames, giving them a nice honey glow. I spent a few days in the greenhouse, weeding like crazy. And I got to spend a couple days sorting through Liam’s collection of books, rolling my eyes at several of them. My last day was when the three of us went out to their property closer to Richmond and picked mandarins.

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That was probably my favorite thing. It was tough on my back and arms, but it was nice being out in the sun, in the orchard, listening to the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves as Rollie and Liam picked fruit near by. I had a brief moment where I thought to reconsider my plan to leave. Driving with Liam and Rollie down the driveway in the day made it seem less scary. But when we drove back up the drive later that afternoon, my resolve came back. Lucky Mark 2 would hate me if I made her do that drive every time I went somewhere.

I was as honest as I could be with Liam and Rollie about why I wanted to leave. They accepted it, though I heard them through the floor afterwards and I’m sure they didn’t totally believe me. But it didn’t matter. I had to go. Liam and Rollie were up and off early Saturday to sell the mandarins we’d picked at the market in Nelson. I packed up my things, loaded up my car, stole a bit of food, and steeled myself for the journey down the driveway. I was headed back into Nelson. I’d booked a few nights in a hostel and had made an appointment about housekeeping for accommodation.

This wasn’t where I thought I’d end up when my time at Hobbiton had finished. It was a bit scary, but I felt prepared to start my next adventure, wherever that might be.

~Ren

The Last Days

The next morning started our last full day in New Zealand. I hadn’t planned anything definite for the day, just scribbled down a few ideas in my notebook, none of which came to pass. The only thing we had decided to do was drive to McLaren Falls that night to see if we could find any glow worms. We spent the daylight hours wandering around the streets of Matamata.

First it was breakfast at Robert Harris. I sat and enjoyed some people watching while I ate my bagel and sipped my chai. It isn’t often I have days like that one. Usually there was something planned, somewhere to be. But today we moved at whatever pace we felt like. When we finished breakfast, Dad and I crossed the street to the iSite. We had walked around it last night after dinner, but Dad wanted to check out the inside, too.

I enjoyed seeing the inside as well. Last time I was in this building was over three years ago. It hadn’t changed much, still lots of souvenirs and travel brochures and Hobbiton stuff. I picked up a few more postcards before we left the iSite and took a short walk up and down Broadway. I pointed out all the places I frequented during my time in Matamata: Redoubt, Horse and Jockey, Eat., even Tracs got an honorable mention.

When we’d finished our tour it was back to the car. Now that we were somewhere I knew the roads, I decided it was finally time for Dad to do a bit of driving. Which turned into a bit more of a trial than I expected. I drove him out to see the first housed I’d lived at, then pulled off at the next street and told him to get in the driver seat. He did so with minimal grumbling. Once he was all adjusted, we turned back onto the main road.

We’d driven maybe 100m when we noticed the cop car up the road from us and the officer standing in the street next to it. Now, Dad would’ve been legal, you can drive on a foreign license for a year in NZ (at least that was the case for a US license, not sure about any place else) but we both still thought it was best to pull over, switch back, and let me drive through the stop. After that Dad finally got the chance to get the car up to speed and take us on a drive through the countryside.

I had a few things to pick up from my old place, so that was our next stop. My former landlady, Dee, invited us in for a cup of tea, and we spent a while there talking with her and her husband before we said our goodbyes and loaded up my car. Most of the day had passed by the time we left, and though it would still be a while till it was dark enough for glow worms, we left for McLaren Falls.

Lucky Mark 2 pulled herself over the Kaimais one more time like a champ. Forty minutes later I was turning her off the highway and onto the narrow road through McLaren Falls park. But before we made it into the actual park, I pulled over into a small lot by the river. When I’d come here with my friend Emily some time ago, we’d seen on our way out that there was a large area of stones you could walk across to get better views of the river. I’d wanted to do this since that first trip, and now would likely be the last chance I got.

We crossed the road and took the few steps down to the river. The rocks were pretty easy to traverse, most of them being fairly flat. The only difficulty was finding the best path across the pockets of river that poured through the maze they made. In front of us, the river stretched back into the bush, and off to the left, it continued its journey by cascading down over the cliff and beneath the bridge we’d soon be crossing into the park.

Dad and I were the only ones out. The occasional car drove out of or into the park, but we were too far away to take much notice of them. It made me feel a bit like a kid again, clambering over the rocks. I guess I was feeling a bit too confident in my kid-like state. Because when we came to a particularly steep drop, I looked at it and thought ‘That ground is flat enough, I can jump that.’ And I could, but not without slipping and slamming both of my knees right into the rocks. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much when they made contact, but they sure started to throb a bit later.

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Epic bruises were in my future.

After Dad had sufficiently made me worry about him by venturing down to the lower rocks, we found our way back to the road and finished the drive into the park. We still had plenty of time before it got properly dark, so we pulled off again to take a short walk along the lake before heading to the falls. The view was picturesque. A perfect autumn afternoon. The trees on the far bank were a wonderful collage of red and yellow and green. The water was still. A few ducks swam  across the surface, making gentle ripples. And there were just a handful of clouds in a pale blue sky, some bearing a golden kiss from the last of the sun’s rays.

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We left the lake behind and drove the last bit of road to the lot at the end. There were a couple other cars there, which I took as a sign that we were in the right place. I’d been here once before, so I felt confident I knew what falls Amelia had been referring to when she told us about the glow worms back in Tauranga. Dad’s survival instincts kicked in as we made our way down the path. He was feeling anxious about being on an unfamiliar path (to him anyway) at night with no torch. I assured him there was nothing to worry about.

No one else was at the falls when we arrived, and we were the only two people there for a while. We took a seat on the bench at the base of the steps leading to the upper viewing area. There we passed the time talking and taking horribly lit selfies. We were both reassured when more people began to show up. One, because we were no longer alone in the bush at night, and two, it seemed we were indeed in the right place.

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The graininess!

At last it started to go dark. But it still took a while for the glow worms to final show themselves, or at least, their light. For a while, our minds just seemed to play tricks on us. A dot or two of light would seem to be showing through the leaves, but we couldn’t be sure it was a glow worm. After a little while, more of the little wormies started to come out. At this point I’d like to say, if you ever have a chance for a glow worm experience, take it!

I’d seen glow worms a couple times before this night. I definitely still enjoyed seeing them, but I think I enjoyed seeing Dad see them for the first time even more. We kept our spot on the bench for a while as small clusters of pale blue light started to glow around us. But then I stood up to get a better look and realized what we were missing.

The glow worms were hidden amongst the vegetation lining the path. More glowed in the bush across the stream, which gurgled softly in the dark. They were everywhere. It was very much like the kayaking trip I’d taken earlier in the year. Dad and I decided to slowly make our way back to the car while we enjoyed the bioluminescent light show. We let the glow worms light the way (mostly). Sadly I can’t do much more justice to the glow worms than that. It is definitely something you have to see with your own eyes.

As the concentration of glow worms began to thin, and we came closer to the end of the path, I took out my phone to help light the rest of our way back to the car. The lot was now full with the cars of the people we’d left back at the falls. After the dark walk back, the headlights of my car felt that much brighter as we began our drive back to Matamata.

The next day had that melancholy feel that always lingers over the last day of a trip. Dad and I lounged for a while in our room before loading up the car and driving into town. We went to a cafe, one I would often get vegan treats from, for breakfast, and while we were there we saw a couple of my mates from work. When we’d finished eating we killed a bit of time by wandering around before making a stop at Sen Sushi. Dad had mentioned to me he wanted to get sushi while he was in NZ, and now was our last chance. It made for a nice light meal before our drive to Hamilton.

In my effort to avoid going to Auckland, I was putting Dad back on a bus to the airport. We were there with a bit of time before his bus left, so we took a seat in the lobby. Most of the time was passed with Dad making jokes about how hot the guy at the next table was and that I should ask him out and me rolling my eyes and shaking my head at him. Then it was time to go.

Dad stowed his bag in the belly of the bus then came to say goodbye. He tried to make me get all emotional in public by saying how proud of me he was and it was good to see me and all that (I think he might have been getting a little emotional too), but I kept it together! I gave him a big hug and got one last kiss on the cheek before he took a seat on the bus. I stood on the sidewalk and waited until the bus pulled out of the station, waving goodbye as I watched Dad get smaller and smaller. The bus left the parking lot and disappeared around the corner.

~Ren

At the Roots of the Mountain

Here we are, travelers, at the end of the journey. Well, this journey anyway. So don’t get too sad. There are more to come!

Our trio was headed back north. Hannah and Luke were due in Fairlie in a few days, and I was off to Nelson for my first WWOOFing stay (we’ll get to that later). But before going back to the real world there was one last stop to make. We were headed to Mt. Cook, or Aoraki as it is also known. And this time, I was sure to have enough gas to get me there and away.

Civilization slowly vanished around us, replaced with mountains and wide plains. I got to drive by what I think might be my favorite place in NZ (maybe tied with Hobbiton), Lake Pukaki. We didn’t stop, but I still managed to enjoy the view of the lake as we drove along its coast. Lake Pukaki was replaced with a wide valley flanked by peaks of the Southern Alps.

Soon we arrived at Mount Cook Village, a tiny place with not much more than a few places to stay, a petrol station and a cafe. It’s a great place to go if you want to get away from life for a while. The three of us were staying at the Mount Cook YHA. It’s a cozy place with a cabin feel about it. We checked into our room then slipped into the kitchen to grab some water for our noodles before clearing out so they could finish cleaning.

Since our time here was short, and it was too nice a day out to waste it sitting inside, once we were settled and fed we stepped back out into the nippy air and drove back the way we’d come to Tasman Valley. We followed another winding road through the valley until we came to the carpark at the end. There were several other people out this afternoon. The trail wasn’t very long; it would take maybe a half hour to reach the end. But it was uphill almost the entire way, and there were lots of stairs. Ugh.

Before we started, I once again tried to find the perfect combination of clothes, so I would be warm, but I also wouldn’t be sweating my ass off after 10 minutes of walking. I’d been working on this for a while. Off we went, up the hill, through the bush. Aside from the other people on the trail, there was barely a sound to be heard. The higher we went, the better the view of the valley was. It looked almost infinite as it stretched toward the horizon.

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At the end of the trail was Tasman Glacier Lake. It was a mirror amongst the gray scree of the mountain slopes, catching the last of the day’s sunshine. The surrounding snowcapped peaks reflected in its surface, and seemed to hang suspended over the endless sky below. At the far end, fragments of the glacier floated near the banks. Most were two-toned, great chunks of them turned black by the earth.

There was a fair-sized group at the viewing platform when we arrived. We took a moment to sit and catch our breath on a rock before wandering away from the crowd and over the rocks. The actual glacier was at the other end of the water, nestled amongst the mountains and covered with dirt and stone, making it look like it was just another part of the landscape. But it was still there, hanging on in this ever-changing world.

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The sweat had dried and the chill was beginning to make its way through my clothes again just as we began to head down the hill. The sun had vanished behind the mountains a while ago, and in not much longer it would be dark. I was expecting a nice quiet night back at the hostel, and it was for the most part. But unbeknownst to me, something big was going on in the UK.

We all know about Brexit by now, right? If you don’t, where exactly is that rock you’ve been living under? Over the course of making tea, Hannah and Luke were constantly checking the live stream of the polls, discussing the matter with a fellow Brit who managed the hostel, and just generally having a mild freak out about the whole thing. Not to say that England leaving the EU won’t have any effect on me, but at that exact moment, it didn’t. All I could do was commiserate with Luke and Hannah.

The drama spilled over into the next day, but just for the morning. Again, as I’m sure you know, England did indeed leave the EU. The topic was discussed over breakfast but when we left to do the Hooker Valley Track, our minds moved onto other things. The last time I was at Hooker Valley, it was midnight, and Mom and I were trying to get some star gazing in. We’d driven a ways into the valley in hopes for clearer skies but had no such luck.

This time I would actually get to see the valley. The drive to the trailhead was very similar to the Tasman Valley road. The sun was out in force when we arrived at the carpark. This time I felt sure I had achieved the perfect clothing combination, and I followed Hannah and Luke up the path feeling confident I wouldn’t be sweating my ass off, at least not too much. The track was quiet starting out, and stayed that way most of the walk.

The Hooker Valley Track is about a 3 hour return trip, but it is a very easy walk. The ground rises and falls in gentle hills. There are no stairs to speak of (if I recall right), and there is even a toilet near the midway point. But the views are fantastic, and the end of the trail provides a spectacular view of  Mount Cook, as well as another glacier lake. We kept up a fairly brisk pace the whole way, which I later found out was because Hannah was afraid the clouds would move in a she didn’t want to miss the sun at the lake.

We passed gently gurgling rivers and wandered through tussock and boulder landscapes, all the while surrounded by towering peaks covered in brilliantly white snow. The track has several suspension bridges to cross, and we bounced our way over these with a note of buoyancy in our steps. We stopped for a toilet break when we came to it, and took a moment to look inside a small shack that was covered in names, dates, countries and quotes from the wide collection of travelers that had taken this walk before us.

Of course, we added our own inscriptions before we left. We picked spots on the left hand side of the entrance. I guess I was feeling a bit cheeky that day, because I put my name, where I was from, and declared proudly “Our mountains are better.” With our names forever scribed onto the corrugated iron of the shack, we had a quick snack then left to finish our tramp.

More and more rock began to dominate the landscape as we moved closer to the lake. Soon we were making the last climb. The viewing area housed a large picnic table where people were sitting and having lunch or taking a breather. Off to the left of this area was another path that led down the the shore of the lake. This is where the three of us headed.

We picked our way through the rocks to the water’s edge. The lake had frozen over, but sections right up against the rocks had been broken by people treading over them. I took a few pictures, then Luke, Hannah and I joined in with a few other people who were throwing fragmented pieces of ice across the frozen surface. They shattered into bits and skittered off over the frozen water, making a sound like fine metal scattered across stone.

Down the shore, the lake fed the start of the Hooker River. I climbed over some large rocks here to a get a better view of the rapids. The water was colored like diluted milk. Some calm sections hugging the banks looked almost like the ice on the lake. A few droppings were left on one of the rocks, but I can’t for the life of me think what animal left it. There are so few mammals here!

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After a bit of exploring we all came to sit and have another snack. We passed a few minutes waiting to see if large sheets of fractured ice would fall prey to the current and get washed away down the river. Then we wandered away from each other of a bit. Luke and Hannah stuck to the water’s edge, throwing the occasional chunk of ice and seeing how far it would go. I hung further back on the bank, carefully finding my footing amongst the rocks.

I left Luke and Hannah below and returned to the viewing platform to find a nice place to sit and take in the view. I tracked their progress below until they disappeared and then reappeared several minutes later on my right. They had free climbed it up the slope. And, I found out, they ran into some shit. Literally. Luke had slipped and ended up landing in some goat poo. (Oooh, that’s probably what pooped on the rocks. Wild goats.)

I helped clean up his jacket a bit before we took our last view of the lake and headed back to the car. Hannah and I attempted to get a few photos now that the light was more in our favor, but mostly we just enjoyed the stroll and passed the time talking about whatever came to mind. We got started on tea shortly after arriving back at the hostel. Three hours of walking makes you hungry!

With our bellies full, we retired to the lounge and ended our night with a viewing of Finding Nemo. An oldie but a goodie. We also had a couple golden kiwi fruits as a treat, and the feeling was unanimous: they were amazing! You know it’s true when you each tell each other at least once. Since then I’ve only had the golden kiwi fruit. So good.

Okay, I appear to have gone on a kiwi fruit tangent to avoid wrapping this narrative up. That night at the Mount Cook YHA was our last together. Early the next morning I would be making the 9 hour drive (Luke and Hannah nearly fainted at the thought) back to Nelson to start my WWOOFing stay, and they would be making the much shorter two hour drive to Fairlie to settle in for their winter jobs. I was glad to be headed somewhere I could stay for a while (or so I thought) but I was going to miss the time with Luke and Hannah.

But this wouldn’t be the last I saw of them before we both leave NZ. I’ll be seeing them again, even if only briefly, this September. Besides, the ground work has been laid for future trips to Colorado and England. Till our next meeting.

~Ren

Trolls exist! They steal your ponies

I’m excited for this blog, travelers! And I think I might go about it a bit differently. It’s going to be very picture-heavy, so I think what I’ll do is let them tell most of the story and I’ll just fill in some of the gaps. But let me get us started first.

That morning saw us headed west, to a tiny town called Piopio. The Alexanders aren’t the only ones with a Lord Of The Rings farm tour. Another farm outside of Piopio was made famous after the cast a crew of The Hobbit came through to do some filming. It’s not nearly as big an operation as Hobbiton though, but that was really refreshing.

The scenes filmed here a seen near the beginning of the first in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey. The set building was minimal, unlike Hobbiton, which I think in part contributes to the small scale of the operation. But good things come in small packages. Dad and I left the sulfuric city of Rotorua behind and drove the two hours to Piopio. We would be meeting Luke and Hannah there. It would be good to have a fellow nerd to get excited with on the tour.

Our tour didn’t start until one, and, as usual, we had a bit of time till then. We pulled into a cafe called the Fat Pigeon for lunch. It was another near-perfect weather day. The air held a bit of a chill, but the sun kept things warm. Dad and I took a table on the covered deck. As we ate, I sent off a message to Hannah to see where she and Luke were at. I hadn’t heard back by the time we left for the farm, but I figured they were driving and either hadn’t seen the message or didn’t have a signal.

The road to the farm took us up a narrow valley road that followed the course of a small stream. Unlike the rolling green hills of the Waikato, the landscape here was more rugged and housed great crags of limestone amongst the green fields. The sign for Hairy Feet appeared as we turned another corner, and I turned into the gate.

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The office was up the hill. I pulled into a spot and Dad and I walked down the path to a small building. Here we met our fantastic guide Suzie. (Since working at Hobbiton, any guided tour I go on I’m just constantly critiquing the guide in my head.) But she was awesome. She is the third generation to own this farm. She was there when the film crew was. She knows her shit.

Suzie was upbeat and very friendly. You couldn’t not smile around her. Dad and I introduced ourselves. Just a few minutes after we arrived Suzie told us there were two other couples on the tour with us. Of course I knew one of those was Luke and Hannah. And apparently they were going to be late. They’d called Suzie to ask if she could wait for them. Of course Dad and I didn’t mind waiting, and luckily the other couple didn’t mind either.

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Just meant more time to hang out with this cutie!

Our time waiting wasn’t wasted. Suzie’s got some awesome props at the office for people to take pictures with. So we spent our time doing that, as well as looking around the shop for potential souvenirs.

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The little hobbit in the background is actually Suzie’s husband. She turned him into a hobbit. How nice for her.

Shortly after we had finished getting lots of awesome and nerdy photos, many taken by Suzie herself, Hannah and Luke arrived. They were a bit frazzled, and immediately launched into the story of how they’d gotten a flat or had some sort of car trouble — who the hell cares! They were here, and we were about to go on an adventure!

The seven of us climbed into a very familiar looking van. It was the same sort that we had at Hobbiton, only it was silver instead of green. Hannah got to pretend like she was still at Hobbiton when she hopped out of the van to open the gate for Suzie. Then it was just a short drive up the hill until we were all climbing back out. From here, travelers, I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

The first spot we saw was the location the dwarves and Bilbo make camp for the first night. This is just before they have their run in with the trolls. Suzie told us that the set team liked all the old run down fencing so much they just used it in the scene. Of course, they added a few things of their own, but most of it was part of the farm long before the film crew ever showed up.

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You can’t see because of the glare, but Hannah is holding a picture that shows Bilbo and Balin with one of the ponies. Hannah is doing a better job recreating the scene than I am.

This spot wasn’t in the film, but you might be able to see it if you watch any behind the scenes features. Suzie told us that Richard Armitage, who played Thorin in the films, would often seek solitude between takes so he would stay in the right mind frame for Thorin. One day the behind the scenes camera peeps spotted him on this rock.

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You shall not pass! Wait…wrong movie. The dawn take you all!

A little further on, we came to an open area surrounded by low hills. And you’ll never guess who we spotted amongst the trees…

I might be wrong in saying this, but I think our next stop was the one Hannah and I were most looking forward to. Our group moved down the path, turned the corner, and came into the shadow of a massive boulder. Suzie was talking, telling us more fascinating things I’m sure, but my eyes were scanning the ground and I was think ‘Where’s Sting, where’s Sting?” Suzie set up the scene, and then, out of the foliage, she pulled Sting.

It was only a plastic replica of Sting, but we all got kickass pictures anyway. Further into the trees we went.

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Warg attack! Okay, not really. We were now standing in the trees where the company meets up with Radagast the Brown for a few brief moments before they are attacked by wargs. They certainly were getting their money’s worth out of this location. We got to recreate a few more scenes and sit where actors sat and even stand right where Bilbo stood. Sometimes film crews forget things.

So we were facing the wrong way as Gandalf. Oh well.

I’m not sure why Hannah was so excited in that one photo, but I like it. Also, a brief mention that we were walking by lots of interesting rock formations, some of them with fossilized shells in them.

We were coming close to the end of the tour, but we had one stop left. Suzie left us for a few minutes while she went back to get the van. After she picked us up, we moved down the road a little ways to where the land opened up.

Suzie directed our attention back the way we had come from. She pointed out a large rock at the side of the road and told us this had actually been added to digitally. A warg jumps up over this rock and the pack swarms into the trees trying to get the dwarves. Suzie supposed the rock the way it was would’ve been too hard for a warg to jump up on. The trees near the gate are roughly where Radagast bursts out of the trees with his rabbits, attempting to lure the wargs away from the company.

With that our tour was over. The seven of us got back in the van, and this time I got to feel like I was back at work when I got the gate. Okay, I lied a little bit. The tour was over, but we still had business to attended to. Hannah and Luke had missed out on all the props, so Suzie brought them out again and we took more awesome pictures.

All of us thanked Suzie profusely for the wonderful time. Hairy Feet tours definitely makes my top three best LOTR/Hobbit tours. If you are a fan, go! Before we parted ways, the four of us made plans to meet up later in Matamata for dinner. I hadn’t had Fez for a while and this would be my last chance to do so for a some time.

Our first stop when Dad and I got into town was to check into our motel. It was the same place Mom and I had stayed on both our visits to Matamata, but the place was now under new ownership. We got checked in and went for a walk around Centennial Drive before I took Dad along to harass my friend Blair about…something. I then I dragged him along to dinner with us. It was a great way to end the day.

~Ren

Rocks on the Bay, Walks on the River, Horses through the Trees

Fox Glacier diminished in my rear view mirror, and before me were the last sweeping views of the west coast I would see for a while. We were moving inland now, to Wanaka, home to my former flatmate back in Matamata. That’s not why we were going there, it’s just a random fact for you. We didn’t get far from Fox, though, before we were pulling off the road.

The place was Bruce Bay. I didn’t know about it until that day, but along the coast there are lots of white rocks. And I guess someone decided one day they were going to write something on one of these white rocks and start a pile. So now, if you drive by Bruce Bay, you will see a large pile of white rocks with messages on them. Tokens from the many travelers who have passed that way. Hannah and Luke had added rocks to the pile before, but of course the three of us had to add our own.

Then it was back in the car. The drive from Fox Glacier was the longest we’d had in a while (three hours!). Luke and Hannah were more fussed than I was, I think. It takes ages to get anywhere in the States, so three hours was nothing. When we were not far outside Wanaka, we pulled over at a lookout so we could take some shots of Lake Wanaka/Lake Hawea (I’m not sure which side of the mountains we were on when we stopped, but it was pretty).

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It was well dark when we got to the Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park we were staying at. We checked in at reception, collected our wifi code and our key, then drove back down the lane to our room. Ours was right at the end of the building. It was small but clean, and it heated up fast. The kitchen, however, was another matter. When we all stepped inside to make a quick tea, the first thing we noticed was the smell. It was rather like urine. There were no tea towels to be found and even less in the way of dishes and utensils. But we made due, simply filling our own mugs with noodles and hot water and returning to the room.

The next morning was a change to how we’d spent the night. We all went from sweating our asses off (we hadn’t figured out the optimal heat setting yet) to freezing them off as we made the drive along the Crown Range to AJ Hackett. If you’re unfamiliar, AJ Hackett is the man that helped popularize the bungy jump. The Kawarau Bridge jump is (I believe) the first bungy site to open in NZ. It’s referred to as the World Home of Bungy. Before you get your hopes up, no I wasn’t doing a bungy. That would be Luke who was taking the dive this time.

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Shivering like crazy, we all got out of the car. Before heading inside, we walked down to the cliff’s edge so we could see the drop point. After that we quickly scurried inside to warm up a bit. The building was large and built in what seemed to be a notch in the rocks. It was full of large signs advertising all the different drops, lots of bungy jump t-shirts and other merchandise, a small concession area, and of course, a large screen played videos of various people jumping.

Luke went to the counter to sign the necessary waivers and get weighed and all that good stuff. Outside on the deck, people were gathered, taking in the view, and I’m sure some were mentally preparing themselves for what they were about to do. Hannah and I got some chips and small cups of water while we waited. Luke joined us a bit later. We passed the time enjoying our chips and chatting and also doing some people watching. It was fairly easy to spot other people who would be making the drop.

A girl at the counter called Luke’s name several minutes later. He vanished outside while Hannah and I moved into position to take video and get pictures of the fall. Soon I was shivering once again out in the biting air. I knew it would take a bit for Luke to get set up but I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything either. So I stood there, my phone at the ready, watching Luke get closer and closer to the edge.

And then he was off! A gray and black blur streaking towards turquoise water below. As soon as he made the first bounce, the tension in my chest eased. I watched him bob up and down, snapping as many pictures as I could. Then he was dropped into the raft, just like Dad had been, and he disappeared from sight. I walked back inside to meet up with him and Hannah.

Luke didn’t look nearly as drawn as Dad had. He was a bit rosy-cheeked, to be sure. We took a minute to look over the pictures I’d taken, even though in the end they took home pictures provided by AJ Hackett, then went over for another thing of chips and water before leaving. Our big plans in Wanaka had been fulfilled with the bungy jump, so now anything was game. I suggested checking out a set location that was on the way back to town.

The drive there would take us the long way back, and we didn’t know it until we got there, but it would also take us the more exciting way back. Just after turning onto highway 8A, we came to a milk tanker that was completely on its side in the ditch beside the road. It had only happened minutes before we showed up. We pulled over ahead of it and quickly walked back to check that the drive was okay. Luke was straight on the phone to the police.

A few more people pulled over as we stood there. The driver was fine, a bit of a bang on the head, and the ambulance and fire department showed up shortly after Luke hung up the phone. It was an unexpected occurrence to be sure. We even saw a blurb about it in the paper the next day when we were in Arrowtown!

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Personally, I can’t say I felt bad about the possible milk shortage in Wanaka.

We left the emergency teams to their work and finished our drive to the set location. A short distance up the highway was the turn off for Maori Point Road. The land where the actual scene was filmed is private. But there was a gate open. So even though we technically were trespassing, we only did a little bit. We stayed just long enough to snap some pictures and declare several times that you could definitely see that this was the place, as if any of us needed convincing. This was were Arwen had employed some fancy riding skills in order elude the Nazgul and make it to the river.

We continued back to Wanaka, this time without any unexpected surprises. When we reached the edge of town, we pulled off the road and into the carpark of Have a Shot. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. The place has a few lanes for shooting clay pigeons and a few for shooting a bow and arrows. I held my tongue while we were there, but in my head I was thinking it was no Rocky Mountain Archery, a range that I frequented back home. Despite sharing bows and having to shoot in the cold, we were all happy to get in some archery.

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The day had warmed up sufficiently. Which was good, because once we were back in the city centre, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the shops, looking at things too expensive for us to buy, eating tasty burgers sold to us by a cute guy, and me, having no success in finding a used book to buy. More and more I believe that charity shops and used bookstores are where formulaic, mass market thrillers, mysteries and romances novels go to die.

When we’d finished our exploration of the town, we spent a few minutes walking along the edge of Lake Wanaka (where apparently they have wifi) before driving back to the holiday park. Our night would be wrapping up with a viewing of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Luke and Hannah hadn’t seen it yet, and I was game for seeing it again. First, we had to brave another “cooking” session in the stinky kitchen.

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The name of the theater was Paradiso, which appealed to my Firefly sensibilities. It was a tiny theater, very much like Lyric Cinema Cafe back home. The walls were covered in movie posters, there was a nice sitting area you could spend time in before your film, and there were couches and comfy chairs in the theaters. We bought our tickets but had to wait for the movie currently playing to finish up before we went inside.

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It didn’t take long for me to change my mind about buying a drink. I didn’t really want a whole beer though, so we we all ended up splitting one. A few minutes before we moved into the theater, I realized I had accidentally thrown my ticket away, thinking it was my receipt. I have since learned, as this is how all theaters in NZ seem to print their tickets. The viewing was enjoyed by all. We were all ready for bed after that. This time, we would be sure to turn the heater down.

The next morning we moved down to Arrowtown, just for a night. It’s a very tiny town just outside of Queenstown, and is the sort of town I could possibly see myself retiring to. It feels a bit like a place out of history to me, and that might be because it is quite proud of its heritage. It was a gold rush town, and families can do some gold panning of their own for fun. There is also an old Chinese settlement that has been preserved so people can walk around and see what life was like.

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Pretty nice view on the way down.

The main street has that quaint, homely feel. Lined with cafes, shops, a post shop, and even its own sweet shop, there is everything you could want right in one place. The place we were staying was pretty sweet, too. It was a short walk outside the centre of town, and we had a unit to ourselves with its own kitchen and bathroom. We were being spoiled. Arrowtown was all of an hour away from Wanaka, so we didn’t get to rave about our new digs until later. We spent most of the morning exploring the town.

We parked in a dirt lot near the river and walked up the hill to the street level. The streets were fairly full of people doing the same thing we were. I peered into shop windows as we walked down the street. Shopping was later, right now it was time for morning tea. The bustle of the main street faded behind us as we walked to a small cafe called Provisions. This is when we saw our spilled milk tanker story in the paper.

Now that we were all properly watered and fed, we went back to into town for some shopping. I say shopping, but really we were all low on cash, and I don’t buy things just for the sake of buying something, but we enjoyed our time browsing around (and I did buy a few things). We took our time poking around a shop called The Gold Nugget. It had lots of artsy trinkets, knitted items and other useless tourist junk. But I got a few nice postcards to send home, and Luke and Hannah had fun listen to a few old women from Florida speak in their ridiculous accents.

The three of us spent at least 20 minutes in the sweet shop, and I spent most of those minutes reading labels looking for something I could eat. We each left with a sweetie and walked to the Chinese settlement. There wasn’t a whole lot left. A few buildings still stood, some of them were built right into the hillside. But others were just cement rectangles on the ground, the only thing left of what used to be a house. Finished exploring the settlement and the woods nearby, we left to check in at the holiday park.

As I said before, we were being spoiled during our one night in Arrowtown. It wasn’t long after we’d parked that we were unpacking, boiling water for tea, taking showers, and getting cozy in bed so we could watch “The Chase.” Life was good. It continued to get better when we went out later that night to a super awesome bar called The Blue Door. It was a cold night, and a bit rainy, but we walked into town anyway. The entrance to the bar was in a small courtyard just off the main street.

True to its name, it had a blue door, and on the inside was a beautiful wooden bar, big comfy arm chairs by the fire, and large wooden barrels set as tables. It was awesome. The place wasn’t big, but it was nearly full when we walked in. The fire on the far side had the place warmed to the perfect temperature. We took seats against a stone wall near the bar. The lone bartender came out with menus and said he’d be back to grab our drinks in a minute.

We found out later, after Luke had talked with him up at the bar, that this guy was actually the manager of the place. He was very friendly and took good care of us all night. We didn’t drink much but still had a great time. I’d brought the deck of cards we’d bought back in Fox Glacier, and we enjoyed a few games of Crazy Eights while we sipped our brews. The three of us even went so far as to splurge on a bomber of this amazing stout. Definitely one of the best beers I’ve had the whole trip.

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Also this happened…

Enjoying a nice buzz, the three of us walked back to the holiday park in a light drizzle. It was a short stay but a good stay in Arrowtown. Very relaxed to be sure. And I think we all needed that. There will always be more to see of NZ, but I think the three of us were feeling ready for a break. I know I certainly was. But our time in Arrowtown wasn’t quite over. The next day we were off to Queenstown, and like it had been with the move from Wanaka to Arrowtown, we’d have plenty of time to kill before check in tomorrow. We spent the next morning taking a walk along the Arrow River.

I had visited Arrowtown when Mom and I visited, but that was just to see the Ford of Bruinen and the Gladden Fields. The criss-crossing sections of river and the wooded river bank hadn’t changed much in those intervening years. Only this time I was walking far above the rocky shore I’d ventured out to before. The narrow sides of the canyon were mostly covered in brown, but parts were still clinging to the edges of autumn. Patches of red and orange trees were still visible, and even a few green pines broke that drab monochrome of the hibernating trees.

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There was only one other person we saw on the trail, a man who was on a run with his dog. Otherwise we had the trail to ourselves. I spotted a vertebrae among the rocks beneath our feet, the last remaining bit of something’s lunch. We passed a lovely waterfall, slithering past ferns and over mossy rocks. We went as far as we could go, to the very end of the path until the river itself blocked us from going any further.

Back down the trail we went. We had business in Queenstown. Mostly that business involved eating Fergburger as many times as we could, but some other stuff too. First of all, I need some new pants. I’d brought my two best pairs with, and had picked up a couple new pairs of capris for the summer. But by the time we arrived at Queenstown, both pairs of jeans had succumbed to crotch holes. Alas. So! We had a plan to enact when we arrived in town.

It took us a bit to get parking figured. One lot we tried was full so we drove down near the harbor, and while Luke and Hannah found a spot, there wasn’t another near by for me. So I ended up driving around the block and snagged one there. But it was only 30 minute parking. We reunited and in a flash laid out our plan of action. I would dash off to Just Jeans and get myself a new pair, while Luke and Hannah went off to a ski shop to get Hannah a new pair of winter gloves. Then we would all meet at Fergburger to grab lunch.

And break! We were off! It was lucky everything was pretty close together. Racing the parking meter has to be one of the most stressful things, because no one wants to pay a stupid parking ticket. Finding a good pair of jeans took no time at all (I’d always had good luck and good service at Just Jeans). With a few minutes left before our meet time, I ducked into a used bookshop. In retrospect it was a stupid move because two minutes is not enough time to browse anywhere, let alone a book shop.

I was the first to arrive at Ferg (that’s what the cool kids call it). I took a seat on one of the benches out front and waited for my two compadres. The arrived a few short minutes later, and we got into line. Now, as of writing this, I’ve only been to Fergburger three times. But every time I’ve been there it has always been busy. People waiting in line, people waiting outside for their orders. It’s nuts, and I feel pretty sure that that is the norm for them. And for good reason.

I mean, there are only two veggie options on the menu, but they are damn tasty. They’ve got lots of tasty sauces to offer, and the buns are the perfect combination of fluffy and crunch. If you are ever in Queenstown, I would recommend a visit. With our lunch in hand we hurried back to our cars. One, so we wouldn’t get a ticket, and two, so we could get to our accommodation and start eating!

This Top 10 Holiday Park was much nicer than the one in Wanaka. For starters, the kitchen didn’t smell like pee. There was a nice lounge area with a fire and a TV (yes, we did watch more of “The Chase”) and the bathrooms were warm when you walked in. We ate first, savoring every messy bite, before we went back to our cabin and decided how to spend the rest of our evening. Somewhat surprisingly, we spent it shopping.

Again, we didn’t really “shop.” We did, I think, stop in almost every ski shop in Queenstown looking for gloves, and I did buy one shirt, but mostly we were just enjoying our time walking around Queenstown, seeing what there was to see. Once it started to get late, and all of us hungry, we returned to Top 10 to make tea.

The next day, our last in Queenstown, was a bit more shopping, a small blast to the past, and whole hell of a lot of anxiety that none of us were expecting. Here’s how it started. Things were good in the morning. We went to a place called Vudu Cafe and had a nice meal before we went to Cookie Bar (yes, there is a cookie bar) and had a nice dessert. Hannah finally made a decision on her gloves, and Luke and I picked up a few postcards from Whitcoulls.

My little blast from the past came when Luke suggested we have a game of disc golf (he called it something else at first but I can’t remember what it was). I haven’t, or hadn’t, played disc golf in who knows how many years. I played a lot back in middle school, and maybe had a game or two in college, but not in any recent years. So I was up for it. Hannah, not so much. We played about half the course, and that first half was kind of a bitch. Something like the first 3 holes were right on a steep hill that would take your disc all the way down to the trail below. I think Luke was the only one to chase his disc that far.

It was a short, and incomplete game, but we had fun. When we called it quits, we took a moment to sit and enjoy the view over the lake. Then we got to enjoy watching other disc golfers agonize over their discs being taken by the hill. There was one trio of guys we passed, and each of their discs almost ended up in the lake. It was hilarious. We returned our discs, and after that were a bit lost. We’d decided earlier, okay, well I should say Hannah decided earlier  that we should go see The Conjuring 2, (I lost by majority vote) and the only showing was at 9 or something. So we still had lots of time to kill before the showing. (A bit of that time was spent shoving our faces full of Fergburger again.)

We ended up where most wayward travelers end up when they don’t know what to do. We ended up at a pub. Though we didn’t actually drink any beer, which feels a bit blasphemous now I think about it. Instead we sat and enjoyed a cup of tea and the wifi. And then, completely unbeknownst to us, we left the pub for the most terrifying movie experience of our lives.

No, it wasn’t because we were seeing The Conjuring. I mean, it was a scary movie, and sometimes I still think about that freaking nun. No no. The previews were still playing when Luke leaned over to me and said “We’re moving seats.” With brow furrowed, I followed Luke and Hannah to the section of seats on the far side of the theater. When we were all seated, I leaned close to the both of them and asked why we had moved. And oh man, the answer.

Apparently Hannah was very suspicious of the guy who had sat down at the end of our row. He’d been holding something close to his body, and then wrapped it carefully in his hat. Of course, she thought it was a gun. My first reaction was, “Dammit, this is America shit” which is terrible on its own. But it especially freaked me out because there had been a shooting in a theater just an hour away from where I live.

The guy eventually left about 10 minutes into the film, which was cause for a whole new wave of panic. But he never came back. The whole walk back to the car, we talked about how terrified we had all been during pretty much all of the movie. Hannah chided Luke and I for not agreeing to leave. But we’d survived. We were a bit rattled, but we’d survived. That will, hopefully, be the most, and only, terrifying movie experience I ever have. You know, unless the movie is like, really scary.

We left Queenstown the next day, the last step in our journey, and the one that would bring our Golden Trio adventures to an end.

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~Ren

 

The Luge, Thermals, and…Rotovegas?

The drive to Rotorua was uneventful. There were no more GPS hiccups, thankfully. The roads we drove all looked vaguely familiar, as I’d driven most of them once or twice before. Our AirBNB was near the outer part of town. We were parking a few minutes after pulling off the highway. We’d left Taupo just a bit too late to meet our host before he went off to pick up his kids from school. But the door was left open for us, so we unpacked and checked the place out.

It was a completely separate unit from the house. Thinking back, it may have been half of what used to be a two car garage, since the existing garage was just on the other side of the wall. It was a small space, with the bedroom at the back and a small sitting area at the front. We had our own fridge, a kettle, a microwave and kitchenware, and the bathroom inside the main house was just for us. It was a nice change from our last two stays.

About 15 minutes after we’d arrived, our host pulled into the drive. We said hello and were introduced to his kids and chatted for a little while before the three of them went into the house and Dad and I went back into our room. The weather that afternoon was overcast, and it was raining on and off. It didn’t inspire Dad or me to do much of anything. A quick stop at New World for dinner was as exciting as it got our first night in Rotorua.

Our second day was much more eventful. Rotorua is home to the North Island’s Skyline. There’s another down in Queenstown. They are basically adventure centers. Both have luge tracks and zip lining and various other activities people can enjoy. I’d booked the luge/zip line combo for Dad and me. There was no set time to arrive, so we took time to enjoy breakfast before we left the house.

It wasn’t more than a 10 minute drive to the Skyline. There were cars in the car park but it wasn’t packed. So the place wasn’t like to be totally full of tourists…other tourists that is. We crossed the pavement to the large, glass building. There was no one else in line so we walked straight up to the woman in the booth and gave her the name on our reservation. In exchange she handed over two tickets for the luge, two tickets for the zip line, and let us through onto the gondola.

Dad and I waited for the next empty gondola to turn into the loading area and jumped on board. A man snapped our photo, like he does for everyone, and the doors folded shut as we began to ascend. The sun was climbing higher and higher in the sky and shining right into our little glass gondola. My attempts to take a selfie resulted in Dad being in complete darkness and me being pasty white in the sunshine. So I gave up and enjoyed the ride. Mountain bikers rode trails below us and a small herd of deer stood grazing on the hill.

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At the top, we exited the gondola and found ourselves in an empty building. We walked across the open space, past a small shop, and through the doors on the opposite side. These took us outside to where all the fun was waiting. To the right was a cafeteria and lots of tiered outdoor seating. Out in front of us was the start of the luge track, a couple small booths with zip lining equipment, and the zip line launch point on the right of the deck. And at the far end, the Rotovegas sign.

We started the fun with a luge ride. It’s a very simple thing. You sit in a cart, you roll down a hill, then do it all over again. Might sound kind of dull, but it’s actually a lot of fun! I think Dad and I both had our doubts about how much fun it would be. Later on though, Dad would admit to me just how much he enjoyed it. There were three different tracks to take, and we tried them all at least once.

The Scenic was our first, a nice easy warm up. We got to the bottom, a feel for the carts under our fingers, and took the chair lift back to the top. Our second ride was down the Intermediate track. This one had some harder turns, a few raised corners, and less slow-moving kids on it. This is where we started to get into it. Between our second and third ride we took a quick snack break and enjoyed some chips and a drink. Then we were back to it.

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It was onto the Advanced track now. No more of the Scenic/Intermediate crap. I’ll admit though I was a bit nervous. The tight corners always made me fear I was going to flip my cart. Spoiler alert: that never happened. Off we went at high speeds! Turning, swerving, racing each other, cutting each other off. There was one hill you even got some air off of on the Advanced track! When we’d had our fifth and final run I was sad it was over.

There was one more thing yet to do, however. When we’d returned our luge helmets, we walked over to the zip line booth. The zip line went every 30 minutes, so we had 20 minutes to kill before our turn was up. We found a spot in the sun where we could sit and enjoy the view. Skyline looks right out over Lake Rotorua. The scene was picturesque with crystal blue water, green hills and a smattering of clouds in the distance. Dad commented that it was unusual to see a lake so devoid of any boats.

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When the time came we returned to the zip line booth. Our guides helped us into our harnesses, told us to grab a helmet, and then follow them down the steps to the launch point. The Rotorua zip line isn’t quite as awesome as the Queenstown zip line. Rotorua is a single long run, while Queenstown lets you choose a 4 or 6 line run through the forest around Lake Wakatipu. But it was still fun.

They hooked us in and double-checked all the pieces. They also showed us the brace position for when we came to the end (purely for comfort, not so much safety). As we went down the line we’d be reaching at least 80km, a speed I’ve never traveled without a car around me. I find zip lining to be a bit like the swing I did in Taupo, only I fear for my life less. When they released me, and I began zooming along down the line, I felt at peace, I felt unbound. There I was, soaring through the trees, unable to do anything but hang there and watch the world pass by.

When Dad and I both reached the end (which didn’t take long) they unhooked us from the line and brought us to a platform. This was the part I was really looking forward to/totally terrified to do. The platform is designed so you can fall backwards, as you would do for a trust fall, but then the cable catches you and drops you gently to the ground. I went first.

I started off by almost falling of the miniature gangplank you have to walk out on backwards. If my heart hadn’t already been pounding, that near slip would’ve done the trick. I was grateful for the countdown our guide gave, because if I had to go on my own, I might have been there a while. But with the count, it was just like ‘Go!’ and I went, and it was scary then cool and I did it for real! I mean, I didn’t freak at the last second and bend my knees or anything. Whoo! I got to watch Dad do his fall, and even that was a little scary. But he fell like a champ, too.

That brought our fun adventures at Skyline to an end. We rode the chair lift back up for the last time, returned our gear, and took the gondola back down to the car park. The most we’d eaten all day were the fries, so Dad and I were both feeling hungry. From somewhere in my brain I remembered a place called Hell Pizza. They were pretty vegan friendly so I suggested we go there.

The shop was small and entirely empty when we walked in. I took a minute looking over the menu and conferring with Dad before I ordered up at the counter. The wait was short, and soon there was a pizza box in front of us with delicious pizza goodness inside. We sat in the empty shop and ate our fill. A few slices went uneaten, so we closed up the box and took them back to the car with us. It was nice having a fridge back home.

Back home we spent a bit of time talking with our host before we slipped back inside our room and chilled out for the night. We had a full day planned for tomorrow. The first thing you probably notice about Rotorua (besides the fact that it’s not anything like Vegas) is the smell. Sulphur fills the air almost anywhere you go. Fortunately it’s not always super strong. But the reason it smells this way is because of all the natural hot springs and thermal areas in the region.

Dad and I were going to see some of these geothermal wonders at a place called Wai-O-Tapu. The park is a half an hour south of Rotorua. Dad and I actually drove past it on our way into town. When we woke up that morning the sky was very grey, and it was clear it had been raining over night. A bit of rain has never stopped us. So we pulled on our boots, grabbed our rain gear and set off for Wai-O-Tapu.

When we reached the large sign reading ‘Wai-O-Tapu’ we turned off the highway onto a narrow, unmarked road winding through the bush. A few minutes later we turned into the carpark. We dodged puddles as we crossed to the visitor centre and bought our tickets. The woman at the counter asked if we also wanted to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt. We figured what the hell, so she told us where to find the geyser and what time we should be there.

The eruption was taking place in about 45 minutes, so Dad and I decided to walk around a bit of the park before going to see the geyser. We studied the map and saw there were several different loops to walk all through the park. The first track was the biggest, so we thought we’d do one side out and back, then walk the other when we’d come back from the geyser.

I’d been to one other thermal area in New Zealand before this, and I have mixed feelings about them. It’s always cool to see great plumes of steam rising up out of the ground and up through the trees and the bush, like there’s some sort of smoldering fire hidden below. But at the same time, a lot of the pits and craters and mud pools all look very similar. Not to diminish Wai-O-Tapu. It’s a big park and there were some pretty cool spots.

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We walked up a path lined with trees until we came to the top, and the land flattened out before us. It was very barren looking, as you might expect from a large thermal area. Pockets of steam hovered over the land as far as we could see. A few of the heartier bushes grew in amongst the gapping holes with names like “Devil’s Home” and “Devil’s Ink Pots.” The color palette was mostly gray rock, but patches of red or yellow were scattered about.

We went as far as the large shallow lake at the centre of the park. After spending a moment taking in the view, we turned back around. Back through the visitor centre we went and back into the car. The geyser was a five minute drive back down the road we’d come in on. It led us to a long dirt lot with an entryway set in amongst the trees. I parked, and we followed the rest of the crowd under the archway.

On the other side of the trees was a small amphitheater in front of the geyser. Lady Knox wasn’t big, her height probably not much taller than your average trash can. She was all white except for a few pale brown streaks down her front, and sitting in a crook near her mouth was a small bundle. This was no Old Faithful. The geyser had to be set off by one of the park rangers.

The crowd grew bigger and bigger while we waited. After a few minutes, a man walked out over the rocks to the geyser. He greeted the crowd with a friendly “Kia ora!” and we all chorused “Kia ora!” back to him. He spent a bit of time telling us about the history of the geyser, how it got its name, and how it was discovered the geyser could be triggered into erupting. It turns out the land had once belonged to a prison, and a few of the inmates had once tried rinsing their clothes in the geyser. Chemicals in the washing powder caused it to erupt. (That is a very truncated version of the story, BTW).

When the story was finished, the ranger thanked us, emptied the contents of the small bundle into the geyser, and left. The group was quiet while we waited for something to happen. Soon I could see a mound of tiny white bubbles making its way out the top of the geyser. It gurgled over the edge and spilled down the side. The stream grew a bit, like a very weak fountain, and I could here people around me wondering if that was as exciting as it got.

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But then the eruption really took off. A steaming jet of water shot high into the air. A fine mist was caught in the breeze and the water looked like a fine white flag spread out in the wind. We all stood momentarily mesmerized by the geyser. But soon people began to tire of watching a column of water, and they began to file out of the theater. Dad and I stuck around longer than most, leaving only when the eruption started to shrink.

We got back into the car, drove back down the road, and walked back through the visitor centre to finish our walk around the rest of the park. Like we’d discussed, we turned right at the top of the hill instead of the left. We were back at the shallow lake several minutes later. Now we walked down the gently sloping hill to the boardwalks over the water.

I’d seen a pool like this before, but that one had housed many more colors. At the edge of the pool was a bright red-orange ring. The rest of the water further out was a murky green, with a few lighter shades mixed in. Somewhere out there were the one or two spots of blue water I’d seen from the top of the hill. The steam around the lake was so thick in some places that I almost lost Dad a couple times when I walked too far away.

A steady drizzle had started not long after we’d left the geyser. We stood contemplating our next move in front of another park map. There were two more loops left, and they didn’t look very long. We didn’t let the rain discourage us. After a last look at the pool, we followed a path parallel to a small stream and moved deeper into the park.

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Exploring the rest of the park we saw dribbling waterfalls sliding over rocks that, if I’m honest, looked like they’d been carpet-bombed my a flock of birds, an expansive green lake that looked vaguely radioactive, and an endless expanse of steaming craters and bizarre rock formations. By the time we made it back to the visitor centre, we were sufficiently drenched, the hem of my jeans being the worst area affected.

Dad and I enjoyed ourselves despite the rain. We both agreed it created a different atmosphere, one people typically avoided, instead trying to enjoy the park on a sunny day. Yay for being different! After shaking as much water off our jackets as we could, we made the short drive back to Rotorua. It was still raining when we got back into town.

Back in the room, we turned up the heater right away to try and chase off the chill we’d brought back from Wai-O-Tapu. We put together a makeshift dinner out of what food stuffs we had left in the fridge. Just like the day we’d arrived, the rain didn’t inspire us to do much. However, after a bit of lounging, Dad was up and wanting to get out somewhere, not just stay cooped up in the room another night.

I did a quick search for cafes that were open late. There were a few potentials, all rather close to each other, so I plotted a course. We pulled on our still damp rain gear and stepped out into the night. Rotorua was near deserted. No one was walking around, and I only saw a few cars drive by as I picked a place to park. I looked at my map once we were out of the car and directed us to one of our possible destinations.

The first place we scoped out didn’t look very alluring. So we turned and walked the other way down the street until we came to the Abracadabra Cafe. It had a cool name, which is always a draw, and as we stepped through the door, Dad and I found ourselves in a cozy, and more importantly warm, cafe that was nearly as empty as the streets.

A woman seated us and took our order. We each got a cup of tea, and when I saw they had a vegan dessert, I got a slice of cheesecake to go with the tea. It was the perfect way to end the day. The drinks were hot, the cheesecake was delicious and fruity, and the cafe was calm. When we finished, we walked the short distance back to the car, made the quick drive home, and snuggled down into bed. Tomorrow we were off once again, hunting for trolls.

~Ren

Glaciers, Lakes, and Beaches

It was a quick drive to Hoki. I enjoyed two more hours of west coast scenery before we were pulling into another tiny coastal town. Hokitika was definitely bigger than Punakaiki but still didn’t have much going on. The three of us first pulled into the New World to stock up for tea that night. The hostel, unsurprisingly, was only a couple minutes away. We parked along the side of the garage and stepped into reception.

Reception was actually just a hallway with a buzzer you could ring for assistance, which none of us saw. Instead we all  just stood around awkwardly for a little bit, waiting for someone to show up. A young woman, probably a bit younger than the three of us, stepped out of a back room and greeted us. She wasn’t the owner but one of the staff, so she asked us to wait for a minute while she went off to find her.

A few minutes later another woman stepped into the hall. She greeted us warmly. It was then we learned that check in wasn’t until 4, which we all thought was rather late. But the woman did tell us that our room hadn’t been occupied the night before, so we were welcome to put our belongings into the room now. We did just that, then ventured down to the beach.

It wasn’t a far walk. The hostel actually sat right at the edge of the beach, with access right from the back door. But we took a different route. Down the street and a turn to the right took us to a walkway along the sand. The first thing I noticed was HOKITIKA spelled out in driftwood, casting long shadows across the ground. I followed Luke and Hannah off the sidewalk and onto the sand.

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The beach was littered with more driftwood. Hannah told stories of how her dad had longed to take pieces home with him when he was here for a visit. There weren’t many other people out that day. The sun was beginning to set and it was rather windy. But we had no better place to be, and there were treasures to be seen.

At the far end of the beach we came to upon a ship. I don’t think it was ever a real ship that sailed on the seas, but then I don’t know much about boats. It was silver and blue, with two masts and a large chain attached to the front. Otherwise, it was nothing very flash. The three of us walked round to the far side and up the stairs to the deck.

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I don’t think any of us really knew what the heck we were doing. I felt a bit like a teenager again. I had become one of those kids who would go to the mall and walk around and around because they had nothing better to do and no where else to be. Only my mall was a beach in New Zealand, so I didn’t feel too lame. We took a few pictures at the boat before checking out the last bit of beach left to us.

Here there were the remains of what used to be a road, I suppose. But a massive slab had been eaten away from below. Right in the middle was a gaping hole. I picked up a piece of asphalt and threw it to the ground. It shattered like some black, brittle rice crispy treat. One by one we climbed up the narrow staircase to a lookout tower set by the broken pavement. The world stretched out before us.

With no more beach to walk, we headed back into town. We looked around inside the charity shop for a couple minutes. There were used books, as usual, and this made me curious as to the other bookshops in town. I didn’t hold out much hope, but there was one other. I parted from Luke and Hannah here briefly (bless them, they were so good tolerating my book browsing) and caught up with them again at a cafe down a few blocks.

We each bought something to munch and a drink, and let the minutes slip by. By the time we finished it was very near four o’clock, so we decided to go back to the hostel and see if we could settle in. Our host welcomed us with no complaints. Hannah and I did some complaining to each other in the room about our dead animal skin rug, but we sucked it up for one night. The three of us lounged for a while, checking emails and Facebook.

After a bit, Luke and I went out to the kitchen to make up dinner. Hannah stayed cozied up in the room. She wasn’t feeling too good. The kitchen was small, and we weren’t the only ones cooking, but we managed to get the dishes we needed, and got everything finished at roughly the same time. The two of enjoyed fried mushrooms, veggies, and other goodies before Luke joined Hannah in watching Orange Is The New Black, and I sat in the lounge reading. We all turned in a couple hours later.

The next morning we left for Fox Glacier. I’d been here once before on a bus ride down the west coast. Mom and I only spent the night, and were too tired from sitting on a bus all day to see anything the afternoon we arrived. But now I was back with a couple of experts on the area, so there was fun in my future. There was also free accommodation in all of our futures. Luke and Hannah lived in Fox for a while. Luke worked at the general store, and Hannah did housekeeping for a motel. Unlike most of our other accommodation, we planned for this one a few days in advance. With Luke as our official envoy, we got in touch with their friend, Andy, back when we were at Te Nikau.

Before we drove into Fox Glacier, we made a short stop in Franz Joseph. The only noteworthy event that happened here was Luke, Hannah and I were bonded for life with our totally awesome friendship bracelets! I felt like I was in middle school again. After that historic moment, we drove the rest of the way to Fox.

Andy was still out when we arrived in town, so we kept driving down the road to a lookout spot for Mount Cook. We’d been getting our fill of snowcapped mountains on the drive from Hoki. I didn’t really realize it until later in Fox but I very quickly slipped back into my rather jaded, take-it-for-granted Coloradan attitude about the mountains. That’s not to take away from how spectacular they were. Really I think I was just feeling pride in my own mountains back home, and staying loyal to them. Sorry, Southern Alps, I’m a Rockies girl.

With our lungs full of that crisp mountain air and our eyes imprinted with snowy peaks and a glacier, we got back in our respective cars and drove to the Rainforest Motel. I’d been warned about the kind of character Andy was the other day, and heard a few gripes about it from Hannah. He was outspoken, loved to banter, and had a habit of cutting across you when you tried to speak. I understood Hannah’s frustrations. But he was a nice guy, and was putting us up in a fancy (by our standards) room for free.

Our original plan was to spend two nights in Fox. Bouncing around to a new place everyday was getting old. In the end we stayed three nights. It was so comfortable in what was essentially our own two bedroom apartment. More than once we joked (mostly joked) about staying at the motel and working for our keep. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But a couple things did happen while we were cozied up in Fox (seriously, we did a whole lot of fuck all while we were there). Once we were checked in and had sufficiently gushed over our new digs, we hopped back in the car and drove down the same road we had taken to the lookout. This time we turned off at Lake Matheson. This particular lake, one of the placards informed me, is famous for how mirror smooth it can be. When the water is still, it holds a perfect reflection of Mount Cook on its surface.

(A fun little aside: I bought a few postcards in the general store before we left, one being of Lake Matheson with the mirror image of Mount Cook. I was looking at it once and wondering why the edges of the mountains and trees were so pixelated. Turns out I was hold the postcard upside down and was looking at the captured reflection. That lake is good.)

There’s a nice walking trail that goes around the lake, and there are several lookout spots to grab photos at. It was a near perfect day for it. The water was still, the sun was out, but a few clouds refused to let the mountain come out to play. That fact aside, the walk was peaceful and quiet, not counting the family with young kids that periodically caught up with us. Our evening was spent cooking up dinner and watching “The Chase” on our very own TV.

As the name suggests, there is a glacier near Fox Glacier. This was our outing the next day. It was a short drive up the main highway to the carpark. That’s where the real work began. In order to see the glacier, we had to pick our way across a rocky river bed. That was easy enough. But then came the very steep and even rockier hill up to the viewing area. I’d decided back in the Pinnacles that loose, shifting, rocky climbs were the worst. Ugh.

The glacier itself wasn’t very impressive when we finally made it to the top. I was glad I’d seen it yesterday from the Mount Cook lookout. It was much more majestical-looking there. We ended up taking more pictures with the metal cutout of a ranger, who we named Steve, than the actual glacier. Well, that, and taking a bunch of pictures of each of us, rapid-fire, while we shook our heads and made weird faces.

Now with a slew of hilarious and potentially embarrassing pictures of all of us, we were off to see some folks and have some lunch. We stopped into the general store so Luke and Hannah could catch up with some old chums, and talk some smack about the new English lad they had working for them. Then we popped next door. The Brits got themselves a tasty pizza, and I enjoyed a flavorful wrap for lunch.

When we’d finished lunch, and after I totally biffed it walking down a flight of two steps (fell right on my ass, I did) we returned to the motel and proceeded to enjoy another evening of doing absolutely nothing. We watched more TV, played cards, had a couple of beers and slept.

Our last day in Fox was the least eventful one. We took Andy out for lunch as a thank you for letting us stay for free. The majority of the day was then spent back in the room waiting for evening to roll around so we could hit up the pub for some live music. It’s those kind of evenings I’ve been missing lately. Going out with good mates, enjoying a beer, and talking about whatever comes to mind and sharing ridiculous stories.

Before we left the next day, the three of us paid our dues and helped Susan (I believe that was her name) clean rooms. When the rest of the motel was sorted we cleaned our own room, packed up the cars, and said a bitter farewell to Fox Glacier. Looking back on it now, that might be the time I enjoyed most while traveling with Luke and Hannah.

~Ren

Falling 47 meters in Taupo

Time and time again, GPS has proven itself to be not always accurate. Usually, the misdirection is harmless and just adds a few more minutes to your drive time. Other times (like some instances to be recorded here later) it likes to take you into sketchier territory. Dad and I left the coast behind and began making our way inland to Taupo. And Google, being such a good friend, set us a course that would take the least amount of time.

As you can imagine, that didn’t go exactly to plan. Things were going just fine until we were somewhere near the halfway point. The navigator lady told me to turn off the main highway we were cruising down and onto a road through the forest with signs posted at the entrance reading “Entry by Permit Only” or something like that. Despite those signs I kept driving. The road hadn’t been blocked so what harm could there be?

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Well, there was no harm, no one caught us or anything. But after a little while driving, the road split and both ways had gates in front of them. At that point, we cut our losses and turned around, deciding to stick with the highways. After that it was only another 30 minutes into Taupo.

Taupo is a nice little town with a gorgeous lake view and good people. I’ve been there many times during my stay. As we drove further into town, street names and places started to look familiar. We turned off into the neighborhood and after several lefts and rights we pulled up outside our AirBNB. We were staying with a young couple for a few days. Nicole was very friendly and welcomed us into the house.

Dad and I left the house after spending some time getting to know Nicole and her husband.We were both hungry after a long morning of kayaking, so we swung by the grocery store then headed back home to make dinner. It was another night of pasta, quick and easy. We talked a bit more with Scott while he fed his son. Nicole had gone off to run a youth group meeting. After that we didn’t do much. Went back to the room, relaxed in bed, and eventually fell asleep.

The next day was filled with even more excitement than the last. When Dad and I first started talking about him coming to visit, he had been persistent in wanting to do a bungy jump while he was here. Personally a bungy jump had never appealed to me, but I wanted to make sure Dad got to do what he wanted, so I compromised with the Extreme Swing Taupo Bungy offers. Instead of falling head first towards a river, you are sitting in a harness and swing back and forth next to this massive cliff face.

Our jump (swing?) was scheduled for 10:30 that morning. It was a great day for it. The sun was out and the sky clear. The platform hangs right out over the Waikato River, and the surrounding area is a beautiful place…to fall 47 meters and be scared shitless. The office was small. A large safety board dominated the wall just inside the door. A scale sat in front of one of the counters. I walked over to a man behind the counter and told him the name on our booking.

He asked us to read over the safety board closely, and then had us fill out a form before weighing us. I’d made a tandem booking for the two of us, but we found out that day that we were just a few kilos over the weight limit. Ah well. At least doing two solo jumps meant we could film each other! With everything taken care of, we went out onto the deck to wait. A few people were already out on the platform doing their jumps, so we watched for a while.

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In case you didn’t know, it’s hard to take selfies with a really tall person.

Dad and I were both a little bummed we couldn’t go together, but not long after we’d left the office, he decided he was going to pay the extra money to do a bungy jump, which is what he wanted to do in the first place. We watched a few more people do a bungy jump and the extreme swing before I snagged a bean bag in the sun and spent some time with the orange tabby in residence. Then, my turn was up.

Doing a bungy, or this extreme swing thing, is kind of like giving a big speech or something similar. You manage to keep yourself pretty calm before hand, but once you step up onto that stage the fear and nerves kick into overdrive. That’s how I felt walking out to that platform. My arms and legs tensed up, I started trembling ever so slightly. Every breath in my chest was tight. I stepped inside the gate and a guy helped me into my harness. He checked all the buckles twice before sending me down to the launch pad.

Down there, two more people checked over all the straps and buckles (which made me feel a bit better), and just like that I was being clipped to large carabiners and told to sit back on the seat. I was hanging there, my legs pulled into a loose fetal position. I felt helpless and ridiculous. A few minutes later, the gate was opened up and a winch began to move me out over nothing but air. I was holding onto my harness for dear life. The guy was talking to me, asking me questions like if I’d seen people do this before, and he pointed out the cameras to me.

I was answering the best I could, having other more pressing things on my mind, like being dropped 47 meters over a river with nothing but a few straps to keep me from splashing into the depths. He was listening to my stiff answers, also a bit distracted by getting things ready. He spun me back around to face the right way, asked me to lean back, and…

I yelped in surprise. My brain was instantly consumed by the fact my body was in free fall. “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” The words just came out. I wasn’t in control of them. At last the harness caught and swung forward towards the high wall of the river bank. I yelped again. And then I started laughing. Like that deep, full, from the gut laugh. What was I doing? I whooped, and laughed again. Once I knew I was safe and would not be plunging into the blue waters below, I was oddly at peace, swing back and forth in this stunning gorge in New Zealand.

Once I slowed, the winch kicked in again and began pulling me back up to the platform. As I got closer, I could hear Dad giving a commentary to the video he was filming. He laughed and called, “Wave, Renee!” I gave a feeble shake of my hand and called back, “I’m not dead.” With a quick final pull from the winch I was back on the launch pad with solid ground beneath my feet. I thanked the two employees there and climbed back up the stairs.

Dad and I reunited for a brief moment. But then it was his turn to face the fall. I went off down to the lower view platform so I could catch the whole jump. It was a fair distance away, and you can’t zoom when filming a video on iPhone, but you could see enough, and hear when Dad started screaming (sorry, Dad). I stood there for a while waiting, and at one point thought I had missed it, but it was some other guy.

I recognized Dad’s tall figure step up to the edge of the platform. He stood there a long time. Then slowly, very slowly, he leaned forward. Then he was falling, fast, and the screams started, and as quickly ended. He hit the first bounce and was back up in the air like a human yoyo. I couldn’t stop myself laughing as I watched him bounce up and down. The yellow raft motored out beneath him and reached out a long pole for him to grab. I watched, still filming, as he was lowered into the boat, legs still tied up like some poor trapped animal. But soon he was sitting up and they boys were taking him back to shore.

I left the viewing platform and went to meet Dad on the path. His face was still a bit flushed, and he looked peaky when he appeared around the corner. I immediately started laughing again and asked him how it was. It had certainly done a number on him, but ultimately he was glad he’d done it. Both of us watched the videos of mine and Dad’s jumps several time throughout the rest of the day.

The other activities we had planned for the day were much more relaxing, and not at all terrifying. From the bungy place, I drove us up to see Huka Falls. I’d been a couple times, but it was a pretty impressive site I thought Dad would appreciate. The falls aren’t your classic waterfall. Instead it is just a large amount of water being forced through a too small space (and a bit of a waterfall), and the result is a massive churning, frothing channel of aqua blue water. We found a bench here and sat to have a snack.

With our hunger mostly satiated, we walked for a bit along the river before turning back to the car. Our day was given to the river, it seems. Any time I’m moving around NZ, I always make a point of checking to see if I’m going to be near any LOTR locations. A new one had cropped up around Taupo since my first visit (those Hobbit movies, ya know). So Dad and I were going to Aratiatia Rapids.

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This is where the famous barrel scene was filmed. At one time I imagine these rapids occurred naturally, but now they can only be seen when the gates daming the Waikato River are opened. (If you want to go see the rapids yourself some day, make sure you check what times the gates are opened. They are usually opened a few times a day.)  Like Huka Falls, the rapids are caused by lots of water being sent gushing through a tiny space all at once.

There are a few places you can stand and watch the rapids. Some choose to stay by the dam gates, but there are two other viewing platforms along the river. Dad and I chose the lower platform (the first one you come to along the path). We were the first people to arrive so we got the prime spot, right at the edge of the platform. There was still some time before the gates opened so I got some ‘before’ pictures while we waited.

Alarms sounded at certain intervals, warning people how much longer there was to wait until the gates opened. Conversation stopped anytime one echoed down the twisting walls of the ravine. Finally, the last alarm sounded and the gates were open. Had we been up on the street, it might have been more impressive. But it took a bit for us to really see that anything was going on.

Eventually, you could see white water up near the dam. Slowly, that band of white water pushed its way down the river, covering rocks and climbing up the stone walls. The sound rose with the water, something between a rumble and the rush of wind through trees. It was an awesome sight to behold, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. I wish I had tossed a rock down into the rapids so I could see it vanish in the waves.

The water stopped pouring out of the gates after about 15 minutes, but the water keeps coming long after. The other people that had gathered on the platform with us began to leave not long after the gates closed. Dad and I stayed so long that we were both the first to arrive and the last to leave. We didn’t stay till the very end of the rapids, but we did see them noticeably begin to recede.

We walked back to the car and drove back to town. Before heading home we made another stop at Countdown to pick up groceries for tomorrow. I’d made arrangements for Dad and I to do the Tongariro Crossing, one of the great day hikes NZ has to offer. It takes roughly seven hours to finish, so we had to be sure to have enough food for the trek. When we were all stocked up, we went back to the house for a while to relax.

Our day wasn’t quite finished however. Like I said, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Taupo, and as a result have made, well, one friend anyway. We go all the way back to my first time in New Zealand. Mom and I went sailing on Lake Taupo all those years ago with a man named Dave. When I came back and had heaps of time to fill in November, I took a trip to Taupo and went sailing with Dave again. He remembered me and Mom, and the two of us went out for a drink after the sail.

After that night of reconnecting we’ve stayed in touch. So when Dad came down for a visit, I figured I take him out for a sail with Dave, too. Yes, that was foreshadowing, if that’s even possible in a travel blog, but before we went sailing we met up with Dave at his local (a charming bar called Mulligan’s) for a drink. It was a quite night at Mulligans, but we all had a nice time chatting and sipping on a beer. Dave told us about his upcoming trip to Germany for the summer, and I filled him in on what I’d been up to lately. We ended the night early. Dad and I had a big day tomorrow.

Or so we thought.

Our shuttle for the Crossing was picking us up at some god-awful time in the wee hours of the morning, so the next morning we were up before the sun. We got dressed, made sure we had all our food and all our gear, slung our backpacks over our shoulders, and got into the car. We parked at the iSite, hoping my car would be okay for the day, then walked over to the street where the bus would pick us up.

We didn’t have to wait long for the short white bus to pull up in front of us. An older woman stepped out. “Are you here to do the Crossing?” she asked over the rumble of the engine. We said we were. The woman then proceeded to tell us that they weren’t taking anyone down for the Crossing. It was too cold, too windy, and just too dangerous. The part of me that still wanted to be in bed cheered, but the rest of me was disappointed. The Crossing was something I knew Dad would really enjoy. But in the words of Vonnegut, so it goes.

Even with our plans for the day canceled, we entertained ourselves and had a good time. First order of business was to go back home and get some more sleep. When it was a reasonable hour, we went into town to do something we hadn’t done in months. Father Daughter car maintenance. I had been in need of some new windshield wipers, and Dad suspected my air filter was in need of a change since my car struggled up hills, so we drove into town to the SuperCheap auto store.

It was just like shopping for car parts for back home, only here I wasn’t 100% sure of the make and model of my car, and the manual only helped a little. We only hit a few snags. The first air filter we got didn’t fit, so after looking at the filter already in the car (something we probably should’ve done first anyway) we went back in and found the right filter. The wiper blades gave us a bit more of a hassle.

We bought what we felt sure were the right kind of blades (thin, as opposed to thick), but when we tried to put them on the car, the blades were too small for the clips to grip them. WTF? So we went back in to exchange them. The clerk was similarly sure they should be thin blades. So someone went out with us to see what the problem was. It was then she informed us someone had modified the clips, and that they just needed to be pinched closed a bit.

Well that’s great, now we just needed to find pliers to do that! Our last bit of maintenance was filling tires at a BP station, so I took a chance and asked inside if they had pliers we could use, and they did! So it turned out not actually being that much of a pain. The air filter, wiper blades, and tires were all replaced and toped up before lunch. What to do now? We decided to play mini golf.

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What are the odds? I met the Stig buying auto parts!

Since I’m doing these blogs rather out of order at the moment, remember that time I played mini golf with Luke and Hannah in National Park? Yeah, well that was the second time I played mini golf in a gorgeous location, this is the first time. Lake Taupo was just across the street from the course. The sky in the distance looked like it was threatening rain, and we did get a bit of a sprinkle, but otherwise the weather was near perfect. Breezy, but still warm.

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Like most mini golf courses, the one in Taupo offered a free game if you made a hole in one on the last hole. Now, I’d already gotten a hole in one during the game, but by some will of the mini golf gods, I also sunk a hole in one on the eighteenth! The first, and maybe only time, I will ever do so. We had nothing better to do, so we took a quick snack break before coming back to play a second round.

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Now this is where the story gets a bit ridiculous. During the second game, Dad sunk a hole in one during the game. And then, oh yes, he sunk a hole in one on the eighteenth, too! What are the chances? We were mini golfed out after our second game, so we gave our free game pass to the family who had finished before us. Then we drove across the road to a car park by the water to have the lunch we should’ve had on the mountain.

After our couple of fierce mini golf games, we drove home. Much like the day before, the day wasn’t over just yet, but we’d run out of things to do, so lounging around the house was as good as anything. Our evening was going to spent at the cinema. Dad had noticed it when we were out the other day, so when our plans for the Crossing fell through, we decided to fill up some hours with a movie. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was still playing, the perfect film to continue Dad’s Kiwi experience.

I remember I spent a fair bit of time doing something or other on my laptop while Dad and Nicole chatted away. The hours passed quickly, and soon we were driving back into town and stepping into the theater. Since I’m certainly not going to write an account of us watching a movie, I’ll say instead here that this viewing was not my last. I’ll have seen Hunter for the Wilderpeople twice by the time I go home. And who knows, might end up watching it again when I get home. It’s a good flick; I’d recommend it.

We might have missed out on the Crossing, but our time in Taupo had been enjoyable even without it. Before we left the next day, as promised, we went out sailing with Dave. This particular sailing excursion was oddly reminiscent of the time Mom and I went sailing. Though we’d had good weather so far in our trip, a nice day on land can be cold on the water. Bundled up in my jacket and hat, I took a seat with Dad on one of the bean bags on deck.

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The sun came and went as we sailed. The sky was smeared with patches of gray clouds and the water was a dark steely blue. There wasn’t much talk while we sailed out of the harbor. The only other passengers were a pair of girls sat right at the front of the yacht. As we made our way further out on the water, I moved to the back of the boat to keep Dave company.

Dad came back to join us a while later. We passed the time talking, with Dave periodically calling up to the girls in the front to make sure they were alright. After an hour, we cleared the last cliff and turned towards the carvings. I didn’t take any pictures (I’ve been on this cruise three times before) but Dave gave Dad the spiel on the carvings, and I helped point out the smaller carvings that were beside the main face.

We didn’t stay long at the carvings. Soon we were turning back toward the shore. On our way out to the carvings, Dave had mentioned he was hoping to sail the entire trip. The wind had been with us that day, and we pulled back into the harbor having done exactly that. It was the only time he’d done it all season. Dave tied of the boat and the five of us stepped back onto pavement. I made sure to give Dave a proper goodbye. I wasn’t sure at this point if this was the last I’d see of him. Dad thanked him, and we both got back into the car and set out for Rotorua.

~Ren