After we got back from the Queen Charlotte Track, we relaxed, packed and squeezed in a few hours of sleep before we drove down to the ferry a little before 5 in the morning (the earliest tickets are the cheapest). With Sarah snug in the trunk, we waited in line to drive onto the boat. Sleepiness was not an issue due to how nervous we were of getting caught. Although we only waited in line for about 30 minutes, you can imagine that it felt like three hours while you intermittently ask Sarah if she's OK while staring straight ahead. Sure enough, we see a worker walking to the driver window of every car in line. Already sweating bullets, we tried to act cool and inform Sarah (while staring forward) so it didn't seem like we had a talking trunk when the man came to our window. Much to our relief, the man just asked about our luggage and carried on. After the nerve racking 30 minutes, Sarah crawled through the back seat and walked up to the upper deck where we were able to catch a few more hours of sleep. You can cross off being a coyote smuggling Mexicans across the border off my potential career list.
Our first adventure was a John Mayer concert in Wellington. We met up with Sophie, a girl we worked with at Seabreeze, to get some necessary games of beer pong in before the concert. Sophie claimed that she really wanted to play, but when we arrived, there wasn't a beer, table, or even cup in sight. So Sophie and I went out on a beer run in the pouring rain. Unfortunately Wellington isn't Iowa City, so I had to run in the rain to three stores for beer pong supplies while Sophie waited in PIzza Hut for our food. With a stack of pizzas and beer pong supplies, we scurried back into the van. Once back, I quickly constructed a table out of a door I found in the alleyway and Sophie's dresser that we dragged into the hallway. Eating our 'large' pizza, we were able to get a few games in before our cab came to take us to the concert. We found our seats at the concert soon enough for Sophie and Jen to make some signs before the show started. By 'make some signs', I mean they found some newspapers and wrote "JOHN! THIS IS MY 13TH CONCERT!" over three pages with a black felt tip marker. The concert started and we quickly became unhappy with how far back our seats were. No more than 5 minutes into the concert, we hurried up to the front and stood in the walkways in between the blocks of seats. What the hell, right? Worse case, we get escorted back into our paid seats. But, after sizing up the security detail (consisting of mostly middle aged women), our spots up front were secured. The 'security' attempted several times to ask our group to leave, but we stood strong and were able to enjoy the entire concert from the front row. The only other problems we encountered were people complaining of Jen's 'announcement' blocking their view while John refused to acknowledge Jen's 13th concert.
The next day, we thanked Sophie for the place to stay and began our drive to Taupo. We arrived at Taupo after a quick five hour drive with a list of things to do in the area. Most of all, we wanted to take the Tongariro Crossing which some boast as being the best day walk in the world. Unfortunately, the day we planned on doing it, the walk it was cancelled due to unfavorable walking conditions. We were, however, able to do everything else we had in mind. Like Sarah and I bungee jumping at ten in the morning for example. We came to the building wondering where we would be shuttled off to, what bridge we would be jumping off of, cliff, etc. We checked in and turned around and actually saw that behind the building was a man-made walkway that extended about 60 feet out over a sheer cliff alongside the river that runs through Taupo. We walked with our passes to the station at the end of the walkway and sat down. I volunteered to go first so the man rattle off instructions and rules like he has repeated the same speech hundreds of times before while he fastened my ankles to the bungee cord. Before I knew it, my toes were at the edge of this walkway and the only thing I remembered him saying was, "Just fall. More you wait, the worse it is." So I leaned forward and dropped off the ledge. With my heart still going a mile a minute, I was taken down on a boat on the river. The boat dropped me off the side while I got to see Sarah step to the edge and take the plunge as well. As requested, she was able to dip further down and actually get dunked in the river while she yo-yo'd to a standstill. Later, we were also able to take a day walk and soak in some thermal hot springs before retiring back to the hostel for supper. The next day was the day we wanted to do the Tongariro crossing. But, when we started our drive to Rotorua, we couldn't help but notice the perfect weather outside. Turned out to be perfect walking conditions after all, even despite the forecast. The drive started off with a bitter tone.
Rotorua is known for it's beauty spas and pampering facilities. The town is located around a very active hot thermal springs which are utilized at several of the local beauty spas. If you aren't interested in the spas, the town is known for it's distinct smell of sulfur. A town reeking like eggs or farts. Jen and Sarah took this opportunity to go to a day spa and were able to bond and relax. I, however, spent the afternoon checking out the local stores while turning each corner to a new wave of stench. The locals told me it was an exceptionally bad day. That evening we went to a Maori cultural experience. Maori is the native people of New Zealand and are still a large part of the country's culture. We took a short bus ride out to the site and waited to be checked in. Once in the dining hall area, we sat down with a beer and waited for the event to start while the room filled with tourists from all over the world. Once everyone was seated, the speaker came out and introduced himself as something along the lines of 'Kuhsinbing'. He announced that before we were to meet the Maori tribe, he needed a representative, a chief, for the group of roughly eighty people waiting for the experience. A few people spoke up to volunteer anyone but themselves when Sarah shoots her hand up just to point directly at me. Just my luck, I became the chief of the 13 winds. The event had me leading everyone, greeting everyone, meeting the chief of the tribe on stage(in Maori fashion, of course), and scoring front row seats for 'the chief and his family' for the Haka (Maori dance). Thanks Sarah.
Our next stop was Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. We spent some time in Tauranga, but were more interested in Mount Maunganui, it's neighboring town. Mount Monganui is a coastal town that marked our successful crossing of the North Island from the southernmost tip to the northeast shore. Exploring the town, we were able to take in the absolute beauty of the south Pacific Ocean. We spent some time on the beach and also took a day walk around the dormant volcano known as Mount Maunganui. You guessed it, the views from the edge of the volcano with the setting sun were breathtaking.
Because Jen and Sarah got to enjoy a nice little day spa, I was able to convince them to take a small detour to a town called Matamata. This might ring a few bells with some geeks out there, but for the rest of you, Matamata is the home of Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings. It was Jen and Sarah to take their turn spending the afternoon walking the town as I took a day trip into the country to explore the town of Hobbiton. The country side next to Hobbiton was chosen because they needed absolutely no signs of the 21st century for the movie. Once I got off the bus, I noticed why the spot was chosen. Rolling green hills, beautiful country side, enormous old trees, and not a telephone pole or highway to been seen in any direction. We walked along and the guided filled my head full of trivia. Passing hobbit holes and paths, we came upon the great party tree (the large tree where Bilbo Baggins had his 111th birthday party). Next time you watch the Fellowship of the Ring, remember that I have stood under that tree. I definitely had a great time and got my "nerdy high" walking through the movie set, but to spare most of you reading this, just ask if you want me to go into further detail about this chapter of our journey.
With only a few days left in Sarah's trip to New Zealand, we had time for one more stop. We drove out to the Coromandel Peninsula to a town called Whitianga. Although we arrived late and in the dark, we had a stroke of luck with our hostel. Because of the off season, the hostel upgraded us to an en suite private room just for the three of us. It was like having our own beach house for NZ$23 per person. The owner of the hostel also paid us a visit in the morning to offer us a boat ride through the famous Cathedral Coves along the Coromandel Peninsula, an experience some might pay over a hundred dollars for. We got to experience it for a mere NZ$30.
Our main goal of our trip out to Whitianga was to scuba dive together. Although the visibility wasn't the greatest, it was an amazing experience. We also splurged and spent money to use the underwater digital camera and took around 250 pictures during the two dives. This was also the first experience for Jen and I to dive with the surf current. Our initial reaction was to fight it and try to stay in one place as it pushed and pulled us. We floundered around for a bit, but became comfortable with the current and quit fighting it to go with the flow, you might say. We swam with fish and even found a crab all the while clicking away on the under water camera.
The next day we arrived in Auckland the night before Sarah had to fly out. Instead of getting some much needed sleep for the early airport drive, we decided to go out and have a few beers with Will (an old roommate of mine from the college days) to celebrate Sarah's New Zealand adventure. Not wanting the night to end, we hopped around to a few downtown bars before getting a gourmet meal at Burger King.
The next morning came around much sooner than we thought as I woke up to Sarah tapping me telling me to wake up. I rolled over, furious, to look at her standing next to the bunk bed and asked her, "WHAT?". "It's time to wake up, Cody." Confused, angry, I asked, "WHY??". "Well, I thought you guys were still taking me to the airport." A few cogs turned in my head and reality set in, "Ooooooohhhhh...", I moaned. I apologized a few times as we got our act together and drove Sarah to the airport for a final farewell. Goodbyes were said, hugs were hugged, and we left Sarah at the airport. Sarah's chapter in New Zealand was over. All before the sun rose in the sky and not a moment was wasted.