I'm writing from the lounge of the Tiki Lodge, a "backpacker's" in Taupo, New Zealand. We're not supposed to be here. I mean, we've paid for a room, and everything, but this was not the PLAN. The PLAN was to fetch Fiona and Finley from school at three o'clock this afternoon, drive 2 hours to Taupo, eat dinner, then drive 2 hours to Napier, where we'd overnight at my flatmate's colleague's home (free lodging). The premise for this road trip is seeing Lionel Richie in concert in Napier.
Glitch #1: My GPS crapped out 2 weeks ago. It's been sent to a shop (possibly in Antarctica) for repairs. I was hooked on that device like a baby's hooked to his mama. GPS, tell me where to go, and I'll follow ("At the roundabout, take the second exit..."). Until she blacked out. I was forced, against my will, to buy a map. The paper kind you can't refold after you've undone it. The mall trip added another 20 minutes to our journey. Cha-ching...More wasted time.
I googled directions to our destination and set out, map in lap. The directions say Route 29, but the sign says Tauranga/Auckland. Is that right? Maybe I should pull over to consult my $8 map. Nothin' doin': the bridge is a mile long, and there's nowhere to pull off. 2 roundabouts later, I'm back in Mount Maunganui near the mall, where we started. Add another 20 minutes to our journey. Cha-ching...
Glitch #2: Me. I make the executive decision to go back EXACTLY WHERE WE JUST CAME FROM. I'm a teeny bit angry with the electronics store policy prohibiting a swap of the GPS I bought a month ago for a new one. Those people are seriously wasting my time. Finally, we hit Route 36. Whew...the right road. Then the rain starts. The kind of gully washer that forces you to crank windshield wipers full blast. Despite the downpour and the classic Kiwi twisty-turny road (they have the audacity to call it a highway here), a semi truck is nearly sitting on the back of my itty-bitty '86 Honda hatchback. The truck's lights flicker. Are they flashing? Does this guy really want to pass in this rain, on this road? 2 minutes later, the semi overtakes me on a curve. It's still bucketing rain. I want out, and we have at least 3 and-a-half hours to go before we hit Napier.
"Mommy, I'm hungry!" said Fiona. I toss my monkeys granola bars. 10 minutes later, Fiona says, "When are we in Rota-roa?" [it's actually "Rotorua"]. You said we were gonna eat in Rota-roa." I did say that. Only I've blown past the town center, past the KFC, Subway, McDonald's, Burger King, and local cafes offering better food at higher prices. There's nothing immediately outside town. I drive another 20 minutes before seeing the Waiotapu Tavern, where I buy toasted cheese sandwiches for $3 each and hope to wait out the rain. It's not letting up.We sit at a high table in the bar and eat cheese sandwiches while watching Sky News. Napier looks further than ever. I don't want to drive in this rain. Roads are too dangerous here. The kids and I inspect a $50 dorm-style room attached to the tavern. "I don't want to stay here, Mommy. It's right by the bar," said Fiona. She has a point, although I considered the location an advantage: I could put the kids to bed and belly up to the bar. Maybe play pool. The room did look like a jail cell, though...
The rain eased, and I used my cell phone (one of the best things I've bought on this trip) to call a backpacker's hostel called the Tiki Lodge in Taupo. http://www.tikilodge.co.nz/ Taupo's a touristy town set on a big, blue lake. After staying with friends Leanne and Mark in a similar place, I know I can bring the kids and meet other travellers. At $70 U.S. for a triple room with en suite (attached bathroom), it's nearly twice the price of the tavern room.
Money well spent. After criss-crossing town twice (damn it, where's that GPS when I need it?), we found the Tiki: a clean hostel with lake views, Maori artwork and a lounge/kitchen area where travellers rub elbows while cooking, eating and washing up. Fiona and Finley set to making new friends, instantly charming 2 young South Korean women, M.J. and Bora, who posed for pictures with the kids and offered up M.J.'s birthday cake. Finley made funny faces and wolfed 2 pieces of cake.The other travellers at the table were a Swiss couple, Cristophe and Cecile, who bought a '55 Chevy in Spokane and live 10 minutes from our Swiss friends near Zurich.
[Here's a travel hint: If you stay up late enough and hang out in a backpacker's lounge, anyone over age 30 will have gone to bed. That means you can hang near 20-something Brits and hear conversation like, "My friend was so drunk he shit himself while walking down the street..."