Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Waitomo is a small village roughly 120 miles south of Auckland.  It has a population of about 50, and a couple of weeks ago its only pub burnt down ("Patrons stopped to pay their respects..."Where am I going to drink now?" one asked").  So there is almost no reason to go there at all; except for the thousands of metres of caves.  Which is why I went there.

I booked myself onto a black water rafting thing, which basically involves spending three hours navigating underground streams and rivers on an inflatable black rubber ring with a bunch of other suckers.  The first challenge was getting into a wetsuit.

This was the most undignified thing I did all day; until about an hour and a half later, when I was floating through a cave sat in my rubber ring and my butt got grounded on a rock.  All attempts to either paddle or stand up just resulted in a lot of desperate splashing and limb flailing.  Ultimately I had to resort to a mixture of butt hopping and butt shuffling.  Smooth.

But the bits where I wasn't flailing about like a moron were awesome.  For a variety of reasons (but mostly just common sense), we weren't permitted to take our own cameras down there; so the following images have been ruthlessly purloined from the internets and cleverly edited so that I am in them.

We eventually emerged blinking into the sunlight, having not succumbed to ravenous glowworms, eels or monsters; then it was back to base for a hot shower, mug of soup and a toasted bagel.

With just the afternoon left to play about with, I decided to whizz around and tick a few other crap tourist boxes.  Just a few miles down the road from Waitomo is Te Kuiti, "the sheep-shearing capital of the world", where every year the main street bears witness to death-defying acts of bravery in the fearsome Running of the Sheep.  At the end of Rora Street is the "Big Shearer", a seven metre high, seven and a half tonne statue celebrating their proud sheepy heritage.


On the way home I stopped briefly in Hamilton to check out another famous statue.  The life-size statue of Richard O'Brien (in the guise of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) stands over the former site of the Embassy Theatre, allegedly the birthplace of the cult musical and also where he worked as a hairdresser for a number of years in the late 50s/early 60s.

The next day I managed to get back to Christchurch without too much trouble.  My housemate came to collect me from the airport; we also managed to pick up a nice old lady whose lift had fallen through on her.  She didn't live quite as near to our house as she originally suggested... but we gave her a lift anyway, and she repaid our kindness/gullibility with a big jar of runny homemade marmalade, which we have no chance of finishing before we have to head back to the UK.

This all left just enough time to get beer and pizza, and to decorate DeathCar2000 with some totally sickass Hawaiian Air graphics that I had acquired legitimately from the Auckland office.

Sinister foreign confectionery this week: Moro Gold.

It's kind of like a Boost bar, but with less girth.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

i'm taking the avenir to hobbiton

This week I have swapped places with my counterpart in the North Island, so that we can each see what the differences/similarities are between our respective jobs.  This means that I have traded the raw power, explosive acceleration and pop-up headlights of DeathCar2000 for his diesel Nissan Avenir automatic (boo); but it also means that I get the opportunity to do a tiny bit of exploring on a whole other island (huzzah).

Before this could happen, I had to get here; and that meant finding out all about how standby tickets work, because that is what work booked for me.  What happens is you get a ticket for the 1855 flight out of Christchurch; but it's totally sold out, so the only way you're getting on that plane is if you challenge one of the other passengers to MORTAL KOMBAT and totally Liu Kang them to pieces.

Or you could wait until the next flight... except that one's booked up too.

And so is the one after that.  

But the 2130 flight is okay... 

...except that it lands at 2300.  And once you've crammed yourself and your luggage onto a bus and then bimbled aimlessly through the murky streets of an unfamiliar city to a hotel apartment block thing, it's closer to midnight; and you can't help but think that rather than spending two and half hours trapped in an airport departure lounge with no bar, it might have been nice to do something else.  Like stay at home and have some dinner, for example.

Anyway, I'm here now.  First impressions are that the North Island is like the root mean square of the South Island; whilst the latter consists of vast flat planes punctuated by unfathomable verticality, the former is generally lower but lumpier.  The main thing the North Island has that the South doesn't is volcanoes and all sorts of other geothermal nonsense.  Most of the really good stuff is just a bit too far south to make for a convenient weekend trip from Auckland, but I did manage to make it to Rotorua.  Rotorua is home to Lake Rotorua, which translates as "the second lake" - so called because it was the second lake that the intrepid Maori explorer had seen that day.  Apparently it used to be a big-ass volcano; now its just a big-ass lake.

Not much to look at, really.  A little way down the road, however, is Te Whakarewarewa - a "living thermal village".  It is home to what I guess could be referred to as modernised Maori.  They drive cars, wear trousers and no longer eat interlopers (or so our tour guide assured us); but they still observe many traditional customs and practices.  The village itself is situated on a thin crust of earth that struggles to contain the sheer geothermal power of science that bubbles away beneath.  This gives rise to geysers, hot bubbling mud, clouds of sulphurous steam, holes in the ground that are slowly swallowing houses, and thermal pools that reach temperatures of up to 172 degrees (because of science).

The hot pools are used for bathing and cooking (though not generally in that order).  The mud pools used to be used as final resting places for the deceased; the body would be wrapped up in flax and then forced beneath the surface, eventually slipping away to who knows where.  Then whitey turned up and explained that the proper way to bury the dead was to put them in a casket and then put the casket in a hole six feet deep.  They hadn't accounted for the fact that the ground they were digging into was a bit lively, and the caskets would gradually re-surface over a period of time... so they gave up on that idea, and nowadays the dead get entombed in concrete boxes on top of the ground.  A few of them have wee chimneys to help relieve any steam pressure that might build up, thereby minimising the potential for any exploding steam corpse unpleasantness.

The following day the inevitability of me being a nerd in New Zealand was finally realised in full, and I went to Hobbiton.

Okay, so there are probably far nerdier things I could have done; but it still felt like an anorak-clad pilgrimage of sorts.  When the first films were made, the hobbit-holes were all temporary constructions made out of polystyrene and bits of plywood painted up to look like the real thing.  Once filming was complete, the set had to be completely destroyed for environmental and copyright reasons.  The owners of the farm on which the set was built realised that they'd missed a trick, and when the set was rebuilt for filming of The Hobbit they made sure that it would be more of a permanent fixture.

Of course they're all still just fa├žades, the largest hobbit-holes still only extending a few feet beyond the front door.  The one notable exception being the Green Dragon pub, which is fully functional (and presumably available to hire for weddings and bar mitzvahs); and it was here that the tour concluded with a delicious mug of beer.

It didn't come in pints.

A trio of sinister foreign chocolate bars this week...

I remember when KitKats used to be the rubbish chocolate coated wafer biscuit you might get with your packed lunch if you were lucky.  Then along came the KitKat Chunky, which had the same amount of wafer but about a million times more chocolate.  And now we have the KitKat Chunky 3; basically a KitKat Chunky that has been split into three sections, and then had those three sections filled with stuff.  Any traces of wafer you should happen to find probably got there by mistake.

When confronted by three flavours of KitKat Chunky 3, I was overcome with a mixture of indecision and joy at the mathematical symmetry of it all; and so I got one each of Chocolate, Caramel and Cookies & Cream.  They all tasted of toothache.