Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Peaceful Journey - Day Eighteen

Don't really know why I took a picture of myself?!?

Today was kind of strange...I felt like God was telling me to pray for the front desk person. Don't really know why, but I've been getting these urges lately. Well, I totally chickened out and I absolutely regret it. To be honest, this trip was not a good place for me spiritually. I had these opportunities to push myself and trust in God, but I was a wuss. It still haunts me...coming back from NZ I wasn't really in a good place. I've been challenged more recently by this as well, but I'll save that for another blog.

After checking out I found an internet cafe and got some info and wrapped up some loose ends. Then I made my way to Cape Reinga. I got to this quaint little beach area called Paihia. It was so nice...I couldn't resist walking around and checking it out.

In the distance what did I see, was that someone para-sailing??? I found a tourist place, signed up and jumped on a boat.

I didn't get someone to take a picture of me, but you can pretend I'm up there. It was so intense...it's like you're just hanging there over everything with nothing around you. Oh man, I was pretty freaked out. The guy was saying something about being able to hang upside down or do the superman while you were up there, but I was too scared. I also wasn't exactly sure if that was okay, I was just in this little harness. Plus I had my glasses on and I was a little bit afraid they might fly off. Oh boy, after doing that I'm not sure if I want to go skydiving now.

You're probably wondering, "Why is this picture here?" Well after I left Paihia, I kept heading north and had to take a bathroom break. I pulled off at this rest stop only to discover it was way off the beaten path. Very strange considering all the other rest stops were easy to get to. My little car wouldn't make it through so I didn't bother, but after this point the driving got very interesting! It was uphill and there were many switchbacks, but the thing is, the road was totally curved so you could fly around these things at fullspeed. It was like being on a rollercoaster, so much fun! It was even better coming back down later. Oh man, I was just flying around all those corners.

I came to a small place called Kaitaia. You can sign up for this bus tour from there that'll take you all the way up to Cape Reinga. I signed up for one of the tours that leaves the next day and also a hostel on the beach nearby. When I drove out there I was absolutely amazed. Of all the hostels I've been to in life this was by far the best! It was a sweet house with big rooms and nice beds. Everyone was super friendly there. It was also right by this massive beach. I went for a swim, emailed a few people, read Slaughterhouse Five and went to bed.

End of Day Eighteen.

A Most Pleasant Surprise! - Day Seventeen

In the morning I got up and packed my stuff into the car...time for church! I had forgotten to check the time for that church, but I figured it started at 10:30. As I'm driving there, listening to the Christian radio station, the announcer says, "If you're listening to this you've either slept in for church or you're going to a late service." What?!?! It was like they were talking directly to me. Turns out church typically starts at 9:30/10am in NZ. Didn't know that...too used to North American 11am services.

So I was a little bit late, but it didn't matter, the church was lame, haha. No one welcomed me, the speaker was mumbling and it was impossible to understand what he was saying because of his accent. What I did understand wasn't too deep anyways. After the service no one came up to me, so I left after standing around for 5 mins.

From there I knew exactly where I was going...ZORBING!!!

It took me a little while to find it, but when I did I was pretty excited. As you can see, zorbing is the NZ sport of sitting in a big rubber ball and rolling down the hill. They put a little bit of water inside otherwise you would get burns from rubbing against the plastic.

As you can see here, when you get out it's like being born again!

There are two options for going down: Straight down with much speed...

Or down a curved track: Not as fast, but bumpy with lots of sloshing around. I went with the curved track. I couldn't wear my glasses so I put contacts in, but the dumb thing was you can't even see out when you're in there! It's strange cause you can totally see the person inside, but when you're in there, it's just grey and hazy colours. It was also quite expensive (and not really worth it in my opinion). It was kinda like being on a waterslide, but you only get one ride and you can't see anything. All for 40 bucks!!!

My next destination was a mystery to me. I didn't really know what to do next. I knew my last day or two would be in Auckland, but I still had a couple days in between. One thing someone told me was cool was Cape Reinga. It's the northern tip of New Zealand. I knew it would be a long drive, but I really wanted to check it out. So I decided that's what I'd do. I hit the highway and away I went!

As I was puttering along enjoying the highways with zero traffic I saw a sign saying Matamata was ahead. "Wait a minute, that's where Hobbiton is!" I remarked to my invisible friend Roger. When I was looking at my guide book earlier for things to do, I considered going there but the book didn't give a very good review, and I briefly glanced at the price and thought it was really expensive. Well, as I was coming up to it I thought I'd recheck the book and when I did I was shocked. The price was a whole lot cheaper than I had thought!! I had lots of time and nothing else planned really so I pulled up to the tourist place and asked them about tours. Turns out one was leaving in 5 mins!!! I signed up, paid the fee, hopped on the bus and away I went.

And here I am!!!

When Peter Jackson was scouting out places he came across this place from a helicopter because it had the giant tree near a lake (perfect for Bilbo's party). He had a few locations booked for Hobbiton but when he actually went to the farm he soon realized he wanted to film it all here! This one spot is secluded in a small valley making it impossible to see from outside the property (great for keeping the filming secret). Also, the only visible man-made structure is a barn far off in the distance. No powerlines, no roads, no nothing except that one building to crop out when filming.

The weird thing about the location is everything is all squished in one spot, but in the film it looks like it's all spread out.

Gandalf drives in at the beginning.

Here you can see all the Hobbit holes are in the same area.

This place was pretty lucky because all the other locations for the LOTR movies had to be taken apart. When they came to take down this site, it started dumping rain and their vehicles would rip up the ground too much...so they said they would come back a few months later. In the meantime tourists starting showing up wanting to see it. The owners realized they could do something with this and struck up a deal with New Line. They couldn't redo the holes to look like they did in the movie. The reason they don't now is because all the materials were temporary (primarily styrofoam type materials painted to look real). They were allowed to paint them all white so that they would be more visible. They're also not allowed to dress up as characters or perform any lines from the movies. They sure had a lot of information and pictures showing what it did look like though.

Here we see Bilbo doing the famous birthday speech at the party tree.

Here's the tree today

And me under it, I didn't realize it was so huge. I look like a hobbit!!!

Here's the bridge crossing the lake.

And this is where it was...not much to look at now, but interesting nonetheless. The bridge was completely fake and needed to be taken out.

This is Sam's house at the end of the movie.

Unfortunately, it was one of the holes to be torn down before the rain came. This is where it was and my tour guide (who wasn't nearly as attractive as the other group's guide).

Gandalf pulling up to Bag-End.

And Bag-End today...notice all the other hobbit holes below you don't see in the same shot of the movie?

Bilbo's front door all done up...

Not as pretty today

Get lost! I'm trying to write a book!!!

Bilbo and Gandalf looking down on the party

A little empty today.

The local sheep, not featured in the movies because they didn't have the black snouts.

Funny growing tree, supposedly it's in the movie, but I don't know when.

This sign is at the entrance to Matamata. Nice statue of Gollum there. After the tour I drove as far as I could ending up in Whangarei (pronounced Fangaree?!?). The hostel was closed for checking in so I had to go to a hotel. It was pretty snazzy. I watched an episode of the Dead Zone on TV. Never seen it before, it was kind of interesting.

Fell fast asleep. End of Day Seventeen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What does it mean?!?!?!?

My good friend Ashley (aka Nooksack) is a talented T-Shirt artist.

I asked her the other day, "Can you make me a T-shirt with something that makes me think 'Oh Ashley' every time I see it?"

And voila...it arrived in the mail this week!!!

I wondered what would be on it, Dr Mario? Ricky Gervais? A smashed toyota? I didn't know!

And this is what I saw:

Well, not exactly like this, but close enough.

Do you know what this means? Cause I sure don't!!!!!!

I first saw this on Ashley and Sam's facebook...and I asked them then what it means...and of course they refused to tell me...cause they're jerks like that!

And now it's on my shirt, and I'm afraid to wear it...but I will. And I have to admit, this is the perfect thing to put on a shirt to make me think, 'Oh Ashley'.

Now can you help me...what do you think it means???? I need to know!!!!!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Kia Ora!!! - Day Sixteen

I still wasn't feeling so good, so I didn't do a whole lot. A couple things I forgot to mention in my previous posts. The drive from Waitomo to Rotorua was unbelievable! It was I think an hour and a half and I probably saw 10 cars the whole drive!!! And the landscape was just beautiful. Also, I could only get a few radio stations and to my surprise the Christian radio station was really good! I hardly even listen to Christian music these days and so it was very refreshing for me. So for the majority of my trip I listened to that one Christian radio station!

It was now Saturday and there was a local market so I checked that out. There are a bunch of geothermal places you can check out, and guess what, I went to none! I also wanted to go to church the next day so I drove around looking at a few places trying to figure out where I'd go. The main plan for today would be to go to a traditional Maori village. I signed up for one that looked pretty cool. And that evening I went to the starting place and my adventure began!

I was really confused at first. I thought I might have been a bit late, so I wasn't sure if my bus had left yet. When I got there, there was no one in the entrance. I talked to the people and they confused me even more cause I wasn't signed up...but I had the receipt from the place where I paid. I didn't know what was going on.

Then all these people showed up and they ushered us into this big room. They had this thing going telling the story of a Maori father and son. Halfway through it dawned on me, maybe they think I signed up for something else (cause there were two different options). So now I'm thinking for sure I missed my bus and this was all messed up. Haha, I get so worked up sometimes. Turns out I was in the right spot, after that presentation we got on our buses and headed to the village!

The bus driver was not what I expected!.The whole drive there he joked around with us and made us laugh. He started off by saying hello in probably 50 different languages. Then he explained "kia ora" to us. That is a Maori greeting that means "good health" or "be well". Whenever someone says "kia ora" to you, you reply it back to them. He would say it quite a bit and we would enthusiastically shout it back.

He chose someone from our bus to be the leader, because before you can get into the village, the locals have to accept you. Thanks to wikipedia:

The hui or meeting, usually on a marae. It begins with a pōwhiri or welcome. If a visitor is noteworthy, he or she may be welcomed with an aggressive challenge by a warrior armed with a taiaha (traditional fighting staff), who then offers a token of peace, such as a fern frond, to the visitor. Acceptance of the token in the face of such aggression is a demonstration of the courage and mana (charisma) of the visitor. The pōwhiri is highly structured, with speeches from both hosts and guests following a traditional format, their sequence dictated by the kawa (protocol) of that place, and followed by waiata, songs.

I took a bit of video from it:

Thanks again to wikipedia:

The haka - an action chant, often described as a "war dance", but more a chant with hand gestures and foot stamping, originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess and abusing the opposition. Now regularly performed by New Zealand representative rugby and rugby league teams before a game begins. There are many different haka though one, "Ka mate" by Te Rauparaha, is much more widely known than any other.

After being welcomed in, they had a traditional village setup. We could walk around and they would explain what life was like back in the day.

Then they moved us into a meeting hall where they performed for us. Wikipedia once again:

Kapa haka
(haka groups) often come together to practice and perform cultural items such as waiata or songs, especially action songs, and haka for entertainment. Poi dances may also form part of the repertoire. Traditional instruments sometime accompany the group, though the guitar is also commonly used. Many New Zealand schools now have a kapa haka as part of the Māori studies curriculum. Today, national kapa haka competitions are held where groups are judged to find the best performers; these draw large crowds. (The common expression "kapa haka group" is strictly speaking, a tautology.)

I didn't take this video, but it's pretty much what I saw:

The final destination would be the hāngi. Guess where I got this info:

Although marae have modern cooking facilities, the hāngi, a traditional way of cooking food in
Polynesia, is still used to provide meals for large groups because the food it produces is considered flavourful. The hāngi consists of a shallow hole dug in the ground. A fire is prepared in the hole and stones are placed on the top of it. When the stones are hot the hāngi is prepared for cooking by leaving the hot stones and some of the coals at the bottom of the hole. The food is placed on top of the stones, the meat first, with the vegetables, such as kumara and potatoes, on top of it. The hāngi is then covered with leaves or mats woven out of flax (or wet sacks) and left to cook. Finally, soil is heaped over the hāngi to keep the heat in.

They showed us how it's done, but I wonder if our food was really prepared this way. Regardless it was good. The people I sat at the table with were pretty nice. This one girl from England was absolutely hot, so of course I could hardly talk to her, haha. This couple from Australia were super friendly and this other guy from Germany was a little weird, but whatever. He invited me to join him at that world music festival, but I just wasn't feel good enough.

On the bus ride home the driver tried to get us singing. He got all the Americans to sing the national anthem. There were a few so it wasn't bad. Then he started singing O Canada. No one was singing with him and so he stopped. I just couldn't resist. I was sitting in the very back, all by myself, and I just started belting it at the top of my lungs! I was tired and I was singing worse than usual, but I didn't care, I sang the whole freaking song for 50 strangers!! Haha. Go Canada!!!

Here's my NZ haircut. I think I lost a bit of weight cause of the sickness. That night I got a little sleep...it was nice not driving to another city.

End of Day Sixteen.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I’m a Spelunker!!! - Day Fifteen

So I had been in New Zealand almost 2 days now and I had hardly done anything. But today would be my first adventure! I was in Waitomo, which is famous for its underground glowworm caves. The native Maori people always knew about these caves, but they didn’t reveal this secret until 1887. An English surveryor befriended a Maori chief in the area and finally got it out of him. Now there are a number of tourist companies that run trips through the area.

I looked at the different options and decided to go with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.. It was a 5 hour trip and I would have to wear a wetsuit the whole time. I was so nervous my sickness would give me troubles, but I got through the whole trip without any troubles. By the way, I could have bought a photo disc of our adventure at the end of the day, but it was quite a bit of money for only 15 or so pictures (most of which didn’t even have me in it). So all these pics you're seeing are not from my trip, but they're pretty much the same.

The group I was with was pretty weird. There was one couple from England that I got along with alright. The rest of the people were part of the same family from Australia and they were kind of annoying. More on them later.

We started off by suiting up in our wetsuits. We drove to the cave entrance and practiced our rappelling. The first part of the experience would be to rappel 37 metres down into the cavern. From the pictures I was expecting it to be this sweet drop into a large open space, but it was totally lame. I didn’t think we’d have to go down a wall, but we did the whole way in the dark, which isn’t a very satisfying experience.

The next part of the journey we walked through the caves and our guides told us some interesting stuff. At one point we got to zipline down to another section, in the dark! That was sweet, I really enjoyed that. I was the last one to go after one of the Aussies. We were just supposed to gently swing out and hang there until the guide let us go, but she totally just jumped out! The line clipped the guides hand, he was so pissed off. Then as the guide is hooking me up he’s like, “Let me know if you need some earplugs.” I didn’t really understand what he meant until he said, “Those Aussies are going to give me a headache!” Haha, the tour guide was complaining to me about the other people on the tour!!!

We got to one spot and had some cookies. Then it was time for the tubing. We were on a ledge about 6 ft above a very slow moving river (actually it was more like a stream sized lake). We grabbed an inner tube, put it on our butts and jumped off the ledge! I was the last one to get a tube and the choices were slim, it was either one too small or one too big. If you have the same choice, take the too big one, the too small tube caused me nothing but hassle. First when I jumped and landed in the water I immediately flipped backwards, whereas most people landed comfortably. Second it wasn’t the most comfortable ride floating down the river. Everytime I tried to paddle I would almost fall off.

The water wasn’t very deep, and at some points we would wade to the next section. That one guide was giving the Aussies such a hard time, haha. He kept picking on them and one time he told them they had to walk along the edge of the wall or else they’d get sucked into the undertow. So this poor kid is struggling to move along and of course, the guide knows there’s a dropoff and no way you could keep walking so he slips in and starts freaking out! Only to stand up two seconds later...

As we went down a ways our guide told us to shut our lights off. Above us lining the roof of the cave were hundreds of gloworms! It was incredible.

They drop these little lines like spiders and just camp there. The glow that comes off of them attracts the bugs that come down the river. When they fly up to get to the light they get trapped in the lines and the glowworms have their feast. Very fascinating.

We got to a spot where water was pouring into the cave and that was our time to turn back. But instead of paddling back the guide got us to link up. We laid back on our tubes, had the person in front grab our legs while we grabbed the person’s legs behind us. Then the guide pulled us along. That was my favorite part of the trip. It was such a peaceful ride with all those glowworms above you like stars.

We ditched the tubes and had to do a bit of climbing the rest of the way. One kid went down the wrong way and the guide started freaking out, haha, that guy hated them. The last leg of the journey we climbed up a waterfall, that was pretty sweet. The guide was telling me different footholds and that, but I should have just done my own thing. My reach is a lot longer than I think he realized, so it was awkward doing what he was saying.

Anyways, we made it through the whole experience and I was feeling good! And once I had that wetsuit off I was in the bathroom at least 6 times. I went to the tourist place and got them to find me a place to stay in Rotorua. That was so sweet, I didn’t have to do anything really. The lady did all the calling for me and she worked out a pretty nice deal for me. I was going to take it easy and spend two nights in Rotorua. That girl was really cute actually, and she said “cool” a lot in her NZ accent which was really attractive for some reason, haha. I was too shy to hit on her of course.

So away I went to Rotorua. I found the place alright and settled in for the night. Once again I was grateful to get another room by myself at a hostel. Unfortunately there was this music festival going on that weekend and it was so loud. I was hoping to get to sleep early, but whatever, I just lied there and watched some more Super Troopers.

End of Day Fifteen.