Spine of the Fish  Days 33 & 34: hanging out with the tourists

Sometimes a listicle is all that’s needed for an accurate portrayal of life.

Double zero days in Taupo


Two days in a wet tourist town can only mean two things – sorting out our stuff and catching up on the blog. While I had the glamourous job of sitting in the Taupo Library uploading photos and stories, Fiona got to spend endless hours back at the backpackers doing such glamorous things as: laundry, food packing, boot drying, gear repair, battery recharging and post restante organising.

Wet tourist towns can be bit grim and dull so I thought I’d give you a rundown of it and the trip so far in place of an actual story.

A review of Taupo’s high and lowlights:

X Base Backpackers
We walked from almost complete isolation into a large building full of jet-setting teenagers. The bedroom was small and the bathroom big. We stunk out the room with our festering socks and boots and found that an upturned ironing board makes a great clothes horse.

The industrial grade laundry facilities were spot on but the commercial-grade kitchen that had no matches for the cookers and no plugs for the sinks was barely a match for most backcountry huts. We expected to contract Norovirus every time we ate there.

Lowlight: watching a young English lad attempt to heat a tin of spaghetti in a microwave while the spaghetti was still in its tin.

Highlight: a complimentary drink voucher for each of us followed by four dollar plastic ‘glasses’ of wine in the bar while Whitney Houston warbled on the small giant screen.

Rating: 5 stars.
Comment: just what we needed.

The Taupo Public Library:
Like all tourist centres Taupo’s library computers were a major drawcard for backpackers. Unlike the affluent tourist centres of the South Island, tourists shared the digital booking system with the town’s less wealthy who had Social Welfare letters to write, legal battles to fight and problems with landlords to sort out. The twelve or so hours I spent in there sorting out photos and stories for this blog were an interesting insight into how a small town works.

Rating: 5 stars
Comment: libraries may be less and less about books, but they are still a vital part of any small or large town or city.

The people of Taupo:
We pretty much shut down once we got to town. Apart from visiting a couple of friends we cut ourselves off from strangers in a way that hasn’t happened in any of the huts or on any of the tracks we’ve walked in the past few weeks.

Rating: Possibly 5 stars…we never really got to find out.

Pak n Save:
We couldn’t find the Twisties and left quickly without buying wine when some dude walked into the place in a full face mask and hoodie.

The veggies were great and the cheap ‘ugly’ apples were even better.

Rating: 5 cheap stars
Comment: I had been looking forward to those Twisties since Ballard Hut and was seriously tempted to downgrade PNS to zero stars but I will get some when we reach Whakatane.

Ghost in the Shell:
The best cure for coping with a sudden re-entry into civilisation is a sci-fi movie. Usually we have to put up with the latest Star Trek yawnfest. This time we were treated to the wonderful Ghost in the Shell. Scarlett Johansson plays a robot warrior with a human brain. Her perfect face and clichéd body are ideally suited as something that’s designed and engineered to be the embodiment of most deadly weapon ever invented. Obviously. Her slightly jerky robot movements could’ve been great acting, bad acting, well choreographed CGI or bad CGI…we couldn’t tell but she seemed pretty good to us.

The art direction was a spot-on reboot of Blade Runner-grime set in the urban decay of a futuristic Hong Kong/Tokyo/Shanghai.

SPOILER ALERT! The only soppy love interest was a moving scene between mother and daughter and the action never outlived its welcome.

At two hours and five minutes it wasn’t too long or too short.

Rating: 5 stars
Comment: Go see it…it’s good.

Replete Cafe:
When you know a place is good why change it? We had several cups of nice, strong and hot coffee there over our two days in Taupo. We also treated ourselves to a breakfast and a number of cakes.

The first cakes we shared – a custard square and some kind of double chocolate slice – nearly put us in a coma. We’d been without sugar for about three weeks and our bodies went into shock as we left the cafe the afternoon we arrived in town. We were going to Pak N Save to buy Twisties and wine. No wonder we didn’t succeed…we were off our chops as we walked the plentiful aisles.

The cafe staff were great and the collection of old White’s tourist photographs is a good way to decorate a cafe in a tourist town. The homage to photographer Ans Westra is also a nice touch.  

Rating: 5 stars
Comment: mmmmmm….cakes and coffee.

To celebrate one month on the ‘road’ we thought a small list of best and worst gear may be of interest.

Anthony’s Kathmandu tramping socks:
Didn’t make it through the Tararua before his toenails tore them to shreds.

Rating: 2 stars
Comment: good for hut slippers.

Fiona’s Macpac Hyland Top – 50% Merino 50% Polyester:
Not too hot and good for hiking in drizzle. Not too stinky and dries quickly in front of a hut fire.

Rating: 4 stars
Comment: would get four and a half stars if it wasn’t such a dull grey colour.

Anthony’s Columbus red check polymumblefiber shirt:

Hikers always try to go light…this is why we usually only carry one piece of each type of clothing (except grundies). This is generally why hikers also stink.

The reason fake fibre casualwear shirts never made it out of the offices of the seventies was that they were a toxic hotbed of pong. Fake fibre tramping shirts should be dumped into the same clothes basket of history. I’m pretty sure the hunters of the Kaweka were unsuccessful while we were there because I was making my way through the area wearing the good looking bio-hazard of a shirt. Boiling it up at Kiwi Saddle Hut helped for a couple of days…but it was discarded in Taupo and Fiona took me shopping for a Merino shirt. We’ll see how it fares with the same non-stop wearing.

Rating: 0 stars

Comment: it’s best I leave it at that.

Fiona’s Injinji Toe Socks:
Still going strong at Taupo. They seem to keep the blisters at bay, but require patience to put on in the morning. Only once has she managed to place her toes into their individual compartments on the first try.

Rating: 3 stars
Comment: Not a bad pair of socks. Don’t pay retail though.

Gurney Goo, made by adventure racer Steve Gurney:
After our foot pruning episode on Burttons Track we’ve learnt to put this stuff on when we know we’ll have a long spell of wet feet. It works! But we supplement it at the end of the day with our more natural and nice Kereru skin cream.

Rating: 4 stars
Comment: We wish it didn’t have silicon in it.

Anthony’s Sport Kilt:
Made from quick drying fabric with a velcro belt it’s ideal for keeping cool in the heat of a long day. Also ideal for dealing with the extreme weight loss of hiking as it has no buckles, buttons or zips to tighten. Also ideal for making friends in a pub.

Rating: 4 stars
Comment: I think I’d like a nice merino one for winter.

Batteries:
What a nightmare. I carry two 10,000ma battery packs. One failed and only managed to do 2 phone charges and a camera battery charge. This meant that our three week trip through the Ruahine was spoiled slightly for me by rationed writing time on my phone and less walking music than I would’ve liked.

Two replacement and probably fake Samsung phone batteries drained randomly and one even recharged a helpful school girl’s battery pack for her. I won’t name the brand of battery pack that failed as it could’ve been my fault…but I’Il be testing it in the second part of the journey to find out.

We’ve investigated solar chargers…but it’s never sunny enough in the mountains, and even our tests in good weather seemed to suggest that they didn’t have enough grunt to charge a phone properly.

General Rating: 3 stars

Comment: We couldn’t have done what we did without them, but the promised quality is not there. My quite modern and really good Samsung phone is about to become redundant because Samsung doesn’t supply reliable replacement batteries. My next phone purchase will be based on future-proofing a battery supply.

Post Restante:

The ability to send parcels ahead to post offices is a leftover from the old days and is therefore a kind of miracle. Post office workers never seem to know what it is but once they figure it out it works like a dream.

Rating: 6 stars.

Comment: In a modern world the fact this this system still exists is a miracle.



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