Friday, 27th March 1987
After a quiet night with no chest problems I pronounced myself fit to finally leave Auckland. I checked out of the hostel and headed to the bus station. I was intending to hitch around the country and my first destination was Rotarua. As the only real way to hitch from Auckland was to get clear of the urban motorway system, it meant first taking a local bus to the city limits at Bombay Hills.
The bus, another museum piece, rattled its way out of town towards the outskirts. Amazingly there were seven other would-be hitchers on the bus. The guidebooks had nicknamed the Bombay Hills bus “the hitcher’s special” and it was easy to see why. I sat next to a Kiwi from Wellington who had been on holiday and was now hitching back. We discussed Scotland and politics. It was quite a long discussion as it took us a full hour and a half to get to Bombay Hills.
At Bombay Hills we all got off the bus, spread out along the road and put our thumbs out. Believe or not, the most attractive girl hitcher got the first ride and, believe or not, it was in a Ferrari. After 20 minutes a red Honda City pulled up next to me. The driver introduced herself as Libby and said she was “kind of going near Rotarua but not quite”. I jumped in.
She was a lawyer working in Auckland but she was driving to see her parents in Wahakatane. They had been victims of a recent earthquake. The next four hours passed with excellent chat and wonderful scenery. I even helped with the navigating !
At one point a stone hit the car’s left headlamp and we diverted into Tauranga to try and find a replacement. Libby eventually declined the 200 dollar price she was quoted and decided to wait until she got home.
We also delivered 6 boxes of Taco Shells to a restaurant near Tauranga. The reason for that was never really explained to me. “Libby’s Limo” as she had stencilled on the back wasn’t quite a Limo but it got me to Te Puko just 49km from Rotarura.
I stuck my thumb out again and I got a lift from a diesel engineer taking the truck engine he had in the back of his van into town. He told me he was a “genuine Kiwi” and he told me he hated Maoris. I got the impression he considered those two things to be connected.
We soon arrived in Rotarura. Libby had told me that Rotarua smelt terrible and now I found she was right. It was actually the sulphur from the volcanic activity but it smelt like rotten eggs.
After I was dropped in the centre of town I found a supermarket. I bought some shoulder of lamb and then asked directions to the Youth Hostel. I found it relatively easily to find and managed to get a bed. I grilled the lamb for dinner.
The people in the Youth hostel suggested that the best plan for the evening was to visit a Maori concert. It seemed like a good idea because Rotarura was the centre of Maori activity. I teamed up with Peter, who was from New York, and wandered down to the Maori community centre at the lake side.
The concert was interesting enough. When they said they needed a volunteer to demonstrate some of their customs I thought I was safe sitting near the back. Somehow a girl picked me out and dragged me to the front. Then standing in front of everyone I got threatened with a spear, had a leaf dropped at my feet and then finally had to rub noses in the greeting that means – “nice to know you”. It was all a bit embarrassing.
The rest of the concert told the history of the Maori people and we all ended up back on stage singing songs and dancing. By this time Peter and I had been joined by a Canadian Lad, a German girl and a Scottish girl who was an animal researcher.
After the concert we all headed to the pub. The beer wasn’t too bad but the resident band were terrible.
Saturday, 28th March 1987
I woke up and wandered around Fenton Street to inspect the thermal area at the Whaka. I paid a 6 dollar entrance fee and spent a pleasant 3 hours walking around Maori exhibits, geysers, mud pools and frog pools. Everywhere there was an infernal sulphur smell.
I had every intention of walking back the 3km to town but after only a few yards a battered old Ford Cortina pulled up alongside me and the elderly man driving it offered me a lift. No sooner had we started off when he stopped to pick two more people up too. They turned out to be an Australian guy and an English girl who were hitching down from Auckland.
The old man told us he was the “hitcher’s friend” and he spent his days going around picking up people. The other two were heading to a trout farm so I decided to join them.
I balked at another 6 dollar entrance fee so I waited in the gift shop instead. There was an interesting display of how they breed trout and a board that explained the nocturnal habits of the Kiwi bird. I hitched back to the town with a man who was going to a brass rubbing festival.
I cooked sausages for dinner and then I chatted at the youth hostel with a man from Germany and a girl from Strasbourg.
We went for a walk around the lake and passed the English-looking sports club and the Maori meeting place again. I met a doctor from New York and he gave me a lift back in his hire car.
I spent the rest of the night in chatting to two ladies from Melbourne and a Japanese girl from Kobe.
Sunday, 29th March 1987
On Sunday I decided to hitch the 89km to Taupo. I waited 40 minutes before a bushman picked me up. He told me he had been up until 4am drinking and he was still drinking as he drove me. He was a nice old guy but it was disconcerting to have someone drinking beer whilst driving at 10am in the morning. He dropped me after 40 minute drive and then disappeared to deliver some books to a warehouse.
I waited another 40 minutes and was then picked up by an American woman in a very flash car that had an electronic opening boot. She was originally from California, she explained, and she had emigrated to New Zealand and was now working in Taupo. She dropped me right in front of the Rainbow Lodge. I got a room straight away and, after a lunch of Steak pie, I went for a walk around.
Taupo sits right on Lake Taupo; the largest inland lake in the country. I decided to do a hike and headed up Huka Falls. It was a great walk, about 12 km in all, although I went wrong once and ended up in an old army camp.
I stopped off at the dairy on the way back. New Zealand didn’t seem to have corner shops; it had Dairies instead. I picked up a bottle of milk and a bottle of L & P lemonade.
I had sausages yet again for dinner and then played pool against a guy from San Francisco.
The lodge had a Sauna and I tried it.