My Kiwi adventure began on Christmas Day'10 on what I call a 'pseudo international' flight from Sydney to Auckland. With four kilos of carry on luggage and 'Seat Only' tickets on Air New Zealand, this was quite literally the 'lightest' trip I had ever made (I remember carrying more luggage from Chennai to Pondicherry).
Here are six lessons from a near perfect adventure holiday in New Zealand's North Island.
1. Sometimes the journey is more exciting that the destination
Day 1: Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Chandrasekar
Driving from Auckland to the Bay of Islands to go on a cruise to the famous rock, Siddharth and I comfortably, almost implicitly, followed our three year old Garmin. That is, until it began taking us on endless stretches of abandoned and precarious gravel roads in the name of 'avoiding traffic'. Driving at 10kmph, we arrived at our cruise pick up point in bad mood and only two hours late.
I am not sure if I can attribute it to the proper alignment of our stars, but the staff at Awesome NZ were so welcoming and flexible that within minutes we were on our way to the famous 'Hole in the Rock' on a fast boat ride that was incredibly true to its promo line 'adrenalin, fun and adventure'.
2. It is not in the head...or is it?
Day 2: Black water rafting, Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo
When I signed up for the Ruakuri cave adventure I knew one of two things would happen. Either I would overcome claustrophobia or I would die trying. After all, black water rafting, watching limestone formations inside a cave that originated millions of years ago and staring at magical glow worms are straightforward, only from outside the cave.
Yet, as I was floating and tubing on the underground river, leaping on my back into cold and cascading waterfalls, navigating through the seemingly endless and bottomless cave, depending on the flow of the river and the distant voices of the guides to find my way, I discovered, as Siddharth often says, that my fears are in my head.
3. Your biggest weakness can be your biggest strength
Day 3: Hell's Gate Geothermal Park and Wai Ora Sulphur Spa, Rotorua
The first thing you'd notice about Rotorua is the ridiculous smell in the air caused by active thermal activity, erupting geysers and geothermal springs.
To pay no attention to this smell, transform it into a 'natural' experience and make Rotorua an adventure destination is simply sheer genius.
Walking past pools of boiling mud on a gloomy day, I could see why GB Shaw had called this particular geothermal reserve Hell's Gate.
Overlooking the unearthly reserve was the Wai Ora spa that invited us into its warm sulphurous waters promising to refresh, exfoliate, detoxify, revitalize and give us the much sought after wheatish complexion (I am kidding of course). The only annoying part of this truly relaxing experience was the lingering smell of sulphur that continues to haunt our swim wear.
4. What does not kill you only makes you stronger
Day 4: White Water Rafting, Grade 5, Kaituna River, Rotorua
When our complimentary pick up van pulled into the rafting base, Siddharth spotted a bill board that explained how we were about to raft on the highest commercially operated waterfall in the world and he was furious. A mariner himself, he was not remotely faint hearted but the likelihood of damage to his already sore back worried him endlessly, and he would later discover, rather needlessly.
Along with our guide, Sydneysider Catherine and her mate from Brisbane, we set forth on one of the best water adventures of our lives. We rowed hard, struggled with instructions, closed our eyes at every rapid and nearly contributed to the River Rats statistic that 'one in twenty nine rafts overturn'.
Catherine probably got the best bang for the buck when she tumbled into the river while we rafted down the highest rapid. The guide deeply appreciated Siddharth's rowing abilities and sense of balance and all of us came out like conquerors.
5. There is nothing trivial about a Skydiving experience.
Especially not its costs.
Day 5: Nzone Tandem Skydiving, Rotorua
Skydiving in Rotorua makes it to the top three most incredible moments of my life and I have a feeling it will stay there for a long time. Even now when I recall the 'dive' my heart beats faster and I feel nervous.
It was only when the plane chugged 12000 ft into thin air, I realized what an insane idea it was. I recited Hanuman Chalisa and thought of my family. My heart pounded rapidly and I feared I would pee in my suit.
When the time came, I reluctantly jumped from the plane and I swear there are few words to describe the outlandishness of the moment. The entire experience was surreal, up in the air, hanging from a parachute and looking at the the world below, like it was a normal thing to do.
The photos and videos package was almost worth another sky dive, but what the heck, you only do these things once.
6. Never judge a restaurant by its name. Or its location.
Day 6: Satya, South Indian Restaurant, Auckland. Photo by Siddharth Chandrasekar
Yes, I am a food xenophobic. I can't get over the awesomeness of Indian food especially (for lack of a better word) the orgasmic combination of crisp Dosai + Sambhar + Chutney and so I hunt down Indian restaurants wherever I go. Well you can judge me, but that's the truth.
On one of our last evenings in Auckland, Siddharth who sometimes shares my passion for the Dosai chose 'Satya', a South Indian restaurant that also had the rare Uttapam on its menu.
On our way to the restaurant, I wondered about its quality and lack lustre name. No India Palace, Little India, Spices of India, Tandoori Palace....simply Satya. As we pulled up in front of the restaurant, my suspicions were confirmed. Just a block away from Satya was a strip club with a massive A rated bill board. I made a huge fuss about the location and accused Siddharth of being careless. I shut up and acknowledged my narrow mindedness as soon as I tasted the most brilliant Dosai I had had overseas, ever.
So yes, there they are, six lessons from nine days of adventure and I can't wait to explore the famous South Island, NZ. You see, I have mountains to climb and more fears to conquer.