Heaven and Hell: A Tale of Two Pizzas

If I had originally planned to keep this blog chronological, I have since dispensed with this idea for no other reason than I came up with a good subject line for this blog post involving both the middle and the end of our trip. It is acceptable for me to do this for two reasons: one, it’s my blog, and two, this post revolves around pizza, and pizza makes the world go around.

We tried pizza in New Zealand three times. The first time was in Taupo, a small-ish town on the shore of Lake Taupo, right next to Tongariro National Park. Taupo is home to an annual Ironman competition because it has a lovely lake for swimming, it has nice wide roads and lots of hills for biking, and the lake itself has a reasonable perimeter and great walking track for the run. Tongariro National Park is famous for two things: 1) the Tongariro Alpine Trek, a 17k hike with really great views of the lake and surrounding areas, and 2) Mount Doom. That’s right, Peter Jackson based Mount Doom on one of the three volcanic peaks in Tongariro National Park. You’ll be able to tell right away which one it is when you drive up to the park. If it were an active volcano (thanks, computer generated imagery), it would be Mount Doom, with its long, naked slopes and distinctive peak. I wanted to climb up there, get swept up in the movie and bite someone’s finger off in a Tolkein-esque fit of fancy, but unfortunately, they were experiencing winds of 70k and wind chills of 11 degrees Celsius, too much for my capri hiking pants and short sleeves. It was a double bummer because the night before, we had eaten tons of calories, thinking we’d need them for 8 hours of hiking. Feeling fat and lazy, and facing yet another cloudy and dreary day, we decided to take a 4 hour hike from Huka Falls to Aratiatia Falls instead, coming back to Taupo to eat our feelings at Hell’s Pizza.

I was really looking forward to pizza, and I had high hopes because we had seen this small franchise in a few locations in New Zealand. So it must be good, right? Wrong! The crust was spongy, not unlike the bread you’d find at Ethiopian restaurants underneath a nice curry or fried fish. The pepperoni was mushy, not crisp, like it should be. And the pizza sauce was sweet, not savory with oregano and basil. A complete F. Hell’s Pizza really was what pizza in my personal hell would taste like, I suppose.

A week later, in Wellington, there was a whole different story: Heaven. That was the name of the pizzeria, and that was what I tasted, at least in comparison to my previous experience. We ordered the Mediterranean pizza, which was a little heavy on the artichoke for my taste, but the crust was crispy and the sauce was tangy. It was so much better than Hell’s. And even if it wasn’t the best pizza I had ever tasted, it was real, thin-crust pizza not unlike what you would find at home. Best of all, it redeemed New Zealand pizza for me, and I decided try it again later on in the trip with even better results.

I’ll close with this thought. I don’t believe in either Heaven or Hell. But if they did exist, before this trip, I would have ventured a guess that Hell would have better pizza. My reasoning went something like, Hell’s heat would be great for the perfect crust, and would make pepperoni greasy and crispy like it should be. And eternal damnation would surely include pizza stones, which give the worst burns. Sadly, my experience with Hell was the exact opposite. So I really hope I’m right about this whole afterlife thing. Because if I am wrong, and I wind up in Hell, I now know that the pizza is terrible.

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