Land of Volcanoes - and pink dinosaurs

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Friday, May 21, 2004

Wiping sleep from eyes and picking remnants of hangi gristle from teeth we left Uncle Boy's in bright sunshine and headed for the aromatic delights of Rotorua. Since the 1880s the town - known as Roto-vegas to New Zealanders - has been a mecca for European (and now Japanese) tourists drawn there by therapeutic hot springs, bubbling mudpools and erupting geysers. The only problem is that it stinks to high heaven.

We stopped off at the Maori village of Whakarewarewa (remember 'Wh' is pronounced 'F') and had a guided tour of the sulphur dioxide smelling thermal area. How people manage to live here I'll never know.

Normally the mere mention of a 'cultural performance' would have me running to the nearest bar, put off by such tourist traps with their fake smiles and usually boring singing and dancing. This Maori stuff though is pretty cool. We watched another show similar to the one the kids did last night, with the women swinging their poi and the men haka-ing up a storm (I was in the front row and one of the big tattoed warriors fixed his gaze on me, eyes wide and tongue waggling, chanting and slapping loudly from barely two feet away. Despite his ridiculous mullet, it really was quite intimidating and I almost wanted to do a Tasman and bugger off to Fiji).

It was time to part with my Stray friends as I had decided to take a side trip by myself back up to the Bay of Plenty to the town of Whakatane. I wanted to visit White Island, an active volcano situated about 30 miles off-shore. Despite brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies the sea conditions were too rough for the boat to get to the island's shore safely, so after waiting for two days I finally gave up. Click here to see what I missed - and check out the pink dinosaur that someone recently stuck there.

I hitched a ride west with a couple from the hostel to the town of Mount Maunganui where I had arranged to stay with the son of a former NASDAQ colleague. I had a relaxing time wandering around the nearby town of Tauranga and climbing the extinct volcano itself, doing laundry and making lots of long-distance phone calls (just kidding Adrian and James, and thanks again for putting me up!).

It was then back on the road to Rotorua to meet up with the Stray bus again, continuing south to Lake Taupo. At 610 sq km the lake is the largest in the country, the flooded crater of a massive eruption in AD186. The area is renowned for its trout fishing and adventure activities, especially skydiving.

So there I was, 12,000 feet above snow-capped mountains and a massive lake on a beautiful late autumn afternoon, wishing I was fishing. There was no bloody way I was going to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, and my thoughts were confirmed when the door opened and the earth appeared far, far below. However, the bloke I was strapped to ignored my pathetic whimperings and before I knew what was happening I was hurtling through the air at 120mph, spinning round and round expecting my adrenal glands to explode at any moment - if they hadn't already. After 45 seconds of freefall the ground seemed to be getting closer remarkably quickly, and then WHOOSH the chute opened and the brakes were slammed on (Dazzla's skydiving top tip: make sure the harness is snug around the groinal area otherwise, well you'll find out).

Swooping around, trying to catch my breath whilst losing it again to a spectacular view, we eventually came into land a bit too quickly and ended up in a heap on the ground, thoroughly exhilarated, and definitely glad I hadn't gone fishing. And I have the video to prove it!
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