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Taupo, National Park & Wellington

sunny 22 °C

In my last entry I moaned at the end about my hostel in Rotorua being too quiet. Well, I take it all back! That night, after I got back I discovered that another large group of 15 year old American teenagers had invaded the place I was staying at. Chaos ensued that night with most of them running around screaming like kids. At 28 I suddenly felt very old. I decided to lock myself in my room and play my Nintendo DS, which is the first time I had used it properly since I've been travelling. After about 11pm I think the teachers had sent the kids packing to bed. I sneaked out and hit the hot thermal pool and hung out with the bus driver that would be taking me to Taupo. The next morning we departed Rotorua at about 7.30am. It was quite foggy and cloudy out and I was told that if it didn't clear my sky dive may be cancelled. Not again surely? Once in Byron Bay was enough. At this stage I really just wanted to get it over and done with, I was sick of waiting to do this...

We drove for a good bit and every mile we did brought me closer to the dive. I went through stages of feeling really nervous, blacking it out and not caring. It kept changing. Enroute that morning we stopped at two sightseeing attractions which helped take my mind off it. The first was the Wai-O-Tapu thermal park. The place is sculptured out of volcanic activity over the past few thousand years. It's one of the most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attractions in the country - I can't compare it to anything else I've ever seen, only to say walking through the area was the closest I'll ever get to visiting another planet. The park is made up of strange rock formations, eggy smells, exotic colours and weird mud pools. It reminded me a little of that film Labyrinth. The highlight is the geyser (pictured just below) which erupts daily at about 10.15am.

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The second stop was the Huka Falls. Essentially it's the Waikato River which is normally 100m wide but is squeezed through a 20 metre wide gorge and over a 20 metre drop. Up to 220,000 litres of water blasts through the gorge and shoots out of 8 metres beyond to create a blue/green pool. It was like looking at a Hollywood special effects scene from one of the theme parks in Florida - except it's real! Pretty cool...

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By 1.30pm we had arrived at our hostel in Taupo. We were dropped off and I had about five minutes to chill out before we were picked up by the sky dive company. By this stage the weather had cleared, there were very few clouds in the sky and there was no chance it was going to be cancelled. Now or never... I got into the van and in it three girls and a guy were sitting. It was their first dive too and we were all a bit nervous, some a lot more than me. Ten minutes later we were at the dive centre - I had pre-booked and paid in advance. I picked the 15,000 feet dive as opposed to 12,000 - may as well go all out! After a quick briefing we were into our diving clothes and hurried onto a plane. I was surprised at how small it was - there was very little room inside, just two long bench type seats across from one another for everyone to sit on. Off we went and as the plane ascended my dive instructor attached himself to me and talked me through it. Basically there wasn't a lot to do, except hold on to the straps on my chest when jumping and then keep my legs up in the air. I thought I was starting to calm down until at 10,000 odd feet they put an oxygen mask over all our faces so we could continue to breathe easily!

I was second last to dive. It all happened very quickly. I was hooshed up along the bench as the shutter door on the plane was thrown up. I was told to smile for my photo which I just about managed to do before I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable. He went to throw us out and then pulled me back in. Agghh, get it over with! The second time we jumped proper. It was a really weird feeling - I knew what I was doing but my head was telling me it was all wrong. I kept my eyes closed as we tumbled out and then opened them. Wow! What a view. The instructor opened out my arms and then at the moment I realised I was LOVING IT. What a rush. It didn't have the feeling of 'falling' like you'd probably get on a bungee jump. It was like looking at a stunning postcard with a wind machine on maximum in your face. The sixty second fall just flew by. After having my photo taken by the camera guy a few times my instructor pulled open the chute and we shot back up a bit. The next part was a bit scary I'll admit - you're literally dangling there.. 8,000 feet in the air just waiting to land. I tried to enjoy the view as much as I could but my thighs were a bit sore from the straps and I just wanted to cling on. It's hard not to imagine a worst case scenario at least once during this part i.e. the straps breaking!

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We soon landed and I was on a total high at this point. I just jumped out of a plane. Wuhoo! I've been wanting to do this for years but never had the courage. And it's over! And I actually loved it. We landed at the centre and got our photos and DVD loaded onto CDs. Off we went back to the hostel and my energy levels quickly crashed. With all of the adrenaline in the past hour I was feeling exhausted. I needed a drink -vodka and redull would do nicely! I managed to talk the other divers into it and with it being Saint Patrick's day it was quite easy. We headed to Mulligan's pub at 5pm and there we spent the next 10 odd hours drinking and dancing. The rest of the group from our bus joined us too. I was very impressed by the effort of the locals and tourists. Some had gone all out with costumes and paint etc. If anyone realised I was Irish they'd be thrilled just talking to someone who was from the country. I got asked so many times 'what is Saint Patrick's day all about'?? I'll admit I couldn't really give them a proper answer but I did my best to waffle something half meaningful. I must look it up on Wikipedia for next year...

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On Friday morning I had to get up at 7am in order to move from Taupo to the National Park. It was quite rough to say the least. I managed to crawl out of bed, shower myself and pack up. As soon as I got on the bus I just lay there feeling half dead. Everyone else on the bus was in the same way including the driver. I slept a bit before we arrived at our next attraction, the Waitomo Caves. This is another activity I had booked in advance. It involves a mixture of caving and tubing. I had never gone caving before and always wanted to try it out. It's actually not a bad way to get over a hangover! We had to put on wet suits (they literally were wet, and cold). We were taken underground and on a tour through the caves which involved a mixture of walking, crawling and tubing. We got to see tons of glow worms, stalacmites and stalactites. I knew those Geography classes back in secondary school would come in handy one day... There were parts completely in the dark, a bit where you had to jump backwards over a small waterfall into the water holding onto your tube and finally, a waterslide! It was brilliant fun I'd highly recommend it.

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That night we arrived at our hostel at National Park which was in the middle of nowhere so we all got food together, played some cards and had an early night. The next day we headed towards Wellington. There were no major stops on the way but I didn't mind. It was nice to just chill out and enjoy the scenary. The past two days had involved enough action. We got a brief tour once we arrived into the city. It's a really nice place, in fact out of the places I've visited on the North Island I'd be most likely to live in this one. The city is much larger than Auckland but the main CBD is quite compacted so it's very easy to get around. The whole place has a San Francisco vibe to it, from the steep hills to the actual houses. I later found out that the houses had been intentionally designed in a similar way to the ones in San Fran. And Wellington is its sister city - that explains it! Wellington is also the home of film making in New Zealand. They're very proud of Lord of the Rings in New Zealand and rightly so. Peter Jackson paid for a huge statue of a camera on a tripod in the middle of the city and he's investing a lot of money in film making studios here.

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That evening a few of us had dinner and saw the Adjustment Bureau in the cinema with Matt Damon. It was an interesting film and entertaining but wouldn't exactly say it was brilliant. After that a last minute decision to head out clubbing for the night resulted in most of Sunday being written off. I didn't get home until very late so I ended up sleeping well into the afternoon - damn jaeger bombs! I just about managed to do a food shop in the supermarket across the way, get a few things I needed and get my laundry done. That evening I was on my own as the rest of my group were only staying one night. I went back to the cinema and finally saw Black Swan. It's exactly as people described it - good but weird and a bit creepy.

Today a bit of sightseeing was in order so I headed to the Te Papa Museum - this is the largest museum I have ever visited. It's huge! There's all sorts of stuff to see here and considering it's free in it's a bargain. My favourite bits were the simulator rides you could go on and a random retro section which had loads of action figures, dolls and various toys from the 1960s onwards. Check out the pic below of the 1980s part, you can see the Turtles, Ghost Buster and Star Wars action figures! I spent many a year playing with them.

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Tomorrow is an early start as I'm getting the ferry over to the South Island. My first stop is Nelson for two nights.

Posted by mattld 23:56 Archived in New Zealand

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