Okay, I am not actually in Mordor, but I can see it from here. Pictured above, at great distance and thick cloud cover, are the mountains of Tongariro National Park where many of the Mordor scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed. The three big mountains (actually active volcanoes) are Mt. Tongariro, Mt. Ruapehu, and Mt. Ngauruhoe which played the part of Mt. Doom. There is a world-renowned hiking trail through the area, which I will attempt in a few weeks. Even though it is a good distance away, it is nice to see a little snow at Christmastime.
But let me back up a bit...
The Stray Travel people screwed up and abandoned me in Gisborne for one extra night. There are far worse places in the world to be stranded, so it wasn’t a big deal. They even paid for me to get an intercity bus to Rotorua the next day. Along the way, we stopped at Huka Falls, a waterfall on the crystal clear Waikato River. It was 15 minutes of pure whitewater viewing pleasure before we headed off to Taupo.
For the first few days, there wasn’t much to see due to crappy weather. When it cleared up, the views proved to be spectacular. Taupo sits on the northern edge of Lake Taupo, which is a volcanic crater that was formed about 26,000 years ago during a massive eruption that supposedly was 100 times more powerful than Krakatoa. There was another eruption in 181 AD that caused crazy sunsets all over the world. Mt. Ruapehu last erupted in 1996, so there is a chance I can see some liquid hot magma.
I spent my first night at the Urban Retreat Backpackers. They stuck me in a tiny, windowless room right next to the big common area/TV room/bar. That kind of sucked, so I moved to the Go Global Backpackers the next day, where some cool folks I met in Raglan were staying. It is a decent enough place with cheap beds and interesting residents from all over (as seen below).
The cold, wet weather did not deter me from doing my first bungy jump! A few of us went to Taupo Bungy on my second day. If you get there before 11 AM, you get a cheap jump (NZ$79) and I always try to be thrifty with my Near Death Experience Fund. The location was gorgeous (no pun intended). The jumping platform juts out over the Waikato River from a 150-foot cliff. The technicians (or whatever you call them) adjust the bungy cable to the appropriate tautness for your weight and give you the option of being dunked in the river. It was already raining, so I went for the wet option. It is ridiculous how casually you entrust your life to the guy strapping the cable to your ankles. He did so with all the exuberance and enthusiasm of a DMV employee. He and his assistant urged me to the edge of the platform and told me to lean forward. I complied, and screamed “OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTT!” as I plummeted to the river below. I dipped to just below my waist before being snapped back up in the air for three or four more bounces. As I dangled upside down with my soaked shirt covering half my face, a raft appeared beneath me. The girls onboard extended a pole for me to grab, so that I could be lowered onto the raft and be transported back to dry land.
It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. This was mostly due to the bored, surly attitude of the bungy technician team. They put me through the process so matter-of-factly that I didn’t have time to consider (or reconsider) my actions. I got to see a video of my jump, but I was too cheap to buy the DVD or pictures, so you’ll all just have to take my word that I actually did it.
Just around the corner from the bungy are some thermal hot springs that feed into the river. A few people from the hostel and I got some beers and hopped in the water, which was hotter than a bath. I think the cold rain actually made the experience more interesting, with steam rising up from the water. Primordial, dude!
So, I like Taupo and got myself a job. I am currently employed as a bartender at the Plateau restaurant. They hired me on the spot with almost no questions asked. Everyone in this town knows everyone, and they like to help each other out, which is cool. My hostel is having a big Christmas barbecue, so I won’t be too lonely. I figure that I will try to find a flat around here and will stay around for a month or two to save up some cash. It seems like a good place to be, and the views are gorgeous.
This will be my first Christmas away from home, which is a bit strange. It means so much to me to get all of your comments and kind words on this blog!
I wish all of you the happiest of holidays!