Rotorua to Lake Taupo

As I have previously mentioned, it’s frustratingly difficult to get around here without a car. My fun German companions from yesterday have all checked out of the hostel, which means I’ve also lost my wheels. I do some mapping to figure out what activities I can get to today, and realize I literally require a car if I want to do anything cool. I’ve never driven on this side of the road, but there’s no time like the present, so I say let’s dooooo this, and rent a car. When I tell my Texan dorm mates about my plan, they decide to tag along which is great because now we can split the cost.

We pick up a rental from the Hertz literally next door to our hostel for $47, and head towards Kerosene Creek. This is an area with a naturally heated creek (obviously) that’s a suitable temperature for swimming.

I’m a little uneasy getting into the car for the first time, and the weirdest part about it is probably that the turn signal switch is on the opposite side, but staying in the left lane is just fine. Within 15 minutes I’m cruising stress-free.

We follow a little trail down along the water until we find a good spot to take a dip. I channel a little Kiwi and go shoeless for the walk. No one here is ever wearing shoes, I swear.
Some parts of the sand in the creek are insanely hot. If you dig down a little it’s unbearable, but the water temperature itself is perfect. Of course, there’s that yucky sulphur smell that comes along with any Geothermal pool, and call me crazy, but I’ve come to like it. It reminds me of beautiful places. Places like this, like Iceland. It’s grown on me.

As have the Texans. They’re tons of fun to be around and we’ve discovered there are millions of other topics besides gun laws!

Next up on our docket is the Lady Knox Geyser. We’re just blindly choosing places to go based on what we can see on Google Maps. There’s so much cool stuff in this area we can’t go wrong.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some stuff you have to pay for, like this Geyser. Before seeing a price we decide to cap it at $5. Anything more and we’ll find something else to do. Well, it’s a whopping $32.50 for entry to this “Thermal Park”, and thats straight up not even close to within budget, so we move on. Byeeeee!

We decide to take the long drive down to Lake Taupo. We get 200 free kilometres on the car, and Taupo is pushing it a little, but we should still make it there and back under the limit.

We stop at a view point above Huka Falls on the way. It’s got some of the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen un-glaciated. I don’t understand.

Finally we reach Taupo, which is a MUCH more lively town than Rotorua. Rotorua actually has a really weird ghost town vibe. I’m not a fan. Most things are closed on Sundays, which is when I’d expect most people to be visiting? The weekends, no? It’s somehow acquired the nickname “RotoVegas” and while I’ve never been to Vegas…I can promise you it’s nothing like this. Anyway. Taupo makes more sense and is cooler.

We get out for a walk along the path surrounding the lake, and encounter a funny little driving range…aimed out into the water. I’m not much of a golfer (or a golfer at all) but one of the Texans is. He buys a basket of 25 balls for $20 and starts driving ’em out towards this floating dock. There’s a “hole in 1” target, but the staff say it’s only ever reached about once every two weeks. The best part is the scuba diver out there, retrieving balls in his bright yellow helmet. Imagine having that job? Hilarious.

Please note the gator boots!!

The boys are set on buying some Jade jewelry so we find a cute little shop selling everything from necklaces to table ornaments in the shape of kiwi birds. I’m trying to stick to as low a daily budget as I can manage, but I find this really cute Paua shell necklace for $19 so I buy it. Paua can only be found around New Zealand which makes it unique to me, and it’s a super pretty iridescent blue so I can’t help myself.

On the drive back to Rotorua I want to stop at some mud baths, which Google tells me are free. Turns out I totally confused the mud baths with bubbling mud pools, which are not the same. I pictured a mud spa tub where I could relax and slather myself in clay. But no, the bubbling mud pools are way too hot to touch, so we get to admire from behind a fence. It’s a fun stop to make anyway because they’re pretty rad looking.

After the pools we’re getting close to our kilometre limit so we head back to the hostel. We use the car to go pick up groceries from the “Pak n Save”, which I can equate to Costco without the membership fee. It’s hella cheap. We pick up some veg, shrimp, and chicken for dinner and cook two different epic stir frys.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Auckland for a night, before catching a flight down to Wellington. I love a good city, but it’s clear that the best thing New Zealand has to offer is its incredible nature. I plan to settle in a city but now that I’m an expert left-side driver, I’m thinking I might invest in a car for weekend getaways.

Daily Costs

$47 car rental

$8 breakfast

$20 hostel

$10 for a third’s share of a 24 pack of beers

Free tea/coffee at the hostel

Free entry to Kerosene Creek, Huka Lookout, wandering around Lake Taupo, and Mud Pools.

Total Day Costs $85

(Plus my $20 necklace but that was unnecessary…)

Paid by the Texan boys:

$35 petrol (for half a tank)

$50 dinner groceries

Take me there!

Rotorua – Redwood Forest

After arriving in Rotorua in the late afternoon, I didn’t have much time to do any exploring yesterday. I settled into my hostel, The Spa Lodge (which is mad cute, by the way) and went to a local pub, Pig and Whistle, for some live music in the evening with my dorm mates.
Ohhhh, my dorm mates.
My 8-bed room is mostly German, with the exception of 2 undeniably American Americans. They are like a walking stereotype. Gator skin boots, camo, a tattoo of Texas, star spangled banner swim trunks, the whole deal. After spending a few hours together, one of them pointed out I was the first person they’ve met on the road who didn’t ask them about Trump. I had absolutely zero interest in having that conversation with them, because I knew exactly how it’d go. Having been raised on political discussions around the dinner table, I have developed strong opinions and a love for debate. However, I don’t see this one going well.

We all spent the night dancing and talking about literally everything else, having a grand ol’ time, but once back at the hostel we slipped up, something sparked a discussion, and a heated argument broke loose. One of the Germans acted as a moderator while the Americans and I hashed it out…until 4am. Oops.

So this morning I’ve gotten up to meet the Germans for a hike through the Redwood Forest, unsure of whether or not the Americans and I are still cool. They’re still asleep so I won’t know until later.

Most travellers I’ve met here in New Zealand have rented or bought a car. All the best spots are often far from the city centre and it’s really the only way to get around. Buses can take you between major locations, but otherwise you have to go with a tour package and I have no interest in doing that. Even though the Redwood Forest is relatively accessible from our hostel, there’s a difference of an hour walk or a 5-minute drive. Luckily, one of these guys has a car.

It’s a rainy morning which has brought out the contrasted colours of rusty red and lush green in the forest. I’m not a botanist or anything, but I never expected Redwood trees to grow in the same area as these giant, Jurassic Park-resembling fern trees. It makes for a super interesting trail. Entrance to the park is free, unless you want to follow the hanging bridges that are hung up in one small area of the forest, which looks pretty damn cool, but it’s also $25, so no thank you. We follow the arrows for a 3 hour route, which ends up taking us a little longer because we get lost more than once. I swear someone has stolen some of the arrows off the posts just to confuse us. Rude.

The 3 people I’m hiking with are all lovely. One thing I’ve noticed about German people when traveling is that they are really considerate of the language barrier and will speak to each other in English even when I’m not necessarily involved in the conversation, just to be polite. Usually other people revert back to their native languages which doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I still think it’s really nice of them to keep me in the loop.

By the end of the hike my legs are pretty tired and I’m dreading how I’ll feel tomorrow. I’m a city walker; flat surfaces only. I can’t handle this incline business. Fortunately, our $20/night hostel has its own geothermal sulphur spa pool! and it’s free!In the morning, before it’s filled

We take a dip to relax when we get back to the hostel, and I run into the Texans. We have a quick awkward like, “heyyyy sorry ‘bout the yelling…I stand by everything I said….but we good? Yeah we good. Good.”

We vow not to talk about it again, though.

Costs for the Day
$20 hostel
$20 dinner
Free park entry
Free ride
Free tea/coffee at the hostel

Total: $40

Take me there!

What to Pack for a Move Across the World

What does one pack to move across the world for a year? How can you possibly cram your whole life into a single backpack? Well firstly, for such a journey, I suggest bringing 2 backpacks.
1 large (check in) and 1 medium (carry on)! Continue reading “What to Pack for a Move Across the World”

Last Day/Beach Day

3 weeks have never flown by so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Athens, but somehow today is my last day. If I had the money to survive here longer, I would love to stay and keep working at the refugee residence. Continue reading “Last Day/Beach Day”

Cold Waterfalls and Highway Driving

We survive the night without any demonic activity from the creepy candle lit church.
It’s out by morning.

We get an extremely early start for our hike. We don’t have time to summit so we’re just doing a 2 hour climb instead, before getting on our way back to Athens.  Continue reading “Cold Waterfalls and Highway Driving”

Monasteries and Mt. Olympus

Bells are sounding off in the distance. It’s still dark outside, but I suppose this is to wake the residents of the monasteries. We hear them first from our neighbouring cliff, and then faintly from somewhere much further away. The sound bounces between the mountains and rocks to reach us in our little fort beneath the trees. The moon has risen and I catch a glimpse of more falling meteors before drifting off to sleep again.  Continue reading “Monasteries and Mt. Olympus”

Meteora

We’ve been working hard, and since arriving, the school has gained 20+ volunteers, so we’re taking the weekend off. I’ve been dreaming of Meteora ever since I saw some fantastic photos a couple years ago. Probably on Instagram, if we’re being honest, but I don’t remember for sure. Continue reading “Meteora”

Men’s Residence

I love Greek food, but I do not like these little cactus fruits someone in our house has picked up from the grocery store. I’m not actually sure they’re Greek, but I’ve never seen them before. Continue reading “Men’s Residence”

Play-Doh

Things are starting to come together at the school residence. We’ve arranged for a meeting with all the volunteers this week so we can create a schedule of activities each day. I’ll be teaching English classes every day at 5, and helping out with whatever else needs doing before and after. 

For now I’ll just be teaching kids, but I hope to offer some classes to adults soon. 
We’re slowly making a dent in Donation Mountain, too. Between the projects here and some smaller occasional tasks at other camps, we’re going to be busy. We now have some work at a small camp specifically for pregnant women, we’ll be going twice a week to the summer camp outside the city, and some of our Spaniards will be doing an activity making human towers (known as castellers, or muixeranga because they’re from Valencia). 

I have my first English “class” today, which is really just a test to get a feel for the kids levels, and to get them comfortable with me. This is no challenge. The kids are all SO extremely friendly and energetic everywhere we go. 


I lay out some colouring pages, markers, and worksheets with simple math questions in English. I bring colourful clay and hope no one tries to eat it. About 15 kids show up, and within moments are tearing the room apart. The 10 year olds are swinging the 2 year olds around. The 2 year olds are crying because they’ve pushed the markers so hard into the paper that they break. I try to keep some order but you wouldn’t believe how hard it is. I had a couple students in Spain that I thought were difficult but this is next level. The clay is a big hit but of course everyone has trouble sharing. Kids are flowing in and out of the room, their attention spans don’t last long and there are no rules about where they have to be. They always ask to bring entire colouring books or boxes of markers to their rooms. I hate saying no but obviously we don’t have enough supplies for that so I have to. Then I have to watch to make sure they don’t try to sneak it out anyway. 

One of the mothers comes into the classroom and I smile at her, but she starts just screaming at me in Arabic, pointing at the clay. She’s holding the hand of her 2 year old son and I’m worried she’s mad that I’ve given a young kid something he might try to eat? I’m asking the other kids to translate for me, and piece together that no no, she’s angry because I didn’t give him any clay. I can assure you I did, but maybe one of the other kids stole it from him. He’s 2 so like…who knows. 

She storms out, and one of the other volunteers tells me there’s an issue in the camp, where the Iraqi community feel they are treated more poorly than the Palestinian residents. I have no idea if that’s true in other aspects of the organization or not, but I assume they must have some reason to believe that. Though I am not denying 2 year old children play-doh because they’re Iraqi. Did I even know he was Iraqi? No. I feel better that this isn’t the first time she’s yelled at someone though. 

After an exhausting 2 hours trying to keep the children entertained, speaking English, and from eating any play-doh, I help with some donation sorting and head home. 

Later in the evening I meet a friend to sit just outside the Parthenon; under the stars, overlooking the city with a couple drinks in hand. Athens is a strange place, dirty, abandoned, crumbling, yet somehow bustling, illuminated, and beautiful from here. 

Markets and More Tea

Alright. Another day, another attempt at getting sorted in the squatters residence. The Portuguese volunteers are opening the clothing donation room for distribution and suggest we come help out at noon. Again, we arrive on time. Again, no one is around. Continue reading “Markets and More Tea”