Hot Water Heat
Trip Start Oct 31, 2011
114Trip End May 31, 2012
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Where I stayed
The Kiwi Experience was very entertaining anyway and I found all the people on the bus to be much more sociable that those I had met on my previous travelling experiences to date. I think the reason for this was routed in the fact that most buses tend to stick together whilst travelling in the north and south islands, it was therefore in all of our interests to try and get to know each other from the outset of the journey for we would all be spending quite some time together.
I met lots of interesting and not so interesting people on the Kiwi Bus, there is such a diversity of personalities, nationalities and circumstances and I suppose this in essence is what the whole travelling experience is about. Exposing yourself to a whole host of different social and real environments. This mosaic of people and places creates many an interesting conversation and social scenario. It can be a little like a mine-field in some instances though! Few awkward silences in there. As awful as it sounds I found It also to be quite difficult to motivate yourself to go through the whole mutual exchange of information with new people! After meeting tens of people each day it can become tiresome.
On a few occasions I was on the Kiwi bus there were older couples (40+) using the service too, they were not backpacking but just using the network of buses and their stops as a means to efficiently see both islands. I felt really sorry for them in quite a few instances as their presence was just not in keeping with the whole binge drinking and promiscuous atmosphere which would inevitably surface each day as the previous evenings events were discussed over the microphone. I cannot believe a tour operator, or even the Kiwi Experience themselves would advise them book. There should definitely be a maximum age requirement to mitigate against the awkwardness which inevitably ensues. Not that I am ageist or anything, it would just be for the better and undoubtedly in everybody's interest. It was uncomfortable at times!
After a quiet day visiting Coromandel Bay, a stunning beach with equally impressive offshore rock formations we headed towards hot water beach for the evening. I do enjoy the beaches in New Zealand but in my opinion they are not quite up there with the ones in Australia. I guess they are a different sort of experience; not so expansive but with more of a jagged and undulating coastline. I am one for the sun so tend to prefer the warmer climate and the endless linear mileage of the sun lounging Aussie ones, Mission Beach springs to mind as my ideal.
Hot Water Beach was a right laugh. It is basically a geo-thermally heated beach which is in the middle of nowhere, there is a small camper-van inhabited park next to it but that is pretty much it. We stayed in purpose built shacks which had been put up exclusively for the Kiwi Buses; this gives you sort of an idea of just how much business and local spin-offs this backpacking experience delivers to the whole country. To say it is the lifeblood of quite a few of the rural New Zealand communities would not be far off the mark.
One let-down of the whole Kiwi Experience was the fact that the rate was $30 (~£16) per night for the cheapest dorm offering. I would discover as time went on that this is always the price when sorting accommodation through the Kiwi buses. They assure you they'll guarantee a bed for you at the respective destination but this comes at a price; this being you are obliged to pay more than the market rate for a standard dorm room. I therefore decided to book ahead in every instance as you can normally sort a bed for $24 (£13). On occasions this meant I was staying at a different place to that of the bus but this did not matter in the slightest. Yes it was only £3 but if you add that up over two months worth of accommodation a significant figure definitely starts to come into focus.
On the evening I spent in Hot Water Beach we had been informed that low tide was to be around 11pm, this is important as it is customary to wander down to the beach at said time with a spade or other digging device and then proceed to dig a hole. If all goes well and your patch of sand has a hot rock under it then- hey presto! The water in the resultant hole is warm or in some cases almost boiling. It gets so hot that burnt toes are a real risk as you precariously dip your foot in to 'test the waters' each time a little pool fills up. Apparently it is possible to cook food in these pools although I daresay it is probably not advisable. Either way the locals talk of how it is possible to swim out to a nearby rock, scrape a few mussels off of it and then come back and boil them in the pools. There was plenty of space to dig at on this particular evening but apparently you cannot get a hot bit of sand for 'love nor money' due to the inevitable scrum of locals and tourists when low tide happens to coincide with a sunny late afternoon.
I found the geo-thermal heat is by no means uniform across the beach, with some spots being scalding hot and some, often only the next yard of sand, being absolutely freezing. Once you find what feels like a warm-ish patch the idea is you dig a hole and sit in it, sometimes people also bring beers and relax in a spa-like setting on the beach.
I did not really get involved in lying in the pools on this occasion as it was 11:30pm and I had no desire to get covered in sand and then have to shower and generally sort myself out in a busy dorm later on that at night. I thought it was also too difficult to regulate the temperatures with the water normally being either far too hot or freezing. This made it rather annoying at times, I needed a nice warmth given the late evening cooler temperatures.
It was all fun and games though and provided a nice evenings entertainment. I was assigned one of the chief diggers and just marched around (mostly in circles) shovelling sand in all directions in an attempt to miraculously discover a hot-spa like sand pool which everyone could enjoy. It never did happen though and so I walked back with a few others along the main road and we made our way back to the bunks around midnight.
The following morning it was an early start and so after a quick helping of peanut porridge (traveller special which consists of oats, water and peanut butter) I boarded the big green bus and we departed to Waitomo. Home of the famous underground cave network.
Waitomo is a quiet place that is very much sustained solely by passing tourists who flock to the area in order to experience the amazing underground cave network.
Due to ear related problems which render me unable to dunk my head under water I unfortunately could not really partake in any of the caving activities since all the 'adventures' boasted of how getting soaked would be inevitable. Ab-sailing off ledges and careering down waterfalls and into plunge pools was to be expected, the fact that this was all to take place in an underground limestone scenario made it all the more remarkable. There were so called 'dry experiences' which were offered by the same company but our driver advised me, quote "they are only really suitable for elderly Japanese tourists"-that unsurprisingly put me right off. It was around £80 so I was not overly keen to risk it.
It was no major upset as I have been fortunate enough to experience a number of wonderful caves over the past few months. The stand-out for me was undoubtedly Hanoi and the magnificent Halong Bay.
On that rainy morning in Waitomo I was a spectator as everyone got bused off to the start of the caves. I decided instead to get the trainers out and headed out over the wonderful rolling green hills for a little run through the woods. Right up my street and preferable to a day caving in my mind. All of the livestock, smell of manure, deciduous woodland/other general countryside scenery and the jogging down single track muddy farm roads took me back to many a run around South Dissington back in the day. There was something strangely familiar about it all.
One of the wonderful things about travelling around in New Zealand is the free access to hundreds of miles of well maintained and stunning footpaths and trails. This enables you to experience the stunning scenery at your leisure and I often took to running along these paths, sometimes doing a fair few miles each day. Apparently the government took on the onus of looking after all public footpaths after a tragedy involving the fatalities of a number of youths a few years back. They were on a school trip when their wooden footpath which was elevated on a platform collapsed. The cause of the collapse was later determined to be rotten wood and it transpired the whole infrastructure suffered from a severe lack of investment and had fallen into a state of clear disrepair.