The kindness of strangers

Day 5 – There were a bunch of different titles I toyed with for this post. Sauron Strikes Back (yes, a crossbreed of the Fantasy/SciFi nerd in me). The Eye of the Storm. Party Pooper, Sauron. They can’t all be winners. Rain all over my parade. Even CURSE YOU ELTON JOHN! (I’ll get to that later.) But the one that captures the day best is the one that stuck. Because even though it was a day that dipped far below my original expectations, there were bright beacons of light and crazy fun, and any blights on the day were soothed by a simple but miraculous thing – the kindness of a stranger. 

The day was weird from the get-go. Is it my birthday today? Is it not? Technically it is… or is it? It’s the 20th here but I was born in London so… I’ll celebrate today! I’ll celebrate today? Who cares it’s just me anyway. Wait, I care slightly… oh just get on with it. I decided, in the end, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!! First stop – take in as much of Lake Taupo as you can before ditching to head to next BIG stop of Middle Earth , none other than Mount Doom! Muhahahaha.

My drive to Taupo from Waitomo the night before hadn’t gone so well. I was super tired, and arrived in Taupo around 9ish. The sun had set at like 8:45pm, and I started getting panicky because driving in the dark in an unknown place is scary. I also didn’t have a hotel booked for the night which meant hopping around until I found suitable accommodations. The GPS decided to pitch in on the fun, and kept misdirecting me to isolated dead end alleys and other places that I’m sure are perfectly lovely in the daytime, but struck terror in my heart under the guise of night. This is all to say, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Taupo when I arrived that night. Then when I woke up to an overcast and wet day, my hopes remained pretty grim.

Lake Taupo, on paper, is pretty cool. It’s supposed to be as big or bigger than Singapore. Looking at it feels more like looking at the ocean than a lake, which all the Minnesotans out there can probably relate to. The town of Taupo felt like a small fishing/ocean town. But, I dunno. Not in a good way.

Anyhow, I looked at the lake. Yay. Lake. Could be amazing with sunshine, but with the extremely limited visibility it was just like looking out to a stormy sea, but less cool than that sounds. I wasn’t feeling Lake Taupo for some reason. I just wasn’t. So I went to check out another attraction that had piqued my interest – the Huka Falls.

Huka is Maori for foam. Which is very apt, as these powerful falls produce a lot of it. They dump almost 60,000 gallons of water per second. That is no joke, and this video might give you a taste of the fall’s gnarly power. Btw in the video I’m saying “fast” and then screaming like a little child. Standing too close to the railing made me feel all queasy.

So the falls were pretty sweet actually, and I was glad for the trip to Taupo if only to have had a quick stop there. I decided I also wanted to take a peak a the Craters of the Moon, another volcanic/thermal area but sadly they weren’t open yet and I was itching to get to the Tongariro pass, fancy Maori for Mt Doom, before 10am so I’d could complete the whole 7-9 hour hike well before sunset. So skipped the craters and left for the evilest place on Middle Earth.

I stopped to gas up at a petrol station in Lake Taupo, and as I was going to prepay the pump, some dude walks by and says something to me that I don’t hear, so I duly ignore. To which his response is, “smile.” For whatever reason, this immediately dug under my skin in a very visceral way. I felt the hot sting of tears in my eyes and the lump we all know too well firmly lodged in my throat. This is not the first time some idiot has told me to smile. This is not the first time I’ve explored ideas as to why men think it’s ok to tell women, complete strangers on the street, how they should comport themselves in public. I have many thoughts around all this. They’re well-formed at this point. The reason, I think, I reacted so strongly to his bait is that for that brief moment, the spell was broken. I’ve been caught up in a trance here in New Zealand. It has been a – and I know I overuse this word but it’s just so accurate – magical journey of adventure and testing boundaries and immersing myself in the very best this world has to offer. Magic. Simply magic. And this guy, with his one word carelessly thrown at me, reminded me that even in the most magical of lands, there are people, and people are deeply flawed. He reminded me that these flawed people have complicated views of other people, and that no matter where you are, you cannot escape the misogyny and prejudice that has been centuries in the making. Sobering was that one word, “smile.” And I don’t want to be sober. I want to be drunk on this country and this experience. And on NZ microbrews. It sucked. It was a crappy moment. But I moved on, as we all do.

Angry 90s music was a soothing balm to my grrr. Plus I was on my way to Mt. Doom so honey badger don’t give a damn. But there was the rain… the rain hadn’t stopped since I left my hotel room that morning, and it seemed to just be getting worse and worse the closer I got to my destination. My fears were confirmed upon arriving at the Tongariro Park information center. Not only were they not running any shuttles back from the hike, a very clear sign that you should not be up there, but the forecast for the next few days only got worse. Gale-force winds and ceaseless rain worse.  Sauron, you evil piece of crap. I don’t even have the one ring, stupid jerk. UGH. Men.

No Mt. Doom for me. It wasn’t in the cards. Fine with me because now I HAVE to come back, and COME BACK I WILL, YA HEAR SAURON!?

Back to the car. I could either go straight to Wellington, a 4-ish hour drive and just chill there for the day, or I could scope out some adventure. I set you up there, so you know which one I chose. Gravity Canyon would be my next destination, to either bungy, canyon swing, or fox fly. One hour later, I’m at Gravity Canyon aaaaand no jump-master in for the day, so fox fly is the only option. Flying Fox is like a zipline but on a huge scale and much steeper incline.

Here, I shall let this video I put together do the talking for me. It was scary, it was fun, it was awesome.

Flying fox complete, spirits were high and it was time to head down to Wellington. Listened to some good jams on the way there. Arrived just in time for rush hour traffic, and by that point, end of the day doldroms had started to set in. No Mt. Doom. That was important. I so wanted to see Mt. Doom. And now there’s traffic, and so much rain. Endless rain. Can’t even see what Wellington actually looks like with all this rain.

I drove my whiney self to the B&B I had picked for the night. As usual, had no idea if they had availability. Figured I’d check and if not move on to the next spot. Well… here’s where the discarded Elton John title comes into play. As luck would have it, Elton John is playing in Wellington this weekend. What a grrreeeaaat guy. But what that means is that Wellington is overflowing with people and that there is nowhere to stay in the city which has, as the B&B manager informs me, been booked for weeks. Now, I’m sure I could have looked around and found something, but I’d reached the end of my rope. I was exhausted. I was sad. I was still pissed at Sauron. And that’s when an angel named Angela jumped in. She’s the wife and co-manager of the B&B, and she said, “you know what? You can stay in the spare room in our house which is right next door.” She went to fix up the room. She didn’t let me pay them a single dime despite my vehement protests. She showed me how to use the TV, and gave me a kettle for tea in the morning. She was her namesake – an angel in my time of need. Jk jk that was weird. Truly though, she was just a warm, kind person lending a hand. For the second time today, tears pricked my eyes ever so slightly. Sometimes people let you down, and sometimes people surprise you when you least expect it by being nothing short of wonderful.

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