A German, a Tahitian, a Russian, one Japanese person, three French people, two Americans, and a Brit walk into a 15 year old bus in New Zealand. Sometimes life can be quite strange when you lay it bare…
Kirsten and I had taken a chance and decided to traverse the Coromandel Peninsula with the same tour company (Kiwiana Tours) that we took to Hobbiton. Our previous lukewarm experience wasn’t able to trump the company’s insanely cheap prices (only $180 for the weekend). Even so, I can’t say I was exactly happy to see the same bus driver again. He had been friendly, but a bit off putting during Hobbiton (but that might’ve been the stress and hiccups in the planning). Still he greeted me with a smile and the warmth of his “welcome back” put me somewhat at ease.
We soon settled down for the drive with the others, the early morning sun promising nice weather. As we flitted through violently green, sheep and cow-covered hills, we learned that many of the others were from an English language school in the city. Most of the information came from a bubbly French girl named Candy.
Having already known our driver she became his “co-pilot” for the weekend. She bounced back and forth through the van, helping to get a headcount for all the optional activities so that we can plan our weekend around them. No one wished to take the scenic train in Coromandel Town, so we broke away from the coast to detour through the peninsula to reach the famous Hot Water Beach in time for low tide.
As the van bumped through the gravel-lined country road, dramatically twisting and turning through the steep hills, almost all (save the sleeping ones) sat speechless from the views. Sun glistened upon the leaves of ferns and palms as the New Zealand bush rolled around us, the wild greenery seeming almost fantasy-like in its beauty. Every time I think that I’ve gone numb to the beauty of this country, something like this will appear in my vision and cause my jaw to drop.
When we arrived at the Hot Water Beach, the sun, unhampered by a thick ozone layer (thank you ozone hole), beat down on us as we made our way to the famed area. Low tide had just begun and people were already crowding around the rocks with their shovels. The beach is known for the dig-your-own hot pools as steaming water bubbles just beneath an area of the sandy surface. The German, the Japanese guy, and one of the French got to work digging our pool, as Bern, our British bus driver instructed and I watched.
“This is symbol for international corporation,” Bern joked. “You’ve got these guys working and a Brit is of course supervising and the American is standing there looking pretty.”
I laughed and grinned. Social commentary aside, I soon wandered over to the cool ocean while they continued to work. Following in the French girl’s wake, I hopped through the waves and felt the salt of the sea on my lips. The water in the hot pool ended up being too hot for my blood (the water literally steaming in the afternoon warmth), so I lingered in the waves as Kirsten took a nap in the sun.
Eventually, we had enough of the water and walked back to the van, happy, hungry, and exhausted. Next: Fish and chips in Whitianga for lunch and then a short drive down to the hostel. It was too windy to go kayaking in the ocean, so we split up and Kirsten and I ended up walking to town for ice cream before lingering in the soft sands of the nearby beach.
Dinner was included in the tour, and instead of the promised fish and chips (again), we all decided to pitch in $5 extra for a BBQ. We gathered on the porch and drank beer as Bern and the Tahitian cooked. Conversation mostly centered on language and cultural differences, with Candy and her other French friends pointing out the “clichés” of other cultures (which included Texans riding horses and Russians riding bears). The food took longer than expected but it was still delicious (compliments to Chief Bern), and we ended the night finishing up the alcohol over the cooling potatoes and chicken. Now if only international relations could be this corporative and relaxed…