A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

glowing poop

horror film plot #2 in the bag

View Studying in Auckland on ctamler's travel map.

we left wanganui bright and early to make our way through winding roads, back country, and national parks to waitomo. it was a 3.5 hour drive but the twists and turns absorbing enough that i didn't offer to let anyone else drive. we listened to the radio (that song about "sweet home alabama," coldplay's "viva la vida," they're everpresent on the radio at the moment...as well as a couple of other songs that are so annoying that we switched stations every time we heard them -- like the one that starts "i hate this part right here"), and discovered that cody thought lambs and sheep were completely different species.

at waitomo we ate the remnants of our food -- the bread zack, cody and i were sharing made some pretty stupid sandwiches. when we went to check in, we discovered they had raised the price of the black abyss tour by about 20nzd sometime in october -- but we must have looked poor and pathetic, because the receptionist gave us a discount. fifty cents less than we originally thought we were going to pay, actually.

we squeezed ourselves into cold, damp wetsuits, learned how to abseil, and then threw ourselves down a hole that dropped many, many meters down into the mouths of the waiting cave monsters below:


while waiting for my turn to abseil, i concocted yet another brilliant movie plot that will rival ghost twin in its rapid climb to the top of the horror film genre. i don't have a title yet, but it involves a "caving company" that is actually being contracted by cave monsters to supply them with a steady supply of human victims to munch on. the monsters need to do this, of course, because they can't leave the cave...daylight kills them.

our time spent spelunking was a wet wild and cold three hours ziplining through pitchblack cave sky twinkling with glowworms, climbing up waterfalls, and getting thrown off of twenty foot ledges into black water on innertubes.



the guides basically delight in keeping you in the dark the whole time as to what's coming next -- partially as a fear management control tool, partially just because they're dicks. but it was funny. of course, they couldn't refrain from making a descent joke or two.

i won the glowworm game, which means i never need feel shame for my incompetence at the skytower game ever again.

cody drove back to auckland and we all passed out -- but not after kirstin sent me to bed with the promise that she was going to take care of directions to karekare for the next morning. the world should note that carefully.

kirstin and i succeeded at waking up, getting to parnell, and leaving the city right on schedule in the morning. cody even elected to come with us, which was to say the least a (pleasant) surprise. then we got onto the northern motorway and drove for about fifteen minutes.

me: "so do you know how long we're supposed to be on the motorway before the next turn?"

kirstin: "no, i didn't write down the distances, really..." pause. "wait, do you not know where you're going?"

"no why would i? you're in charge of directions."

"yeah but you just seemed so sure of yourself."

"well, where are we supposed to be?"

"i dunno -- the northwestern motorway?"

"we're on the northern motorway...there IS no northwestern motorway..."

cody: "is this beach on the west coast or the east coast?"

us: "the west."

cody: "well, we're definitely heading towards the east coast."

the upshot is we turned around and somehow magically ended up on the northwestern motorway despite the fact that there were no signs for it until many kilometers after it had started. and got to karekare beach, a bit late, but still got there, with the weather shitting all over us, black sand stinging our legs in the wind. we wandered up and down the beach at the foot of soaring cliffs. it's right down the street from piha but i liked it even better. really, really beautiful. seems bigger, and more remote. more tracks you can do. if the weather had been better...

but kirstin and i, being the hardcore motherfuckers we are, found a waterfall that fed into a deep, clear pool, and then --

kirstin: "the water's not that cold."

[laughter. pause. i feel the water.]

me: "you know it's really not." pause. "we should probably swim."


"no. seriously. we should."

"you're right. we should get towels from the car..."

"no. we shouldn't. because this is all about the impulsiveness. which we are already clearly losing by talking about it so much. so i really think we should just shut the fuck up and swim."


"yeah ok."

down to our bathing suits in ten seconds, we slipped and stumbled across the mossy, rocky bed of the pool, then swam, tingling with the cold, to touch the rock beneath the rushing falls. we held our heads under the falling stream, leaned against the mossy wet boulders. a family of ducks quacked disapproval, flaunted its waterproof feathers. cody stood on the shore, arms folded.

the air felt warmer when we emerged. the van of tourists at the trailheads staring at us laughing walking in our dripping togs didn't faze us. shit's real.

Posted by ctamler 16:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

trip-dub trip

wellington/wanganui/waitomo (note: all photos taken by sam)

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i don't know why i woke up at 6:30 this morning, unable to go back to sleep. (sleep again. resleep.) a long three days on the road -- gave me energy? made me restless? it's three weeks nearly to the hour until i set foot on home soil again for a while.

we (kirstin, zack, sam, cody, me) jumped on the overlander at the britomart travel center on sunday morning. train travel in europe is so fast-paced, so automated, so commonplace; here, we had to ask three employees before someone could tell us that we didn't need to pick up a ticket, we just had to check in with train staff. sam ended up having to spend most of the 12-hour journey sitting alone, towards the front of the train with her more expensive ticket (the cheap ones had been nearly sold out when we booked). however, there was a sweet "lounge area" at the rear of the train that we made use of for a good hour or possibly more, completely ignoring the "please don't spend more than 20 minutes here so that everyone can have a turn" rule. every train should have a lounge area, a semicircle of benches by a big bay window looking out over what you've just passed.


the ride was beautiful. it takes an hour or two to get out of industrial backyards and grubby suburbs, but once you're in it, new zealand scenery never fails to take breath. everything is green, and rivers and waterfalls spring on you out of nowhere. we spiraled up to the national park and rolled across five viaducts, one of which is "considered to be the largest on the north island." i don't know what it means for a viaduct to be "considered the largest," but it is, in any case.

i sat with zack. zack is a good travel buddy -- the time passes quickly but not in a way that makes you feel you're missing things. a large chunk of train time was devoted to a game he invented which i call "strangers on a train" and which basically involves taking pictures of people you don't know on the train. he has some gems.

i would just like to note before i forget that the exchange rate is going through the roof...you keep thinking it can't get better, but oh, it can, friends, it can. i guess i have my own country to thank for fucking up the global economy.

in wellington, we checked into our hostel and wandered around the city looking for dinner. it was around 9pm on a sunday by this point, the sunday of a holiday weekend no less, and so nearly everything was closed. we wandered past the most eclectic collection of statues and public art i've seen in one small city: scattered throughout wellington are a pirate ship bridge, a giant umbrella,


huge metal slabs with braille of matching size, a writhing fountain that possibly is meant to evoke the silver fern...more, more i can't remember. on the waterfront we finally found a place to sate our hunger with seafood ramen and after stuffing ourselves, stumbled across a fireworks show about to start. i think it was part of diwali. well, usually i am unimpressed by fireworks displays, they seem so random, so lacking in artistry; but this one was beautifully orchestrated -- it was actually a show, not just a random collection of colors and bangs.

monday was a lazy and indecisive day. the beautiful weather just fed into our collective want to wander instead of picking up the car or making a plan of action.


we ate a leisurely breakfast at the abovepictured location, attended by a bitter and lame seagull; happened across a free museum and spent a few hours learning about earthquakes and gondwanaland and nz bush; had a picnic and a nap. it ended up working out for the best in terms of picking up the car, which turned out to be something of a hassle that i don't really feel like going into. the moral of the story is, of course, that nothing is ever actually free.

we finally got on the road, headed to wanganui with no ideas as to where to stay or what to do there. on the way we stopped to get blown about by a stunning and windy view of the tasman sea and to buy fifty-cent ice cream at mcdonald's. in wanganui well after dark, we asked a taxi driver for the cheapest motel around and by some miracle managed to follow his directions to the sports lodge, which ended up (split between the five of us) being cheaper than our hostel and had free hot chocolate to boot. at first we hid zack in the car, thinking they might only have a room for four and we'd need to sneak him in. then we had an awkward encounter with the man at reception who thought we were some other group of people and kept telling us "they'll be right out, i'm sure, although -- well i don't see any movements in there -- but i'm sure they'll be out soon, sorry about that, as soon as you see them come out you can..."

eventually he figured out that our blank stares were actually of complete confusion, not anger.

tuesday morning i woke up early and drove alone up durie hill on the other side of town, listening to old, old songs on the radio, window down to catch the chilly post-sunrise air. at the top of durie hill is a tower, a memorial, with 176 steps that you can climb and look down over wanganui. it was like a castle turret, a beautifully solitary thing, and i felt very alone and able to see everything and peaceful, that feeling where everything inside of you is still and watchful.

later i found a playground: the best i have ever seen. it had:

- a castle with a moat and a train.
- a serpent with swings hanging from loops in its body.
- an octopus with swings hanging from its arms.
- a wide-mouthed whale you could climb inside.
- a water maze.
- humpty-dumpty, the old woman who lived in a shoe's shoe-cum-slide, little miss muffet baby swings, the three little bears.
- a giant pumpkin picnic area.
- an elaborate tree house section with a zipline.

the zipline was clearly made to be worked by at least two people -- one to drag the rope so that the zipliner, standing on the leaping platform, could grab it and pull it close enough to jump onto. i ingeniously beat the system by trapping the rope in some bolts under the leaping platform. but when i leapt, i banged my elbow on the metal crossbar and couldn't feel my hand for ten minutes.

the final leg of the adventure began with my return to the motel. but maybe i'd better have a separate entry for waitomo, because this is getting long, so i'd better stop, folks, right here.

Posted by ctamler 10:27 Archived in New Zealand Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

fire poi

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rebecca, who twirls fire, had mentioned the twice-weekly fire circle: tuesday nights in a park, sundays at mission bay. so last night, kayleigh, her flatmate, kirstin, sam and i ventured out across k'road, beyond to a district i'm not terribly familiar with -- past the "legalize cannabis" bus, where we began to hear strains of music. crest the hill and down in the valley of the park, mostly within a circle of boulders, were dark figures surrounded by whirling balls of flame: fire poi, which apparently originated with the maori in new zealand. there were other fire toys: sticks for juggling, staffs for tossing and twirling, fans for fanning, a hoop for spinning...later, a flaming sword and even a flaming jump rope.

it was really cool to look at. sam took some pictures, and when i acquire one from her, i'll post it. (EDIT: here's one.


sweet, no?)

a chill hippie vibe pervaded the park: spectators snuggled together on blankets, drank beer, drummed, strummed guitar. rebecca spun a couple of times (she does poi), and she was great to watch. she's only been doing it about a year, but she has some quite complicated moves and a certain style to her body while she does them that a lot of the other spinners didn't have. to watch her is to watch a dance with fire.

marc-andre joined us, and eventually, after the evening chill got to us, we left the spinners for the wine cellar on k'road, a place i didn't know existed: down some stairs, underneath thrift stores we visited a few weeks ago. they have a back room for gigs where the seating is all couches and chairs ripped out of automobiles and benches -- a cool, dirty, converted-garage feel. kirstin, marc-andre, and i split a bottle of plum liqueur. with it, the bartender gives you a bowl of ice and a bottle of soda water, and you put a bit of liqueur over ice and top off with the bubbly and it's delicious, tastes like italian soda. two random drunk-but-not-intolerably-so dudes, charlie and chad, came over to make friends with us. we stuffed chad's t-shirts into a pitcher. charlie was talking to kirstin:

"so how long are you here for?"

"um, only about another month, and then i go back to the states."

"oh. wow." pause. "like a soldier."

Posted by ctamler 14:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

der grimm show

wir haben einen tv-show für den deutschkurs gemacht

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our final assignment for german class was to write/perform a skit auf deutsch -- we made this:

personally, i think the shitty quality merely adds to its charm. also, who has mad impromptu skills with imovie hd? that would be me. taught myself. not bad for 3 hours.

Posted by ctamler 16:06 Archived in New Zealand Tagged educational Comments (0)


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too early on saturday morning ingrid, alex, a cranky meghan, sarah, abbie, bayan, dan and i climbed into a musty-smelling chinese van with automatic window shades and an expandable roof compartment. what should have been a 45-minute drive stretched a bit longer thanks to getting lost, but your average kiwi biker is nothing if not friendly and helpful. we found our way to piha beach with no other mishap save rain during the last chunk of the drive dampening our spirits. rain? really? not on our parade.

the rain had stopped by the time we pulled up, although it was still overcast and chilly. we wandered down the black sand beach towards lion rock. black sand is really black. but it is also a different consistency than white sand -- at least, this black sand was: almost like mud, but grainier; it would cling together, and we had a sandball fight or two. we ought to have built a sandcastle, it would've made a killer one.

when the sun came out and hit the sand, it glittered. like those sidewalks that i always used to thrill at finding as a kid, the sparkly fairytale sidewalks. there were parts where the sand was so black that it was purple, in painted-on streaks. it held footprints.

we climbed lion rock, which was once a maori pa (fortified settlement) and gave a nice view of the beach. not many surfers that day in the chill and choppiness, but there was still a class or two; apparently it's great for that sort of thing. alex rented a surfboard and ingrid a boogie board later in the day. before that, though, ingrid, abbie, meghan and i went on a short hike that we found. it wound up and around some low hills, and if you slipped down a little side path you found yourself on this big rock jutting out and overlooking a narrow pass between another rock and the shore. at the narrowest bit there was a series of stone ledges, like giant steps, and the waves would crash into them from behind and then the white foam would tumble down, thickly, so that they seemed covered in snow. it was an incredible sight. my camera is broken and so i couldn't take pictures. but incredible.

the sun was out for a while, though there was still too much breeze for real warmth. some of us lay on the beach, others wandered or played in the water (too cold without a wetsuit). we took jumping pictures, which seem to be meghan's new obsession. i always find them annoying when other people take them, but they are really fun to be in, and to look at if you're in them.


i guess by that logic the above picture will be annoying to everyone and not fun to look at for anyone.

it rained on and off throughout the day, always quite suddenly, so there were several dashes to the car. there were also several excursions to the fish and chips stall, which seemed to be the only place to obtain food for miles around -- oddly, considering piha's supposedly a very popular place in the summer. they had all the requisites: toasties, fish, chips, burgers with beets and eggs on them.

we stayed til around sunset at bayan's impassioned request, because he and ingrid wanted to film for their dance and technology project. unfortunately, sunset was less than spectacular, because as the day wore on the sky became more and more insistently overcast.

we returned home to a frustrating fire alarm that chased us to starbucks for a little while. later, cody and zack came to wellesley, and we played cards with kirstin and sam and went to the viaduct. a late night for all. sunday i lazed and half-heartedly did some homework and wrote a bit. now it's monday morning of our last week of school, oh my.

Posted by ctamler 01:22 Archived in New Zealand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

pink city

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it's breast cancer awareness month. they've lit up the skytower for the occasion:


(i didn't take that picture, by the way.)

the other night on the way to parnell, kirstin and i encountered hordes of pink-clad people. most of them, actually, were dressed as pink fairies. we witnessed one catch her wing on a street lamp. we'd forgotten about bca month, so we asked a pack of fairies (flock of fairies? gaggle of fairies? ring of fairies?) what they were doing. some bca 5k walk in the domain.

we passed through the domain. floodlights all gelled pink. fairies flitting to and fro. costume contest. a pink inflatable arch. pink fireworks. we lugged our case of steinlager and i wished i was doing something. my aunt just found out she has breast cancer. i sent her a card today. it seems weak, like watery tea. they caught it early, so fingers crossed, she'll be ok.

Posted by ctamler 19:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

by special request

dedicated to charles franklin, who complained

all seasons in one day
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things have been slow on the travel front since mid-semester break, thanks to school, but the weather's improving and people's moods (mine included) with it, which has made auckland a more pleasant place to be. last weekend cody, kirstin and i did make a trip to ruapehu for skiing and boarding, but unfortunately, the weather wasn't in a friendly mood. saturday we had to quit after lunch because we could no longer see, and sunday the pouring rain meant all the lifts were closed. we had a good time at the uasc ski lodge with other uni students, though, and learned some excellent new circle of death rules, including:

1. boxhead.
2. the game card.
3. the forehead-on-the-table-if-you-swear rule.
4. paddling.
5. a modification of "four floor."

additionally, there was a game involving dice and cups which was also choice.

my lingering illness has made the last week and a half not quite as excellent as it's had the potential to be, but i think i am finally kicking it in the proverbial balls.

the weekend prior to the ski trip (i'm jumping all over the place here, and you will just have to deal with it), i went to work with prayas, an indian theatre group, in mt. albert. i'd seen them perform in an original production jointly created with another local group, called our street, a few weeks ago; again, had the experience that i was learning far more about local culture and issues in that hour and a half of theatre than in almost all the rest of my time here put together. the piece was set on a particular street that most of the people in the cast live on or are very familiar with, and there were a lot of projections showing the street, characters based on people who live on the street, and so on. the big, boisterous audience clearly had a large contingent of non-regular theatregoers, family and friends of the big, boisterous cast, and it was absolutely charming to watch them get excited to recognize themselves and the place they call home up on the stage.

i sent one of the organizers an email afterwards, not expecting anything to come from it, but nearly a month after the show i got a call from sudeepta, prayas' secretary, asking if i wanted to come in and volunteer with them. so, that was my sunday september 28: five hours with prayas.


they are writing a new play, based on stories from a book by an indian man who moved to canada, to which they are adding their own experiences as immigrants to new zealand. this was their first meeting to start to collect some of those stories, and though it was more sparsely attended than they'd hoped, the stories were fascinating to listen to. makes you want to visit india -- someplace noisy, dirty, friendly; someplace full of family, where you squeeze twelve people into a tiny toyota and drive down the street blasting your horn. where the food and the smells and sounds are strong, rich, and bright. the antithesis of empty little new zealand: huge, jam-packed india, with a sour note of social and gender discrimination, beamed on by bollywood's shimmery lipsticked mouth. these people are homesick for india in a way that can never be cured, because they themselves will tell you that they can never really go back -- only as a visitor. and you feel their homesickness and even begin to internalize it, make it your own, want to share in it.

or maybe it is just how much i miss pittsburgh peeking through.

for the last two hours of the workshop, auckland playback theatre came in and performed. cool to see, because i've never gotten to experience playback in action before. i left with an invitation to come back to the next meeting (tomorrow), the suggestion that i might be able to help them with the writing of the play before i leave, and the promise that the next meeting would have many more people with "lots of interesting boys" (mainly a comment on how female-dominated the group was on the 28th).

other than that, my life's been mostly about german, writing essays, and trying to plan a trip back to the south island. by the bye, i discovered this wonderful website that's enabled kirstin, zack and i to grab a free car for a week to drive around the south island and back to auckland. it seems like it's legit. i'll report back on that once the trip's successfully over (scheduled for november 4-12).

oh, and last night, we had our farewell ies meeting and dinner. gael warned us all about reverse culture shock and showed us some pictures of our first days here. i'm not worried about reverse culture shock (which i am now choosing to hip-ly abbreviate "rcs"). i've been places much more unlike the states (mongolia, anyone?) and didn't experience it. in fact i don't think i've experienced regular culture shock here, either. i think you have to just expect the culture to be different, and then there's no real "shock" to have. i'm more concerned about what everyone's lives have become, how i fit back into that six and a half months later. many friends have been great about keeping in touch. but even with the ones who're good, i've missed more than half a year of day to day experiences, and that is the kind of thing you can't remedy, should it be something that seems to need remedy.

it's almost time for life in pittsburgh to end for me, anyway, so maybe it's fine if i don't really fit back in to things easily. maybe it will make me more ready to leave at the end of next summer. it's not a good thing to feel too settled.

dinner was incredible: denise and i split appetizer (or entrée, in weird nz terms) and dessert, which meant crumbed mushrooms and pavlova, a very nz dessert and delicious, made of egg white on top of cream -- a melt-in-your-mouth meringue. for my main i had kumara gnocchi, which was basically one of the best things i've ever eaten.

afterwards i let denise, charlie, dbo and laurie take my ih virginity with a game of mafia (including a pile of other ih people). then a night that looked like it might be going to fizzle disappointingly ended up panning out: we actually made it to a sake bar just off of customs, where we broke five glasses doing makeshift sake bombs. hilarious. the first couple of rounds we tried to do them the "real" way, by laying chopsticks over the beer glasses and balancing the sake shots on them, then chanting and banging the table to make the sake shots fall in (which is how the glasses kept breaking). this didn't work particularly well as the sake shots kept falling in of their own accord, before we were ready, and you would have to chug the thing without sufficient mental preparation. this was, i repeat, hilarious.

it was a good night that ended up with us laughing our asses off at this video, still one of my all-time favorites:

in dbo's room; i passed out on his bed and later was transferred to brian's extra bed. so i didn't go to german this morning, following my usual trend of not skipping classes until the final weeks of a given semester, and then skipping. a lot.

i'll bring it all back home with a quote from last night: this is what happens when you say you're going to lick a butt and you don't lick a butt.

Posted by ctamler 20:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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