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April 25th 2012
Published: April 29th 2012
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This section may look disjointed as we go from 25 to 27 April, that’s because 26 was Hobbiton and has a blog all of its own which I published before this one.

25th April ’12 On to Rotorua

Today was Anzac day so everything was shut! So just as well we were driving on and doing some sightseeing instead of shopping.

Our first stop of the day was just outside of Taupo at the Huka Waterfalls, this was lovely and picturesque (and only a 5 minute walk, bonus!). Although not very high it is the force of the water that makes this place memorable - the river is channelled through a narrow chasm and powers its way out and down.

The second stop was at the Craters of the Moon geothermal walk. So this was our first taste of New Zealand’s sulphurific delights. There was a boardwalk which led you through and across various pools and vents with lots of steam and the occasional bubbling pool.

The third stop was at the Aratiatia Rapids which I had assumed was going to be another waterfall so I was a bit puzzled by Howard’s hair raising driving antics and checking of his watch – guess I should have read the guide book a bit more closely. We pulled into the car park by a huge dam and he said look we’ve got 6 minutes and 15 seconds, I had no idea what he was on about as was getting a touch annoyed when he didn’t explain but just said the sign says 5 minutes to the view point can we make it? So after a few choice words and a few lost seconds he pointed out the countdown clock and people standing by the dam. Turns out that the dam gates are opened about 3 times a day and we were 5 minutes and 15 seconds away from this happening. Suddenly a siren sounded and it was like a 3 minute nuclear attack warning! So we just headed for the dam as I didn’t think I could run to the viewpoint in time (guess most people felt the same as there were lots of us by there). We looked over the edge and all you could see was a beautiful gulley with large boulders, green ferns, a trickle of water, an area that looked as if it might be a pool if it rained and this chasm winding its way off into the distance.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the siren went off again and then the countdown started, rather than stare at the dam gates we were watching the scenic view the other side and at first a small trickle of water started to come through and then as the gates went higher more and more, until a huge torrent was rushing down flooding the area, the pool did become a pool and the water pounded up over the rocks and tore down the gulley. It was really impressive! We then did run (hmmmm) down to the viewpoint and got a really good view of the dam, gates and the force of the water. Unbelievably our camera battery died as we first arrived by the dam so we didn’t get any photos of the experience which was gutting!

Our fourth stop was at our destination – Rotorua, it was like entering the big city lol, lots of roads and a real town centre with shops, there was even a retail park, however as it was Anzac day nearly everything was shut! Kind of the story of our trip in NZ. Still we had a walk around and went into 1 shop that was actually open where the lady started chatting and told us the town wasn’t as smelly as normal today (referring to sulphur). We then walked down to the lake where we saw black swans – 6 of them which was quite novel. Later we checked into our motel the RotoVegas where we are staying for 3 nights, a big treat as we won’t have to pack up and move on each day. This motel is done out in a retro style so there are orange, brown and yellow swirls on the wall and rug and 3 flying ducks in those colours on another wall and the rooms have names like the funky studio or groovy studio, quite novel and the place was certainly roomy and comfortable, as it was so quiet we even got a free upgrade to a larger room with a full kitchen

27th April ’12 Rotorua

Woke up to find it pouring down with rain and the whole sky a sheet of grey. In order to have something to do we decided to go to the library to see if they had free wifi and to try and find some travel guides on Samoa. What a fab library, it was over 3 floors and huge. However you had to pay for wifi and they also charge to take out new releases! Still we looked around and couldn’t find any travel guides, so gave up and went to Mc Donalds instead.

By about 2 it stopped raining so went down to the geothermal park in the town – kind of a really nice park but full of fenced off areas which had bubbling mud pools or steaming lakes. It was easily as good as the craters of the moon walk we did and more up close and personal.

We even found areas which were cordoned off as new vents or pools were working their way up through the ground and I came across a little hole with steam coming out of it on one of the walkways. They had also made a paddling pool with water heated by the geothermals.

Afterwards we travelled a couple of miles out of the town to see The Redwoods – a gorgeous forest of towering redwood trees. We did a short walk through the forest and it was so peaceful and beautiful. One of the trees had a plaque by it to say it was planted in 1901 as a sapling brought over from California. The forest was clearly the place to go running in Rotorua as we saw lots of people doing this.

Tonight was our big night out, we had signed up to go to the Tamaki Maori Village cultural experience and I was really looking forward to it! The bus driver who picked us up was great, she was joking and telling stories all the way there, she was part of the tribe and briefed us on what to expect. A ‘chief’ was selected for our bus – a young American guy who was on his honeymoon and when we arrived he had to stand with the other 2 ‘chiefs’ and wait to take part in the traditional greeting and welcoming into the village. It was pitch black by now and the gateway into the village was lit by flaming torches suddenly we heard noises and warriors appeared on the ramparts looking very fearsome. They then came down through the 3 gates into the wero (the challenge area), they performed some very fierce moves and lots of toungue waggling and eye bulging was involved, once we were all deemed ok a fern was placed infront of our ‘chief’ as a peace offering which he had to pick up and then we could all go into the village accompanied by a woman of the tribe singing a traditional welcome song.

Inside the huts we all within the forest and lit with torches, we were encouraged to wander around, look, listen and ask questions of the various members of the tribe who were demonstrating various aspects of Maori life and culture. We met the warriors who explained their training and selection process and then I had my photo taken with 2 of them. We saw 2 ladies demonstrating how they use the pue and then I found the tattoo man! It was great he told us about traditional tattooing, how it was a 3 stage process involving the cutting (with small tools with a head of sharpened bone) of the design, then the wounds were coloured (using natural dyes which could also include dog poo) and then the healing. In the past many people died on the tattoo table so although they are sad not to be using traditional methods anymore they are also a lot safer. The Chief of the tribe decides when someone will get their tattoo markings, from the eyes down the tattoo patterns represent the persons love for his wife and children and from the eyes upwards they tell of the persons genealogy. It was fascinating!!

After this we went to see the uncovering of the hangi – the communal meal cooked in an underground pit. Then we went into the ancestral meeting house – the wharenui, here we saw the cultural performance – Howard and I were sat on the front row by pure chance and got a great view. It began with an explanation about the meeting house and its significance in Maori culture. Then there were songs, dances, demonstrations of the use of weapons, story telling and the Haka. I have to say I thought of Captain Cook and how he must have felt when first encountering the Maori tribes, the Haka is well scary!!! Especially when you know its all about terrifying your opponents, demonstrating how you will kill and eat bits of them and generally scare the life out of them. I loved it all! It was marvellous! It ended with a short film about how Maori culture has evolved and fits in with today, told from one woman’s perspective and reflecting on her grandmother, it was very moving.

I was really struck by the reverence for life, the honouring of traditions and rituals and the warmth and humour of the Maori people. At each stage of the evening this was highlighted.

The hangi food was amazing!!! There was so much of it and it all tasted delicious! I finally managed to get some pavlova as well so I was very pleased.

After the food the evening ended with some singing – I still don’t know how it happened but for some reason I ended up with a microphone shoved in front of me and had to sing in Maori, luckily not for long – I think it’s because I was so wrapped up in it all and joining in with enthusiasm!, our ‘chiefs’ then had to get up and perform a Haka and finally we all had to join hands and some special song was sung and then it ended. It felt great, like you were really a part of something special and I was overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of the whole experience!

Back on the bus the fun continued, our driver decided to shout out countries and then they had to sing a song, fortunately England never got called out! China did though and the 5 chinese on our bus wouldn’t sing so when we came to a roundabout she just kept going round and round and round until they did! It was hilarious she shouted out while laughing – don’t try this at home folks, I know the police in Rotoroa are on a tea break now. I haven’t laughed so much for ages and in the end the Chinese sang!!

As everyone got dropped off she made a point of shaking their hands and saying goodbye to each person – the welcoming, genuiness and warmth of the Maori people carried through right to the end.

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