Some Guy from Austin

Joined January 2016
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  • Day43

    A French Austinite and a Wallet Returned

    March 10, 2016 in New Zealand

    After emerging from eight days of camping near lake Heron in the central part of the south island I made it back to relative civilization and cell phone coverage. I had a number of messages and of them, the most interesting was one from a person who worked for the Piha police. Someone had returned my wallet!!! Frankly, I was speechless. In what other country would not only someone return the wallet, but have the police actually proactively contact the owner? Maybe it was a slow crime day. I was also thankful to be the only Sam Wettling on earth because that, no doubt, made tracking me down a lot easier.

    I wasted no time reaching back out and the woman told me that if I gave her my itinerary she would send the wallet to a police station near me. A few days later I was to meet up with the March family in Kaiteriteri and the closest police station was in Motueka, so she said that's where it would be sent.

    To Motueka I went.

    The drive was through some stunning mountains. Interestingly, the mountain roads here almost never have guardrails, so a high degree of awareness is paramount. Additionally, most of three bridges are one lane, so you have to yield to oncoming traffic should there be any. The key message here is to be cautious and take your time. There is basically no way to get anywhere in New Zealand fast. Thankfully, I was not in a hurry. Not being in a hurry has really been the theme of this trip and is a habit I hope to take home with me. After about five hours I arrived.

    Sleeping in the van did not appeal to me that night, so I checked into a hostel. I asked the guy checking me in where someone could grab dinner and a beer and he quickly reonded, "next door. It's where I just was before you buzzed me to check you in." I thought to myself that it seems like I picked the right place to stay.

    After tossing my backpack on a bed (you have to grab the best bunks first or you'll end up on a top bunk on a tiny matterss.) I walked next door. Not only was this place a restaurant, it was a brewery. Jackpot! I was feeling indecisive, so ordered a sampler of six beers, each about 6 or 8 oz and ordered a pizza. Worth noting is that the pizza in New Zealand has been phenomenal and the Mediterranean I ordered here was no exception. Order placed and beers in hand I sought a place to start drinking. Out on the patio I found a large, empty picnic table. It was the only one with space. Let the sampling begin! I sipped the delicious beers and caught up on some news and whatnot until about two thirds of the pizza was gone and I was sated.

    Minutes later a couple who appeared to be in their mid thirties asked if they could sit down. The woman was clearly from the states. One thing I have learned from my travels is that there is no easier way of opening a conversation than hearing an accent and guessing where the person is from. US, French and German being the easiest. After asking her where in the states she was from she said Washington state. He was French, but hid his accent better than every other French person I've ever met. They had been together for several years, but had just gotten married and we're on their honeymoon. They now lived in Paris together. When I told them I was from Austin the girl's face lit up and she told me that not only had she been born in Austin, she had gone to school at Texas State. What a small world it is.

    Jerome, Maria and I chatted until we were the last people in the bar and the staff was putting chairs up on tables. They asked the same thing that almost every single person I've met has asked, "What's up with Donald Trump?!" They did not ask me the other question I get when people find out I'm from Texas which is, "how many guns do you own?" Stereotypes are funny. Donald Trump is too.

    Before heading out they invited me to join them the following day for some hikes and since all I was in town for was collecting my wallet I said yes almost immediately. The spontaneous places I have gone and things I have done on this trip have been the best and the next day's trip was no exception.

    At ten am the next morning they showed up in their car outside my hostel and we went to a cafe for breakfast and to select our hikes. We elected to go to a couple places a little over an hour away including some gigantic natural springs and to a small town for lunch, but left plenty of room for playing it by ear.

    Before heading out I grabbed my passport and asked that we swing by the police station. It felt like such a weird request to make. I was not alone in this feeling and after sharing my thoughts and having them agree we all had a good chuckle. Jerome's GPS guided us in French the few blocks to the station and I went in. The lobby was tiny and empty but a few moments later a cheerful woman emerged from the back. After explaining who I was her face lit up and she said that it had arrived the day before. I could hardly believe my ears. After filling out my name and signature she handed me my wallet, all contents intact. If I had seen aliens I might have less surprised than i was at the sequence of events that had led me here this day. I guess the universe was smiling on me, if but for a second.

    Wallet in hand I jumped back in the white Corolla with my new friends and we were off. Our initial stop was at some caves, but a bus full of grade-school kids outside made us think twice and we continued on. The next stop was a quick view out a scenic outlook. By this point in the trip I think I had become jaded. I have seen vista after vista, each more beautiful than the last and at some point it started to all blend together. My companions agreed and after a quick photo we drove on.

    The next stop was at our original destination, some of the highest volume springs in new zealand, perhaps in the world. We applied the obligatory sunblock and ventured down a trail through what felt almost like rainforest. There were ferns of every imaginable type surrounding us as we wound around through the forest. Fifteen minutes later we emerged from the woods to behold what I can only describe as the clearest, most beautiful water I have seen in my life. If water could be clearer than air, this was, and the volume of water being pumped out was more than enough to form a healthy and stunning stream mere meters away. I have never seen a spring like this and beneath the surface of the water was otherworldly. Plants swayed gently in the water as the morning sun glinted off its surface nearly hypnotizing me. For another half hour we slowly followed the path around the springs, seeing them from various angles and hardly lifting our gaze from them. We finally made the brief trek back to the car. The total walk had not been more than 2k, but because of the scenery we had spent a conserable amount of time on it. Somewhere near the beginning of the trail with had seen a sign for another walk just a twenty minute drive away. It was still before lunch so we decided to give it a go.

    The sign at the beginning of the next trail said a loop took about two hours and wanting a bit of exercise we all agreed that it sounded perfect. Without question this was the most curious and intriguing trail I walked. Back in the late 1920s gold was being mined in the area and they needed power so they built a hydro electric system. What is unique about this one is that instead of using the pressure of water behind a dam to spin turbines, they built what looked like a mini aqueduct from the water source atop the mountain all the way down to about 300 meters from the bottom of the hill. From that 300 meters up the water , which to that point had just meandered down the mountainside, went through a filter and then down a large chute to where the turbine resides. The result is about 152 psi on the blades of the turbine as well as a power generating system that only used a fraction of the total available water, leaving the rest to flow down the creek as normal, thereby minimally disrupting the local ecosystem. It was almost a hundred years old and still working to power local homes. I was simply amazed.

    Upon completing the hike we were all hungry and thirsty. A quick search led us to a local brewery that not only had wonderful beer, it was built in such a way that I could have been in Austin. I felt right at home. The building itself was quite old and built out of wood. Outside there were picnic tables sitting atop well-worn bricks and shaded by canvas tarps. Topping this all off was a tractor tire swing in the shade and a fireplace that must be wonderful to sit around on a chilly evening. All of this was surrounded by such thick foliage that sitting there felt completely private despite a road and parking lot being mere meters away.

    This day my lunch consisted of some healthy selections including a pickled egg, something I had never tried, a bowl of sausages and cheese covered chips. My compatriots did not order much healthier and we all laughed about it. A few minutes after ordering, Maria went for another round and before bringing the beers, came out with the pickled egg gleefully hoisted above her head. I think she was as excited it see me eat it as I was.

    The egg really didn't taste like anything more than a hard boiled egg soaked in vinegar (probably because it was), but I scarfed it down nonetheless. We ate the rest of our feast, drank a couple more beers and headed off to our next destination, Kaiteriteri. While in Kaiteriteri we drank another beer, watched the sun set over the bay and drove the last twenty minutes home.

    Once back in Motueka we were ready for drinks and ended up back where we met, at the Sprig and Fern. It would be the second consecutive night we were the last people there.

    When I made my way back to the hostel I felt exhausted, but completely satisfied. We had all truly made the most of the day and both my face and my heart were smiling as I drifted off to sleep.
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  • Day30

    Kayaking, Camping, Wallet Loss

    February 26, 2016 in New Zealand

    A seven-hour drive from Scott's Place got me to the Bay of Islands. The drive should only have taken five, but about 45 minutes into it I realized just how tried, hungover and possibly even still a little drunk I was. I pulled into a gas station and promptly fell asleep for nearly two hours. Upon awaking I did the unthinkable and ate lunch at McDonalds. I do not possess the vocabulary to properly explain just how revolting it was, buy in my weakened state I just needed food...any food. Sadly I don't think this qualified.

    Even after a nap and some empty calories I contemplated stopping and staying in Auckland for the night. Continuing on proved to be the right decision because an hour later I began to feel much better. The drive was quite nice, too and I was in a much better mood by my arrival in Piha. Scarfing down a pizza and drinking a beer made me feel better. After dinner I cleaned up my belongings, prepped for my three day kayak trip, washed up and fell asleep.

    Morning came quickly. I felt like a kid waking up Christmas morning and getting to my destination was all I could think of. Despite a little trouble finding the beach, I arrived on time. In fact, I was plenty early based on when we actually left. Originally everyone was slated to have a single passenger kayak but one of the other people on the trip was too big for it, so the guide had to go back and get a tandem kayak. I won't lie, I chuckled a bit at this. When the new kayak arrived we packed up and left.

    It was sunny and warm as we paddled and not more than 30 minutes in a couple dolphins swam right by us. A good start indeed. We then stopped at an island and summited its small peak to behold some breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and almost neon blue water. Following this we paddled to the next island over where we would set up the camp we would use for this night and the next. As soon as my tent was up I grabbed the guide's fishing pole, some artificial bait and some jig heads. It was time to fish!

    Unfortunately, the wind was pretty strong, even through sunset. This stood no chance of deterring me and I paddled directly into it and through some serious chop. No shortage of motivation befell me, though, because the fish were nibbling my bait nearly immediately. After several chewed up pieces of bait and repeated paddling back into the wind after being blown away it was fish on. I repeated this sequence until I had three keepable fish and the sun was nearly down. That night our appetizer was snapper and it was good.

    Day two was as beautiful as the first. We ventured out on the ocean side of the islands and we're greeted by swells large enough to lose sight of my kayaking companions from time to time. I've never kayaked in such swollen water and it was exhilarating. Falling out would have sucked, so I didn't fall out. We pressed on past this island and back into the safety of the bay for a break. The other couple on the trip walked around the island. I went back out fishing. No large fish were caught but a weird one grabbed on. I'm not sure what it was, but it looked like an aquarium was more suitable for it than a frying pan, so I tossed it back.

    We launched once again and finally stopped for lunch. During this time I was introduced to a spear gun and with a snorkel and mask only (no fins or weight belt) speared a kingfisk. What a thrill, although dragging a bleeding fish through waters known to harbor sharks was a little scary. Next time I'm anywhere where this is an option, I'm doing it.

    By early to mid afternoon we paddled to the only island with a bar. The couple had a drink and since we were close decided to head back to camp. Sam, the guide, and I decided tequila shots sounded better and proceeded to buy each other shots and beers until an hour and a half before sunset. During our drinking we met the island manager and a very interesting character named Goody. Goody was the caretaker and maintenance man for the island twelve months out of the year, but the island was only open to visitors for five months annually. I had to learn more.

    Thankfully Goody was friendly and after a beer offered to show me his place and have a smoke with him. How could I refuse? His place was just one of the rooms that you could rent. Unit 1. It was probably 80 or 100 square feet inside with a patio outside of half that where we sat at his table and chatted. It turns out he has been on the island for nearly seven years. Prior to his arrival he lived about a hundred miles away. One day while sailing, or so the story goes, he arrived at the island and just never left. After being gone two years his wife contacted him to ask if he was ever going home. His response was that he was already home. Excepting a couple visits to his now grown kids per year, he stays on this island full time. I asked him if he ever got lonely and he chuckled and said he could, and would prefer to, live there all year with no visitors.

    Goody's attitude was enlightening and epitomizes what I have seen in many travelers I've met on my trip. Home can be anywhere and anytime you make it. He was unattached to his possessions and unhindered by what a person "should do" and he was HAPPY.

    Pretty buzzed, Sam and I paddled back to camp. I stopped to take a few photos as the sun set also and just soaked up the experiences I had so recently had.

    The final day we paddled more, fished less, and finally made it back to the beach we started from. My back was twice as strong from mile after mile of paddling and I felt great. Ready to do it all over again if I could.

    Back in town I was a little tired, but a quick shower fixed that and I went next door to my hostel to a bar for beers and dinner. I was happy to hear that there was a band playing and sat inside, out of the sun, right next to them. After they finished their first set the oldest one sat down with me and introduced himself as Mike. The other guys were his sons. Not more than a second later Mike asked if I wanted a shot. Of course I did! I feel like I've already gone through this sequence once in this post, but if you were wondering, Mike and I bought shots and beers until the 50 foot walk home seemed hard. Somewhere in the midst of this he invited me fishing the following day. Bwck to the water I was to go.

    The next afternoon Mike picked me up as well as a Tanzanian bee keeper we had befriended and we set off. Sadly we only caught fish under the size limit so went off to another spot where Mike was going to scuba dive for scallops. Half an hour after descending Mike resurfaced with a bag of scallops. This was the first time I had eaten raw ones. They were delicious. We headed in after the sun set. Cruising along at high speed watching the moon rise was a real rush.

    We made it back to town, had a drink and called it. When I went to pay I realized that I had no wallet. After searching Mike's boat and van it was nowhere to be found. Strangely I had bought gas for the boat literally right before we set off, but there was no sign of the wallet anywhere. I went to sleep worried and a bit frustrated.

    The next day, still no sign of it. My friend Brian sent me some money so I could at least survive and I called a credit card company to get one replaced. I couldn't cancel them all because my upcoming camper van rental depended on one of the cards... and my license.

    Thinking of any place to get a copy of my drivers license I called the place I had rented my truck from and they actually had a copy. Thankfully the van rental place said it would be sufficient. Crisis averted.

    From here I drove to Auckland, saw the March family and then headed to the airport the next morning, my stay on the North Island in the books. All I can say is that I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
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  • Day28

    Pirates Part II

    February 24, 2016 in New Zealand

    Soaked still and in need of a shower I drove back to Scott's Place. There aren't many better feelings than getting out of filthy and wet clothes, through a hot shower and into some which are dry. This is doubly true if you have taken a spontaneous nap in a parking lot, take it from me.

    Dry and rested it obviously made sense to crack some cold beers whick also became my dinner. As evening gave way to night Adam and I tried to learn Bob Marley's "Redemption Song". Now, under normal circumstances plucking out a few note riff on the guitar can be challenging, but completely doable. Much to the chagrin and what later turned into amusement of those around us we had a couple things working against us. First, Adam has less guitar experience than I at playing guitar so this very much became an exercise in the blind leading the blind. Secondly, we had nearly polished off a bottle of whiskey. The combination proved to be too much and despite the helpful intervention of others around us and over two hours of attempts, we finally headed to bed. I'm pretty sure I heard the faint echo of laughter following me down the hall as we slipped away.

    The next morning my head somehow only hurt slightly, my pride was still intact and the Redemption Song riff was rattling around in my brain like a guitar pick stuck in a guitar that just won't come out. After breakfast a few of us went to the beach. It sure was handy to have a pickup because everyone's surfboard fit in the bed. The day was sunny and warm and while a couple guys surfed I practiced a different song on guitar. Partly to learn something new and partly to exorcise Bob Marley from my mind. Sitting there on the beach was supremely relaxing and made me wish we had closer beaches to Austin. Perhaps with some research I can find something similar in the land locked city I call home. It would sure be nice.

    Following a couple hours at the beach we grabbed lunch in Raglan and most importantly bought a bunch more beer and another bottle of whiskey for the impending pirate party.

    Returning to Scott's Place by late afternoon the festivities had already begun. This made me happier than a rat in a crate of saltfish because the first rule of a good pirate parrrrrty is T' starrt before the sun dips below ye horizon. The second rule of a good pirate parrrrty is t' dress the parrrt. I mean after all if ye be showin' up a lookin' like a smarmy land lubber, the plank ye should walk. It took less time for me to get into costume than it takes to pop the cork from a bottle of rum.

    Every one of the forest pirates was in a glorious mood and the conversation was lighter 'n seafoam and funnier 'n a captain with two good legs. A couple of flagons of grog in ol' smarmy Barney hoisted the Jolly Roger and declared himself captain of the lot. Little did he know, mutiny was in the air. With Barney distracted by a lass I was able to secure the flag. The lass took not kindly to the capture of the flag after a struggle power was temporarily back in Barneys hands. This happened a couple more times until after I retrieved the flag one last time I gave it to who would soon, and temporarily, become Captain Adam.

    Under Captain Adam we had new orders. The lot of us was to participate in the dreaded waterfall. For those uninitiated out there this means the captain hosts his drink high and the rest of us scoundrels do the same. The captain begins drinking and every pirate follows suit. We drink until he has had his fill at which time the mate to his right can keep drinking as long as he likes, forcing the rest of us to keep downing our grog. When he stops the person to his right can keep going, again with the rest of us not stopping. This continues pirate by filthy pirate until it reaches the last person. Unfortunately for me, I was that last pirate. It was rough, but a might bit better than walking the plank.

    It wasn't long before another ship full of buccaneers arrived at our port led by the Dread Pirate Alex. He and his motley crew fit right in and helped us in our quest to drink absolutely everything in sight.

    With all of us scoundrels wet with rum, smarmy Scott wove us a tale of sea creatures so fierce they would leap from the water to take a bite of human flesh. With many a sailor's leg a tremblin' and teeth a chatterin' we sallied forth to the lair of these beasts. Unafraid of the dangers, Scott tempted the creatures with chicken. Now I have been told that a man's flesh tastes almost exactly like chicken so I kept me distance and watched. Moments later the creatures lurched from the depths all the way from the water onto the land. In a frenzy they writhed, wriggled, and squirmed all over one another and with great ferocity tore the chicken to pieces.

    A couple brave, or foolish mates even tried to hoist a creature from their lair, but those who did ended up with wounds so grave we nearly ran out of hooks to replace their mangled hands with. No doubt they will respect the creatures more should they encounter them a second time.

    Returning to port the drinking continues, more music was played and many tales of adventure and triumph were spun. I kept up until the land beneath my feet began to feel like I was out at sea again. Knowing that it was time to trade my scimitar for a pillow I crawled into the back of my truck and drifted to sleep freaking of treasure chests and smiling lasses.
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  • Day23

    Forest Pirates of the North Island Pt 1

    February 19, 2016 in New Zealand

    After leaving Middle Earth I continued West to a hostel called Scott's place. I actually ended up here because a fellow traveler suggested I would like the town of Raglan and this was one of the few remaining rooms I could find. Little did I know that by my departure I would have hiked in a downpour, strummed my guitar on the beach, worn a wide array of silly hats and met some delightfully wacky characters I would now call friends.

    Unlike the other hostels I've been in, Scott's Place is a house. It is actually Scotts home, as the name implies. It sits in some beautiful woods between Hamilton and Raglan on a few acres of land. When I pulled up I was greeted by a very spirited woman who introduced herself as Bubbles. I wasn't sure if it was the bright red dreadlocks, the glowing smile, or the helmet she was wearing that hit me first but it was at that moment I knew my stay here was going to be something to remember.

    Bubbles took me around the property and gleefully pointed out the chicken coop, creek, library, outdoor kitchen, empty hot tub and campsites before returning to the house to show me my room. The house rules were also outlined and included one critical rule and a few less so. The top rule was that if you were caught leaving dirty dishes out you had to do everyone's dishes. This rule was quite effective as I rarely saw anything dirty in the kitchen.

    I didn't have anything planned that afternoon so grabbed a book and sat in an easy chair to thumb through it. Within five minutes Bubbles reappeared from outside and in one motion as she walked by grabbed a pirate hat from the silly hats rack next to me and placed it squarely on my head. She was still in her helmet. Safety first! She sat down for a second and asked me how long I would be there. I replied that I was leaving Saturday morning. She immediately said I should at least stay through Saturday night because they were having a Pirate party. It took me about two nanoseconds to agree. How could I possibly say no?

    It wasn't long before I began to meet the other residents of scotts place and first got introduced to Michelle from California and Tali from Boston. Michelle was just there for a while and Tali was helping Scott with some of his projects, so would be there a bit longer. Both helped around the place getting people checked in and whatnot. Michelle was also trying to get a work visa for New Zealand and the poor girl was having the worst luck trying to complete the application. I think by the third day I was there it was complete. A+ for persistence. I'm not sure I could personally travel a country for a year and just work odd jobs, but it seems fairly commonplace here. Maybe I should try it.

    As the day rolled on more of the guests returned and I got to meet Adam, a surfer from Washington as well as Andy and Susie, a lovely British couple on the tail end of a three month holiday. Adam and I chatted a bit while I was still wearing the pirate hat. He was completely unfazed by it which was a good sign. Later, Andy and Susie were cooking dinner at the same time I was and we had a good chat. After dinner and a few beers they proposed a game and we landed on Scrabble. It wasn't long before I remembered just how fun games like this can be and I need to remember to play them more when I get home.

    Scrabble concluded about the time Andy and I poured a couple glasses of Jamison. We took the conversation outside and I pulled out my guitar. He explained that he and a buddy had bet that he couldn't learn some guitar songs before his 40th which was still several years off, so I tried showing him Tom Patty's Free Fallin. Needless to say that drunkenly trying to teach or learn and remember a song is pretty ineffective, but we sure had fun. Sadly, I'm afraid Andy's friend might win the bet (sorry Andy).

    Some time in the evening we decided to do a several-hour hike the following day. This hike would have us Mt. Karioi, an extinct volcano on the coast. The hike was listed as about 6 to 7 hours round trip and was listed as an advanced trek. They weren't kidding.

    The following morning greeted us with more rain on the horizon, but after breakfast we headed for the trailhead anyway. We dropped Adam off in town so he could go to the skate park in town and had a coffee before making the winding drive along the coast and up gravel roads to start the hike.

    It wasn't half a kilometer into the hike before we realized that this trek was going to be tough. Most trails I have hiked will have switchbacks to reduce the incline you need to walk. Whoever put this trail in probably said that switchbacks are for pussies because this thing went mercilessly straight up the side of the mountain. Undeterred by the incline we marched on. Ten minutes later the rain started and five minutes after that Susie opted to turn around. Andy and I agreed to hike for an hour one way, rain or not.

    The rain subsided a little while later leaving us in thick cloud cover. For a hike known for its breathtaking views, we could barely see each other because of the clouds surrounding us. This still was not enough to turn us around and we succeeded in our mission of an hour up. Completely soaked, we turned around and began our descent. Let me just say that hiking uphill on wet rocks and mud is sure a lot easier than going down. Each step brought with it the risk of slipping so we used branches and anything we could find to stabilize ourselves. At one point we had to crab crawl the rocks were so slick. Our slow trip down lasted as long as the steep journey up and wouldn't you know it, but by the time we reached the car the clouds had nearly all lifted.

    We grabbed a sandwich and beer in town and Andy and Susie went on their way for the last two days of their 90 day trip. I drove to a park by the water and pulled the truck into a spot. Thirty minutes later I woke up, truck still running and realized I had just taken a rather spontaneous and unexpected nap. It was a bit of a strange experience waking up and not even realizing I had been asleep, or where I was. From here I drove back to Scott's Place.

    (Continued in next entry)
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  • Day22

    I'm Taller than Hobbits

    February 18, 2016 in New Zealand

    I'm trying to blend doing some touristy stuff with more adventurous activities. On this day I went about as touristy as I could and visited Hobbitown, the set where the hobbit trilogy was filmed. It's also a replica of the set used in the Lord of the Rings.

    For the two days prior it had rained heavily and even the morning of the his day it was raining quite a bit. From where I was staying in had to drive about an hour to get there. Thankfully by the time I arrived the rain had stopped. I don't think I would have done this in a downpour.

    The set itself is on a working sheep farm in the middle of the North Island. Rolling hills and great expanses of bright green grass abound. Upon arrival I got my ticket and boarded a bus to the set which took about ten minutes. Our tour guide began explaining the challenges of trying to hide the filming location because it took them nearly two years to construct. They originally had the new zealand army claiming that they were doing exercises, but one night of drinking at a local bar loosened their lips and they spilled the beans about what was really going on. From that point on they had armed guards posted outside the set and even a no-fly zone above it to prevent people from seeing it. All of this gave me a chuckle.

    When we got to the set our group was escorted by a tour guide who explained how the set was built. Since the filming it has been a tourist attraction, but they have a vast amount of vegetable plants still being kept. Some of them looked delicious.

    The tour ended after we strolled by Sam's house which is the one with the yellow door and finished at the Green Dragon pub. The pub had some pretty amazing craftsmanship as well as some excellent beer that is brewed exclusively for them.

    All said and done the set and scenery were beautiful and I'm glad I decided to go. If I ever went back I think I would probably have to dress up in a costume, though.
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  • Day20

    A Wrong Turn

    February 16, 2016 in New Zealand

    My departure from Taupo was fairly uneventful. The night prior I had met a new bunkmate, ellie, who was from Belgium. We hit it off, but regretfully didn't really have too much time besides dinner to chat. I said goodbye to her and to my elder roomie and was on my way. The drive to Rotorua was only an hour and half way there I saw a sign for Wai-O-Tapu, a park built on its geothermal features.

    Before describing the park it's important to know that the whole region is sitting on top of a massive supervolvano much larger in scale than the one under Mt St. Helens. Much of the local power is driven by geothermal energy and there are a number of places where the heat is very close to the surface. Frighteningly, the volcano itself is overdue for an eruption. They say if it goes off it could easily usher in a new ice age, or at least freeze the earth for years while the dust literally settles.

    I pulled into the park with absolutely no expectations, but was immediately pleasantly surprised at how clean and well Iaid out it was. I paid my admission fee and entered. If my memory serves me right this is the first park (except for sitting in the grass in Austin ) that I have been to solo in my life. Turns out it wasn't too bad. I stopped at pretty much every thing marked on the guide map, took pictures and spent a bit of time contemplating each one.

    As I rounded the a curve around a particularly large, boiling, belching, multi-colored pool the wind began blowing in my direction. The hot, humid, sulphur-laced air that engulfed me felt like a god with exceptionally bad morning breath was exhaling in my direction after a thousand year slumber. I could almost wring it out of my clothes it was so moist.

    After escaping the clutches of Dios de Halitosis I left that part of the park and made my way to the Lady Knox Geyser. Long story short they pour some soap in the thing every day around 10:30am which breaks the surface tension of the water and triggers an eruption. It was cute, but not mind-blowing. On the way out a group of people stopped me and asked is I was from Austin because I was wearing an Austin t-shirt. Turns out they are from Westlake. What a small world it is.

    I bid Wai-O-Tapu goodbye and completed the drive to Rotorua. Check-in at the hostel was not until 2 pm and it was only a bit after 11, so I went to a cafe and had some incredible braised lamb. While eating I paid some bills and saw just how much I've spent so far. Woops. Oh well. I decided to go check out the Redwoods in a park nearby and take a short hike.

    The park was only five minutes from town and pretty impressive from the start. There was a sign near where I entered that said it was a family-friendly, low-impact, 2.9k (1.8 mile) hike. This sounded good after a delicious lunch. A half mile or so in I came across an intersection with another trail that was not marked and just picked a direction. By now my muscles were warm and I was feeling pretty good so I did a bit more exercise like lunges and whatnot. This evolved into me deciding to run up as many of the hills as I could. It was fun.

    Now, by this point I should have realized that I was off the "family friendly" part of the trail because it had become quite steep, wet and narrow, but that did not yet register. Ascending the hill even more, the views of Lake Rotorua became more and more beautiful until the trail had me descending some distance later with no real thought to where I was going . Coming across a road and another trail intersection I finally decided to check Google maps. My options were to walk the road back which sounded lame, or try and find another trail back. I opted for the latter and re-entered the forest, not realizing I had just signed up for hours more hiking.

    A short distance later a 40 foot suspension bridge appeared with a spigot on one side. The water was more than welcome, but i should have probably had more because it was the last water I would see on the hike . Crossing the bridge landed me in some interesting scenery and some that I would be looking at for most of the remainder of my journey. Specifically, logging is a huge industry here and about a quarter mile from the bridge I could see forest that was freshly felled, some that was replanted a few years ago, some a bit older and a few that had never been cut. Seeing multiple generations of trees simultaneously was fascinating. Prior to this I do not believe I had seen deforestation. While I completely understand its necesity, a bit of me was sad to see it. Thankfully I would later have a clearer understanding of how resilient the trees and land can be.

    My trek took me directly into the areas that had been cleared, so I got an up close view. In the cleared area there was an abundance small flowering bushes that were frequented by some kind of fat bees. Life was going on. Another half mile up I saw some trees that could have not been over a year old. I'm not sure trees can be cute, but if they can, these were. These saplings were a sharp contrast to a couple of massive Redwoods not much farther up. It would
    Take three people my size holding hands to wrap our arms around one. I think that didn't cut these down to give the saplings something to aspire to.

    Rechecking my google maps it appeared as if my trek was about half over. I took a deep breath and my shirt off and kept marching through the deforested area back into the woods... back up and up. My legs were a little tired by now, but not too bad. Another mile up a water treatment facility came into view. They sure did a good job of hiding it out of sight of the town. Coming across it reminded me a bit of the prison in The Walking Dead, but I saw no zombies. Boo. Across from this facility was a marker saying that the trees there had been planted in 1990. For 26 year old trees they seemed pretty big to me and I felt better seeing how fast the land rejuvenated itself.

    Another mile or so up I finally found a map and got on track to get back to my truck. I was getting thirsty and the only thing I had snacked on was some invasive, but delicious blackberries. From here it was probably under two miles to go. I passed the park office, grabbed a drink, a map and some post cards followed by a 10 minute walk along a delightfully level road to my truck.

    I had spent almost four hours on what was supposed to be a 40 minute hike. Next time I'll get a map FIRST and not forget a water bottle no matter how short the hike.

    This morning (the morning after ) my feet and back are a bit sore, but I'm really no worse for the wear. I'll have to find a harder path to conquer soon.
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  • Day19

    Fishy Steve

    February 15, 2016 in New Zealand

    Monday I hired a fishing guide, Steve. His service is named Fishy Steve. I found a pamphlet at the hostel and the name immediately drew my attention. With almost no thought I called him and boy, was it the right move.

    It's worth mentioning that I have only fly fished once before and while it was fun, I was not very good at it.

    Steve picked me up around 8:30 and we made a short drive out of town to the Waitahanui River. It's a beautiful, spring-Fed river that is full of rainbow and brown trout.

    We suited up in waders and boots and grabbed three size 5/6 fly rods, each strung with something different. It wasn't long before we spotted fish. Steve decided to pass up the first few in favor of fishing somewhere easier to cast. We came across just such a place no more than a quarter mile up.

    The first thing Steve shared with me was how to spot the fish. The water was nearly as clear as the air, but the fish can still be tough to see. He sat there and said he saw four fish and then asked me to spot them. It was like doing a word search where every word I sought was, "trout" but the only letters were nothing but t r o and u. Slowly I got better throughout the day.

    After spotting a couple worth targeting we quietly entered the water and he demonstrated the roll cast to me. We were still in tight quarters so an overhand cast would not work. It wasn't ten casts before we caught a large rainbow trout. Sadly he spit the hook after a couple minutes, but it was good practice for me to understand how to manage the fish after hooking it. The line we were using is so light that you have to be very cautious to not snap it and this means letting the fish run when necessary, but never losing tension on it.

    A couple other brown trout were nearby and we began fishing them after losing the rainbow. The water around the fish was traveling at different speeds which means that you have to make corrections to the line that is touching the water to ensure the fly drifts downstream looking as natural as possible. Knowing this came in handy later.

    The brown trout appeared disinterested in the flies and nymphs we were throwing at it so Steve got out a heavier setup with what was essentially a jig with a bunch of yarn and feathers trailing behind. To use this we cast up under the banks and jerked it back towards us almost violently. This elicited a response from a couple trout that were hiding, but still none bit. They would follow it, but eventually turn around.

    Since nobody was biting we moved to a new spot that was much more open. Here Steve showed me overhand casting and we tried grabbing a fish we could easily see, but he did not budge, so we moved on.

    By now time was running out and we still had no fish, but thankfully we quickly located a couple more just a hundred feet from where we had been. Steve climbed the bank on the side opposite me for a birds-eye view, leaving me to employ the lessons I had just learned while he spotted and pointed the fish out. One thing is for sure with this kind of fishing, precision is key. After a few more casts and with time running out Steve suggested one minor tweak to what I was doing. Essentially, I needed just a tiny bit more slack in my line to make the fly look natural as it floated downstream. Literally the first cast after The adjustment it was FISH ON.

    Steve climbed down as I wrestled with the fish. This time was different than the first because this time our net was filled with a lovely rainbow trout and my face was covered in an ear to ear grin.

    Time was up and we had succeeded. It felt great!

    None of this would have been possible without the great teaching of Fishy Steve. He was articulate, patient, and great an explaining things. I feel as though he has armed me with the confidence and knowledge to repeat this without his help.

    On the ride back he shared stories about his son and how he, an American, ended up here. Before the end of the ride back he told me to crash at his place next time I'm in town. I very much think I will.
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  • Day18

    Lake Taupo and the Crafty Trout

    February 14, 2016 in New Zealand

    I spent the last three nights in a town called Lake Taupo. It's a large and very beautiful lake in about the center of the North Island. Originally I went there to then see the Witomo glow worn caves, but I modified my plans once there. It took me about three and a half hours to drive to from Auckland and the drive took me through some beautiful farmland. After a number of hours driving on the left my brain has slowly gotten accustomed to it, but I continue to try and get into the passenger door nearly every time when I'm ready to go.

    After finishing the drive I checked into the Rainbow Lodge. This is my first hostel since I went to one in Italy in 1999 and I sure felt a lot older this time. I was not, however, the oldest one there as one of my bunkmates in our three bed room was 67. She and I spent a couple hours chatting over the course of the stay and on more than one occasion she validated what I'm trying to do and that it's nearly impossible to overestimate the value of self exploration. Her husband died a few years ago and she brought some of his ashes to distribute on the trip, which she had done days before. I could tell it helped her reach some kind of peace.

    The first activity I did was visit Huka falls. It's a stretch of river that is forced to narrow because of how hard the rocks are in that spot. The water was loud and powerful, but also as one of NZ's top attractions, crowded. It was worth visiting, but relatively unimpressive.

    I was drawn to a sign I had spotted on the way onto town that declared, "brewery." This would be the first of two visits to the Crafty Trout, an Austrian themed bar that served a variety of delicious beers including an imperial IPA that was around 13.5% ABV.

    There weren't too many patrons so I sat at the bar and chatted with Ellie, a scotswoman that ended up there after her friend put in a good word for her. By my second beer I had also met Rebecca, the co-owner and wife of Anton, the brains behind the beer.

    By now I had nearly finished my pork belly burger and second beer and Anton showed up. He's a portly man with a thick Kiwi accent and a mustache that was so amazing it probably has its own name. Anton was extremely chatty and very smart which made for what ended up being a couple hours of great conversation. If you ever wanted to know how to remove the alcohol from something without taking it out of the keg, or how earthquakes and beer production are related, he's your guy. I really thoroughly enjoyed the chat and stumbled back to the hostel with my mind, and to a lesser degree my head, spinning. Just prior to my departure Anton invited me back to tour his brewery. Given how unique his process sounded I couldn't wait to check it out.

    Sleep came quickly that night.

    My second day there had me with no plans.

    I found a breakfast of a salmon omelette, coffee and juice. It tasted great and I ate it outside on a patio.

    Satisfied and recharged after some good sleep and breakfast I went and got fishing licenses for the remainder of my trip. License in hand I needed to immediately get on the river to fish.

    It was very hot outside that dat. My first attempt at fishing was fairly unsuccessful, but at least I SAW some fish which was a good start. After putting my rod and reel away I picked up my guitar and practiced a bit. Nothing sounded perfect, but I still can feel the improvement each time I do it. I can't wait to get better.

    When the sun and bad music became too much to bear I sought food and drink which brought me to a nice restaurant where a couple women were playing guitar and singing outside. Having no agenda is still a weird feeling for me, bit since that was the case and since I was enjoying myself I decided to just hang out there for a while. There wasn't anything in particular special about the singers or their playing, but I cracked up when one woman played C Low Green's , "Forget You." Which was originally called, "Fuck You." and I asked her if she always played the, G rated version. Her response was, "I don't know what version I'm playing." I laughed at not only her response (because anyone who knows that song knows there's a different version), I laughed at myself because nobody in the world knows what "G rated" means except Americans. Duh.

    At any rate I finished my beer, took a walk and found my way back to the Crafty Trout a few hours later. Anton was there and showed me his beer brewing operation. Without going into too much detail he basically has partnered with a world class beer judge to come up with his recipes. The Wort is actually made elsewhere according to his specifications and then he, or other brewers can use it to create their own beers by adding their own hopps and water. Interestingly, the water itself has nearly as much to do with the flavor as the other ingredients.

    The tour was great and I scarred gown a pizza and a couple more beers before returning to the hostel for a nap and shower.

    I capped the night off with a bit more guitar practice on the shore of the lake. It was pretty windy and had cooled significantly, so I didn't practice much. For the first time since leaving I felt a little homesick. Maybe not a good sign given how many weeks I have left, but it's something I want to face sooner rather than later. Honestly, though, who can blame me? My friends, job, family in Austin are amazing so instead of yearning for them I decided to redirect my energy to simply appreciating them more.
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