Monday, February 11, 2008

A-Z of New Zealand

- My travel companion. She is mostly human-shaped and to the unknowing eyes, just another regular girl in the world. But no! She is kerrr-razzy and comes unhinged in the heat. Also goes by the codename, 'Charm' or the 'Chazmeister'.
- The Maori name for New Zealand; 'The Land of the White Cloud'. While I was there, New Zealand was having the best summer in a whole lotta years. Warm sun and little clouds meant perfect vacation weather!

- Budget Backpackers Hostel is a network of backpackers and travelers accommodation that runs throughout both islands of New Zealand. The card costs NZ$45 and lasts for a year. What it gets you is a 20 minute phone card as well as NZ$3 off every BBH accommodation, and frankly, the ones we stayed at were really quite nice.
Bluff Hill @ Napier
- A short hill climb that gives way to gorgeous views of the Port of Napier as well as the Napier city shoreline. According to the Droid, it would be a good place for 'parking'. I wholly agree.
- is how we got around the island. Intercity bus lines, with routes to almost every city, offer a Flexipass option which allows you to buy blocks of travel time for discounted prices. Just ring up the hot line at least 24 hours before the bus ride and you're all set to go! The service is quite reliable, if stodgy at times. It's always a treat to get an awesome bus driver who offers commentary or smoke breaks.

- where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meets. What ensues are huge waves of up to 3-5 meters tall.

Cathedral Cove @ Whitianga
- is two gorgeous beaches joined through a hole in the mountain. The surf is great, the water is cold and the hole is massive. Smiles all around!
Central Plateau - is a mountainous region that includes 3 mountains that either were or still are active volcanoes - Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. The latter (the middle in the picture) is most famous for playing host to the evil lairs of Sauron (Mt Doom) in the Lord of the Rings movie. (See T; Tongariro Crossing)
- see A; Android.
- is sitting on a hammock in Paihia with sunlight filtering through the leaves gently tickling your visual senses as a light cool breeze rustles leaves, creating the soundtrack to the perfect moment.


- is what the people who arrive off the Coast of Dalmatia - Yugoslavia, Croatia etc. are referred to by the Northlanders. Wow, that was one really awkward sentence.
- lovely town located a ferry ride away from Auckland. Round trip ticket will set you back by NZ$15.
– see Z; Zorb.

- we encountered a swarm/cod/school/wholebunchof (?) of dolphins while on the way to view the Hole in the Rock (see H). It was honestly quite a thrill. ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’ indeed!
Donor Kebab @ Horomotangi St, Taupo
- best Middle Eastern food ever! Well, maybe that title might be challenged in Middle East itself, but in New Zealand, they've got the awards to back up that claim. The food is decently priced to boot.


Eczema cure ?
- At Paihia, I bumped into a man from South Africa who shared his wisdom concerning curing eczema. Apparently the mixture of butter and sulphur makes for a wonderful healing ointment. So when I came across volcanic sulphur soap at White Island, I decided to give that dude a shot. As of now, I have yet to run out of my current soap, so the experimenting hasn't begun. I figured butter was optional in that equation.

Eden, Mt @ Auckland
- a mere NZ$3.20 bus ride from the Auckland city centre, the extinct volcano provides lovely views of Auckland that Sky Tower cannot. From the top of Mangawhau (the Maori name), you will be able to look at the other two volcanic cones - One Tree Hill and Auckland Domain. Caution: Beware of cow poop!
Eugoogly #1
- 11/01/08; Sir Edmund Hillary, the explorer passes. New Zealand is in mourning.
Eugoogly #2
- 17/01/08; Brad Renfro, the child actor/addict passes. I go into mourning.
Eugoogly #3
- 18/01/08; While at Taupo, just 200 meters from where we were staying (Rainbow Lodge; see R), a 24 year old Scottish woman, Karen Aim, was mysteriously bludgeoned to death. When I left, the case was still pending.
Eugoogly #4
- 24/01/08; Heath Ledger, the actor passes. The world is shocked.

Fish & chips
- Quite possibly New Zealand's most famous export behind the All Blacks, Kathmandu and sheep-related products.
Fry bread
- a local treat bought at Kuirau Park Flea Market. The dough is a cross between a donut and banana bread. Add butter and/or golden syrup for a sugary treat and you've got yourself lunch!


German Angora rabbits @ Waitomo
- aka Giant Fluffball of Itch-inducing Soft Angora Hair. Sheared daily at the The Shearing Shed at Waitomo. Also available there are, surprise, angora-related products - jumpers, beanies, whathaveyouse.

- the first city in the world to see the sun. The town is surf happy and sun is a-plenty. Also the first place Captain Cook landed on when he discovered New Zealand.
Golden Compass, The
- for all its awkward dialogue and exposition, the film delivered much more than I expected. Sufficient seeds were planted so that the following sequels will be fairly entertaining. Watched while waiting for the bus as Whakatane.
Government Gardens @ Rotorua
- start at the historic Prince's Gate Arch and walk around the marked trail that leads to among other places, the Rotorua Museum, the historic Blue Baths as well as the perfectly manicured lawns of the Rotorua Croquet Club.

- 18/01/08; the Chazmeister aka Android aka My Indentured Servant fetched me my watch that I had left behind in the showers.

Hole in the Rock
- Quite literally. The King's Bay of Island tour will take you out there for $115. Along the way, you will most probably see dolphins and even swim with them if conditions are right.
Hot Water Beach @ Whitianga
- Through the forces of Magic! (nature), the sand is warm. Dig a hole, settle in and you've got your own mini spa pool. Note: the water is cold. Hence, make-shift spa pool will turn cold upon contact with water.
Huka Falls @ Taupo
- a 2.8 km walk (1 hr each way) from the city centre, the walk will take you across a thermal park (really just hot water gushing from a small falls) to the Huka Falls footbridge. You will be able to witness the force of the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river along the way.


- jumping off 12,000 ft from an airplane and paying $220 to do so! Skydive Taupo will pick you up in a fancy limousine as you head to partake in said insanity.
- On my trip, I learned that New Zealand isn't just made up of a North and South. There are in fact a whole bunch of teeny little islands as well as the Strait Islands.
It by Stephen King
- my trusty companion. I expected my favourite book to last the whole trip but I unfortunately finished it off in 8 days. As a result, there were blank gaps that Mills & Boon desperately wished to fill, but my sanity prevailed.

Juno Hall @ Waitomo
- solid BBH backpackers that have extremely great staff service. Outside in the garden is a trampoline that I took full advantage of too!
Just the Duck Nuts @ Tauranga
- Although located a little away from the city central, the awesome place is totally worth the distance. The complimentary pick up/drop off by Sandra, the lovely and generous host, is a total plus. Quaint atmosphere - straight out of a storybook!
IMGP5190. Seriously.

Kauri forest
- long destroyed, the Kauri trees were once formidable native trees of the North Island. Seriously, they're massive for inexplicable reasons (I don't know why) the forests went extinct. However, scavengers have discovered the remains of the trees under a bog that are still in perfect condition.

- is nocturnal! And can sleep up to 16 hours! All that we found out when we entered a Kiwi enclosure on a clear, hot, sunny day.
- were once named Chinese Gooseberries. That, I didn't know.
Kuirau Park @ Rotorua
- a park located a couple of blocks from the city centre that should be visited by all. One, it offers a good free experience with underground thermal activity - mud pools and steaming lakes. No geysers unfortunately. Two, free warm water public baths for the desperate! On Saturdays, there is a flea market where you can eat to your heart's content fry bread (see F)

- in Maori, vowels are very pronounced and 'Wh-' is pronounced 'fa'. So Whakatane is not 'wa-ka-tane', but 'fa-ka-ta-ne', as the nice lady on the Intercity hotline explained, while trying hard not to laugh. Whatsthedamnurl..saving you from public embarrassment since 2004!
Llyod's Lodge @ Whakatane
- a gorgeous house set a 10 m stroll from town with all the charm of a B&B. Pam, the host, is ever friendly and the chilled out vibe befits those who are looking for some down time. BBH hostel as well.

Manganui, Mt @ Tauranga - a 282 meter hill that offers awesome 360 panoramic views of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. The walk up is slightly reminiscent to that scene in A Knight's Tale with Alan Tudyk, "Pain? Take the pain!" The surf is great there so after a hard walk up, jump right in the ocean and catch a wave!
Mid-summer murders
- Strangely, it appears that come every summer, a spate of eerie murders happen in New Zealand. Ranging from dead babies to finding bodies in rivers, as of January 2008, there has been 9 such tragedies.

Naked Bus
- No. Not that kind of bus. The company offers cheap direct transportation in between main city centres. Check online website to make bookings:
Napier - the Art Deco town of New Zealand, according to Lonely Planet. What exactly is 'Art Deco'? Well, I gathered that it refers to the style and architecture from the 1930s. Napier, the town is highly likely to be haunted as a strong earthquake leveled the town in 1931.
Ninety Mile Beach
- located at the north of the North Island. Note: The beach is really only 64 km in length.

One Tree Hill
- the volcanic cone in Auckland, not the terribly teenage soap on CW. Should really be called One Obelisk Hill. The lone tree atop that hill got chopped down a couple years ago because of disease. All that stands now is an obelisk.

Pak & Save
- super cheap, super great, supermarket. (Did that work?) Located at most central cities it is the cheapest of all supermarkets. We've done our research,
Pickled Parrot's Backpackers Lodge @ Paihia
- comes highly recommended. [BBH hostel]

Pohutukawa tree
- Commonly referred to as New Zealand's 'Christmas tree', these gorgeous flowers bloom in the summer months and brighten up the landscape with its cheery red flowers.

Quaint - IMGP6250. Yeap. A cowboy in the empty store.

Rainbow Lodge Backpackers @ Taupo
- New Zealand's first custom built backpackers. It is very efficiently managed and while the distance isn't the most convenient, the great facilities and custom built lodge makes for a perfect accommodation. Plus, free pick up! [BBH hostel]
Rotorua - Sulphur city! Due to underground thermal activity, the strong smell of sulphur permeates the air (and I strongly suspect, will cause the town to fall into itself). The town is also building up to be an action-packed town to rival the likes of Queenstown. Note: The Lonely Planet guide book suggests a walk that is very beneficial to the roving tourist! Rotorua embraces its Maori roots and it's one of the best places to view a cultural performance.

Sand Safari @ Kaitaia
- highly recommended tour company that takes you out to 90 Mile Beach and the Cape Reinga light house (see C). For NZ$60, you buy yourself a friendly and super informative bus driver, lunch. the sights and a chance to go sand tobogganing.
Sand tobogganing
- at Te Paki with Sand Safaris. It's all fun and games until you take a massive face plant and end up with a mouth full of sand.
Surfing with Frank @ Gisborne
- NZ$45 will get you lessons, wetsuit and surfboard rental. Frank, who has the laidback airs of a surfer dude, is very friendly and helpful. While the lesson is easy enough to understand, standing up is a whole different thing. The next day, your arms will be hurting something bad, and that's a promise!

- True fact: the size of Lake Taupo is approximately the size of Singapore! Skydiving at Taupo is one of the cheapest and safest in the world with up to 35,000 jumps every year.
Te Puia @ Rotorua
- Take the activity shuttle from iSite Rotorua for a small fee and enter the thermal underground with mud pools and a very reliant geyser, Pohutu, erupting regularly 2-3 times every hour. The entrance fee, NZ$50 includes a guided tour, entrance to the Kiwi Enclosure and a cultural performance.
Theme of the month
- L for Love!
Tongariro Crossing
- located at the National Village, 11/2 hours outside of Taupo, the crossing is often described as New Zealand's 'best one day hike'. It spans 18.5 km (roughly 7-8 hours) and covers the Central Plateau (see C). The hike gives you a chance to view the wild and varied flora of the mountains as well as observe the thermal activity that runs throughout the three mountains. The terrain is rocky and ill-advised for those with knee problems.

- the sensation of seeing Lake Taupo at a height of 12,000 ft.
- on the day we did the Tongariro Crossing, the weather was abysmal. Strong winds and mist meant no clear view from the top. Thankfully on our descent, the weather cleared up and we got pretty sweet views of the rest of the mountain.

Very NZ
- IMGP4776

Wai-O-Tapu @ Rotorua
- deemed a 'thermal wonderland' by the advertising branch of the company, it certainly lives up to the hype. The Champagne Pool should not be missed, doubly so for the strangely green waters of Devil's Path. NZ$27.50 entrance.
- New Zealand's capital! Highlights include Cuba Mall (Pegasus Books), the Te Papa National Museum, the $2 return Cable Car Ride that gives you panaromic views of Wellington and Old St Paul's - a grand old church that is so old it is made out of wood.
White Island - New Zealand's only marine volcano is located 49 km off Whakatane. A 6 hour eco-adventure tour with PeeJay may be pricey at $160 but the trip is pleasant, guides are experienced and lunch is provided. Come on. Where else can you say you've toured an active volcano?

Epic 10.30am 22nd Jan - Jimmy & Dwayne (7)
- Caving, also known as spleunking to you American English people. We begin by abseiling 100m down into the cave and from then on it’s an adrenaline packed adventure as we climbed rocks, jumped off cliffs, met the local fauna (glow worms, spiders, eels) and even saw a fossil of a whale! We went for the 7 hour epic adventure with Waitomo Adventures at Waitomo. It's quite hard to describe the majesty of the lush and untouched environment in the caves. I suppose it’s as close as I'll ever get to naturalness of our primitive forefathers.

Young boarders - were riding their hearts out at the Wellington skate park. Bless their little fearless hearts!

– the state of mind as you float along down in a parachute from a height of 3,000 ft.
Zorb – The closest you’ll ever get to being a bubble boy/girl! Either roll down strapped down to the ball or in a water-filled ball. The Droid will attest that the water option is a barrelful of giggles. Note: To select the strapped down option, one needs to be at least 1.6 meters tall. Even if you’re a wee bit off by 0.5 and reeking of desperation, the kind operators at Zorb Rotorua will still politely tell you to piss off. Discrimination, I cry!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Falling. With Style.

Since everyone keeps asking, here's my take on skydiving:

@ Taupo: 18/01/08

Today I flew.

Not much like a bird, or a flying squirrel, or even Superman. No, not quite.

What I technically did was fall. Fall with style.

I fell from a height of 12,000 feet bound to Eric, the dive master, and all that kept me from inevitable death was a bunch of nylon straps and some cloth. Oh, humans and their nifty contraptions!

This morning I had psyched myself up so much to the point where I had filled my stomach with fear and nervousness. At 10.30 am, I was a bundle of nerves - trembling with energy and excitement that can only come from a mixture of adrenaline and panic.

"12,000 feet! That's mental," my gray matter up there screamed.

Every cell in my body said no. My bladder which had already been emptied three times by then was rejecting the notion that falling from 12,000 feet could possibly end well. The muffin bar I had for breakfast sat undigested in my stomach that was already overfilled with trepidation and the previously mentioned emotions. Every atom in my body said no. Yet the confirmation call that went through to Skydive Taupo affirmed my earlier booking. How did that happen?

11.00 am came and the courtesy limo came to pick us mentals up. Charm and I signed away our lives as we filled out the liability form. It was happening then. No turning back. The falling would be happening. And I, a girl, just shy of her 21st birthday would be partaking in said falling.

We got to the centre. Immediately we watched a DVD that briefly chronicled a standard jump. Alright then, that didn’t seem too scary at all, sarcastic quotes in full use. Let's put on our suits and our harness and have the 'safety talk'. My body should have been permeated with nausea by then, yet somehow a strange calm had settled. Everything that I had experienced at 10.30 am that morning was but a distant memory. I was the Zen Master. I was ready to rock and roll.

Having a fantastic dive master helped of course. Eric, from Zimbabwe, was the consummate professional. Cheeky, of course, as most people whose career involve insane amounts of adrenaline. When asked what I should do if the straps didn’t hold, he answered, “Can you flap your arms like a pair of wings?” Brilliant. We waited for our turn and watched as people jumped and completed their parachute ride down. My body was still in its strange Zen mode. The earlier freak outs remained gone.

Finally it was our turn. We climbed up a pink ‘airplane’ - if you’re feeling particularly generous. That flying contraption was honestly nothing but an engine, aluminum and ply glass melded together to resemble an airplane. Small quarters meant that us 9 (4 jumpers, 4 dive masters and 1 pilot) were cramped together. As we ascended, the temperature dropped. The plane got creakier. The ground became smaller. On my left, out the window, I saw clouds in the near distance. This day was beautiful and the jump was going to be awesome.

Now I was strapped on and had my full gear on. It was time. Charm went ahead first and her descent looked perfect. After going through the instructions again, I hopped on over to where the door opened out to blue sky. My feet dangled over the airplane and wind gushed around my it as Eric readied me for the jump.

"Right. No turning back now. Let's do this. And try not to crap my pants while doing it!"

One thumbs up later and we're off. Being in the 'smiling banana' position, sky became ground as we jumped from the plane. Awesomeness just happened. Sitting roller coasters my whole life had prepared me for the dizzying visual sensation but not the next. We're falling!! Wind streamed past my ears and my mind immediately went to that scene with the whale in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Ahhh! Woooh! What's happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What's my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my... well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a... tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what's this roaring sound, whooshing past what I'm suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It'll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I'm dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There's an awful lot of that now isn't it? And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me? Hello Ground!

There was lots of wind. I remember that. And gorgeous views of the land as we fell. We were traveling at speeds of up to 200 km/ph! We continued to fall till 5000 feet when the parachute was pulled. A quick jerk at the hips and we’re falling like a leaf as gravity worked its magic and the parachute glided down to where solid ground was.

I got unbelievable views of the Central Plateau, the town of Taupo and the airstrip. I chatted with Eric about solo jumps. The highest he's ever jumped off is 22,000 feet. Parachutes are deployed at 2000 feet with solo jumps. He did a twirl with the parachute and the ground went 360.

That was madness, yes it was and I am mad for doing it. As I walked across town later today, all I could think as I passed people on the streets was, "Well, I just jumped 12,000 feet today. What did you do?"

As I finish up this unbearable essay, I remain in my Zen Master mode. Strange how this calm endures as normalcy resumes.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Some things to think about

1. This year the weekend my birthday landed on was completely shithouse. I was in a funk I couldn't break out of and as a result, I acted like a right cunt towards friends who were being so absolutely kind and fantastic. If you're reading this, you know who you are. I am sorry. I'm a terrible bastard.

2. Thanks to good friends and long conversations, I got back to my usual level of not-quite-such-a-douche. If you're reading this, you also know who you are. Thank you for putting up with me.

3. Then while cleaning my house because all that was clean was a 1 m strip of carpet, I came across a bulging envelope. Inside were letters and cards from friends that were sent when I was away. Previous birthday cards, holiday cards, post cards, innocuous letters and snail mail - what a treat. Thank you to everyone who's contributed to that pile. You probably forgot, but if you're wondering if that includes you, odds are, it probably does.

4. It's strange explaining to people who don't celebrate what Chinese New Year is all about. I don't pretend to know the actual meaning behind it - family, food and gambling, no? Even weirder is being constantly reminded that the city will in fact not go into shut down. So the local sundry shop WILL be open? Lies. What a mind trip.

5. I think The Darjeeling Limited is Wes Anderson's best work.

6. In my weekend of self-inflicted funk-itude, I watched all 5 Harry Potter movies. These are some things I learned:
- Daniel Radcliffe does his best work in the presence of Gary Oldman
- Redhead Grint has had very the best comedic timing since the first movie.
- #1 and #2 are virtually unwatchable, in no part because the kids are young and the direction is pretty unfulfilling.
- #3 is the best of the lot.
- This is closely followed by #5.
- Helena Bonham Carter is a goddess.
- Daniel Radcliffe is pretty damn spunky.

7. The nose is one of the worst places on the entire body to get an itch. Not enough skin and too much angles equates to much unsatisfactory scratching.

8. The soundtrack to Across The Universe is almost sublime. I could have done without 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and would have much preferred Jim Sturgess' 'All You Need is Love'. Nonetheless, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' are legendary.

9. Christ! Wikipedia says that there is a deluxe edition of the Across The Universe OST roaming around somewhere with addition of said song above. Guess we're back to hunting record stores.

10. I've been following the US Presidential Nomination campaign quite closely. It's rather interesting how in both parties (Democrats especially), the nom is relatively wide open for grabs. Very interesting indeed.

Friday, February 01, 2008

21 things in 7 minutes

To be quite honest, I never really understood the big deal about turning 21. So yeah, I can vote, I can drink, I can gamble, I am accountable for everything from now on. I can legally go into the Sex shop and not get worried about being chased out. I can watch every type of movie ever created if I so please, I can eat, drink, buy almost everything under the sun. I am an adult.

But 21 is just a number. It doesn't mean that things in life are going to change. Tomorrow my room is still going to be a mess and my books are going to stay spread all over the floor. I won't stop giggling over fart jokes and I sure as hell ain't going to be growing any taller. The dishes in the sink won't magically wash themselves, nor will the clothes in the laundry hamper or the floor that needs vacuuming.

So, please. Someone. Anyone. Please tell me what's the big friggin' deal about 21?