1st - 4th February (The Bay of Plenty)
On the road again. Walked five minutes to a decent spot where I was picked up by Ted, a retired guy doing a limosine transfer in his people carrier. Ted dropped me in Rotorua, I then walked for about 50 minutes in the midday sun to get to the right road (not easy with a big pack on my back the day after the Tongariro crossing!). I was about to find out what Rhys was talking about when he said that hitching allows you to meet much more strange and interesting people. I was picked up by a pair of Maori bad boy gangstas in a Honda space wagon with adjustable hydraulic suspension. The baseball bat in the back was a bit worrying but they seemed like nice young lads (Pet and Andrew) and after talking to them for a while I found out that they were up and coming hip hop artists, they played me some of their stuff which was really good, Pet did some freestyle rapping and at a car park/lookout point Andrew (complete with bling and silver 'grills' over his teeth) showed me crumping (I think that's what he called it!), an aggressive dance style that I wish I'd filmed. They explained to me that the bat was in case they get trouble from Samoans when they go to Auckland. When we arrived at Whakatane (FA-KA-TA-NEH) they bought be a KFC and wouldn't let me pay, and although they were really cool I was on my guard having memorised their number plate in case they drove off with my stuff while I was in the KFC toilet! I really enjoyed meeting these guys who I would probably have avoided under normal circumstances. Whakatane is a pretty little quiet place and the Karibu backpackers is small and homely. I did my laundry, booked a trip for tomorrow, sat in the sun and talked to Ninka from Holland, she made too much pasta and like the nice guy I am I helped her out! In the evening I watched Shallow Hal while drinking a $5 bottle of Hardys Cab Sav.
The alarm went off at 08.15, it was raining hard. The boat trip to White Island was put back from 09.15 to 10.00. The rain started to die off and the sun came out just before we set sail and the weather stayed perfect all day.
I got my $150 worth just from the journey to the island; loads of dolphins came out to play, swimming alongside and behind the boat - they are incredible to watch but difficult to photograph. White Island is the most active of the three active volcanoes in NZ. It's last eruption was in 2000 and although they weren't expecting another one soon they went through all the safety procedures for an eruption or a landslide.
I thought it was a bit like a reverse lottery - the chances of it happening are very slim but you have to be in it to win it (ie. get flattened by flying hot rocks!) The whole island was fascinating, a huge green steaming crater that would dissolve any part of your body that you dipped into it, lots of sulpher, steam and odd rocks plus the remains of the doomed sulpher mining operation.
The guides were very good and full of information and tragic tales of the people who had died on the island. The water was choppy on the way back, I felt a bit queasy but there were several pukers much worse than me. We were back around 17.00 for a quick sunbathe before walking into town. Some nice fish and chips and sunset over the harbour to finish off a fantastic day.
Information and pictures of white island can be found at www.whiteisland.co.nz if you are interested.
The next day I aimed to get to Mount Maunganui, only about an hours drive away but without any cardboard I relied on the thumb. I was picked up by an old scouser called John who just took me to the next junction (taking me away from all the Rotorua traffic), two middle aged ladies, Ruth and Donna took me to Te Puke stopping for a sandwich and a coffee, a twenty minute walk before getting picked up by another middle aged lady who took me to the outskirts of Maunganui. With 6km to go I decided to walk but it was hot so after twenty minutes I stuck the thumb out again and got picked up by a nice young girl from Chile with her two kids in the back, we drove past the backpackers so I still had another five minute walk. It was quite a fun day but too much walking in the heat so after checking in to the nice hostel I walked to the beach which was very nice. It was very busy with it being a Saturday and the school holidays coming to an end. I stayed and soaked up some rays but the factor 30 stopped me from changing colour much. In the evening I walked through the town with lots of nice cafes, restaurants and bars but couldn't find a supermarket so had to eat a huge burger from an American diner.
With plans for a half day walk followed by some more lazing on the beach, the downpour that lasted all morning was not good. So, I spent all morning on the internet and burning a cd, and I thought summer had finally arrived, especially as I am now in the part of the country that generally has the best weather, the north east of the north island. Oh well, it could be worse, I could be in England! The rain stopped in the afternoon, long enough to go on a walk around the mount. In the evening I went to the cinema to watch 'The pursuit of happyness' with Will Smith which was okay.