Our last night in Rotorua was restful and we had a morning apart, allowing for some much needed alone time. Jackie spent hers regretfully not eating or emailing, but luxuriating by the lake and I spent mine mowing down on my new favorite dish - Muesli - and accessing WiFi at the local library. It was a relaxing morning and a great way to say goodbye to the town that is known as the 'cultural center' of the North Island of New Zealand. Our 12:50 Naked Bus was late, but much like the third world countries I am so fond of, no one seemed to mind. The attitude down here seems to be very Hakuna Matata. No one has more affection for the string of animated Disney hits from the 90s than me, but unfortunately that particular mantra never quite stuck. Finally on the bus close to an hour late, we were on our way to our last stop on this crazy month- long ride.
We had been informed by Jack, our trusty hostel aide in Rotarua that staying the night in Turangi would likely be a better bet than taking the bus all the way to the holiday park in Tongariro National Park, as we had booked. Evidently most day trippers set up often set up there prior to the hikes in the park, as accommodation is much more easily sourced. After passing through Taupo we finally made it to Turangi late in the day to either stay, or change buses, depending on what decision we chose to make last minute- as we are wont to do. A friendly woman on the bus had confirmed that Turangi was our best bet as I was making best friends with her 4 year old granddaughter and Jackie was sitting by awkwardly (who knew I was a kid person) and the bus driver designated to take us up to Tongariro National Park base camp gave us sage words of wisdom that Turangi offered not only more places to stay, but more places to eat. With the clock ticking and our time running low in New Zealand, we made the perhaps hasty decision to hop on that last bus to base camp/holiday park in Tongariro National Park. This base camp consists of one place for sleep that consists largely of spaces for tents and RVs, one trekking shop, and one cafe. As we rolled in around 4pm, after having been on the bus all day we were greeted, initially, by a sign left on the cafe door informing us that the proprietors had taken a little holiday of their own and would not return until Tuesday. It was Friday.
Jackie immediately went into panic mode, as we had not prepared for either camping or eating and had a half a box of crackers, one apple, one banana and two granola bars amongst us - and a 6 hour hike ahead of us the following morning. We were luckily able to procure the #24 'cabin' which was the size of a shoe box and smelled uncannily like my grandmother. The beds had no linens but Jacks had her sleep sack, I had my Qantas blanket snagged on our first flight that has served as makeshift everything along the way, and we had a heater in the room so we were good to go.
Before the sun set we decided to take advantage of the small, local hikes and went to a path about 15 minutes from our housing for the evening which had two locations at which some Maori big wig had his last stand. It was quiet and beautiful and as it gave me a sense of peace. It only made Jackie hungrier.
Back at cabin 24, at sunset, we divvied up our provisions - me making the mistake of putting the pungent Balsamic and Sea Salt crackers I had purchased in the same bag as the gummy-filled chocolate bar Jackie had purchased for her sister but decided we needed on our hike, and the handful of almonds I had left all in one bag. This created some sort of salty sweet trail mix - but not in a good way. At dawn, Jackie essentially drank her banana, that had seen better days, and I grabbed my apple and camera and we set off - being promised that the front desk Scotswoman would retrieve and hold our bags for our return later that day on our way back down the mountain.
A bus full of fellow trekkers came to pick us up - replete with REI and North Face gear from window to window as Jackie and I loaded up on the frigid 6 am bus in a mess of pattern, colors and layers - mostly dirty - anxious to attempt New Zealand's best 1 day hike. One of their 'Great Walks.'
The day started pretty easily - with a babbling brooke and lush scenery. I have never seen or read 'Lord of the Rings' but with this being the location for at least one of the movies - I can see why - as the rolling green hills and jagged rocky mountains set in a clear blue sky - it seems ideal for fantasy. Walking in the early morning chill, as the sunlight just begins to peek over the mountains, with only the sounds of running water and native insects to provide a soundtrack I had an epiphany. As I began to mount the first incline it all became so clear - I am not a hiker. Even a little. This is not the first volcano I have scaled, yet each time I do it I realize just a little bit more how outdoorsy I am not. I am athletic. I like nature - but I have to admit the combination of the two is, to a large degree, lost on me.
Despite this realization I endured the 3 hours up the loose gravel path, revealing ice blue pools in the sky and the 'red crater' that bears a striking resemblence to the birth place of... babies. 3 more hours back down and I was ready for the hour lounging in the sun before the bus was set to pick us up. It was so nice basking in the warmth and silence, until all the other hikers harshed my mellow by finishing their hikes and waiting for the park sanctioned bus to come retrieve them from their 13 mile sojourn as well.
The departure from Tangariro led us to the long ride home - literally. Jackie was going into sugar shock - or lack there of, suffering from some sort of hypoglycemic episode and she grabbed a candy bar as I grabbed our bags at base campe en route to Taupo where we knew dinner awaited. Lucikly, Jackie's resourcefulness also led to showers for $2 a pop at a local hostel where a stag party was taking place with the sun still high in the sky and I, being the people pleaser I am, licked a strange man's nipple per his friend's scavenger hunt request. First the hike, then the lick - it was a day chaulked full of adventure.
We made a quick run to Pack 'N Save , an establishment in which I have not been since I was a little girl for some needed snacks and we were out. When I say run, I mean run as the bus to Auckland was coming in 10 minutes and I was openly mocked by locals as I ran with my contraband cart being pushed, heavy with both snacks and bags, at full speed to the bus stop.
4 more hours on the bus to Auckland allowed us to watch our final sunset below the equator and when arriving around 1am on Quay street, where this particular leg began, we decided it would only be right to sample a local beer before departing from this foreign land. 2 Mac's Gold were partially consumed and the airport shuttle was boarded. Arriving at the airport we once again found choice spots in the massage chairs that remain erect and provide me with an ideal sleeping situation while providing Jackie with a severe lack of REM and subsequesntial crankiness.
Auckland to Sydney - where our flights was delayed and I befriended some nice older ladies and a young man from whom I wish I had retrieved contact information - James McKnight I am looking for you - and then Sydney to LA where the welcome home was less of a welcome and more of a pain in the ass due to the less than stellar staff at LAX, lacking in both people and cognitive skills. Jacks remained in LA to hang with her bestie and I came here - to chilly New York. Left with a pack of stale Anzac biscuits and a tan I am intent on keeping in the frosty east.
Not the trip I had envisioned and certainly not the cure all my loved ones had hoped for - but a new adventure, a new continent, and a new series of ridiculous stories to tell.