Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two Eight - North


Spending the night in a car park with my head six feet from a main road was unsurprisingly not conducive to a quality night’s sleep. So in the morning I leapt at the chance to acquire one of the glamorous spots on the other side of the car park. This gave me the chance to do another entire day’s drive in reverse (a feat you’ll remember clearly from chapter three) and the extra ten yards made a surprising difference to the noise.
I set off in search of food and (now don’t fall off your chair) I walked past the sports bar offering “All you can eat pancakes”. Well, they didn’t have seats at the bar, and besides I’d been given a tip-off: Fidel’s is the place to go for brunch. I knew it was appropriately on Cuba Street, but it’s a long street so I looked around for help. A pregnant lady stopped by me to light a cigarette. As she was clearly a person of great intelligence I asked her for directions.
“Fidel’s? Yes, you see that grey building right down there?”
“What the one miles away?”
“Yep, that’s it”
“Eurgh!”
But it was OK, this was going to be an awesome experience. So I trudged on down the street, pausing at umpteen sets of lights before finally reaching Fidel’s which was… without power, and therefore not serving food.
“EEEEuuuuurrrrrrgggghhhhh!”
I found another place nearby and had a decent breakfast, served on a ciabatta. La dee daa.
Next up, a trip to the museum. (That should have knocked you off your chair!) Te Papa is trumpeted as a Must See in Wellington and contains “an amazing collection of Maori artefacts”. It’s also hosting an exhibition dedicated to video games.
….and STILL, I didn’t enjoy it. Guess I’m a lost cause. But I did enjoy the chance to experience Magical Sound Shower.
I went up the cable car, and down through the botanic gardens, which were pleasant enough. But this isn’t why I came to Wellington. I came here to par-tee.
And that’s where Helen comes in.

A friend in Amsterdam put me in touch with her good friend Helen who lives in Wellington. Helen had sent me loads of suggestions on what to do, and we arranged to meet for dinner. But I was concerned, her messages had a serious tone and I thought maybe she’d be dull and boring. I was wrong.
We met up in a bar called “The Library” which is very cool, has the appropriate d├ęcor, but is also very dark which can’t make reading easy. I was eyeing up the Knight Rider annual on a shelf behind the bar and wondering if I could read it whilst projecting an attitude of ironic detachment.
Helen showed up with a friend and a boyfriend and we went to Chow for dinner and ate Asian fusion food with chopsticks, which was very nice.

By this point you’re probably thinking you’re reading the wrong blog, but fear not, we were soon on a tour of the local drinking establishments. Wellington may be a cultural town, but on a Saturday night there’s more than a whiff of Newcastle or Cardiff about it. Lots of young people in very short skirts tottering around and shouting. The bars and clubs were packed, and we had a very good time.

So good, in fact, that the next day’s drive was a real slog. After two great evenings, and two nights in a car park I was struggling. I’d decided to head for Napier, but boy was it a long drive.
Finally I arrived at Napier, the World Capital of Art Deco. Now I do actually like a bit of “Art Deco” so I was looking forward to Napier, but I don’t know about you, I hate all this self-aggrandizing. Calling yourself the World Capital is only going to set me up for disappointment. Why not just say “Napier. We’ve got a bit of Art Deco knocking around, come have a look”
Then I would have been much more impressed by the town centre, the Daily Telegraph building and the seafront. As it was I said:
“Meh, I prefer Miami Beach”
Maybe it’s the rain. I’ve done really well for weather the last fortnight, but it’s wet and windy at the seaside. I even abandon my idea for a run along the seafront, and resort to lapping the campsite, which turns out to be gigantic.

After the weekend’s antics it’s a quiet night, then up early for some Mountain Biking.
Which sucks.
I can’t believe it. After some amazing rides I thought I was falling in love with this sport, but today I’m hating it. Their tracks run through a forest and they’ve created dozens of them. Yet they’re all the same. The forest floor is slippy with dew, and the only thing that makes the intermediate tracks tougher is trying to get up slippy slopes. There’s nothing technical here to occupy my attention, no jumps, berms or ledges. There’s not much in the way of signs either, demanding frequent stops to look at the map. The past rides I’ve felt scared to death, here I’m bored to death.
The only thing that is scary is the sound of gunfire. The map says:
“All tracks through the gun club firing range are off limits to bikers”
but fails to mention which tracks they are, or where the firing range is.
So I’m frustrated, lost, bored, and being shot at. Time to go.

The drive to Lake Taupo is a lot more enjoyable. After weeks of stunning scenery it’s a surprise to meet something new. The road climbs for several miles before bursting out from the woods onto a plateau. Wow. One second there’s trees and hills all around, the next the view stretches forever. It’s like someone pulling away your toilet walls and finding yourself in the centre of Wembley Stadium!

Into Taupo and it’s time to jump out of a plane. For Taupo is, of course, the World Capital of Skydiving. Yeah, right, bollocks to that. Do you really think “The Road Worrier” is going to sign up to jump out of a plane? I get scared just walking into a shop. If I somehow found myself in a small plane, and someone pulled out a parachute, smiled and said:
“Wanna?”
Then, yeah sure, Geronimo.
But book a slot, wait around, turn up, get on the flight, go up, and then jump? The jump isn’t the danger, it’s the heart attack I’d give myself worrying about it.
With that decision made I enjoy Taupo. There’s a racetrack where you can drive a V8 racecar, but not today, so I take in the lake and the town and pretend I’m on holiday to have a relaxing time.
I get talking to a girl ….called …….Deb….bie…?.... about travelling and seeing the world. She lives in Taupo but has some big ideas. She wants to experience culture and history. Her boyfriend is in Cancun for Spring Break, and is coming back via Vegas. I know who I’d want to holiday with!

Another day, another bike ride. But this is much more like it. I’m at the Craters of the Moon track. Although I think it’s much better pronounced:
Craters…..Of The Moooooooooooooooooon!
…and it’s awesome. Lots of variety, clear signs, crazy slopes. I head onto the Outback Loop, which snakes through woods, bushes, streams and clearings. I haven’t seen anyone for ages when I ride over a large rock and the front wheel drops directly onto a tree root with a smack. Woah! That could have burst the tire. Imagine that, a puncture in the outback! If I couldn’t fix it I could die of exposure before anybody… well, no, but it would be a long boring walk back. I ride on, thinking: At least there’s no crazy animals out here, not like the Australian Outback. When suddenly I hear:
PHHHHHEEEEEEOOOOWWWWWeeeeeeoooooooeeeeeOWWWW…
“What the hell is that?”
…eeeeOOOOEEEEflobalobalob.
That, is the sound of a rapid loss of tyre pressure. Oh, bugger. Well, I’ve got a spare tube so here goes. Now, what do I remember from teenage puncture repairs? Don’t pinch the tube, don’t pop the new tube on the same sharp thing. And there we are, fixed. Phew. Nobody passed by while I was stopped. Best get some more tubes!

Having survived the Outback it’s Rotorua next. But it’s only just down the road, so I loop the long way round Lake Taupo. It’s a beautiful view most of the way round, but the rain shows up to spoil my fun. I whip out Blue Amazon again, and this time there’s no coincidental respite.
There is, however, a whiff of burning rubber. Uh-oh. I can fix a puncture but not a motorhome, what the hell is…?
Welcome to Rotorua.
World Capital of Sulphur. (Probably).
I check into the Top 10 campsite, hit the town, and finally get someone to share my campervan. His name is Ben, he lives in Auckland, and I mentioned him earlier.
Ben’s come down for a couple of days break from the Big Smoke, and it’s great to have another drinking buddy. But Roto is no Welly. We walk back and forth, round and about the town, trying to find anyone who’s out on a Tuesday night.
We ask in the Irish pub if there’s anywhere lively.
“Try the backpackers place: the Lover bar”
“Lover bar?”
“Yeah”
“er, OK”
We eventually find the Lava Bar, the dancefloor’s lit up ready for action, but the place is dead. Oh well, we head back to the brew pub we’ve passed, expecting old men and boredom, but find an open mic night has started. We get some half-decent songs, and some odd company, with a few Japanese characters, and a couple of German lads who we hang out with and sample the fine ales.

Somehow we make it through the night in the van without anyone getting kicked in the head – I’m glad it’s a massive van! - and head off in different directions in the morning. Ben thinks a holiday is for relaxing and enjoying yourself, so is off to find a mineral pool. I’m off to kill myself.

Yup, we’re talking biking again. Third day in a row, but Rotorua is The World Capital of… actually, I haven’t seen that, but it has been referred to as Mountain Bike Mecca. So I have to ride the tracks. Or at least some of them, their network is huge. There’s dozens of tracks in the forest. At first I’m apprehensive, the initial track is very reminiscent of Napier, a dull meander through the trees, but then I find some better tracks. Sadly, you can’t loop round just on the tracks, you have to use the forest gravel roads to link them together. There’s even an option of a shuttle bus up “Hill Road”.
But I didn’t come here to sit on a bus, where’s the sense of achievement in that? So I ride, and I climb. And I climb. And …flippinheck. This is one hell of a climb. On and on it goes. The sun is beating down and my helmet is an inverted bucket of sweat. Only my head reduces the flood pouring into my eyes. My legs are arguing with my back over who hurts the most. My hands want to join in. Onwards I climb. I can’t see. I can barely breathe. There’s no sign of the next track. I’m exhausted, half lost, alone.
This is how to holiday!
Finally I spy the board marking the start of the next track. I’ve made it. Eureka. Keep your bus.
It doesn’t take quite so long to get down. This track is marked as more difficult, and they’re not kidding. Jumps, berms, rocks, roots. This has it all. It’s too much for me. Especially my hands, they’re so sore from hanging on and braking like crazy. But I make it down in one piece. Right. I’ve been going nearly two hours, and I’m knackered. I’m done. Time to head to the car.
Except I’m miles away. There’s no quitting here. On I ride, thankful I have water and a cereal bar. On, down and up, up and down, over crests, through valleys, on.
Finally I reach “Dipper” and know I’m almost there. It’s a great track. Swooping along, with lots of small jumps even a wuss like me can enjoy. After Dipper there’s one more choice. The easy way back to the car park, or an expert track. I want to attack the Expert track, but I’m so tired I’d be at serious risk of getting hurt so I decide to go Easy. But there’s a problem. The signpost’s gone. It’s hard to explain, but there’s nothing to indicate which point I’ve reached, so it’s not even certain which path is right or left. I haven’t seen anyone in ages. Bollocks.
I look at the map. I could be at either of 2 points. If I go left I might be going the wrong way, if I go right I’ll be heading the right way, but might be choosing the difficult track. I go right.
It’s OK at first, then gets tricky. This is just what I need. I’m exhausted, and just want to get back in one piece, but they’ve put every kind of obstacle in here and no easy options.
Focus Paul, take it slow, don’t fall off.
I round a corner and stop. I’ve come to a dead end. What I thought was the track, ends at a river. What now?

I get off my bike for a closer look. It’s not very deep, and not that big. In fact it’s more of a stream, and the drop is a jump. Good fun if you’re an experienced biker and awake. Not so much when you’re a half dead Rookie.
But I can wade across.
A couple more turns and, is it? Could it be? Yes. It’s the CAR PARK!!!!
I stagger out into the light and clmb off my bike. I’ve only been gone three hours but I feel like I’ve survived the wilderness.
And it feels great.
Ben’s been sitting in a pool. Pah!

I get back to the campsite, jump in the Natural Thermal Pool, get bored in five minutes, then jump out again. Beer time!
Back to the brew pub, but no sign of Hansel and Gretel. I have, however, collected another Ben. Or rather Ben has collected another Ben, as his mate has joined us. I munch my way through a bucket of potato wedges, then a steak. The Bens decide to go back to Ben’s house, but I’m too tired. I’ll just finish my beer and stagger back to the van. I move over to the bar to chat to the bar staff. We’re talking about travelling when a small guy appears next to me and says he’s the chef and has just knocked off.
“Have you done much traveling?” I ask him.
“Not really, I might have trouble getting in some countries”
“Why?”
“Because I have convictions”
The barmaid asks: “anything major?”
“Yeah, Assault and Battery” he replies.
“My steak was fantastic!”

Another guy at the bar is interested in my trip and buys me a drink to stick around and talk. He’s going on his first solo holiday next year, despite being in his forties. So of course I have to buy him a beer. And then there’s another, and these are strong Real Ales, so things are getting blurry and Dean is getting repetitious. Several times he asks:“Where’s good to go tonight?”
And the barmaid replies: “Nowhere, maybe the Lava bar”
Dean fails to persuade her to join us, but is up for more fun. So we head for the Lava Bar. Except Dean disappears. I retrace ten paces and find him flat on his back in a car park.
“Get up!”
“Wheeeeeeerrrree weeee goingghh?”
“The Lava Bar”
“Where is it?”
“Just down there!”
“OK”
No movement.
“GET UP!!!!”
“Wheeeeeeerrrree weeee goingghh?”
“The…. Lava…. Bar”
“Where is it?”
“Just down there!!!!”
“OK”
No movement.

By this point I’m poking Dean with my foot, then prodding him, then practically kicking him. I’m booting a drunk man who’s on the floor in a dark car park. Maybe this is how the chef got in trouble…

I ditch Dean. I don’t think he’s in any danger, just being an idiot. And I hit the Lava Bar, expecting emptiness and time to go home.

But it’s throbbing! There’s a busload of backpackers in town, and they wanna have fun. I bump into the chef at the bar, and he buys me a drink. I talk to a couple of backpackers and dance like a fool, and we all come to a general consensus that if it hadn’t have been for cotton eyed Joe, we’d have been married a long time ago. Though we’re unsure about his background or current whereabouts.

In the morning I rejoin the Bens and we head to Kerosine Creek. Forget your campsite thermal pool. This is a proper, middle of nowhere naturally heated mineral pool. I’m expecting a three foot puddle, and I’m amazed to find a thirty foot natural plunge pool in an incredible setting. No entry fees here, and we have it to ourselves.

Too soon the holiday’s over. Original Ben has to return to Auckland and work. I bid goodbye to New Ben and head north. But I’m knackered. Three days of biking and partying has wiped me out. It’s only an hour to my next destination, but it’s a long hour. Finally I reach Papamoa Beach, and another Top 10.
“Do you want to pay the extra for a sea view?”
“How much?”
“2 dollars”
“Oh, go on then”
and I’ve made it. I can finally sit back and take it easy for a few hours. Well, right after I’ve run a few miles on the beach…

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