Compared to the frenzied adventures of the last few days, today was a welcome respite: a travel day from Tongariro National Park to the capital city, Wellington. I find myself missing Mainline Steam every time we traipse through an area I have already been on the steam train… I crane my neck and try to see the train tracks, trestles, and stations. It's also a little bit comforting; things seem familiar.
I woke up this morning with a hugely congested nose and cough… my cold has resurged with a vengeance, likely in reaction to my 20km hike yesterday. As such, I have decided to hang out in Wellington for a few days, taking it easy and trying to get rid of it before continuing on to the South Island on another Stray Bus. Well, somewhat taking it easy… I am going on an all-day Lord of the Rings Movie tour tomorrow (I couldn't resist).
This morning we left National Park Village at 9am, and headed on down to Ohakune, where I had my first Mainline Steam déjà vu experience (though to be fair, we drove through the main street of town, while the train station is on the other side). We saw the Giant Carrot monument ("World's Biggest Hoe" moment!), then continued on to Taihape. Here I had my strongest Mainline Steam déjà vu: we stopped right by the train station! The reason for doing so is it is the location of the Taihape Gumboot Throwing Lane. Yep, here in this town it is a local pastime to see how far one can throw an ordinary gum boot, and they even have a little grassy section of field reserved just for this very purpose. Hoff had us all get off the bus and have a go at it, promising to buy a drink for the guy and girl who could throw it the farthest. There were several hilarious incidents, including Jenny (from the UK) spinning around like a top only to let go at the wrong moment and nail Mike in the face with the toe of the gum boot, and John from Australia(?) winding up for his last attempt at winning the free beer, only to throw it sideways, clearing the fence, and up over the roof of the Stray bus parked beside it to land on the road below. I'm not sure who the winner for the guys was, but I won for the girls! I get to go collect my free beer in a few minutes.
For lunch we stopped in a little town called Bulls, who has capitalized on its somewhat unusual name in a series of groaner puns when naming buildings and services: the information centre is "Inform-a-bull", depositing one's garbage in a rubbish bin is "Respons-i-bull", the Police are the "Const-a-bull"s, the Library is "Read-a-bull"… you get the idea.
When we stopped for diesel just outside of Wellington I realized that two people on the bus were the American couple John and Rachel I met way bay at my orientation meeting in September, and traveled with up in the Bay of Islands! Crazy how people can meet up again like that. John sounds a little bit jaded about their travels so far, however; he spoke disparagingly of the hostel they had been working for in National Park, and he was disgusted with the "cultural experience" at Uncle Boy's marae in Maketu. I didn't say much in response; I am starting to believe that New Zealand is what you make it, and if you approach things as a budget backpacker expecting them to be perfect, you're going to be disappointed.
Now I am situated at Base Backpackers in downtown Wellington, and I will be here for two nights before moving to Downtown Backpackers near the train station… I would much rather be at Downtown, due to its proximity to the ferry terminal, and simply to get out of Base… I am really not a fan of this chain of hostels. I suppose if one is a partier and likes to be near the bars and all the action they're great, but I would rather save my money and stay at a place a bit farther out of town where the floors aren't stained and the bathroom showers don't leak down into the kitchen ceiling (true story).
I'm off to the bar for my free beer… night!