Well, I knew exactly how it happened. State Highway 1 had led me from Hamilton through Cambridge to Tirau, where I picked up SH5 to Rotorua. But I was late leaving Raglan; partly because it was such a lovely little town and partly because things got in the way – waiting for pictures from the surfing lesson, taking advantage of free wi-fi at the library, and saying goodbye to new friends from the hostel. And maybe just a little road-weariness thrown in there, too. The surfing left me feeling spent and I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Once I reached Hamilton, signs for Rotorua, an easy hundred kilometers or so further down the road, got me thinking.
And yet I was about six days ahead of The Plan, which had been to leave Raglan and head straight for the Coromandel Peninsula, stopping over in one very important town: Paeroa. Yes, the Paeroa of Lemon and Paeroa…otherwise known as L&P, the famous New Zealand soft drink. Clearly, it was one of the top points on my agenda for the entire trip, and my 3pm departure from Raglan meant I wouldn’t make it there in time for the shops (cheesy L&P souvenir obviously a must). Might as well divert to Rotorua and save my soft drink scavenging for next week. I blame it on Paeroa, really.
But once in Rotorua, I have the hostel lounge to myself and I am revelling in it. It’s midnight, certainly past the standard 11pm bedtime so many backpackers seem to adhere to (myself included) but I needed a late night to break up the routine. What I’ve noticed about myself in terms of seeing these New Zealand towns is that I’m not a lingerer. Either I set up camp for months or I stay a night. In each hostel, the owners always ask, “Only one night?” with a bit of surprise in their voice. In Europe, I can’t remember staying anywhere less than two nights, but Europe was different, with its cultural capitals and metropolitan centers demanding more of my time and attention.
And so I pay the price for this incessant pressing on, this never-ending covering of miles (er, kilometers…). Tonight my laptop flashed an alert as I uploaded a full memory card’s worth of photos for the third time this week: Startup disk almost full. My mind read the warning and said, Amen. I, too, am on the verge of system-overload. I’m seeing too much too fast. I need time to process and it’s going to be months before that happens.
This is all perhaps a product of how impressed I am by the amount of things to see on the North Island. I wasn’t expecting this, this number of townships, each with their own quirky personalities and stories to tell, and the vistas that seem to await me around every corner. There would be no breezing through the island.
So sure, the day zig-zagged a little more than usual, logic not exactly dictating the amount of backtracking and doubling up I did, but this is me doing things without a guide. As anyone who owns a Moleskin City Book has read, Aldous Huxley beautifully writes, “For every traveller who has any taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written.” Lonely Planet is the backpackers’ Bible, read over breakfast and before falling asleep. I always wonder what it is they’re looking for, rather than trusting the country to tell its story.
Oh, if only there were an external harddrive for our brains!