I’ve one evening in Auckland. My hostel room is above a karaoke bar which projects the wailings inside through a speaker outside. This wafts nicely into the dorm room, making for some fitful sleep. The longer term residents have used the fire sprinkler pipes as clothes racks and created a sense of privacy by hanging towels round their beds. I sprawl freely and in plain view.
Nursing a fully developed cold, I briefly venture into the non-descript streets before passing out for 13 hours straight.
Catching a bus to Taupo, the driver is a man in a blonde wig called Rachel and the guy sat across from me has put the drawstrings of his hoody in his ears.
Taupo is a sleepy town. I watch a man up a ladder cleaning a large metal fish and an information board celebrates their native ‘Giant Carnivorous Hermaphrodite Snails’. In the hostel I’m soon adopted for an evening trek up to the hot thermal river. An hour or so later and five of us are sat in a waterfall. It’s hot, too hot. One person (Marie) faints.
Marie put her working visa to use on a dairy farm producing organic yogurt. I feel nauseous when she describes having to milk the blood clots out of a cows badly bruised udders. She also informs that the females of mixed gender twin calfs are always infertile.
As weather has delayed the Tongarero Crossing, Marie and I walk to Huka Falls, along the Waikato River. The Waikato provides 15% of New Zealand’s power and converges through a narrow gorge to form the falls. A wild torrent churns through at 200,000 litres a second (or 5 Olympic Pools a minute). An early explorer described it as “a very considerate stream”. He was an idiot. It’s huge and ridiculous and I want to pour vats of (biodegradable) bubble bath off the bridge.
We revive ourselves at a honey shop where they appear to be showing a horror film…I had NO IDEA that a queen bee arose from a normal larvae being fed royal jelly, secreted from the HEADS of young worker bees. I had NO IDEA that several queen bees FIGHT TO THE DEATH before the winner is instated. This includes unhatched larvae being STUNG TO DEATH through their protective shells. Brutal stuff.
Serial murders aside, we enjoy Beenut Butter and Bacon Jam before heading on our merry way.
With blue skies but sub zero temperatures the following day, the Tongariro Crossing is on. Over seven arduous hours we pass Mt Doom (Lord of the Rings. Lost on me), stand on volcanic rocks with the trickle of streams underfoot, smell luminous sulphur lakes, spot a tui bird, and walk through clouds.
Leaving Taupo I have only one regret. This was failing to visit Prawn Theme Park. I have a penchant for prawns…and theme parks. Their marketing materials feature a young boy holding a giant prawn whilst looking indescribably terrified.
Next up is Rotorua, famous for varied geothermal activity. The whole city smells of eggs. As someone (me) once (today) said ‘It is a liberated land where one can fart freely’.
In Wai-O-Tomo, there are projectile mud pools, bubbling aquamarine lakes and burning vegetations near smouldering rocks. The huge Maori man driving the shuttle back to town tells me about a tribute to his tribe which can be found back home in Clandon Park. Curious…
The evening is spent wondering aimlessly. A military recruitment poster uses the logos of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The emblem of the Air Force is a kiwi bird…which is a flightless bird. Bad choice?
I’m still a sickly lump of lethargy in need of lengthy hibernations. Activities are minimal, stories are lacking. I finished reading Jane Eyre…which was completely brilliant.
On the way back up to Auckland I stop at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. After meandering through the cave formations, we drift through dark waterways with paint spatterings of glow worms over head. They gather and branch out in elongated groups. The effect is similar to looking down on islands and coastal cities at night.
Back in Auckland I had booked to get eyelash extensions. They are as ridiculous as they sound. Tiny fibres are attached to your natural lashes, creating the illusion of a very generous god. A small Korean lady is running a half price offer and with Indonesian sea dwelling round the corner, I want to look less like a drowned rat.
Lying on a table out back, she starts by placing a series of tapes around my eyes which render them quite closed. She gets to work with tweezers and other ancillary items. It’s a good hours worth of input. Occasionally she tends to a customer. I hear a guy in the shop, seemingly on his mobile. After a few moments, the Korean lady jumps up screaming and runs out the shop. I can’t see a bleedin’ thing but I assume he’s nicked something. I scramble around on the floor for my handbag (which contains passport and all bank cards!!!). Blissfully, I find it, feel my way back to the table and sit clutching my bag with my eyes still taped shut. A few minutes later she’s back, having managed to get some men to chase down the thief. Her mobile phone is retrieved and we get back to work. It is quite shameful to be rendered blind in crisis through your own vanity!
After an evening of playing pool and staring at other peoples food (I still have lots of apples to work through …) I spend my last day in Auckland doing life admin in the library (ultra modern deluxe wonderfulness) and visiting Auckland Museum (ultra modern deluxe wonderfulness) where they are displaying Wildlife Photographer of the Year images. There were a few other hostel related experiences which left me seething, including the discovery of a used sanitary towel in the shower. Who does that??
Tonight I fly to Indonesia, soon to be joined by my buddy ol’ pal, Alex(andra).
New Zealand (exception of Auckland) has reminded me of home. The people possess reserved eccentricities and public amenities are politely shabby. The landscapes are ‘sweet as’ and most hostels come with a ginger cat.