Thursday, December 6, 2007

Black Water, White Water

Black Water Tubing:

The first stop on the bus was a town called Waitomo that has caves that you can wade and inner-tube through. The trip lasts about 2 hours. (I have the price in my notes somewhere.)

To tube you need the right attire. My outfit consisted of the following:
- crash helmet with headlamp
- loose fitting wet suit pants, tight fitting wet suit jacket
- wet suit booties
- white ankle high wellie-style boots

- Cold Water: you spend half the time in the cave in water up to your chest that is about 40 degrees farenheit. I was shaking about halfway through.
- Glow worms: These are actually fly maggots that glow in the dark.
- 5-foot backwards drop off: You're at the top of a small waterfall and you jump off, backwards.
- 10-foot slide with rocks all around. A little hairy.

Then we arrived in a town called Rotorua, where I would spend the next two nights. My hostel was called Treks. (2 nights for $100). I booked some events for the following day: White water rafting (about $65) in the morning at 8:00 and Maori dinner show, plus a nature tour of nocturnal animals (together for the low price of about $72.)

Later that evening, I was in the mood to socialize. After dinner I went looking for a bar with some people. Most places were empty except for an open mic night costing $5 at the door -- no way. Around the corner was small bar called Scotty's. The bartender was playing classic rock music from the '60s and '70s. Sitting at the bar was a friendly, elderly tourist couple. Next to them was the winner of the Neil Young look-alike contest. He had long gray hair, a leather jacket. We talked about old bands for about 1.5 hours.

Next I went to a bar with all my backpacker contemporaries. The crowd was a little too young for me. I approached a young woman with whom I had sat with during our lunch stop earlier during the day. She had no use for me. I circled the bar aimlessly for another 5 minutes and left. I went home to read my new book, a novel called "Apathy." The light in my room didn't work very well. I remembered the headlamps from black water tubing. I rummaged through my knapsack and found my camping headlamp. I strapped it to my bald head and read. I fell asleep at around 2:00.

White Water Rafting

Six hours later, I was on the shuttle bus to the white water rafting site on the Kaituna river. (tour is run by a company called Raftabout.) The rapids were rated level 5, the scariest level offered commercially. (the river is really only level 3 but it includes what the rafting company claims is a 21-foot waterfall. The water fall is more like 12-feet high.)

The outfit:
- baggy, cold, wet wetsuit pants
- wetsuit booties
- fleecey top that keeps you warm but gets wet
- helmet
- life jacket

Then we got some preliminary instruction, including
How to go over a waterfall:
- get down in raft (normally you ride sitting on the side and paddling)
- hold a rope on the outside of the raft with your paddle hand
- grab a rope on the bottom of the boat
- put your chin down so it doesn't whack the helmet of the person in front of you.
- if you fall in, assume a tuck position and you will pop to the surface.

As we approached the waterfall, our guide asked if anyone was too afraid and wanted to get out of the boat and hike instead; we would pick them up later. He referred to this form of pussing out as "taking the Aussie trek." (New Zealanders have a little brother complex when it comes to Australia. They are always taking little jabs at them.)

Nobody got out of the boat, so it was time to go over the waterfall. We rested on the side of the waterfall and watched the boat ahead of us disappear over the waterfall. They came out just fine. Piece of cake.

Unfortunately, from where were were, you couldn't really see how high it was. We paddled up to the edge and our guide told us to assume the position. The last thing I remember is our raft heading straight down, completely vertical. The raft plunged under water and were all completely submerged. Then the raft surfaced as it's supposed to, but some roiling water on our right side flipped the boat over and tossed us all into the water. I tucked and popped to the surface in time to see our guide flipping the boat over and onto my head. Now I was trapped under the boat. I started to panic but was able to swim out from under the boat. The guide grabbed me by the lapels of my life jacket and lifted me into the boat.

We were all in our raft just in time to see the folks behind us get flipped. One girl (blond, cute, too young for me) emerged from the water with a bloody lip. She looked partially in shock, as if she had just been in a car accident. One of the guides carted her off and we never saw her again. The rest of the rafting was pretty dull. I was home by noon.

I went for lunch at a cute place called the Fat Dog Cafe. With all the nice wood and healthy menu, it reminded me of a place you might find in Burlington, Vermont.