hangi and volcanoes
It's my last week in New Zealand, and so I am attempting to cram as much as I can into each day, despite being completely exhausted. Sometimes, I have to admit, travelling does wear you out, but then again, I am kidding myself with the logic that if I am really, really tired, then I might sleep on my innumerable flights to Israel. Either that, or I will be so exhausted that I will sleep for 10 days and poor Ori's family will think that the Irish are lazy layabouts. Which mightn't be too far from the truth, but it wasn't me who said it.
Anyway, what have I been doing? Well, firstly, the finest day hike in NZ for a start. The Tongariro Crossing bills itself pretty highly, and the fact that you have to get up at 5.30am to get a bus at 6.20 from Taupo means that it had better be worth all that effort, but my god, it was. I went with Farideh, a girl I met in Christchurch, who is currently being employed as a kayaking guide for the summer in Taupo - nice work if you can get it. Actually, she told me I would make a great guide, so maybe I'll jack in my lucrative career in financial IT and become an "ever-summerer". Anyways, I was in safe hands, since she is all trained in lots of wilderness guiding, although she managed to identify some mist as a lake, fall over on the volcanic rock, and we both thought that Lake Taupo was the ocean. (Well, it is the largest lake in NZ, and, as we keep getting reminded, you can fit Singapore inside it.) Anyways, despite these clear setbacks, we had a fabulous day. The weather was clear enough to see Taranaki, a beautiful cone-shaped volcano in the far distance, which was incredible. It did look like Mt Fuji, and has been used as a stand-in for it. The hike itself was fun - there was one super-hard bit at the beginning, the aptly named Devil's Staircase, and then after that, it was just amazing volcanic landscape for miles. We could see the snow-covered Ruapehe, Tongariro, and another volcano who's name I can never remember, apart from it was used as Mt Doom in LOTR. Having said that, I could see no resemblance, again. I need to go watch those movies again and see whether I recognise the landscapes. I think I may have said this before, but I have a theory that the whole LOTR being shot in NZ is actually a grandiose scheme by the New Zealand tourism board which holds no truth whatsover. It's worked out very well for them.
The trail took us across a couple of volcanic craters, which were incredibly with steaming back and red rock, and then down to a triptych of emerald lakes, which were stunningly beautiful, and then to a blue lake. All these lakes were coloured because of their incredible chemical toxicity, although I had to wonder how many Maori and Westerners died of arsenic poisoning before people worked out not to swim or drink from those amazing waters. Finally, there was 4hrs of wandering through native bush, which looked rather like Scotland, and we were home. What a fantastic day. The sun shone, the craic was good, and we were pleasantly worn out when we were done. Even the trip home was eventful, with a light aircraft crashing into a house just 5mins before we drove past it. Rather scary looking crash site, but both the pilot and his passenger survived.
Last night I got to Rotorua (which my bus driver just loved saying), and then headed straight to a hangi and cultural experience. A hangi is a traditional Maori meal cooked underground by heated stones, but before we got to eat, we watched an hour of traditional dances and exercises. Wow. If I had arrived in the eighteenth century and been confronted by a Maori warrior dancing and being all ceremonial in front of me, I would have been on the first boat off. I'm surprised NZ has any Europeans at all. Those dudes were scary. It was an amazing sight though, and definitely to be recommened. The food was amazing as well (lamb! sweet potato! chocolate log!) and we even got to see glow-worms. A great night indeed.
This morning (see? It never stops) I went to Wai-o-Tapo Thermal Wonderland, which was very interesting - amazing colours, and lots of bubbling mud pools and hot hot water. It did remind me of Yellowstone though, and the geyser was pretty touristy (they added soap to it!). Still worth heading out to though. Finally, this afternoon I gave myself a rest by heading to Starbucks and having a nice wee capuccino. And tomorrow, the rushing around starts again, by heading to Auckland via the glow-worm caves at Waitomo. I'm excited about that. Pretty blue lights everywhere!