Archive | March 2004

Where am I again?

So we last left off with Nelson. And Swedish girls. And hiking. Yeah.

So after wandering around Nelson and buying some good pants for hiking (light and quick drying – so I don’t have to carry around jeans) and an LED flashlight (so I don’t waste a bunch of money on batteries), I ended up having dinner with the three Swedish girls, some Italian guys and an Israeli girl. We had pasta and spent the evening talking, listening to music, eating and drinking. It was great! Then we went out on the town. We visited a few pubs and clubs, drank and danced and then I went back to the hostel. Most of the group had already left, so I didn’t leave first, but I couldn’t keep up with the girls (god, I’m getting old!) so I went back and crashed.

The next morning, I got up early, said goodbye to one of the Italian guys who was eating breakfast and headed to the highway. The plan was to hitch hike back to the West Coast (remember the Discman I left there?). So I stood on the street and this old guy pulled up and gave me a ride. He couldn’t hear very well and told me he never leaves his house but did today to visit some Buddhist Temple. Good for him (and me too, of course). He left me about 50k’s from Nelson and after standing on the road for a while, a guy in a truck with a trailer stopped. He was having some sort of a business meeting and just motioned me to put my stuff in the back of the cab so I moved his suit and threw my big backpack over his crap. I put his suit back. And got in.

After about 10 minutes, he hung up and we started chatting. He runs some big contest sponsored by all these companies like Ford (who donated the truck he was in) and he could take me about 100k’s to where I wanted to go. He proceeded to call one of his buddies who was a ways behind to see if he could take me further so we arranged a spot. No worries if it didn’t work out. So he took me to some small town and left me in the rain (yeah, it started raining) so I stood there and stood there for like 45 minutes and no one picked me up. I went in a gas station and got a cardboard box and made a sign – “I HAVE SWEETS”. Hopefully that would work. A lot of people laughed as they passed but before I could see its effectiveness, the two Italian guys from the hostel drove by!

They stopped and I hopped in. We had no clue that we were going to the same place, but we were, so they said I could tag along. We drove for quite a while in the rain and it finally cleared up a little bit and we stopped at some little park with this big bridge and did the swing across the valley. Then we headed towards the beach and checked out a seal colony. From there we headed to Greymouth and after picking up my Discman, we found a really cheap hostel. That night we played pool and had a little beer, then went to the $3 BBQ.

In the morning, we realized that Bruno had forgotten his CD’s in the bar of the hostel. And no one was around. We contemplated breaking the door. We searched for the owner and found a room with some keys in it. Some guy came (who was a friend of the owner, I think) and got the keys for us and opened up the door, we got the CD’s and left. This whole ordeal took about 2 hours.

So we set off. We made it to Franz Josef (one of the only other advancing glaciers besides El Calafate in Argentina in the world) but it was raining. We checked in the hostel and I ran into Tom (the Dutch guy) again. We all had dinner and played pool for the rest of the night.

The next day, in the rain, we did a walk to the glacier and it was pretty cool. Nothing compared to Argentina though.

We then headed off to a town called Haast. Nothing really interesting. Rained a lot and stopped a long on the way to see some cool nature stuff along the way.

The next day, we headed to Queenstown and after getting confused and ending up back in Haast after two hours of driving (don’t ask), we eventually made it to Queenstown. The whole town was booked for hostels and we finally found a triple for $25 each. It all worked out and we had an awesome dinner (Bruno is the chef) and then went out to some pubs. We ended up leaving around 1AM and heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.

So now we are at today. I went up in this cool gondola to the top of the mountain to see the whole city and I did this luge thing down this track a few times. It was cool. And the rest of the day I have just been wandering around this town. I don’t like it. The people are rude and it’s expensive. I’m gonna leave to Glenorchy tomorrow to hang out for a day and then head out for about 7 days of hiking. I’m gonna do the Greenstone track and then the Routeburn, which I booked several weeks ago. I just bought 7 days worth of food and gonna hitch hike to the town tomorrow with Hector (the guy from Spain I met in Collingwood a few weeks back). I randomly ran into him today in town and we are randomly going to the same place tomorrow morning.

So I wont be around or answering email for about a week. These tracks are gonna be cool.

The voices…they are chasing me!

So we left off at me heading to Greymouth. Ah yes…now I remember.

So I woke up early (too early), dragged my stuff out of my 35-bed dorm room and packed up. It was still dark, so it proved challenging, but I succeeded nonetheless. Then I waited for the bus. A couple was speaking Spanish (from Peru I think) at the bus stop, but I didn’t say anything. The bus came, took me to the train station, then I hopped on the train. Perfect weather. I found my seat (four to a table, two on each side) and we were off. I spend the time admiring the scenery, talking to an English woman next to me and before I knew it, I was in Greymouth. And it was raining. No worries, put my rain cover over my backpack and looked for the hostel. After some searching, I finally found it and checked in. The 10 bed dorm was the cheapest option (she tried to sneakily put me in the 8 bed dorm which cost more) and I turned out to be the only one so far. So I decided to take a tour of the local brewery.

Very interesting. The lady here knew a lot more than the lady at the other brewery, but the weird thing was that they did open fermentation on ALL their beers! And they gave tours of the brewery room and everyone walked by and stood over the open vats of fermenting beer as the tour guide talked. CRAZY! The beer didn’t have any hint of infection though which was pretty crazy. I couldn’t believe it. So of course, we had the obligatory “tasting session” after which meant for about 20 minutes we could go, at will, to the faucets and pour ourselves beer. COOL.

So then I headed back to the hostel (a little tipsy) and met this Dutch girl with whom I went to dinner with (3 dollar all you can eat barbeque) and got to listen to another lecture about American politics by someone who knows absolutely nothing about it – but really want you to think they do.

“Yeah, I really don’t like Bush. But I don’t think the opposition is any better, you know?”, she proclaimed.

“Yeah? How so?”, I asked.

“Uhhhhhhhhhh, you know”. I guess that was where I was supposed to be like, “Yeah, I concur. Because of this and this and this”, which I could have, I just wanted her to fry in her own juices for a few seconds. Sometimes seemingly modestly interjecting a few moments of awkwardness with people like that is kind of fun. I get this a lot with people, so I have to make it interesting for me. Do you blame me?

So anyways, went back to the hostel, full as a tick (after sucking someone’s blood, like ticks do, otherwise I wouldn’t be full), and talked with this Australian guy for a while before reading my book and going to bed.

Next day, I was up early and out on the highway hitch hiking North. It was fun. You stand there and look at all the people’s expressions. You get the people that ignore you, the people that look at you strangely, the people that wave, the people that nod their heads, the people that throw their hands up in the air like there is nothing they can do (I still don’t know what that means. I see that empty seat right next to you!) and everything in between. Finally, a guy pulled up on his way to work (Strange. Only the locals seem to pick you up). We chatted about my plans to do Heaphyaphy Track and he told me how he and his wife did it with their two year old kid in one of those outdoor baby stroller things and we chatted about my trip and stuff. He showed me this hotel he built and stuff then dropped me off in a town about halfway to where I wanted to go. I ended up leaving my bag at the information center and seeing these crazy rock formations at the beach and the blow holes where ocean water flies up into the air.

Then it was back to looking for a new ride. Still quite a few kilometers to go. I stood on the corner with no luck. Then I walked a little bit further up the road and stood some more. No luck. Then finally this guy picked me up and said he could take me a little bit up the road where I might have more luck. I went there and still didn’t have any luck. It’s hard on the West Coast because there aren’t many locals going on it. Just tourists. And they suck.

I knew that this bus was gonna leave in a half hour so I started walking back toward the town to maybe catch it, but held my thumb out for every passing car. Finally, some guys stopped. Pit Bulls in the back, tools all over the place, and my pack flopped on its side and I was on my way to Westport! We chatted about New Zealand, I took in the stunning coastal scenery and before I knew it, I was there. They took me to the information center and after thanking them, I found out that my bus to Karamea was leaving in 3 minutes. I ran to the bus station and made it in time, and before I knew it, I was off. I couldn’t hitch hike because there wasn’t going to be much traffic and it was late. And the bus ended up being the mail truck. It took three hours to go about 40 kilometers because I had to stop at every mailbox on the way. I was in charge of handing the newspapers forward and entertaining the little girls that the mail guy was giving a ride home to (it’s a small town).

But I eventually made it and checked into my hostel. I cooked dinner, checked my email (free internet) and watched some TV before bed. In the morning, I bought my passes for the hike I was gonna do, bought my food for the trek and got a ride to the beginning of the hike. It was gonna be four days long and my pack was heavy. I set off. The proceeding four days were filled with stunning coastal scenery, incredibly dense forest/jungle, open savannah grasslands, beautiful waterfalls, little streams (from which you could fill up your water bottle and drink), caves, mountains, brilliant star filled nights (with the Milky Way splashed across the sky) and really cool swing bridges. Each night I camped out in my tent at the designated huts (little cabins with gas stoves and fireplaces, for those who pay more to sleep inside) and chatted with everyone. I was going the opposite way as everyone else so I got to walk in relative silence each day as I only saw people in passing. It was awesome. Like meditation. Walking in nature with nothing but birds chirping, streams bubbling, and my thoughts. I love it. The final night I ended up sneaking into a hut instead of camping because there was no ranger and it was cold and there were only three other people.

So I ended up getting a ride at the end of the track with this guy who was giving this German girl I met on the trek a ride. I had to ride in the back of the farm truck since there were only two seats and I eventually arrived at the hostel where the German girl was working. It was full but I was able to get a tent site for 10 bucks (which is a good deal) and after dinner, free mussels and clams that they had picked up at the beach, and checking my email, I went to play ping pong with the locals in the next town over. The owner of the hostel took me and some others there and we had a blast. When I got back, I met Hector, a kid from Spain and we talked for a while (in Spanish of course) before I headed out to my tent. In the rain.

Chris, the owner of the hostel, promised to give me a ride to Takaka (where I was to start the 3-day Abel Tasman trek) at 8:00AM, so I got up early and had breakfast, said goodbye to Martina (the German girl) and was off. It beat hitch hiking, as it was still raining. I made it to town and bought my camping pass, bought my food (I was smarter this time and bought less and lighter food), and started walking in the direction of the trek (30 k’s away). I had missed the bus so I had no other option. With the help of my thumb, I ended up getting a ride halfway there from this lady who was really happy to help me (we had to move all her baby stuff aside to fit my bag in) and then got a ride the other half of the way there by this guy in this crazy tiny, old, and beat up car where I had to have my huge pack in my lap and lift it up so he could shift gears. He had to shut my door for me since you had to push it down in this special way to get it to shut. The seat was wet and crusty and it stank. But it was a free ride and he was an interesting guy. He said some kids borrowed his car in the night. He came out in the morning, there was half a tank less of gas in it, the gear shift knob had been chewed up by a dog and the door wouldn’t shut. Funny stuff.

So I made it to the trail. Almost. I took a shortcut along the beach which was at medium low tide. I had to take my shoes off and walk through some streams of retreating ocean water in the muddy sand and dodge clam shells, then ended up walking through all this cow shit since it was right next to this cow field and got it all splashed up on my shorts (although it somehow miraculously wiped off my nylon shorts with a little water) and was on the road. I walked toward the trail. I was still sore from the Heaphy trek. But I had no choice but to continue on.

I’m glad I did, but wasn’t as impressed with the Abel Tasman as Heaphy. For one, there were a ton more people. It’s a beautiful walk up and over hills along the beach and is a nice mixture of beach walks (at one point, you have to wait for low tide and wade through the waist deep water) and forest, but there were these water taxis that would take people to parts of the track so they could walk it without a backpack so you would get tons of old people walking in huge groups laughing and talking and socializing and couldn’t really escape them. The final day I walked really fast and passed a lot of them, and even ran a portion of it, only to find each time I passed someone, a new group of loud people waited beyond. I like to walk in silence. But the weather was nice, I couldn’t complain. It did rain one night and I had to cook dinner in the little rain cover overhang of my tent, but that was it. I also got bit by about a thousand sand flies and at this very moment I am scratching them like crazy. They really itch.

I also ended up running into Tom, the dutch guy I traveled the North Island with, but he was going the other way, so we chatted a little bit and said goodbye again. Strange coincidence. So I finished the three day trek and waited around two hours for the bus to take me to Nelson as I spoke with some cool American chicks I met waiting too. I finally made it to Nelson and checked into a cheap backpacker hostel and cooked dinner. That night, I chatted with some people and ended up meeting these cool (and absolutely stunning) Swedish girls, which it seems to me that New Zealand is filled with, and we ended up chatting throughout the night and watching a few movies. We are supposed to hang out tonight too.

And today, I got up, bought some stuff like an LED headlamp for reading (batteries last a lot longer – my current flashlight is going through double A’s like nothing and I can’t afford them with the prices of batteries here) and some lightweight quick drying pants for hiking. I wont be taking jeans with me on hikes anymore. Way too heavy. Gotta travel light when you have a pack on your back for four days at a time. Then I was back in my hostel and Tom randomly walked by. He had finished the trek and them come to the exact same hostel was me. He actually was in the same room as me too. Crazy coincidences. So we hung out and then I went to he the botanical gardens here in Nelson and read for a little bit.

So here I am. Tomorrow I am going to hitch hike down South. I gotta go back to Greymouth since I left my Discman there (I had to call a few hostels to see where I had left it). Must have left it on a table in my room. But it’s on the way, so no worries. Then I’ll head over to the glaciers and maybe meet up with Mia and Hannah (the girls with whom I traveled the North Island). No definite plans yet. I was supposed to do this today, but I was really sore from seven days straight of hiking and camping and needed a rest (don’t wanna get burned out and have to stay somewhere and recover for a week an a half like I did in Bariloche).

That’s the plan. Not much more beyond tomorrow though. Gonna do some more treks. That’s all I’m sure about. And maybe marry one of the Swedish chicks I met last night. That would be cool ­čśë

Freeee at last!

It really is incredible. When you are are going to go hiking, you usually can leave some stuff back at the hostel and pick it up when you get back. That way you travel with a light pack. It’s a little more complicated for me though, seeing as I will be hiking and traveling for about 3 weeks and am just going to leave my stuff here in Christchurch in the mean time. So I made decisions. I shaved off about 20 pounds worth of stuff from my pack and put it into storage. That means that I could be traveling with about 20 pounds less worth of crap. If I can live on what I’ll have for three weeks, I could probably for another year and a half. But what am I leaving behind? Walking shoes (I’ll just be wearing my hiking boots and flip flops), a few shirts (I can wash the ones I have more frequently), mate (the tea I got from Argentina – of which I still have a kilo left), my CD’s (can’t LIVE without those on long bus trips), my Chinese books (I’m trying to see if I can just mail them to the American Express office in China and pick them up when I get there, and some other miscellaneous crap that I don’t REALLY need. But I do. Ah the joys of traveling. You live in a backpack. It’s your home. Do we really need all the junk we have in our houses? Nope. Yeah it’s nice to have a cup of coffee in the morning you just ground fresh, and it’s nice to be able to flip on the TV and sit stare mindlessly for hours, but is it really necessary? Nope.

Speaking of which, I sense a change in my way of thinking since I left the US. I don’t know what exactly to which I should attribute this change, but I like it. How am I thinking differently? I feel more free. “Yeah, jackass”, you might say, “you’re free to do whatever the hell you want – maybe that’s why”, but I mean free in a difference sense. Unlike yourselves, I haven’t been a slave to radio, TV, commercials, magazines and tons of other forms of media that tell us how to think, what’s cool, what’s beautiful, what’s fun, and on what we should spend our money. I travel around with dirty and stinky backpackers and I am no exception. Status isn’t important as you meet new people every day and no one cares, nor can afford, the “latest and greatest” of anything. You talk to all sorts of people just to talk to them. You make friends with whom you would never normally even talk. You live and sleep and eat next to complete strangers in sometimes filthy facilities. And you don’t care. And you laugh all day and night. And you have a blast.

And so what’s the changes have I noticed? Well, most of the people that know me know that I am normally a pretty confident guy. Well now, I notice that I am even more so. What else? I have been finding girls attractive who I would normally not find that attractive. I’ve asked myself why. Well, I don’t see impossibly beautiful girls running around the TV all day selling makeup, clothes, video games, cars, soda, electronics, their souls, etc… I also no longer have a subscription to Maxim (which my mom calls the filth magazine due to the high quantity of beautiful girls contained therein). I only see real people all day. It changes everything. And I only watched things like Discovery Channel and CNN all day. But the commercials are all the same on all channels. They brainwash the mind. I can remember reading in Psychology Today that college professors have a much higher bachelor rate than people in other professions. Why? They attributed it to the fact that the professors are around young and pretty girls all day and when it comes time to be with someone with whom they could actually relate and with whom they could have a relationship, they don’t find them attractive. After all, older women aren’t naive and innocent dressed up 18-20 year old girls.

I guess it’s kind of like that, except for the fact that the girls who I saw on TV only existed on TV. At least the professors have a CHANCE of hooking up with a college girl. I would only have a chance if my date spent about 4 hours in an airbrush studio.

So I’m free.

So what am I up to? No much. Wandering around Christchurch. It’s a beautiful city and I really like it. It has a little river that runs down the middle of it with ducks and trees and stuff and benches all along it. There are old restored colonial buildings everywhere and even free buses! Today I took a tour of a commercial brewery and enjoyed that as well. The final portion of the tour included (of course) beer sampling and as the tour guide kept giving me beers (I think she ended up giving me about seven), I spoke with a few people in the group and untaught them the garbage the tour guide told them. She really didn’t have a clue. But hey, with a spinning head by the time I left, I couldn’t complain. I then went to the museum, botanical gardens, and art gallery before heading back to the hostel (starving) and cooking dinner. Pasta. Can’t beat it.

I leave for Greymouth tomorrow via a really scenic train ride, supposedly among the seven greatest in the world, through the middle of the South Island. From there I will hitch hike up to the north and do a few 3-6 day hikes before heading south and doing a few more. Then I’ll check out the glaciers.

Then? I don’t know. Australia, I guess.

Road Trippin’

“Zorbing?”, I asked.
“Yeah, zorbing. It’s awesome.”, he clarified enthusiastically.
“What’s zorbing?”, I asked. So naive am I – I thought that perhaps with my asking “zorbing” in the form of a question, some sort of an explanation would follow.
“Well, they strap you inside this big plastic ball and roll you down a hill.”

Yeah, I’ll probably do that.

So what have I been up to? I think I last left off with me trying to figure out how I was gonna get around the North Island. Yeah, that’s the ticket. So let’s start there.

I hung around the hostel after arriving from exploring the North with my buddies, I met up with a guy I had met named Tom with whom I was planning on renting a car and traveling around the island. I met an Argentinian girl named Valerie and hung out with her, an Argentinian guy, a Colombian guy, a girl from Spain, and a Mexican lady and we all chatted and drank mate throughout the night. I must say, I have been speaking more Spanish here than I spoke in some parts of South America. There are quite a few Spanish speakers in this country, which I attribute to the close proximity of New Zealand to South America. I met a few Chileans in the street and on this trip I have probably ran into about 7-8 others from Chile, Argentina, Peru and a few other places. I’m glad I get to continue practicing. Para que no se me olvide el castellano.

So yeah, Tom and I eventually managed to get a car secured despite high season and huge shortages of inexpensive rental cars. We got a station wagon, but one of those modern ones – not the white trash kind with 15 kids in the back. I don’t have any kids yet (I don’t think).

So we then began to look for people to come with us and split the costs. Bingo, two Swedish girls looking for a lift says the flier on the bulletin board in the hostel. We arranged a meeting. We met and made a date for the next morning. We would bring our stuff, pick up the car and head off. Where? No clue. Somewhere though, that’s for sure.

We headed off and started driving north. It was as good a direction as any. And for the sake of my sanity and your time, I’ll condense the proceeding 13 days into a few paragraphs.

The first day we stopped by and saw glow worms in this natural cave. Glow worms are these little bugs that light up in the dark so they can attract insects and eat them. Then they turn into flies without mouths, have sex and die of starvation. What a life, no? But we saw a ton of them on the roof of the cave and I got some cool pictures. We then headed for a campsite where Simon, Kat and I had stayed and put up our tents. We sat around and chatted as we made our barbeque dinner and got to know each other. I met a few Argentinians who were eating next to us and we chatted for a while. I think the Swedish girls were a bit taken aback that an American had learned another language. From what I gather, Europeans have a very narrow perspective of us Americans. First off, we are all fat. And dumb. We all drive Harley Davidson with a hamburger in one hand and a Coke in the other. And that’s only when we aren’t driving our SUV’s. And me being from California? I surf to school.

But I could see that we were going to have a really good trip with these girls. They were very funny and relaxed and we all got along really well. We ran into a friend of Tom’s from Australia randomly and we all sat around and talked for the entire night about everything. We laughed quite a bit and we all had a blast. Awesome sunset as well.

Next day, we headed a really nice beach and checked out the site of the sunken Greenpeace ship called the Rainbow Warrior. Apparently, the French secret service blew it up before it could leave to protest their nuclear testing off the coast of NZ. Crazy. We saw the memorial. The beach was awesome.

We ended up camping right on the beach at a place literally infested with mosquitoes. I have never seen so many in my life and they were even biting me through my jeans! The campsite we were at didn’t have anything but an outdoor bathroom so we ate outside in the dark while frantically trying to smash the mosquitoes on our bodies. It was crazy. We eventually took refuge in my tent (all four of us) and chatted the night away. It was fun.

The next day we headed to the very tip of the cape of New Zealand and overlooked the ocean at the very edge of the country. We saw the lighthouse there. Did you know that there was a lighthouse there? Well there is.

Next we went to Ahipara where we went sandboarding down huge sand dunes. We ended up getting boards for free since we couldn’t get the boards the lady had promised us and we walked along the beach (After Tom and I took turns driving like jackasses in the rental car on the beach) until we arrived at the sand dunes. We spent the next two hours climbing to the top of a dune and riding down as fast as we could on the sled. There was a natural little cliff there and I we went off that too. It was really fun and we got really sandy and scratched up a bit. The beach was awesome. The lava formed rocks really reminded me of Galapagos in some places which brought back quite a few memories. We then headed to a camp site and set up our tents. The girls made an awesome dinner, we drank beer, played ping pong and I did some laundry. It was a perfect night, especially after the awesome dinner (did I mention that the girls made an awesome dinner?). Word was spreading that a tornado was coming to the north so our plan was to get as far south as possible the next day.

And we did. We went to Coromandel and it rained all day. We had been driving all day in the rain and when we finally arrived at our hostel, we found a banquette awaiting us. The owners of the hostel were throwing a going away party for some German girls that had been working there and we were invited to eat as much as we wanted. And we ate as much as we wanted. And then we ate some more. I ended helping them with a computer problem so we all got free internet for the night and I ended up going to bed early after hanging out with some German guys we had met in Auckland.

The next day, despite the rain, we drove all day to a town called Rotorura. I guess it’s one of the most geothermally active places on earth and it certainly smelled the part. Natural steam rose from the forests and it smelled like rotten eggs pretty badly. Or maybe it was just Tom. We spent the evening at the natural hot spring pools where I ended up slipping and cracking open my big toe. Half of the nail just came off last night despite my babying of it the past week and a half. It looks very attractive. I ended up getting my money back and just sat around for the others to finish enjoying the spas.

That night we stayed in a hostel on account of the rain and the next day we headed to the geothermal park where we saw crazy colored lakes, natural geysers, stinky multi-colored holes in the ground and steam rising from everywhere. We enjoyed the sights, I met some really cute Argentinian girls (of course), and avoided the crazy guy who walked around the park screaming at himself, kicking trees and punching his head. Even I don’t get that excited about geothermal activity!

The next day we went to Taupo where everyone tried to go skydiving (except me) which ended up getting canceled on account of bad weather. No worries. In my opinion, everyone is much safer on the ground anyways. We headed to this place called “Craters of the Moon” which is a free geothermal park with boiling mud, and steam rising from cracks in the ground. We hiked around there for a while and then headed back to the hostel. We weren’t staying at a hostel, mind you, only using the facilities. We knew a guy who was staying there so we ate, took showers, and stayed all night before heading to a free campsite just outside of town where we put up our tents and slept. Sneaky bastards!

The next day, we headed down to a National Park, put up our tents in the pouring rain (after waiting an hour to see if it would subside) and headed to a hostel where we asked permission to eat under their porch for free. It was so cold and we all looked like bums, but we ate and then headed to a bar where we drank hot chocolate, beer, played pool and sat next to the fire to warm up. It was awesome. And we used their bathroom to brush our teeth before heading back to the campsite. Sneaky bastards!!!

The next morning, we headed to the capital of NZ, known as Wellington, where we were to let the girls off so they could catch the ferry to the South Island. We arrived, checked into a hostel, made dinner and chatted with a French guy we met there. I then met an Argentinian and two guys from Uruguay and drank mate with them while we talked about New Zealand. I always try to talk about new things so I can expand my vocabulary and learn to talk about other things. It was cool. And the dinner was nice. We spent the rest of the night walking around town and preparing for the next day when we would say goodbye.

The next morning, the girls woke up early and took off after hugging us goodbye. I was really gonna miss them and the trip wasn’t the same without them. When you find a group like the one we had, you need to consider yourself lucky. Very lucky. Bad groups suck. So anyways, Tom and I wandered around town for the day and then headed up towards New Plymouth where we camped for the night. It also happens to be the place where I slaughtered Tom in a ping pong match. It’s all in the wrist.

We then headed up towards the Waitomo caves which is a city with tons of really cool natural caves that you can explore and go down on an innertube. We camped at a free campsite just outside of town after not being able to find the park. When we did find it, it was boarded off with road closed signs. We put them aside and decided to try our luck. Just a tree in the road that we were able to drive by – but we were the only ones in the campsite. It looked like it had been closed quite a while ago, but until someone told us we had to leave, we weren’t going anywhere. We camped right on the side of a stream surrounded by hills in perfect desolation. At 4AM however, I woke up to a car driving by our site and then didn’t hear anything more. It was really weird. Why was a car driving by in this place about 2 miles from the main road so early in the morning? It freaked me out and I got out and looked around. I didn’t see anything but I know I wasn’t dreaming. It freaked Tom out when I told him about it in the morning (he slept in the car). It’s fun to freak Tom out.

So that day, we headed to Waitomo, paid 80 $NZ to explore a cave and go rafting through it (“exploring” entailed having a special reinforced wet suit and a helmet light and crawling through cracks barely big enough to fit your body and swimming down channels deep underground. It was really cool and since they had just opened the cave back up after heavy rains, there were only three of us in the group. As they would say in New Zealand…”SWEET AS!” (which I though was “SWEET ASS!” for a long time until I realized that that couldn’t be it – “Did that guy just say I had a sweet ass?”).

And now we are back in Auckland. We have turned in the car and are just biding our time until we fly over the the South Island where Tom and I will go our separate ways. I will hitch hike / take trains around the island to different trekking routes and Tom will see the major points on account of his shorter time budget. I don’t yet have a ticket out of the country so I can leave whenever, and I have decided that I want to do a lot of hiking before leaving. It is really fun and this is definitely the country to do it. And mom, don’t worry. Hitch hiking is safe here as there are tons of people that do it and the island is so small. I’ve talked to tons of people who have done it and said it’s a blast. I guess this is probably one of the last places in the world where you could successfully plan your trip around it.

So I just got done buying some hiking boots, a little camp stove (no bigger than my fist), a little aluminum pot, some full body thermal underwear and some water treatment chemicals. A few hundred bucks later, I’m ready to go. I will be doing quite a bit of trekking throughout the world (China, Thailand, Japan, and India) so I figured that it was worth the investment. You don’t spend much money when you are camping as well, so you end up making it back. Gotta love justification, no?

So yeah, I’m getting ready to leave. I met an Argentinian and Chilean in the hostel I’m staying at, so I am keeping up with the Spanish and laughing a lot in the process. North Island is fun and I am really starting to love this country. Once you get used to the Western prices, it starts to grow on you. Our dollar allows for a 30% discount on everything too, so that makes it easier.

Until next time, Cheers!