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Published: March 31st 2013
Rotorua is the cultural and geothermal hub of the north island and you notice it immediately on entering in the form of the distinct smell of rotten egg from the sulphur released from the steaming vents. This was our first taste of the geothermal side of New Zealand.
Listed in the top attractions was a walk or mountain bike around the Redwood forest just outside of town. The stillness and silence of the forest was unbelievable, broken only by the 25 or so Chinese tourists with their cameras who must have decided to have a picture next to every tree in the forest, as they had only moved 25m down the path in the time it took us to complete a 2 hour loop. Tom described it as being like the Forbidden forest from Harry Potter, with the huge tall poker straight trees, some so big that it would take 10 people to wrap their arms around.
Wai-O-Tapu - "A geothermal wonderland"
Walking through the geothermal park was like walking on a different planet with the inhospitable, steaming and bubbling vents hissing and spitting at you as you walk past. Areas of particular interest were the champagne pools with the bright orange sinter around the outer edge, the Devil's bath which was a luminous yellow pool of sulphurous water, the bubbling mud pools and Lady Knox geyser which erupts boiling hot water everyday at 10.15am 25m into the air.
Being in the heart of the Maori cultural region, we decided it would be rude not to experience it and invited ourselves to dinner with some very accommodating Maori warriors. We were welcomed into the village with an aggressive and intimidating war dance where smiling was frowned upon and respect had to be shown to gain entrance.
The night in itself was fascinating and we were really glad we went. The best bits of the night were:
- Being introduced to traditional Maori games and activities. While Rach struggled to master Poi, Tom lost in the final of an agility game of falling sticks.
- Seeing Maori's performing New Zealand's famous war dance, the Haka. Some incredible facial expressions!
- The hangi, a Maori feast of fish, lamb, chicken, sweet potatoes and much more all cooked in the traditional Maori fashion in a earthen pit, giving the food a delicious smoky amd earthy taste. Tom was in his element as he was told it was all you can eat self service food.
- The bus ride to and from the village- after encouraging a nationality themed karaoke session, our driver decided to give us a song of her own and sung "She'll be coming round the mountain" whilst driving around the roundabout several times. Would have been the perfect way to end the trip if we hadn't been so full from the hangi!
Great Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo was our next stop; big enough to fit Singapore inside the lake (apparently) and home to New Zealand's annual ironman, with plenty of nice walks, hot springs to bathe in and a free campsite...we decided to stay for 5 days.
After visiting the local information centre, and asking which walks they would recommend, we had our work cut out for the next few days.
Day 1 - the lake side walk - enjoyed a casual stroll along the lakeside pathway with Mt. Doom, overlooking the lake, in the distance.
Day 2 - Famous Huka falls to Aratiatia Dam - Huka falls was extremely impressive but the walk itself was a bit monotonous. Had someone have offered us a lift back, we wouldn't have turned them down.
Day 3 - Mt. Tauhara - The mountain overlooking Lake Taupo; it was a fairly straightforward but enjoyable climb...shame about the weather. The path to the top was encroached by trees heavily covered in a thick layer moss, creating a good barrier from the rain.
The hot stream - We were delighted to finally have a bath/jacuzzi in the naturally hot stream.... as we hadn't showered properly in almost a week.
We tried our hand at stand-up paddle boarding....harder than it looks! Neither of us were convinced for the fist 10 minutes but once we got the hang of it we were flying.
We developed a nightly routine of cooking dinner on the edge of Lake Taupo as the sun went down. On no two nights was the sunset the same with colours varying from flame red to intense orange.
One night we decided to treat ourselves to a steak, and much to Rach's horror and discomfort, a fellow campervanning couple decided to pull up next to us. Whilst they were cooking their pasta and enviously staring longingly at our steaks and garlic bread, Rach was mortified enough that she felt the need to constantly tell them that this wasn't our normal dinner and that we weren't living the high life.
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