Today my morning start was not ideal and gave hints that it might be 'one of those days'. I have a tendency to pick up the emotional vibe around me and, although I can shake it off, I find the process draining. Therefore when others are stressed I have to work hard to not be stressed too. Once everyone had left Alice's place, I sorted my things and left the flat to pick up the rental car for the next two days.
I was running a bit late and so I tried to scoot along pretty quick. Pedestrian crossings thwarted this attempt however and I found myself laughing when I was smiling curb-side for the fourth time at a nice looking chap who had simply strolled to catch up with me after each post green light power-walking burst of mine. I do love a bit of irony and his smirk suggested he did too.
I arrive at the rental place overheated and find my way into the Jucy office. It is a large room with bright green pillows and beanbags scattered around, with one tiny desk in the corner for a staff member to sit at. I stroll through the cavernous space and up to the desk.
"Hello! I'm here to pick up a car", a declaration which I am sure doesn't surprise the lady one bit ;)
It was 8:15am and the car rental opened at 8am so I had made up some time with my power walk and assumed I was their first customer.
"Hey there!" The lady on the desk greets me, "How are you today?"
"Good thank you! You?" I reply, not really wanting a long conversation, as I am on a tight schedule, but feeling I should engage to keep things friendly.
"Yeah I'm good, it's so hot and super busy at the moment though." she complains. I look around, a bit confused, her space was airconditioned and I was her only customer. I pause and then decide just to go along with it
"yeah I can imagine..." I reply uncertain if I am pulling off the act of agreement "...hopefully I can get out of your hair quickly as I am in a bit of a rush."
"No problem, shouldn't take long. Drivers license and credit card please." she smiles.
I handed over the necessary paperwork and she went to take the money off my credit card. It was declined! My heart sank; I had not told my banks I was going abroad. Does this mean that they have cancelled my card? I decide I will call them asap but until then
I know I will be living with a small knot in my stomach. I have another half of the globe to explore... I like to have multiple cards to rely on.
The Jucy lady - no comment here - shows me out to my car which is this little white Fiat.
This car turns out to be an odd - insert swear word of choice - auto/manual mix. I have never driven a combination gear box car. She gives me a very rushed induction to the car and then finishes with "... now the automatic mode isn't great so you'll probably want to stick to manual. Good luck!"
She walks away, I expect to deal with her imaginary hoards of customers.
Good luck? What did she mean by that?
I get into the car and try and turn it on. My first few attempts are unsuccessful. I eventually figure out that the clutch has to be pressed down first; not the best start to the car or journey. I then have a look at the radio.... Music to cheer me up :) I turn on the radio and it blasts out at volume 40! My ears crying, I try frantically to turn the volume down but as I adjust the volume dial it just flicks between 35 and 40, either of which pin my ears back into the head rest. I turn the radio off and breath out a shocked relief sigh. What on earth?! I put the potentially possessed car into manual drive as the woman suggested and the car beeps at me with the most annoying sound I have heard yet today, and this is including the volume 40 radio. The car seems to want me to put it in park and then take it out again.... 'Oh joy!' I think as I wonder nervously what else today is going to bring. I say a few positive affirmations to myself to reset my mood again.
I program in the route to Abby's place and start pulling out of the car lot. The gear change seems to only kick in after about 2 seconds which feels like forever when trying to accelerate into busy traffic. The car also cuts out the power at any complete stop delaying pulling off for about a second. This is going to be an interesting few days... I wonder what the el cheapo model would have been like... Some sort of kids go-kart? ;)
I follow googles instructions, however the lanes are not well marked and I end up circling the block twice because the traffic in Auckland are very intolerant to lane mistakes. 'In the wrong lane hon? Sucks to be you!' seems to be the attitude. My experience of Auckland traffic now means it is currently my least favourite place to drive in the world. London, Paris and US drivers have way more patience than these city kiwis.
I eventually judder my way to Abby's and we throw her stuff into the car:
"If you want radio I will get out and you can have a try at fixing it but I need a moment to call my bank in the uk anyway so feel free!" I say to a perplexed looking Abby... she'll see what I mean in a minute and she does as the car explodes into a portable nightclub.
I call my bank and it turns out the bank have not stopped my card, I have just reached my limit. "Oops wow really?!" I exclaim to the guy on the phone... "Ok well I guess that's ok then, sorta!"
I find some comforting chocolate and nuts and much a few down. I then reprogram google maps for the mud spa and we're off!
The journey takes longer than google predicts because the traffic coming out of Auckland is awful. The rest of the journey is ok though until we reach Rotorua and find it quite tricky to work out which road to take. A lot of them don't look like proper roads. Eventually we get to a place known as Hell's gate which I think has a dramatic enough name to not need the extreme font. See what you think:
We are late at the spa by about 30 minutes but this doesn't seem to be too much of an issue as we get our tickets to the tour and mud spa from a huge guy with a very soft voice who tells us just to wait a few minutes for the guide. For some reason I imagine he slips into very aoft clothes when he gets home.... I'm not sure why I imagine this but I do and I tell Abby who agrees.
Hell's gate is in easence a large series of geothermal mud baths of different temperatures. Some dangerously hot at over 100 degrees Celsius and some just warm and able to be entered as a pool.
We got ourselves ready to go on the tour by nipping to the bathroom to use the facilities and apply sunscreen. This is where I saw that they really don't want you to poop next to the toilet.... Hehehe! I comply just so you know ;)
Then our tour begins with a New Zealand born very young looking chap with confusingly bad English. He seems as suprised to be younger than us as we are but for different reasons. I take the compliment and we try to listen to his detailed knowledge of the pools. I say try because this place stinks! I mean it really really stinks! If I was ever going to say a place stinks, this is that place! I say this having been on the London tube in mid summer uncomfortably close to the armpit of what i assumed was a person with an allergy to washing.
Hot steam and bubbling mud is the order of the day here and we start looking at a steam vent! Nice :)
The whole place looks like a big rocky bubbly muddy area with a smell that could wilt trees and which I am now disturbingly acclimatising too... Either that or my nose has melted.
This whole area and each of the pools was named by George Bernard Shaw :)
On the tour we are told about the bushes, some of which are Manuka and some which are something else but the name is immidiatley disolved in my sulphur filled bonce.
Another large mud pool.
Excursion through a section of forest.
The gateway leads us to a small forrest where we are told about how the tribes used to hang up their dead so the other tribes couldn't get to them to eat them... Weird!
Then our young guide shows us the silver fern plant that is so iconic to New Zealand. Look at how enraptured the child on the bench is. He is later presented with the silver fern and holds it with a pride that I find adorable.
A velvety tree trunk is shown to us. I teach out to touch and it and pull back when I hear the word fungus. It's fine to touch it but 'fungus' puts me off ;) It's cool though because the fungus helps the tree by taking in a lot of the sulphur. Symbiosis in action!
Muddy solo photo!
To get smelly or not?
So we get to a point in the tour where we have the different types of clay explained to us and we get to play and feel the mud. Abby puts some on her bee bite, which is looking pretty nasty and has taken us to the 'let's put everything on it' treatment point.
We have limited time so we thank the guide for our tour and nip off to the mud spa. We have decided not to do the sulphurous water because we think that it might make us smelly for days and we don't want to carry this odour around any longer than necessary.
We head into the spa section and are given a large plastic box each to put our things in. It's a semi transparent storage box and you carry it with you wherever you go in the spa.
We get changed into our costumes. Mine is a tatty old tankini I plan to throw away after the mud and Abby's is one she actually would like to keep so she's going to try to keep it mud free. It's white and black! Eeeek!
We head into the mud area and are greated by a man who clearly loves his job as he talks about the benefits of mud and takes people's pictures. He is like the security guard who knows the local area history and wants to tell you so much he'll answer any question with a local fact thrown in for free. "This is pretty powerful mud girls, your skin is going to thank you for it."
There are three pools and he directs us to one away from a large tour group. It's a bit slippy but manageable and we step down into the muddy water. Each pool has a basket of muddy clay freshly collected from the geothermal pools that day.
We start spreading and try to get a good covering. It's actually pretty fun and I like the fact that I don't expect poisonous creatures to emerge from the mud so I slather away. It feels warm on the skin and everyone seems to be having a good time. We only have 20 minutes in this area so we coat fast and take some pics:
Wow we are so beautiful and sexy and attractive and smelly here lol ;) The guy says our time is coming to and end and then adds in a hushed voice "and I've given you girls an extra five minutes too!" with a bit of a wink that conveys he both loves his job and giving people the feeling of special treatment. Bless him! :)
We shower the mud off, check ourselves and shower again, check and shower more and check again, find more mud and then shower more. I am fairly clean by my 4th check and Abby declares herself finished also. I point out some bits she has missed and she goes back in the shower. ;)
We get dressed and head for the car; soft skinned and smelling like a sewer ;)
We now have to get a move on to get to our hostel ready for our evening with the Maori's :)
Race to meet the Maori's :)
We are running behind. Our biggest flaw as an adventuring duo is our joint lack of sense of direction. We consistently agree on the wrong way to the point of it feeling actually worth agreeing to go in the opposite way to our joint gut. Eventually, thanks to the magic that is Google we get there and our Mauri evening pick up is there already waiting for us!
A large and imposing Maori man named Timba greets us with an intermittently deep and soft giggly laugh - as contagious as it is surprising for a guy as big as Timba.
Giggling, he laughs and tells us not to worry saying "I'll be here all night if necessary!" before descending into an extended period of almost manic giggles. I have the impression that Timba is the sort of fellow that always amused and laughing. I laugh along in a slightly confused but amused way and Abby and I rush to our room to drop off our stuff. The hostel is pretty rough but tolerable for the one night, so we get what we need for the evening and head on out again.
This is Timba driving us to our first stop in his van. He tells us a bit about the plan for the evening and a bit about Maori words, all interspersed with deep and then child-like giggles which now have the effect of immediately setting me off laughing too.
We are taken to the home of a Mauri guy who tells us to call him Nikki - Abby enquirers about his Mauri name but he replies that it is much much longer and contains many names that get added throughout his life so Nikki is best :)
We meet him outside his house and he is the most casual tour guide I have ever met. He could just be a bloke hanging around his garden from his demeanour.
"You alright?" he asks as he sits slumping on his garden wall. "It's hot and I dunno why I'm wearing this shirt... I should be wearing an f**king vest!". We will soon discover that Nikki likes to swear and acts as if he is a natural showman and so doesn't have to try... He is not a natural showman.
"If you want to change we can wait?!" Abby asks.
"Nah I'm ok, just hot." he replies and is then quiet for a bit which feels a bit weird. We are all quiet and I slightly shuffle into a patch of shade as I worry I am not wearing enough sun lotion for this currently stationary tour.
Nikki then proceeds to tell us about his life, his family and his house and says we can ask him whatever we want about Mauri culture. A bit of warning about this type of Q&A dominated tour would have been useful as I didn't have questions prepped. We walk over to the lake side behind his house and look at the birds. It's all very casual but the scenery is beautiful and I start to relax into this odd mode.
He shows us a long piece of curved wood which used to be a boat and thentakes us over to a church. The church is a fusion of Mauri and Christianity which actually works very beautifully and elegantly together. I wonder how many more mixes we could get of this kind. Christian and Mauri gods together, why not others? :) The kid in the book the life of pi would agree with me, not that the film reflected that.
The graveyard is filled with raised tombs because the water table is so high and there is rock very near below. They protected their dead previously by wrapping them up in leaves and hanging them hidden in trees until the flesh had rotted off. This way their enemies wouldn't be able to find them and eat them which was apparently a great dishonour. Eating your enemies was considered a victory to the Māori's. I kinda think it would be a win for the family of the deceased.... Who on earth wants to eat rotting human flesh? Ewww! Make no mistake here, you can take out the word rotting and I'd still say ewww!
His town is a small Mauri settlement and a Mauri settlement requires three things. A meeting place, an eating place and a square (assuming I have remembered this correctly). In this picture you can see all three. The pointy red building is their meeting place where they take honoured guests. The yellow building is where they have food and where people can stay and the square is the bit of ground in front of these :)
Their meeting place is a beautiful building.
So we have our picture taken in front of it :)
This is me sitting next to some beautiful carving.
Not sure if this isn't culturally insensitive but very quickly I pose like a god.
After Abby and I had taken a bunch of pictures and asked Nikki some more questions that he partially answered, we head off to the Māori experience evening. Nikki is also the host for the evening and we see him transform from a casual sweary chap, into to a entertaining PG- rated host in a room full of multinational dinner guests.
Our evening with the Māori's is an unusual one. While it is very entertaining, it somehow feels like asking a native to dance for you; it felt somehow demeaning and somehow insensitive... Like when you laugh awkwardly at a joke you're older relative makes and you are not sure is really ok. Hopefully they will class this up a bit because integrating cultures is something that is too important to be at all trivialised in my opinion. None the less it was an entertaining evening and there is lots to enjoy.
First we were taken to see the room where we would later eat, this was a bit bizarre and I didn't really know why this happened. Then two people from the audience were asked to volunteer to be tribe leaders, following which we were split into two groups and taken on a nature walk leading to a short stretch of river where we lined the riverbank and waited until this happened:
Māori's, or at least their decendents, reenacted what a Māori tribal boat would have looked like on the river. They grunt and chant and I wonder if it was really likely to be like that or if they didn't just chat and lark about ;)
The walk back took us past a beautifully clear and well lit blue pool which bubbled from the geothermal activity beneath.
They then took us to see our dinner for the evening which was being cooked in the ground and was essentially chicken, lamb and potatoes... Sounds deliciously gluten free to me :)
They covered over the food again and took us off to a large outdoor theatre where we were treated to a show. It felt a little theatrical at times but it was entertaining:
It is a Māori custom that when a tribe approaches another settlement, the home side will demonstrate power by sending their best warrior to strut his fightiness and then drop something, a little welcome to our home gift, in front of the away team's tribal warrior leader. Then the away tribal warrior will come forward and if they pick up the gift it means they accept peace and if they do not then it's war and people get slaughtered and possibly eaten. It seems like a good idea to pick the thing up to me. :) Then, assuming peace is in the air, the away side's tribal leader is brought through to the meeting place and they say nice things to the home side etc and it turns it a big love in.
"You are clearly brave and stong!"
"So are you and you have a lovely settlement. Thanks for having us over and not getting all bitey on us."
Or at least that's how I am imagining it. :) Here is our tribal leader for the evening proffering peace and goodwill - he's a Brit so with our heritage he'll probably stick a flag in the stage when everyone is asleep ;)
This seems to be where the toy poi balls comes from :) These women were pretty ok at it. :)
We then went on a nature walk but it was very dark so my photos don't come out very well. We were given torches to shine on things and the walk ended at our transport home which felt a bit like we'd been unceremoniously evicted haha.
Abby had mentioned to Nikki earlier about her bee sting and he brought her some leaves which he said would help. So she gave it a go... It didn't seem to make much difference but it was worth a shot :)
Then we went to sleep in our weird room with a very odd constant buzzing noise. Tomorrow is Hobbiton (if we can get tickets) and black water rafting and I am quite excited! :)