Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blues vs. Hurricanes — First Rugby Game

There’s two main rugby leagues that involve New Zealand. Super 15 rugby is union rugby, which has a distinct style and different set of rules than rugby league. Field position is key, and there’s a lot of kicking of the rugby ball.

The Auckland team, known as the Blues, is loaded with World Cup players, but the team has been devastated by injuries and depleted by suspensions.

The other league is known as the National Rugby League. They play league rugby, which is more like football and slightly more fast-paced. I prefer it even though games are at weird times since teams come from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

Lastly, there’s the national team — the All-Backs — which scrimmage late in the year.

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed in how little cheering there was at the Blues game. Some of the fans knew their team sucked and pretty much showed up at the stadium dejected. Not even free giant flags were enough to cheer them up. One lady sitting next to me even cheered for the Hurricanes when they made great plays. It was similar to going to a mid-week Padres’ game. About 20,000 people only cheering when big things happen. There’s a lot more gasping than most other sports as spectators brace for big hits. The atmosphere at Eden Park was definitely more subdued than at most American football stadiums, which are often packed with 70,000 people or more.

New Zealand Experiences Rankings

1. Waitomo Caves — tubing

2. Ice climbing at Fox Glacier

3. Scrambling up Mount Doom (aka the active volcano known as Mt. Ngauruhoe)

4. Nevis bunjy jump

5. White-water rafting in Rotorua over a 21-foot waterfall

6. Seeing yellow-eyed penguins in the wild at Nugget Point

7. The beach at Cape Reinga

8. Snowboarding at Mt. Hutt near Christchurch

9. Abel Tasman National Park

10. Round the Bays fun run

11. My birthday eve

12. Milford Sound

13. Hot Water Beach

14. Murawai (black sand) and Piha beaches

15. Hiking/running in the rain at Paihia

16. Te Papa — New Zealand’s national museum

17. Fresh fruit/ice cream

18. Learning how to play touch rugby/Aussie Rules

19. Wanaka, its fall colors and beautiful view of the stars

20. Watching horse races

21. Learning the haka

22. Running a half-marathon around Mount Manganui

23. Going to an All Blacks test match

24. Hanging in the gypsy caravans

25. Doing group projects with people around the world

26. Zorbing

27. Watching my first rugby game in person


In Australia

1. Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

2. Seeing koalas at a sanctuary

3. Petting a kangaroo

4. Being scared of being eaten by a wild pig/seeing cassowaries in the wild at Daintree National Forest

5. Exotic fruit tasting

6. Being in the clouds at Blue Mountains

What’s The Food Like In New Zealand?

Kiwis love their grilled sausages. They squeeze them into one or two slices of white bread — with or without condiments — and call it a meal.

For us vegetarians, most eateries have options that fit our needs. There’s lot of falafels, burgers and sandwiches. Tofu certainly isn’t as huge here as it is in California.

Many restaurants seem to blend in different ethnic flavors. So when you get a burrito, it kind of tastes like a dosa. But Mexican places are few and far in between. That’s the biggest downfall of the island. Most nationwide American fast-food chains are here, except for Papa John’s, Round Table and anything Mexican.

Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Seth Kugel did a great job of summing up some of the differences between America and New Zealand.

Climbing Mount Doom

Sometimes it’s better if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Maybe that’s way the ubiquitous activities of skydiving and bungee jumping don’t seem as exciting as they should be.

When I saw three hikers climbing up Mt. Ngauruhoe off to the side of what looked like should be the path, I thought they were goofing off. As we ventured up ourselves what is set as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies, I realized I had miscalculated about the group ahead of us. You had to, for the most part, forge your own way up the mountain. Clinging to a rock here and rock there. Pushing off a boulder that would suddenly give way and clawing through volcanic pebbles with your fingers.

Mittens that I had been gifted during band in high school finally ripped in a couple of finger spots after about six years of service. But the combination of gale-force winds, near-freezing temperatures and encircling cloudy mist kept me fairly clean. The ascent was probably close to 15 degrees straight up the mountain.

Near the top, we couldn’t feel our faces. A blind touch-test would have revealed no difference between a rock and an ice cube. There were definitely a couple of times on the way up that I wondered whether a rescue helicopter would be able to get to me before I froze if I got blown away by the gusts, slipped down the mountain or couldn’t figure out how to get down.

Sadly, the clouds prevented us from seeing into the active volcanic crater. Maybe, I’ll get the chance in Hawaii someday.

The way down was just slipping, sliding, skating and surfing down the rocky slope. Thank god for the boots we rented. They were quite the beasts.

The group of three ahead of us figured out how to get down the same way as coming up, but we somehow veered way off to the side. That allowed us to shortcut the main crossing path, which helped us buy us more time. It also meant we didn’t get to hold very many rocks to take breaks on the way down.

The rest of those crossing was pleasant, but it just could not match up with Nguaruhoe. The emerald lakes were nice. The sunny views of nearby lakes were sweet. And the giant lake that appeared out of nowhere as the clouds here was crazy. But that climb up the mountain was so freaky that it will be hard to forget. Just remember, there’s still more uphill after you finish the big climb some 7,500 feet into the sky.

My only regret is not stopping at the river that skirts along the last two miles of the track. I wish I could have dunked my feet in that gushing flow of freezing water.

The Business of Mountain Shuttles

We missed our shuttle back to town from the end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing by less than 10 minutes. We had paid $30 in the morning for the full round trip ride. A one-way ride costs $25.

The morning bus driver for the Plateau Lodge Shuttle had told us to call the company late in the day to give them an update on our location. Cell service was near impossible to find on the mountain. Only when we reached the end of the track did we have a clear signal. The bus driver had given us the impression that cell signal was available all the way through. Knock one on them.

So to come back out to pick us up was going to cost $25 a head. We tried hitchhiking, but all five cars in the parking lot seemed to be headed the other way. Luckily, a friend’s boyfriend had come up with his car. They came back to pick us up, and we gave him $7 a head for gas.

The next morning, I busted out my best Indian haggling skills to see if I could be refunded for the portion of service we didn’t use. The wife of the shuttle company’s manager said I must be really hard-pressed for money if I was essentially trying to make the argument that a sandwich shop should give me my money back because I didn’t end up eating half my sandwich.

While my effort clearly fell flat, I did pick up a few tidbits. The driver is paid $20 an hour for about five to six hours of work at least a day. That comes out to about $3,000 a month.

The shuttle company gets passengers mostly through referrals from the local hostels. He has to give back a 20 percent commission to those hostels. So that’s $6 off a $30 fare. A 15 percent goods and services tax takes away another $4. So the company basically does not make money until the third passenger off the day, accounting for two hours of pay for the driver.

The manager also made the argument that he charges $5 less than the other operators in the area, keeping him in a precarious position. If you end up doing the crossing, just be sure to be prepared to keep your shuttle company happy in the morning. And on your way back, you should find signal at the Katehai Hut. Make a call from there.