Kia Ora again! Hard to believe I’ve been in New Zealand for 12 days now. Time is definitely flying by. I just arrived in Taupo after four nights in Rotorua. Rotorua might be a stinky place, but it is charming and fun. I arrived after my Hobbiton tour, so later in the evening. I just took a quick walk down by the lake. The part I walked by is where all of their geothermal activity goes on, so it reeks. It was cool to see boiling mud and steaming water everywhere. A lot of the land looks like a wasteland, but that is to be expected with sulfur and volcanic rock just underneath it. After my brief walk by the lake, I went into town. Rotorua has a nice boutique feel to it, with lots of small shops and places to eat. They have a few parks, and one of them I loved because they had all sorts of steaming pools you could walk, though, and a couple of hot natural foot pools you could use. I met up with one of my friends from Cape Reinga in Rotorua, and we chatted about what she did, and I started to get ideas about what I wanted to do. I had planned to go mountain biking the following morning and got some tips from a boy who was working there and rode a lot. They have an all terrain park called the Redwoods (they transplanted some California Redwoods there) that I was going to explore; I went into the kitchen for a late night snack when I thought I overheard a boy tell someone he was from Sacramento. An American I thought! Finally! And so close to my hometown. I told him I was from Chico (no one knows Gridley) and we started talking a bit. I mentioned that I had actually been living in Reno and he replied me too. He had just graduated from UNR. What are the chances that the first American I meet and have a conversation with is from my Alma Mater. What a small world. The next morning I woke up and prepared for a day of mountain biking in the Redwoods. It had been quite some time since I last went mountain biking, but I thought, “How hard can it be?” I rented the bike and I wasn’t even halfway to my destination when the gears locked up. Great, I thought. I believed for a moment I was going to have to hitchhike back to the bike shop. I fiddled around with the bike for a few and after turning the pedals backward a few times everything was fixed. I was on my way. I hit the Redwoods, quickly looked at a map and set off. The park has main travel roads and then side trails. I took my first side trail and it was smooth going and fun, and when I reached the end I looked at the sign and it was the kiddy loop. Go figure. I wanted to try something intermediate and it was a bumpy ride. Roots everywhere, sharp turns, narrow passageways. What does advance or expert look like?! I found a few intermediate and beginner trails I really liked, but I always tried to find something new. A lot of the main roads go uphill, so I was tiring out quickly. Not just in my legs but my arms. I couldn’t believe how hard I was gripping the handlebars or the breaks. I rode around for about 6 hours, and by the time I returned the bike I was scratched up, dirty and exhausted. I spent my evening soaking in some hot spring pools at the Polynesian Spa to avoid being too sore the next day. My second day I decided to go to a Maori Village I cannot pronounce. They have so much geothermal land in their village, and they use the hot water for cooking, laundry, bathing you name it. I also watched a Maori culture performance where they performed the infamous Haka. Day 3 was a filler day for me. I was waiting out some weather for the Tongariro Crossing, so I decided to be lazy and lay around different parks soaking up the sun and reading my book. I finished the night sharing a bottle of wine with a friend I had made at the hostel. Rotorua was lovely, stinky but lovely. My next destination was Taupo and my main attraction was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a 19-kilometer hike through the depths of Mordor and the heart of Mount Doom.