Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 4 (Monday 5th May 2009) – Sunrise and seafaring legs

While the rest of the gang was still fast asleep, I got up. The sun was just rising. Wanting to be one of the few people on earth to first see the sun rise for a new day, I quickly wore my winter jacket. While I wore wool socks, I had no long-john underneath my track-bottom. I figured that it would only take a while and I would return to the room if it get too cold. I took the keys and left everyone.

I jogged to edge of water and sat on a spot at the dock. Imagine my disappointment when I realized I couldn’t see the sun rises from the horizon! There were masses of land at the horizon. Never the less I stayed to watch how the beautiful colours of the sky changed as the sun rose that morning. Surprisingly the wind-proof material of the track-bottom meant that the cloth trapped some air, enough to insulate some heat for my legs. Much later I discovered (after examining the map) that the dock wasn’t exactly by the sea. The water that was in front of me that day was actually a river mouth.

When I returned to the apartment, everyone was still asleep. It was some times later when finally everyone woke up. We prepared breakfast – hash brown, frankfurters, scrambled eggs and omelets. Once fueled, we packed all the leftovers. We cleaned all the glassware and cooking utensil; stored everything back in the kitchen and pack our bags. By default, the task of fitting everything into the small car fell on me. Everyone brought everything down to the car park while I figured out what fit where.

It was still early by the time every thing was packed and stored in the car. We decided to take a drive through town. There were some shops already opened that early morning. I bought a lip balm – my lips had begun to chap due to the cold temperature and wind. We also stopped by the beach and took photos.

We went back to the motel. Checked the apartment to make sure we didn’t leave anything, and went to the lobby to checkout. We also registered ourselves for the tour at the counter (registering, in this case, included signing a non-liability). I do not know if the rest of the gang read carefully what we signed that day. Under New Zealand law, you can’t sue any tour / adventure operators for any mishaps that might befall you. Basically we signed our lives away that day. After all the paper works and legality, we were given ‘tickets’. Interestingly, instead of being given one of those use-once-than-throw-paper-tabs as tickets, we each was given a small metal funnel as our tickets.

We went to the dock – the place that I had sat earlier that day, handed our ‘tickets’ and boarded the boat. Due to the force of nature, we were delayed. We had to wait for the tide to come. The water was too shallow for the boat to move safely. When the boat finally moved, we were excited. We sat outside the lower deck. There was a Caucasian couple there. We passed a landmark – statue of Wairaka - perched on top of a hill at the mouth of the river. Over the speaker, one of the crew explained the significance of the statue.

According to legends, the native people of Whakatane came from the sea in canoe called Mataatua. The women, children and the olds were left on the canoe while the men went inland in search of fresh water and food. In the absence of the men, the canoe began to drift into the open sea. Amidst the panic, the chief’s daughter, Wairaka, took charged. She yelled “Whakatane” which means “act like a man”. All women banded together and row the canoe to safety.

Anyway, not long after that, the boat crew handed out a piece of bread (with margarine spread on it) and a cup of pumpkin soup. We first ate the bread and the soup separately, but soon realized that they taste better together. In true Asian style, we dipped the bread into the soup before eating the bread. The Caucasian couple saw what we did. Before long, they too did the same!

Out in the open sea, the smooth boat ride quickly changed into a bumpy one. Before long, Ma Hen looked a little pale. We decided that she best went in, which thankfully she did. The crew took care of her. With the ride getting bumpier, and seawater splashing from the sides of the boat (the crew gave us each a towel), AD decided to join Ma Hen. Only D and I left, enjoying the winds and splashes on the open deck.

One and a half hour later, the boat anchored near an island, our destination: White Island. We were each given a hardhat and a facemask. D was the first to board a smaller rubber boat that took us to the old jetty on the island. On the island, first we were given a safety briefing and a little background of the island.

The safety briefing was simple:
1. Follow the guides.
2. Always wear the yellow hardhat.
3. In case of eruption (yes, we were on a volcanic island), do not run to the open beach hoping those on the boat will save you – they’ll long be gone by then. You are to take cover behind the biggest boulder or structure you can reach. Flying hot debris most likely to cause death than hot flowing lava. Now you see why I said we signed our lives away!
4. If, in the end we survive the eruption, calm down, avoid any flowing lava and wait for help.

Don’t worry, help will come, eventually. There are a bunch of volcanologists actively monitoring the island via life feed from video camera installed at the edges of cliffs above our heads. We were given sweets to help clear our throat if they became irritated by sulphurous air. After the safety briefing, we trekked the island making many stops, allowing the guide, Karen, to describe things.

There was too much ‘smoke’ that day for us to see the acidic lake that had formed in the one of craters. Long time ago, sulphur was mined of this island. One of the miner went missing, only his boots were found at the edge of the acidic lake, which sparked a speculation on whether he accidentally fell or committed suicide? The mystery was never solved, for no body was found – the acidic water corrodes every thing in a flash. The mine has long been closed. But the island remained the private property of the Buttle family.

While trekking back to the dock, it hit me (no, no flying debris hit me), the cliffs above our heads were actually the edge of the main / bigger crater. We were trekking inside the main crater! Anyway, we cleaned our shoes before boarding the boat home.

The four of us sat on the upper deck. The crew handed out our sandwich lunch. The sea was getting choppier as we made our way back to the main land. In the distance, I could see storm brewing. I had finished my food, was bouncing and holding tight to the railing, when Ma Hen felt queasy, again. I quickly got on my feet and got down the stairs.

The boat was bouncing when I lost my footing. I had my eyes focused on the wooden lower deck floor underneath me. In that split second, I knew, if I fall, I would hit headfirst and could probably break my neck. And in that split second, I managed to grab the hand railing on my right. So instead of falling head first, I managed to swing to the deck floor and landed on my feet. The crew must have seen me for by the time I landed, they were already at the door! Above the noises (from the waves splashing the boat and the sound of the engine), I managed to tell them about Ma Hen. They quickly went up and brought Ma Hen into the closure of the lower deck (where more people were feeling sick).

The boat continued to rock and bounce in the choppy water. It began to drizzle. The cloud became darker. I was glad we reach the mainland in more or less two hours later! On the dock, we dramatically and exaggeratedly hugged each other, saying we survived the volcanic island and the rough boat ride.

At the motel lobby, the staff was surprised to hear that I was okay with the rough ride (perhaps I looked the most skinny and frail in the tour group). I told them most who sat on the upper deck were okay. She said we all had strong stomach.

I took the wheel. It was about 5pm when we left Whakatane for the town of Rotorua. Before long, the night fell, and we were driving along dark winding road. I could smell anxiety in the air. I didn’t blame them. We were driving along a dark foreign road. Except for the “Expected Arrival Time” as calculated by the Samseng, we were clueless on how much longer the drive was. However, I was calm. I have done this – driving along a dark unfamiliar road – a number of times. At least this time I wasn’t alone.

Anyway, two hours later we safely arrived BK’s Rotorua Motor Lodge. We checked in and unloaded our bags into the one room apartment (two single beds in place of sofa in the living area). We needed additional ingredients for dinner. AD stayed behind to prepare food. The rest of us went in the car and Ma Hen drove to the mall across the road. After buying what we needed, Ma Hen and D, took the car for refueling. I, on the other hand, walked back to the motel.

Dinner consisted of spaghetti. We discussed our plans for tomorrow, then went to bed.

Distance traveled: approx. 100 km on sea & 107 km on land

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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