Before my eyes flick open in the morning, I smell eggs. Not scrambled eggs, but old Templeton approved rotten eggs. The day is brilliantly sunny with a temperature in the high 60s. Jana and Holly are still asleep while I eat breakfast on the veranda overlooking main street, the ocean to the left just a block down. I am transported back to Malgrat de Mar in Spain, feeling much the same as I did that morning.
Sitting on the beach in Napier, I can feel the sea spray on my skin. The beach runs as far as my eyes can see in either direction. The ocean sizzles as it scrapes across the thousands of pebbles scattered across the beach. A millisecond after the waves crash, I can feel a cool breeze dance as it comes off the ocean. Again, the weather is perfect. A man is napping a few meters from me, his hat pulled over his eyes. I can see the outline of the NZ coast on either side of me, hugging the Napier coast line. I look for the fins of the Mako sharks that live in these waters, but see none. The water is blue green here, and so beautiful that I wonder how I will ever live away from the ocean after this day.
We stroll through Napier, amazed that its buildings transport us back in time. The ocean runs parallel to Marine Parade, a street that proudly houses a gorgeous amphitheater, a large fountain, and statues of the sirens. Passing a clock maker's shop, I again feel that I was born into the wrong decade. Apple crumble gelato at 10:30 a.m. with Holly, and the day is off to a wonderful start. We again load up our Nissan Sunny for the drive to Rotorua. With Holly behind the wheel, I feel some nerves. My turn driving is next!
Our drive is magic. We climb small mountains of green and stumble upon a waterfall that rivaled all I saw in Tahiti.
Holly pulls off the road for a second. When we open the doors after parking, we hear a roar. Four veins of water pulse through the lush forest, barreling down the mountain side. The shiny black rocks have been worn to soft edged squares, eternally fighting the rushing water that falls towards the valley below. The river to the left is flowing the fastest. I can almost feel a heavier breeze on my left cheek. Like a small child yells for his mom to look his way, this vein begs for attention. The clouds above are grey, soaked with unfallen raindrops. As the rain falls, I see the river run faster, breaking the horizon into pieces. It sounds like heavy static - breathing faster as the throngs of rain pour down onto the horizon. Less than an hour to go to Rotorua!
ROTORUA - in the dark and rain is still lovely. We take a spin through the city center to get to our hostel, The crank, and check in with no problem. When you walk in, you are faced with an enormous climbing wall - the largest on the North Island. Below, there's an intimate movie theater where we watch The Iron Lady. Chocolate and cheetos in hand, it's a good way to spend the night. Shortly after the movie, we head to bed to the sound of rain tinking on the windowsill.
"Should we go left or should we go right?" "Left." One hundred meters down the path, the horizon opens up into an azure lake. We are hiking a mountain recommended in a lesser known guidebook, and not a soul is in sight. Never before have I experienced such a color in nature. The raw earth is white with stains of pink. It oozes under our boots as we squelch down the hillside. We scramble down the mountain, digging our knees into the dirt to keep balance. The stratification of colors - green, white, crystal blue overtakes my eyes. Steam rolls towards the sky in columns, originating from deep inside the Earth's core. Everything is still - an unnatural silence. The birds are quiet, but I still feel them around me. The plants are sodden with dew from the sulphorous steam, and there are plant species I have never seen before. The rocks are streaked with yellow. Holly and I feel the soles of our shoes heat up and decide it's time to go. We clambor up the hill and start our hike up to the Rainbow Mountain Summit. The trail is awash with milky pools, ankle deep in some spots. The fog lays, heavy like a blanket, on the vistas we pass. We have perfectly bad timing for the summit, and we quickly realize we won't see Lake Taupo from here. We hike back down the track, carefully placing our steps on the mud. I turn right back towards the azure lake, wanting another few minutes with this captivating place. The color is just as shocking the second time I see it. Back at the car, we grab our swimsuits and change behind some trees, hoping no trampers walk up on us. We haven't seen a single person in the last two hours. That is a great thing about New Zealand - even near the city, you can find solace in the world of nature - up a lesser known track, next to a volcanic lake, or even on a sailboat with friends. You can always get away.
Togs on, we drive to Kerosene Falls. Guidebook suggested, we bring all of our stuff from the Sunny. Two minutes from the carpark, a couple sits under a small waterfall. After the rain, the water temperature has dropped below the reported 40 degrees celsius, but it still feels warm after that drenching rain. The water moves forcibly, and everything on me is trying to come off. Dirt, mascara, swimsuit - not good! We see some folks walking up from further down the track. "More waterfalls!" they say. We freeze on our walk down. Jana says she is done with the swim, so Holly and I hike down and get back into the warm water. It is hotter here, and so lovely I can't even process it. The frothy white spray collects around us, and the current knocks me back. To balance, I dig my toes into the sand at my feet. The sand an inch down is as hot as a burner, hot enough that I pull my toes out as soon as they touch. Feeling around, I find warm spots and give my hiking feet their first ever waterfall/volcanic hot rock foot soak. Eventually, we have to force ourselves from the water. Pruney and shivering, we race to the car thinking about the hot showers in our very near future. The trunk is full of our wet gear, the front full of our satisfied adventuring spirits.
It's dinner time. We settle into our seats at Brew, a local pub. My Pilsner battered fish and chips don't last long, especially since this place has Heinz Ketchup. This NZ tomato sauce - I just cannot get on board. It's sweet and tastes like rotten tomatoes. Just no. Dinner is slow, and ends with a walk to the Thursday night market. A chocolate crepe, Heaven sent, lasts about three minutes. Three days in, this trip is already rocking my world. Next stop, Taupo.