March 11. Odo reading 49511
395 km yesterday - slightly over the estimate. In the Gore-Tex pants, I was very comfortable.
Well, this is it. The last riding day, and the last full tour day. Everyone is slightly subdued, and/or tired. And my sandfly bites are starting to itch. I had a good sleep in the tiny room. There was a message on the desk saying "Lake Flies are attracted to the light. Please don't leave the windows open with a light on". Hey, I know. Buy some screens! Only that one place on the south island did I ever see a screen door.
We head out of Rotarua on 30 East, and stop at Hells' Gate. Wow. If you only have time for a visit to one thermal area, go to Thermal Wonderland at Wai-o-Tapu. But, if you want to see Christian Hell Theme Park, by all means make time for Hells' Gate. According to the Lonely Planet guide book, George Bernard Shaw visited in 1839, and said "I wish I had not visited, for now I know what awaits me". Thermal Wonderland has more, and brighter, colours of minerals. It also has more kinds of outflow. But Hells' Gate is the more active. There is a stem vent at the entrance, and when we drove up a peacock was wandering about the vent. I wondered about what might be on the lunch menu. Hells' Gate has boiling mud, geysers, and boiling pools. It's another alien, blasted landscape. When you realize nothing grows, and that the colours on the rock that look like moss are, in fact, mineral deposits, it's even more alien.
There is the highest hot falls in the world (38 degrees C, 20 feet), and a mud volcano, which you can tell is getting bigger, because of the old fencepost in it's side. The warning signs are a howl - "You can easily die if you leave the path - We're not kidding!". And the stench - it's worse than Saint John on a bad day. Walking around, you can tell where others are by their gasps of dismay, and indrawn breaths. Here, you can walk up to edge of a hot sulphur pool, and stick your hand in (Alfred does). I point out it would have been way funnier if he had jumped back, grabbed his hand and screamed.
From Hells' Gate, we go to Te Puke on Rt 30, stopping at the "Magic Kiwiland". It's a kiwi-fruit based theme park. No, I'm not kidding. There's a giant Kiwi slice at the entrance, and some sunny-dispostioned staff (this is Kylie, who was delighted by our tour) to answer all your kiwi-related questions, and sell you some kiwi-laden merchandise. I forwent the tour, in the electric kiwi carts, and did some work on the previous days' page. It was cool and peaceful in the restaurant, with only the occasional sparrow to disturb me.
When the rest return, we head for Tauranga, and have lunch at the Baywatch, overlooking the (you guessed it) bay. Very nice and sunny, with a light breeze. I have to wonder at the aplomb of the Matire'd - I was first up the steps, in all-black Gore-Tex, with (I saw later) my hair a rats-nest, and when I said "11, please", he paused, and then said "The BMW tour? You were through last year. On the terrace? Right this way..."
After lunch, it's a run up Rt 2, through a very twisty section west of Waihi, through Paeroa (home of the L&P soft drink - "world famous in New Zealand"). I go by the giant bottle, but due to my slowness in the twisties, I can't stop. We blast up 2, doing some fancy passing in the heavy Saturday traffic. We are assisted in this by the native Kiwi's innate politeness - slower moving drivers tend to pull over when possible, and let the faster movers by.
Just north of Pokeno, we join Rt 1 north, a modern, multilane divided highway, and run into Auckland. Grey clouds appear, and rain spits fitfully. The weather matches my mood - we're on schedule to end the tour. Soon all this will be over. We get to NZ Motorcycle Rentals at 4:45 - 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and just as a heavy rain shower passes. All bikes are verified as "O.K." - with the exception of John's, as we expected. Bye Big Red (Red Scare, Picante). You have been a good and faithful mount. I hope your next rider is as pleased. The rain stops, and we trek (up a very steep hill) to the Hyatt, which has a great shower. It's over my head, has variable pressure, and is hot. The best shower yet.
AT 7:30 we meet for dinner, all clean and scrubbed-looking, and Christian says some very nice things about our group. He lists all the things we did, day by day. It's very hard to believe it's all done - the weeks flew by, as did the terrain. It's been a good time, with good people. I may have to do this again.