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December 05, 2004
I know I haven't written in a little while but I am in Tonga now so it is hard to get good internet access. So on with the concluding story of my time in New Zealand.
After leaving Te Anau we drove up the west coast of the South Island. This is very remote and the most sparsely populated area of the New Zealand. We decided to pick up a hitchhiker (which was my idea). His name was Tomas and he was German. It probably wasn't the best move because he was a very precise guy and to be frank about it rather humourless. I would try to start conversations by bringing up an area we both knew something about. "I know" he would flatly reply. Then after we had given him a lift to one place he asked us for another lift which we gave him and then after that we tried to avoid him. The moral of this tale I suppose is to pick up hitchhikers but make it clear it that this is not some ongoing relationship but a 'one-ride-stand'.
Kaikoura, South Island
We went to this place back on the east coast of the South Island mainly to do swimming with dolphins but that was cancelled due to stormy weather which was a real shame. The highlight was probably a sheep-shearing show: so yes if you were wondering our time in Kaikoura wasn't too great. I mentioned though however in my previous article that sheep are pretty important in New Zealand so when we saw that such a thing was on offer as sheep-shearing show we were keen to go to it. It was pretty good I suppose but it was just a guy shearing a sheep. Although sheep are pretty funny. We kept stopping at the side of the road to try and take photos of all the sheep but as soon as you we'd stope the car all the sheep would trot to the otherside of the field. They are a strange creature.
I think sheep though are a good angle through which to see quite an important aspect of the New Zealand national character. Last year I read that in NZ a sheep was found that had escaped into the hills and it had gone three years or something without being clipped. So when they found this sheep it was a fairly big national story and they made a live TV programme of the shearing of this sheep and put it on at prime time in the evening. Is there another country in the world where the shearing of a sheep would be a national news story and the subject of a prime time TV show? It just illustrates the in some ways provincial attitudes in NZ and I'm not knocking it for that. In Britain everyday on the front of the newspapers are generally either world events (war/famine etc) or British politcal news (scandal/new decrees) or crime stories. Yet in NZ everyday on the front of the news paper they have stories with such little gravitas that is just funny. One day on the front page of the Dominion which is the paper that comes out of Wellington (the capital) and there were two main stories. One which had the big picture was the story of a kid, a 13 year old boy to be precise who had scored 203 in a cricket match, that's a pretty big score but in case you were wondering this was a 13 year old boy playing with and against other 13 year old boys. These types of stories are everyday as well. I think there has to be a special kind of attitude to have that as the lead story of a national newspaper. It feels like you're living in a simpler time and it's no bad thing.
Taupo, North Island
We flew into Wellington on the North Island and drove North to Taupo which is situated on Lake Taupo the largest lake in New Zealand. This is the start of the geothermal area of New Zealand and so there are naturally heated pools and steam rising from certain points of the ground. We went to a really simple and free attraction called the craters of the moon. It is simply a raised wooden boardwalk around a highly active geothermal area. As the name suggests the landscape is somewhat otherworldly with the steam rising from so many different places and the noise of bubbling and the craters themselves. It was quite a sight and smell and is one of those places which actually makes you stop and think about what's about underneath the earth and all the activity that's going on there.
The other most notable thing we did in Taupo was a skydive from 12,000 feet which I can tell you is pretty high up. Taupo is the cheapest place to do it in NZ and the views over the lake and the mountains and volcanoes is really good. However, you only really notice that after the free fall bit and during the parachuting because the freefall really is something else. You are falling at over 200km an hour - it's a strange feeling and pretty thrilling. The worst part is in the plane though. Me and my 'instructor' (who was exactly as I'd expect a professional skydiver to be like - he was really hyped up and when we were in the plane his speech became really excited like 'We're gonna do this brother!') anyway we went last out of the plane and seeing the other people fall out fo the plane is an unbelivable sight. It is like in those films where on a commercial airliner someone dastardly manages to open the plane door and it rips away and the unlucky person nearest just gets sucked out and they disappear in a flash - well it looks exactly like that. So it was pretty scary but a unique experience.
Auckland, North Island
Our last stop in NZ was the biggest city, Auckland. It was my birthday when we were flying to Tonga so we decided to celebrate it in Auckland. We went up the sky tower which is the tallest building in the souther hemisphere and went to a recolving restaurant. "A revolving restaurant, how cheesy!" I hear you cry. Well it was actually really good. The food was great, the waiter called me sir, it all came together really. The restaurant revolves very slowly (taking a n hour to do one revolution) and Auckland is a fine city to look out on. It is a harbour city and was formed by volcanoes. As the minutes pass you could point to things and the view was most entertaining. After that we went to a comedy club which I had also never done before. That too was really good. Some acts weren't so funny but ne guy was hilarious and the compere was really funny as well. The thing I liked about (as well as being enjoyable because it ws funny) was that you really felt in the culture. There were no other tourists there (because he asked if anyone was from overseas and then teased us). There were loads of in-jokes and cultural observations about New Zealanders and some really funny stuff about Australians and Australian Rules football. All in All it was a really great night.
Those two 'firsts' of mine: the revolving restaurant and the comedy club got me thinking about some others I have seen while I was away and there is a fair few. Because you're in different places and situations you see some weird stuff. Here's some good ones, The first time I have ever seen:
-A duck with a limp
I'll write some more later in the trip, hope you enjoyed those.
Richard, Nuku'alofa, 5th December
p.s. I've got a little bit behind so I will try and do another entry int he next few days rather than leave it a whole week so check back soon.
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Posted by Richard on December 5, 2004 03:02 AM
Category: New Zealand
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