Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Taupo, Tennis, Tongariro, Tasty Trails, and Tenacious Tramps

So I've come back from a second vacation! Yes, you heard me. SECOND vacation. But this one had a lot of things that had NOTHING to do with camping. A.K.A. we were in an actual house! Hooray! Anyway, here I go.

This was a vacation that we didn't have a house for until about 4 days beforehand. We went to an area at Lake Taupo called Kuratau. We rented a bach of sorts, except it had more than 2 rooms, unlike other baches. For those of you that don't know, a bach (pronounced "batch") is a small little holiday home with basic anemnities. This one was quite good though. It had a garage, TV with Freeview (slight cable, not many channels but more than at home), fridge, stove, and 3 bedrooms. I was in the third one, which was actually a little room off of the garage, and it even had its own ensuite shower, toilet and sink! Nifty, eh?

Our vacation in Taupo lasted 5 days. So what interesting things did I do during those 5 days? Well on the night we arrived, Asher, Jonty and I checked out the tennis courts in the area. There was one by the lake, and 2 in an open field area with a great view of some mountains. But more on tennis later, as we didn't do much that day. Though I actually did test out a new racket that we had bought so we could have more than 1 full-sized tennis racket. I did terribly as usual, but a little better than with the junior-sized ones.

Aaaannyway, on the first full day, we went to Turangi, a small town close to Kuratau. I was going insane over wanting to get 20$ sent to the leader of the Global Game Jam, which I'm going to tomorrow (48 hours straight in Waikato University! W00t!), but after I got that sent I calmed down a bit. We went to the information centre, where we found out about a small trail on the Tongariro River. We drove there, and I was interested in the rapids that apparently weren't too bad for swimming on as long as you got back to the shore. Though all those thoughts flew out the window when I stepped one foot into the water. Z0mg!!! GAH! That water was REALLY REALLY UBER COLD! It was so cold, that when we were walking across a shallow area to a small island in the center of the river (the river wasn't very wide), my feet and legs were numb and hurting from the cold. To add insult to injury, I kept smashing my toes into rocks in the ground, and I lost my balance quite a few times, barely keeping myself from falling in. It's a good thing we didn't go on those rapids, since when we got to that island, we saw the speed of them. They were pretty fast, and if we swam in them, we would probably have been swept away quite quickly. Though I still don't think that was the area the guide was talking about.

We then went on a 40 minute walk along the river, going over a bridge, up some cliffs, and finally going back to State Highway 1 (the highway that goes all the way from the top of the north island to the bottom of the south, it doesn't seem to be very busy for a highway, even though it goes through residential areas) where our car was. The cliffs offered a nice view, but it was starting to rain, and we were eager to get back.

Second day: Sun and laziness. We didn't go anywhere. All I did was play tennis and write in 3 notebooks of mine. Though I played a LOT of tennis. I practiced for a lot of the day, serving, trying to get good topspin power shots (that worked perfectly in practice but in games I completely messed up), trying to get a slice that didn't lob...I spent most of the day at the tennis courts. It was actually very fun to do that though. A good day, in my opinion.

Third day:BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Alarm: 5:00 A.M. I get up, silencing my alarm within the first second of it ringing. In a very quick and quiet fashion, I got some clothes on, creeped through the really cold garage, into the hallway and into the lounge, where I turned on the T.V. Why? The Obama Inaguration of course! I watched quite a bit of it, from the first speaking to the people by that woman from Congress (can't remember her name) to Obama walking back into the Capitol. It was a great thing to watch, and I'm glad I had gotten up so early to see it. I went back to bed to warm up a bit since I was quite cold, and ended up falling asleep, quite by accident in fact Then the rest of the day came...

We went to the Waihaha river area. Another not very wide river, there were also some small rapids. However, there also were nice amounts of rocks to jump around to and fro, and I spent about 15 minutes exploring the area. After that I saw that everyone else was urging Chrissy to go on one of the boogie boards that we had down some of the rapids. I was still pretty far away so I didn't see it happen, but she did it. She then said "I'm the only one who had the courage to go on those rapids!" or something to that effect. It didn't look like something that was that hard to do, and everyone else was starting to do it as well, so I gave it a shot. When I went down the rapids, I managed to stay on the board for most of the time (which was better than Jonty's attempt, he fell off quite quickly, but was perfectly ok anyway), but then slipped off as I tried to get a rock to grab on to. I couldn't keep my hold on many of them as they were all quite slippery, but after going a moderate distance I managed to get a firm hold, and climb up. Apparently I went farther than anyone else. We got back to the van, and went to the other side of the river where there was a trail. We walked the trail and saw some good views of a large gorge. We were able to go down to the gorge's bottom where the river was, and Jonty and Bella jumped in the water a few times. Now, one thing is really different about these rivers from the Pittsburgh ones: These rivers are NEARLY COMPLETELY CLEAR! Seriously, they were extremely easy to see through. So when Jonty and Bella jumped in, it was quite cool to see their bodies just suspended in the water before they surfaced. On our way back, we ran into 2 North Island Robins, which apparently were an endangered species.

We came back, and Asher and I played some tennis. We came back and found everyone rushing around packing. Why? Well there's something I didn't tell you (muahahaha!). We were planning to do the Tongariro Crossing the next day (as you may have guessed from the alliterative title), and we needed to get as prepared as we could. So we did.

Fourth day: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Alarm: 6:00 A.M. This time it was for Tongariro. Everyone quietly had some breakfast, got all their stuff together, and we went out in our van to a campsite. Why? A guy was there who was going to drive our van to the Mangatepopo start area for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Van ride to the start...It's still a bit cold. I'm wearing shorts and a short sleeved shirt, remembering a key lesson from my first time: "Start out with light clothing, you'll heat up as you walk. If you start out hot, you'll tire out really easily." And so we went. Going through the lower areas to Soda Springs was a breeze (almost literally, it was cool as a breeze but no breezes were blowing). Then was the climb to the South Crater, one of the hardest parts of the Crossing. Tiring, constant uphill for 40 minutes, but when we got to the top, it was great since the view was so good. I've spoken about the Crossing in my post "A Mountainous Task", so I won't go into as much detail. We went into the south crater, and headed up the way to the high point at Red Crater, taking many a break for chocolate chip muffins, cashews, peanuts, and bits of my very own 250g Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate block. I pointed out my favorite spot, the little area at the top that was perfect for eating as it was ALWAYS warm from the thermal gases. We climbed down the scree slope, me having a lot of fun with it but getting pain in my feet from the scree entering my shoes. We got to the bottom of that slope, had a big shoe-emptying fest, and went past the Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake. From Blue Lake was a long, long, LONG downhill that had good views but a lot of foot pain, all the way to the Ketetahi hut, and later the Ketetahi carpark, where I had a well-deserved rest after 7 hours of walking. With a bit of timing issues, we got back to our bach, where we immediately started to pack. Again.

Day 5: The final day at Taupo. We had finished our packing, and were cleaning up the place, when suddenly, NOTHING HAPPENED! Sorry, had to do that. Anyway, we cleaned, said goodbye to that bach, and drove 4 hours to Hawke's Bay. On the way there, we stopped at a small park area, where I noticed a man tending to a horse. I walked over, and got to have a nice talk about horses and how having a horse was so much nicer than having a motor vehicle. It was a nice chat, and I got to pet the horse Nanu a bit. That felt quite nice. We continued driving until we got to our new area, which was a full house! Yep, the last 2 days of our vacation were going to be spent at a nice house with some extravagant things like a large plasma-screen TV! So what did we do? We went to Domino's. We got 3 pizzas for 20$, thanks to a promotion they were having, and later just did nothing interesting until we all went to sleep.

Day 6: We had heard about Food Trails on our way here, and we decided to check out one of the farmer's markets that the Cooks had been to before. We went onto a food trail where we got to see a ton of vineyards, but the main attraction was the farmer's market. Everyone there had various different things, from jams to breads, gelato to knives and cutting boards. And walking all around it was a dog who walked up to ANYONE who had food, begging. I bought myself a croissant (baked at 2 A.M. that morning along with the other hundred or so bread items), which was awesome, and got some gelato. There was also a small wine cellar nearby which we checked out, and it was moderately interesting, but not as good as the market. However, I noticed a dog tied to one of the grapevines, who looked rather neglected by the people passing by. I felt sorry for it, and went up and stroked it for about 10 minutes. Man, that dog was happy to have some attention. After I felt it looked like it was cheered up a lot, we left for a moderate-height peak area where there was a trig station. A trig station...um...It's really hard to describe. It just showed a map of the surrounding area, even as far as Mt. Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngaruhoe, as well as a mountain that has the longest name I have ever seen, and I believe it is the longest one-word name in the world. We had some nice views of the many vineyards, and I looked down a cliff that really creeped me out.

As our last destination for the day, we went to a place called Ocean Beach. Yes, as you probably guessed, it was a beach at the Pacific Ocean. Nice name, huh? We stayed there for a while, eating the Mediterranean flatbread with cheese, rosemary and rock salt that David and Chrissy had bought, as well as talking to various people. With that, we headed home, had some dinner, and packed up. Again. Again.

Day 7: Driving home. It was a moderately long drive, but it was probably made much longer by the fact that we made like 4 different stops. 3 of them were in Taupo, and we ended up just about doubling our time on the road. However, one part of it I found quite interesting, and that was Huka Falls. We stopped there before getting some dinner, and I saw this pretty small but really fast and REALLY blue waterfall formed by the Waikato River combined with some erode-resistant rocks. It looked really good, and I really liked the color especially. After more driving (with more stops) we finally arrived home, me with an agonizing 5 days before Global Game Jam, and now my anticipation is nearly over.

Such ends this blog post. I've got to help move around a lot of stuff tomorrow, but I know I'll be just counting the minutes until I can get to Waikato University. After Game Jam I get straight back into school, and that'll be good as well. As for my family situation, I'm going to stay with the Cooks for two more weeks, and hopefully in that time a family will be found. I'm not worried. She'll be right in the end.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Coromandel Camping...uh...camp

Yeah, I've been in the Coromandel Peninsula area for 9 days or so recently, camping with some of my family's friends at Fletcher Bay, and later at Waikawau Bay. It was quite an interesting trip, with 3-hour walks, rock-hopping, wave bodysurfing, and a whole lot of bug bites. It started out with a 4-hour drive through Thames, Coromandel (the town), as well as driving over many a precarious edge road. I brought 9 books with me to read over the trip, and I went through 8 of them by the time the trip ended. But anyway...

I might as well tell you about Christmas first. When I woke up on Christmas morning, nothing was really different at first. The other kids were awake, and we were all impatient to open our gifts. Jonty was quoting lines from Kung POW! Enter the Fist, as usual, Bella was singing a High School Musical 3 song, and Asher was talking about the birds and other natural features we would find in the Coromandel area. When Chrissy and David got up, we began opening the presents each of us got. From my host family I got a Chocolate Orange (Terry's, just like at home! W00t! My Chocolate Orange Christmas Spree continues!), a nice 250g bar of Black Forest Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate (chocolate biscuit[cookie] pieces, and chewy cherry jelly-ish things, not sure how to describe them), and a black shirt that showed a globe with nothing on it except a ridiculously oversized New Zealand. From everyone back home I got a nice chunk of cash, which the day after I spent on getting some summer clothes. I then after the camping trip got some sandals (W00t for breaking the NZ fashion frenzy of jandals[flip-flops] for the sake of comfort and running ability! =D). But anyway, we then went to my host family's (grand)mother's rest home (or whatever the PC way to say it is, I'm not completely sure), and attended a short Christmas service. I also got a box of Favourites (a collection of Cadbury mini-bars) from Rona (the name of the Cook's [grand]mother) as well as a $30 Whitcoull's gift card (Whitcoull's is just like Barnes and Noble, a bookstore with various notebooks and games as well).

Later, we went to the house of our friends Susan and Tony (the people we were going camping with) and had a GIANT lunch, because apparently that's the traditional Kiwi thing to do on Christmas. I also condemned the unicycle for being so ridiculously hard to keep your balance on, played some petanque (in which I epically failed. Petanque for people who don't know what it is, is a sport kinda like bocce, but you use metal balls on a special court, and you have to throw them in a distinctive manner that will take too long to explain), and later barely won at croquet. But we weren't done yet! We then went to Chrissy's cousin Jenny's (or Jenni, I never saw the spelling) house. After I watched a bit of Home Alone 2, I noticed 2 guys outside on the porch, who were named Ed and Paul. They were shooting an air rifle at something I couldn't see. I went out after a bit of internal controversy over what to do, and found that they were taking turns firing at 3 beer/mineral water bottles on a fence. I noticed they had another rifle, and asked if I could also give it a shot. They were perfectly fine with it, and we made a nice cultural mix of things. An American student and 2 British guys were sitting in New Zealand firing Spanish air rifles with Australian pellets at German beer bottles emptied of contents brewed in Mexico. I ended up scoring 7 hits out of the...I don't know, a moderately large amount of shots fired. The 7th shot actually knocked one over and shattered it. Nifty, eh? Anyway, that's how Christmas went for me.

The day after was a big packing day, as well as a shopping day for me (and you all know how much I love shopping!!! That's right, I don't). I got some shirts, shorts, socks, 2 scoops of green tea ice cream, and a book called Dewey (a great book about a library cat in Spencer, Iowa. It's really awesome and if you've read Marley and Me, you will probably like Dewey too. Man, I sound like a bad book critic). But other than that, not much happened.

This trip was a big vacation that was being planned for a while, and it started 2 days after Christmas. We planned to stay with 2 of my host parents' friends for about two-thirds of the trip. After the somewhat grueling 4 hour drive (with the last hour being over complete gravel roads on the edge of mountains, combined with having to edge past drivers going in the other direction), we finally arrived at Fletcher Bay. Asher and I set up our tent, a canvas pentagonal thing that is hot in the day and cool in the evening. I then started an 3X7R3M3 R34D1N6 FR3N2Y!!! (For those of you that have a hard time reading 13375p33k, it says EXTREME READING FRENZY)

..So that's how the first day ended. I read a lot of one of my books, ate dinner, tried to get some people together to play Hearts, failed, and went to sleep after a while. On the first real day, we walked a 3-hour walk to a nearby bay called Stony Bay. There was a stream there which we swam in...until we found there were eels in there. Ugh... On the way back, Jonty finally actually managed to clearly explain to me the rules of test (5 day), one day international, and 20-20 cricket. Next day, Asher's birthday. And to go with it, we had perfect weather!!!...for plants. It was rainy, and occasionally gusty, probably one big gust every 2 minutes. The rain persisted throughout the entire day, while we were eating molasses cookies that I made beforehand (about 90 of 'em), lemon cake, and pavlova.

The next day, we actually did have good weather. We went to some other bay that I can't remember the name of. But, we did take a shorter walk, while I got to listen to Bella and Jonty keep asking if they could open the bag of Rashuns (since you guys don't have that back home, they're cheese-and-bacon snacks kinda like puffed Cheetos). We saw a smaller beach area, where there was a random pole there, probably from some old rail thing that involved a winch that was found farther up the hill. We went up a hill (or large hill, whatever you wish to call it, or even a small hill if you're in a big mountainous area) and saw a nice view of the ocean. However, Asher and I saw that we could go farther by going down and up a slightly steep area with a large slanted drop to either side (it was nice and wide, don't worry). So, Asher and I went to that while Jonty went down one of the steep sides using the bajilliion flax plants as handholds. Later, I climbed down that steep slope using a different method, mainly just not slipping on gravel and making sure I was standing on nice grassy tufts that worked well as footholds. Yeah, we saw a rocky beach, ate some chocolate, ate some Rashuns, ate some apples, and headed back. HOWEVER!!! I went back a different method than everyone else. I climbed back up that hill, while everyone else jumped across rocks to get back to where we were. I got back about a half-hour before everyone else. So I got to wait! Fun, eh?

Yeah, on New Year's Eve, Asher, Jonty and I decided we would climb across rocks to another beach that we passed by on our very first walk. So we headed out. We climbed a bit, and after a while I found myself going a slightly different route...mainly edging across a 4-5m gap over the water on a small ledge of rocks with grassy ground right below it. Just my luck, the rocks crumble, and I slip. I attempted to brace myself with anything at hand, and I caused a small rockfall before I managed to stop. Unlucky for me, a rather large rock fell right on my hand. It didn't hurt for some reason, though it seemed the rock punctured my hand somewhat deeply. I saw that it went straight through my skin and hit something hard, possibly bone. I think that because when I looked in the puncture, I could see my vein perfectly. Yet, it wasn't bleeding, so luckily it didn't hit it. I showed it to Asher and Jonty, and they didn't think much of it since they have had much more serious wounds before. I was a bit nervous however, since I don't experience things like that often, and I was a bit worried. The puncture wasn't very wide, maybe a centimeter at the widest point (and much thinner at other areas), but I had never had a puncture so deep I saw my own vein. Anyway, we finished the rock climbing, got to the beach where I ate some Crispy Noodles (an awesome snack that they really should have in America), and we walked back to our camp.

In the evening, I played some cricket with other kids around the campground, and later, closer to the evening I heard a surprisingly quiet amount of noise. That's not to say it was silent, not even close, but it wasn't nearly as loud as say, Pittsburgh on First Night. Though, since First Night has much, much more people, that's understandable. Everyone except David, Jonty and me just went to sleep early, but we stayed up until midnight, and at midnight, nothing really new happened. A firework or two went off, but that's about it. With that, we went to sleep.

New Year's Day, we pack up to head somewhere else. We say bye to Susan and Tony who are going home, and after driving through Colville (where I got a nice pack of gum, something I always do since I'm sort of a chewing gum addict. Don't worry, the gum I get is sugarfree), we arrive at Waikawau Bay. Stuff happens, I swim in the bay a bit (probably the best of the bays since it has good waves to bodysurf on), we walk up a hill again, and we sleep. Next day, walk, swim, rockhop, lather, rinse, repeat, etc., whatever other "repeat the previous day" statements you can think of, except this time we walked to Little bay, where we did just about the usual things. Day after, drive to some other bay that I also can't remember the name of, perform usual activities. That night, walk a bit in an area that is a Kiwi zone, don't hear anything, head back, play cards, sleep.

Final day. Pack up, and begin driving...to CATHEDRAL COVE!!! Now what's that you may ask? Well, if you've seen Prince Caspian (which I haven't, I haven't even read the book), than one scene or something takes place there. Yeah. We walked to Stingray bay, where everyone saw a bunch of fish, a jellyfish or two, and of course, stingrays. But when we got to Cathedral Cove, I swam out to a rock with Asher, and we saw a GIANT jellyfish. It turns out that the jellyfish we saw were the biggest species ever or something close to that. And man, it was pretty creepy since there were like 7 differently sized jellyfish all around those rocks. But yeah, after we got back, we headed home. When we got home, I went to check my e-mails and such, and voila! I couldn't. Someone had gotten a virus onto the computer, though we don't know who. There were some people taking care of the cats, and it was probably accidental. Though, I am still writing this from a neighbor's computer, since we still haven't gotten ours back yet, a week after we sent it to a tech place. I think I might have been able to take care of it, but I wasn't really sure. It's a good thing I didn't, because it turns out there were more viruses on it than food items named after sports players/teams. In other words, a lot of viruses.

Yeah, that's my post for this while, and now I'm back into filler episodes. I'm most likely going to be switching families somewhat soon, since the Cooks have found a house, and it'll be hard for me to go about my usual school stuff while in the process of moving. Or something like that anyway. But I'm not worried. Anyway, thanks for reading!