Rafting and Tongariro Crossing: New Zealand Revisited

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As travel in Indonesia came to an end, I had one more destination  on my itinerary, New Zealand.  I have already travelled through New Zealand, but was coming here this time to visit friends who I’d met in London and had returned to Auckland to settle down.  My travels here were different as I was visiting people and getting to know Auckland better.  Most of my time was spent visiting numerous crystal clear beaches with clear blue skies.  Honestly, New Zealand is a beautiful country.

I did manage to get out do some touring with one of my friends. We headed off on a two day adventure.  I wanted to try white water rafting again.  I had tried in Bali and for the price I paid, the experience I had was okay.  The last time I was in New Zealand, I had rafted in Queenstown, which was the worst rafting experience ever.  Paid 195NZD to be on the river for 1.5 hours and only experience 5 minutes of rapids.  This time I tried to do some research, which sometimes doesn’t get far when it comes to white water rafting.  I decided to go on the Wairoa River which is controlled by a dam and can only be rafted 26 times a year.  It is advertised as a grade 5 river, but in my experience they always advertise higher than the river actually is.  For 110NZD my friend and I headed off.  I was a bit weary when there were no safety kayakers, how bad could this river really be?

Wairoa 1.45pm 005

This river was made up of a couple of grade 4 and 5 rapids along with some grade 2’s and 3’s.  The grade 4 rapids were more like grade 3.5 rapids.  The grade 5 rapids were waterfalls.  One of the grade 5 rapids had a danger spot after the waterfall that we had to try and avoid called the toaster.  Our guide explained that if we got stuck in the toaster the boat would be pulled into the water and we would all be sucked in and fall out of the boat.  He said that he’d try and steer us away from it, but he had been caught in it 4 weeks ago.  He said that if we noticed that he started to look panicked and started saying “Fuck, shit, fuck, shit, fuck, shit” then something has gone wrong and we were to hold on and get down quickly.  He did well that day and kept us out of the toaster by leaping in the boat to shift around the weight so that we stayed out of the toaster.

Wairoa 1.45pm 008

Always up for new experiences, when offered the opportunity to float through a grade 2 rapid, the whole group was on board.  How to make a grade 2 rapid exciting, don’t use a raft.  The instructions that were given to us was to lie on our backs with our legs out straight because if we bend our knees, our butts will hit rocks.  You’ll see a wave approaching you, take a breath before the wave comes and hold your breath.  You will go under the water.  You will take on water.  Hold your breath for 10 seconds and it will be over and don’t hyperventilate and don’t panic.  So I jumped into the water.  My knees were straight, but my butt was still hitting rocks.  I saw the wave approaching.  I took a breath and went under water and surfaced.  Then I saw another wave, took a breath, went under water and surfaced.  There was another wave right above me, breath, under, suface, next wave, breath, under, surface.  Now I was taking on water and I was starting to  hyperventilate, I was telling myself to not panic.  Fuck, shit, fuck, shit, fuck, shit.  Finally after what seemed like an eternity it came to an end and I survived.

After the rafting, we went onto do something very kiwi, freedom camping.  In our station wagon, we converted the trunk into a double bed with mattresses, blankets, duvets and pillows.  This is the way to travel New Zealand, forget about camper vans just convert  your car into a tent and it’s free accommodations!  We learned that when you sleep in the trunk of a car, with every turn, the car bounces up and down. I can assure that although our car was bouncing from the outside and our Windows were fogged up in the morning, it was due to a restless night and condensation; nothing else.

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After our somewhat restless night in the car, we headed off early in the morning to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  When I was last in New Zealand, I had done this trek before.  However, when I did it, it had been raining for days and the walk had been closed.  I went on the first day that they opened it and it was misty and there was no view.  This time, there were clear blue skies and the views were amazing.  The crossing is near where The Lord of the Rings Movies filmed Mordor and there’s even an option to climb mount Doom.  Whether in mist or in sunlight, this area just seems like death.  The trek is taxing.  You start of in a flat bit with sparse vegetation.  Then comes the infamous devil’s staircase which I think they redid because it seemed more gentle in its incline, less stairs this time.  Then you reach the red crater which marks the beginning of the descent.  The first descent is down scree.  I remember the last time having no control as I walked with lots of momentum from gravity.  I thought I was going to fall of the edge.  This time, it felt more manageable, maybe because I was mentally prepared for this.  Reaching the bottom of this brings you to what I think is the highlight, the emerald pools.  After this, it’s an easy walk downhill for 2.5 to 3 hours.

Mount Doom

Mount Doom

Emerald pools

Emerald pools

City Girl in the Wild

Being born in a city and lived in a city all my life, I do like being in nature.  But then, there are little things that happen that make me realize that I’m a city girl by heart.

I was invited to go night fishing.  The last time I fished was when I was 5 (so I wasn’t really fishing).  The trip ended early because I went to pee in the bushes and learned why women can’t stand up when they pee.  Here I was in the night time being attacked by mosquitos being shown how to fish.  I actually caught two fishes on my first two attempts.  Actually, I can’t say that they were my attempts.  As the rod was handed to me, I felt the pull of the line and reeled them in.  Later on that night, I caught my own where I had thrown out the line myself (I was refusing to bait the hook).  I took a picture of my catch, but refused to touch the actual fish.  Yuck!  I don’t want to touch the bait or the fish!!!

Next, I went panning for gold.  I have to tell you that all the good finds have long time been gone and all that was left, if found, were small tiny flecks.  When my friends found the spot in the river to go panning, without thinking they walked to the river’s edge, threw off their shoes, walked in the river and sat at its edge.  I slowly followed them, watching my step in the bush, cringing at the freezing temperature of the water and I wouldn’t sit at the edge of the river as I didn’t want to get dirty.  They were right in their getting their hands in the silt to put in their pan and I was there slowly putting the pan in the water picking up rocks that wouldn’t have gold in it.  Such a city girl, reluctant to get dirty!

Sometimes, I embraced the adventure of the wild.  I went canyoning and that was so much fun!  We were zip lining over gorges, abseiling down the gorges into rivers, climbing up rocks, and jumping off of rocks into pools of water.   It was adrenaline packed with trying to get over fears of heights and just basic safety.  I loved it when they told us to jump into water falls, but not too far to the right because you might hit a rock, but you only have 3-4m of width to make your jump.  Imagine, that I was able to do all of this and not break a single nail.

Other times that I embraced the wild was when I found myself in the midst of it all and the tranquility of it just made the stresses of city life evaporate.  That was Milford Sound.  I took a boat cruise here and watching the imposing fiords rise out of the water in front of us honestly made one feel like I was one with nature.  That’s when being in the wild makes a city girl glad that she can escape every now and then.  City life can be frantic and very fast paced and sometimes the world just needs to slow down and you can take some time to enjoy beauty and reflect on it.

Although, it can be a challenge to step away from the city, it is definitely worth it! 🙂

Ten Differences Between Travelling in Australia/New Zealand and Developing Nations

This is the first time that I’ve backpacked a western country (although technically Australia and New Zealand aren’t in the west).  I’m used to travelling in Asia, South America and Africa.  So I’ve been noticing some differences while travelling between the two different regions.  They are as follows:

1. Laundry services:  Normally in developing nations, you can drop off your laundry in the morning and return at the end of the day with you clothes washed, dried and ironed for you.  Here, you have to do it yourself.  Hostels provide coin operated machines.  Who has the time!

2. Bargaining:  No bargaining in Australia and New Zealand.  Even if prices are over inflated for tourism, you have no choice to pay it.  But at least the locals have to pay the over inflated prices too.

3.  Taxis:  When you walk out of your hostel in Australia and New Zealand, no one is hassling you to take a taxi.  “Would you like a taxi?”   In fact, when I was desperate to find a taxi, I couldn’t find one just in the road.  When I really think about it, there is no hassling at all.  You can walk past shops and restaurants and no one invites you to look at a menu or at their shop, “Looking is free!”  I kind of miss this interaction in the streets.

4.  Maps: In developing nations, you have maps from the guide books, but when you go on the streets, you can never see street signs and locals can never read maps!  So it has been much easier navigating myself with maps as people can read them and there are street signs!

5. Traffic:  Traffic is orderly in Australia and New Zealand.  People drive all on the same side of the road and there are traffic lights and road signs.  It is just not chaotic survival on the roads!

6.  Safety: There are seat belts on the buses here in Australia and New Zealand!  And you are required by law to wear them!

7.  Roads:  The roads are paved without potholes in them in Australia and New Zealand.  The buses are regularly maintained and have shocks so that you are not constantly bouncing up and down on sleeper buses like in India.

8.  Buses are Comfortable:  The buses are so comfortable in Australia and New Zealand.  Their basic buses are more luxurious than the ones that are labelled luxury in some of the countries that I’ve travelled in before.

9. Expensive!:  By far the most expensive countries that I have ever travelled.  More expensive than London, if that is possible.   More expensive than Canada and America. A dorm bed for one night would be my daily budget in any other country.  Food is so expensive that I’m not eating out.  I’m preparing food at the hostel and I’ve never done that before ever in my travels!  I haven’t even tried the lamb or beef in New Zealand and I’m told by all ofmy friends that it is supposed to be the best.

10. Exhausting!: In developing nations, because within the tourism industry they are competing for your money, you can just show up at a bus station and there will be people trying to get you to come see their hostel.  They will take you to as many hostels as you need for you to make a decision.  Once you are there, they will assist you with everything you possibly need.  Here, I have to book my hostels ahead of time.  I find this tiring.  I like to just show up and go find a place.  When I asked a hostel for information about buses, they told me to look online for information.  You have to manage booking your own transport.  I find it tiring to organize myself.  Everytime, you get to a new location, you can’t just relax, you have to think about how are you leaving and where are you going.

It’s been a definite contrast between the two regions.  As organized and calm as Australia and New Zealand are, I do miss the liveliness and chaos of the developing nations.  I can’t wait to get to Asia, back to my comfort zone!