We had to check out at 10am (which seems to be standard across NZ) and for once we made it. Breakfast was going to be nice, healthy muesli but seeing as nobody at the KiwiPaka wanted to serve us we headed off for the Skyline Skyway.
A NZ$20 cable car ride up the hill (it’s not big enough by local standards to be a mountain) got us up to a nice viewpoint with somewhere to eat – toasties all round. We bought three tickets for the luge and the heavens opened. Again.
Just round the corner was a little shooting gallery at NZ$6 a pop. Great way to blow a few minutes and long enough for a blue spot to appear in the clouds. As luck would have it, the “scenic” route was closed for maintenance so we had to start on the intermediate. Usually, as a rule, you have to have your first go of the day on the easy one. We used two of our tickets and (after digging for 10 minutes to find a pair of helmets that fitted) prepared to fling ourselves down a concrete track on flimsy pieces of wheeled plastic.
We then flung ourselves down a concrete track on flimsy pieces of wheeled plastic. And it was fun! The luges are like sledges with wheels underneath and a scooter handle at the front. You sit in them and move the handle back (brake, or more accurately “slow down almost impreceptibly”), middle (neutral i.e. “go”) and forward (park or “pitch forward and break your nose” depending on how fast you’re going when you do it).
The tracks are very much fun with some nice scenery as you go down. OK, I wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery, more on how slippy the concrete was after the recent downpour.
Amazingly, we both made it to the bottom unscathed although Lou did seem to take slightly longer than me. In fairness, I’m slightly more mad and she had the benefit of experience in that she’d been scared witless doing the same track a month earlier. By far the worst bit was the open chair-car ride back up when the rain started, the wind picked up and some muppet seemed to get stuck at the bottom causing us to swing in the icy gale for 5 minutes partway up. Next stop – the toilet, to make full use of the hot-air blowers to defrost our fingers and dry our clothes.
I used the final ticket for a go on the advanced course… and it’s definitely a step up from the intermediate. At one point the course is a definite 1:2 gradient and you pick up speed at an amazing pace. There’s no point in pulling the stick back to brake. At those speeds the braking mechanism would melt.
Annoyingly, it wasn’t until the cable car dropped us off at the bottom that I remembered I wanted to pick up a certificate from the gifty shop. I wasn’t about to pay 20 bucks to get up there to buy one so I guess I’ll have to wait till next time.
Next door to the Skyway is a very pleasant 18-hole minigolf course. Through pouring rain and poor visibility, Lou and I proved that we were both utterly crap at golf with equal massively above-par scores. But at least the scenery was nice in between deluges. And they loaned us a brolly.
A quick trip to the lake was required to get some pictures of the black swans and their cygnets, the geese, the seagulls… And then into the car for the short journey to Taupo where we arrived slightly later than intended. About 5 hours later. Part of the reason for this was a stopoff at the Huka Falls, not far north of Taupo itself. These are part of a magnificent white-water stretch which, surprise surprise, Kiwis find great fun in whacking down in rafts, rubber tyres and kayaks.
Taupo itself is a pleasant place, filled with old people. It’s also fairly unique amongst non-major towns in New Zealand in that I can actually pronounce the name without folding my tongue in three. Maori may be a great tradition and heritage, but the language is somewhat like German with less spitting. Or Welsh without the “hawking” and hatred of the English.
The hostel was a fairly rudimentary affair (wooden floor, dinky TV, thin sheets and what seemed to be icy air pumped in as far as Lou was concerned) with a cracking bar underneath. This was Destination Dinner and, for NZ$9.95 each, we had a mountain of mash, some huge bangers and around 2/3 of a bottle of HP Sauce between us. Also a small beer and a glass of wine. Bargain.
After dinner, Lou checked her mail while I rattled off some more lesson plans for Blue Dragon. I really need to get these emailed… Then downstairs to the bar again for far too much alcohol until they chucked us out so the staff could get some sleep.
I have vague recollections of Lou claiming to beat me at pool on a circular table, though due to the late hour and drinks I cannot vouch for the truth of this so I’m prepared to let it slip. There then followed a 7-or-so-hour period where we fought over the thin sheet and tried to convince our bodies we were getting some sleep. Our bodies weren’t fooled.