Auckland: Autumn leaves. One-dollar sushi. Many pictures of fountains and obscure trees with Courtney’s professional camera, all on two hours of sleep that were very brokenly spent on the plane ride crossing the Tasman Sea.
Welcome to Middle Earth
Things became a bit more coherent once Christina and Ashley arrived, and we were all able to settle into Alex’s apartment before heading to the Chocolate Boutique with his friend Tom. So begins a list of events occurring when four Americans studying in Australia come together with two other Americans likewise studying in Auckland, New Zealand.
10. Said Chocolate Boutique
I was questioning the worth of the trek we were making when we set out into the nighttime rain and up a steep hill towards the chocolate café. But once we walked into the joint, I instantly became giddy surrounded by one of my many loves in life: chocolate. The shelves were stocked with the stuff among other tasty souvenirs adorning the walls. I became exceedingly overwhelmed once I opened the menu and my indecisiveness overtook me once again. This is an excessive description, and it’s going to continue, ya’ll.
I don’t know how we did it, but Ashley and I chose the sticky date chocolate pudding to share along with our sides of hazelnut latte and cookies and cream milkshake. A few of the other mouth-watering choices we made….
The exhaustion I felt vanished. You can image why. Needless to say, it was a great first meal of sugar with the group I was about to road trip with for the next four days.
9. A Hostel of Sorts
We came by this quaint little hostel in a town called Rotorua. By far the best hostel I’ve ever been to, but that’s because I go for cheap. Nick from St. Louis, MO greeted us at the front desk and showed us to our room where the beds had fluffy comforters and each of our pillows was garnished with a piece of chocolate. More chocolate! You took your shoes off before entering the main kitchen that had containers for recycling everything and a bucket for composting, The living room had a fire place good for sitting around and enjoying Tim Tam slams whilst playing chess or charades. I felt like I was at a bed and breakfast. Better yet, the colder season made it a quieter place to be and therefore a place just for us, and Sascha the German. More Germans!
8. Germans. What can I say.
Sascha was a man of few words, but each one was very kind. He caught a ride with us to the Lady Knox Geyser and Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, then the small town of Taupo where we said our good-byes to the fellow. It was then in a small and somewhat stingy internet café that we all emailed our families to let them know we were alive and well, and I received news of the gender of my sister’s baby. It’s a girl! I let out a whoop and a group of Indians next to us gave me a weird look. If only they knew of the future little half-Dane about to enter the world. Alright now back to New Zealand.
7. Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
And wonderfully thermal it was. This included a few different walking loops around various sulfur pools and mini geysers, all smelling great. I felt a little in my element having taken too many chemistry courses and nerdily wondering the chemical make up of the different pools, though. Obviously, lots of Sulfur.
6. Ragitoto Island Volcano Hike
Rewind back to the second day of our travels in New Zealand. Us ‘Australians’ took the ferry to Ragitoto Island to hike the volcano. It’s last eruption being 600 years ago and another one not due for quite sometime, we felt pretty confident as we headed up towards the crater. It was completely overgrown with trees and greenery. We then found some caves to crawl through. Claustrophobics were not welcomed.
Watch out..it’s gonna blow!!
The cave we emerged from.
5. JUCY Lucy
No, not the decedent burger stuffed with bleu cheese. This Jucy Lucy was our rental van that hauled us around everywhere. Basically it was a good laugh because of the looks we got from the locals, but it was so worth it. I got to drive this sucker around during rush hour on our way back to the airport, where we got lost and had turn back and make Alex and Tom drive us there instead.
This was surprisingly the only major problem that occurred on our travels. Looking back, I think that was pretty lucky, although we already had an intelligible group to start with which therefore brought few downturns in general. Right guys? (insert nervous laugh here…)
I have learned that sometimes everything that can go wrong, will. In that case, it’s ok to ask for help, or in our instance, interrupt Tom and Alex’s post road trip grocery shopping to come and deliver us to the airport. What can I say; we just couldn’t seem to say good-bye.
Our Jucy Minivan
4. Hot Springs
I got a little taste of Montana in Taupo. After a bungee jumping excursion that I’ll explain soon, we rocked up to this hot spring to boil in the relaxing water. About five feet away from the hot spring waterfall, the water turned freezing and was amazing for icing my legs. All of this impromptu half-marathon training has them wiggin’ out!
3. Hobbits Spotted.
Thank goodness the Alexander family had a remote farm in the middle of New Zealand with no modernized objects to ruin the view. That is what Peter Jackson probably thought as he spotted their farm, whilst on a helicopter quest to find the perfect Shire for the LOTR Trilogy. Hobbiton is the film set where Hobbits once roamed. Now tourists like me can walk the paths where Gandalf and Frodo rode in the buggy, and where Sam, his wife, and his daughter were reunited (in slo-mo) in the third installment.
The Green Dragon Pub
I found a cat in the Shire and it was delightful.
2. Decisions, decisions.
Courtney had reigns of the Jucy van and I had shotgun. We saw the sign, pondered for maybe five seconds, and turned around to head towards the 150 foot drop awaiting us. The two guys strapped us in and we were good to go, Courtney going first.
“1, 2, 3, Bungee!”
“So I just put my arms up and go?”
“No, you put your arms up and don’t go.”
The noise Courtney made as she jumped down was accentuated by the excellent shot of birds furiously flapping away from the area. That made me laugh a little bit but mostly shake a bit more in my harness.
“Do you know what this song is called?” the bungee guy asked me as he turned up the stereo.
“Nope!” Even if I did I was shaking too much to think of the name.
He checked my harness one more time and then enlightened me, “North American Scum.”
Gotta love Kiwis.
I then looked over the edge and died a little inside, and then jumped.
The next thing I know my head is being dunked underwater after a flash of a free fall. Then the raft people came and took me away. I was exceedingly high on life by that point and so I don’t know if I gave them coherent answers when they asked where I was from, and when the lady asked me to raise my hips, I literally raised everything but. I asked her if she heard a lot of strange noises from people jumping down. “Oooh yeah,” she said. Moral of the story, bungee jumping is always best done when it occurs from a split second decision. Who cares what sort of sounds you make or which swear words you let loose, or how many birds you scare away in the process. None of it matters, so just let yourself go and jump!
High on Lyfe…After the Fall
1. Good Company
I know what you are thinking: the title of this last list component is very heartwarming, ain’t it? Friends. Awww. But in all seriousness, it takes a specific mix of certain personalities to make a road trip this epic. There isn’t much explaining to do here because most of the memories we made fail to be clarified to the general public. Like when the Shakira song came on and Fergie was confidently namedropped. Or when Spa Road was read as Spard. Or when we all had the mutual realization that Tom strangely resembles a blonde Nicholas Cage, which then spurred a good laugh about Nick Cage in general. We love you, Dad.
It also worked out that we all had appetites. Some of our best meals were made right in Alex’s apartment, where our menus ranged from chicken fajitas, breakfast burritos, and our last family meal of stuffed French toast breakfast.
It was a sick journey to say the least, and I would love nothing more than to revisit New Zealand, maybe the south island, to do some WWOOFing or backpacking. For future reference ya’ll: throw in some snow-capped mountains, a map, some preferably newer running shoes, a breakfast burrito and some good company, and I’ll be a very, very happy traveler.