Sometimes you just have to be a tourist. If you are only in a place for a short time, it is best to try and hit all the famous things early on in the trip so that you can get deeper into the culture and fully immerse yourself in it. This weekend we managed to book some big tours with some very iconic New Zealand settings.
First we went black water rafting in the Waitomo glow worm caves, and came out sopping wet and smelly. We had to wear a nasty combo of wetsuit pants and jacket with added socks. We were also issued a pair of gum boots, a helmet with a headlamp on it, and a small intertube. We had no idea what we were really getting into. Our guides were really sassy and tricked us every time they got a chance. We were taught how to properly jump off waterfalls and onto our tubes, yet not how to keep from falling face first into the stale cave water that was rushing under our feet. It was an amazing experience for sure! It was something I will never forget. Climbing, jumping, floating, and drifting through the underground slot canyon underneath the light of the glow worm. It was like the starry sky on a clear night, for lack of a better description.
That night, we stayed in a hostel in Rotorua. It was a really cool place. Now, I have never stayed in a hostel before so I was a little nervous and had no idea what to expect from the place. Turns out it was really clean and had a cool vibe. We stayed in a 10 bunk room, so basically our group took up half of it. It was kind of like a really packed dorm. We got a shower and bathroom, full kitchen, living room, and a bar to share with the rest of the people staying those nights. Hostels get a bad rep in the States, but I really think that it is the way to travel around here. You just have to know how to be safe with all the strangers you are having a slumber party with.
The next day we got up at a decent time and headed over to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Yes, this is the most tourist-y thing we could possibly do while in New Zealand, and we did it! It was really sweet to see and stand and touch where those huge movies took place. I honestly thought less about the movies and more about how awesome it would be to live in one of the hobbit holes! Maybe I would make my hobbit hole a tad bigger. :)
I'll let the photos do the talking for me...
After we had finished meandering through the shire, we made our way to the next tourist stop on our list: the Tamaki Maori Village. There, we were exposed to the cultural dance, games, crafts, and food of the native Maori people. Of course it was all staged, but it felt pretty real. It was a really neat experience and we all learned a ton about the native culture we are living with for the next few months.
After a good night's sleep, we woke up to what we thought was going to be free pancakes, by the hands of the hostel hosts, but what we got was some premixed thinned out batter and a cast iron skillet. We finally managed to get a decent pancake out after using what seemed like half the bottle of oil to coat the skillet and keep the batter from becoming part of the pan. We ate them anyway, being traveling students on a budget. Let me just say that those little grease cakes did not set well with any of us on our next trek. We drove to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and took a walk through the park. I swear we must have stepped into Jurassic Park! I was half expecting to see a dinosaur stick its prehistoric head out of the treetops at any moment. I really enjoyed the walk past several steaming pools of chemical ridden water forming in the crater of volcanoes. It was a bit unnerving to know you were so close to an active volcanoes mouth, but then again, it was pretty darn sweet!
After tackling Jurassic Park, we started heading back home (or what we are calling home for the next few months aka school). We had driven a few hours and were about an hour and a half away from home when the traffic came to a complete stop on the highway. There was a long line of stopped cars on the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no cars going in or coming out. After sitting in the car for about half an hour, we finally managed to get word of a really bad wreck that was blocking the road. It was predicted to be another 3 hours until they could get traffic moving again. With daylight hours running out on us on one of the only highways through the area, we made a quick decision to take a big detour our and around the traffic jam on another highway. This route was going to take us another 2 hours out of the way, but it was our only hope. I met a guy one time that said "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong," and you know, I think he is right. We would never have got to see that landscape if we hadn't had to go around the really unfortunate event. Some people get uptight about a change in plans, but how I see it is that you should just make the best of any situation and go with the flow. Some of the best things come out of unexpected trips.
This weekend was all about being a tourist, but hopefully in the upcoming weeks I can start seeing New Zealand as a local.
By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility.