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Published: December 28th 2009
(Day 629 on the road)
Rotorua stinks. Literally. The town is situated smack-bang in the middle of New Zealand's most active geothermal area, and everywhere you go the earth is smoking, hissing and steaming, basking the city in an omnipresent strong sulphur odour. It is actually quite a strange sensation to walk around downtown and see steam coming out of the ground in various places. Not surprisingly, the thermal activity with its range of geysers and steaming lakes plus a stronghold of Maori culture (the first settlers of New Zealand) draws tourists in their thousands to the area. On top, the thermal activity also means that the area boasts a number of hot mineral pools - very much to my liking!
In fact, less than ten minutes of arriving in the city I had lowered myself into one of the hot springs, my choice being the Polynesian Spa right in the city centre. It is situated right by the lake shore, and from the outdoor pools the views are pretty fantastic. The spa has actually been rated as a top ten spa worldwide by Conde Nest. Well, while certainly nice, I am not sure it is a top one however -
there are no facilities here at all except for the hot springs and a changing room. Shouldn't a supposedly world-class spa have some saunas, a relaxation area with some comfy deck chairs, a nice restaurant etc, all pretty standard in some of the nicer spas I have been to? Anyway, very relaxing nevertheless, I am not complaining!
Soaking in the hot water, I had to think how every country has its own way of doing things. I have been to many very different countries on this trip so far, wand have always been amazed how different approaches they all take to various issues. New Zealand is no exception, but of course as compared to Asia the differences are not that great to my western upbringing. One thing that immediately threw me however were some of the rhyming slang they use here all the time. Or do expressions like "good as gold" or "cheap as chips" really feature frequently in your everyday vocabulary?
I have also been taken aback by a few instances of indirect or direct racism I have encountered in my first two weeks here. Whilst I certainly have had some bad experiences before on my travels,
I have never encountered some of the outright racism that a few New Zealanders were throwing at me. The worst one included things like "F*** of to your own country, the f****** airport is 1h this way, you stupid f***". Pretty extreme and pretty scary. I had heard from other travellers that some Australians are supposedly quite racists (I never experienced anything there though), but I had never heard anything bad about New Zealand. Interesting, for a population made up of 100% immigrants! I wonder if the remoteness of the nation has something to do with that - many New Zealanders have never travelled abroad (save for a trip to Australia or Fiji maybe). As such they tend to have very little inter-cultural experiences that people from Europe for instance are so blessed with. To be sure however, the vast majority of people I have met here are unbelievably friendly and genuinely interested in me and my experiences. Such a shame that some people are staining the nice impression somewhat.
Another thing that struck me as odd is where New Zealand gets it kiwi fruits from. Well, of course, from New Zealand, the home of the kiwi, right? Well,
no, actually the ones I was about to buy in the supermarket were originating in - you will never guess this one - Italy! Pretty amazing, when you consider that in Italy it is now the middle of winter and that kiwis are certainly not native to Europe and have to be grown in a greenhouse, whereas here in NZ it is the middle of summer and prime kiwi-season!
From a sightseeing point of view, the two most impressive places I went to whilst in Rotorua were the thermal areas of Te Puia and Wai-O-Tapu. The former is situated two minutes from downtown Rotorua, wheras Wai-O-Tapu is some 25 minutes south of town. Of the two, especially Te Puia was immensly impressive. Around every corner there was bubbling mud, boiling water, hissing vents, or a smoking lake. And then there was the super-active Pohutu geyser. The geyser erupts a few times every hour, with water shooting about 30 meters high. In fact, such a violent natural display right in the centre of town is pretty scary when I think about it - just how thick is the earth's crust here?
Next stop: Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk (North Island, New Zealand).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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