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Published: January 18th 2016
Following our long walk on the Tarawara Trail we wanted somewhere to rest and relax. Lindsey found the Cosy Cottage Campsite which fit the bill - like much of Rotorua, this area had its own geothermal activity. We checked in and were soon lounging in naturally heated pools at no extra cost. It was a bit disconcerting to find areas cordoned off with "danger" signs and to see bubbling pools of mud but it certainly made it interesting.
That night we decided we should try Maori cuisine to get a more full cultural experience. The Maori food we had heard of is called Hangi. This is not a particular type of food, rather it is a method of cooking: it is food that has been cooked in an underground oven using natural steam as it's heat source. As it happened, Cosy Cottage had its own Hangi oven but sadly we didn't have time to use it ourselves as meat would take several hours. We found a takeaway which sold Hangi so we went to try it out. We walked in and found they had pre-prepared meals; either chicken, pork, lamb or vegetarian. We chose one each of pork and lamb.
Along with a chop of the meat we got potato, kumara (kind of a sweet potato), cabbage, pumpkin and mixed vegetables. We also got a stuffing made from a Maori bread called Rewena. We were asked if we wanted fried bread with the meal. I can't usually stand fried bread but we wanted the full experience so we said "yes". We also took a shared portion of steamed pudding which came with large amounts of both custard and cream. We took the meal back to the camp and excitedly opened the foil dishes. So what was the result? Well, I loved the fried bread and could have eaten lots more. The meat tasted okay, there just wasn't as much as I would have liked. I wasn't keen on the vegetables as they had lost all structural integrity and turned to a pile of mush. As for the starches, the potato was undercooked and hard and the kumara had no taste. The steamed pudding dessert tasted amazing but it was extremely disappointing as there wasn't enough to share and the ratio of pudding to custard felt completely wrong. So all things considered, I did not find our Maori taste adventure very
satisfying. Still, I was delighted that we'd had the opportunity to do it and I would give it another go sometime.
In the morning we took a walk past a bubbling, steamy, sulphurous stream down to the banks of Lake Rotorua where we found more small patches of steam. As it was raining we decided not to check out even more lakeside hot pools. Instead we just watched the bird life for a while and then moved on.
Our next stop was the absolutely fascinating Kuirau Park. From the road all we could see were hazard warnings on fences shrouded in steam. We were intrigued. We parked up and wandered around the large site. Here we discovered a real wonderland of thermal activity. Each fenced-off area seemed to contain something different. In some were really deep crystal clear pools with a thin layer of steam gently rising. Others looked more like a cauldron of bubbling mud. There were small geysers, like little steam fountains. One was a huge expanse of water that could hardly be made out because of the dense steamy atmosphere surrounding it. The colours were incredible too, all were vivid shades but some pools of
water were bright blue, whilst others were striking oranges, reds or yellows. The park has also harnessed their hot water to provide pools for soaking your feet, though due to coach-loads of Chinese tourists we couldn't get close. Hanging over all was the slightly nauseating smell of sulphur which I found I could never quite get used to.
Leaving the park, we then went into the city centre. Rotarua's centre is much like that of many other of New Zealand's settlements - it is functional but not pretty. To me it feels like the country has said, "people are coming to see the lakes, mountains and coasts... It doesn't really matter what our towns and cities look like." I know that this is probably grossly unfair, especially as I haven't seen places such as Wellington or Napier, which are reputed to be both charming and architecturally stunning, however the urban areas I have seen so far haven't been all that attractive. Rotarua had the usual selection of gift shops, coffee shops, tourist information and then all of the buildings needed to keep a city living.
That evening we stayed in the misfortunately named "Grand Hotel". It is a
strange feature of "Grand Hotels" that they never are. This one had had its heyday many decades earlier before it had burnt down. It had been rebuilt on a much diminished scale. Even this ghost of its former glory had fallen from its peak. We wandered the damp hallways, which smelled of cigarette smoke, counting the buckets catching rainwater coming through the cracks in the ceiling. Even in our room there was a pool forming. The cracked windows in the open fire-doors didn't give much of a reassurance of safety. The small kitchen and dining area, with their cobwebbed windows, also left much to be desired. Strangely there were two televisions (one sitting on the floor) in the dining area and only the same number of dinner chairs. The worst thing though was the stickiness of the table which obviously hadn't been cleaned in a long long time. We were quite happy to check out in the morning.
Having said the city isn't pretty, we did find one notable exception... The Government Park. From the impressive arched gateway, to the cute pagoda at the side of a pool and the bright flower beds, this place is stunning. The main
feature, the truly grand Museum of Rotarua is a breathtaking folly of a building. We spent mere minutes in the park as we were low on time, but it was well worth seeing.
Just outside the city are some lakes which are worth a visit. Particularly notable are the Blue and Green Lakes. The Blue Lake is in public ownership and completely accessible. We spent a wonderful hour swimming in the sunshine outside the Top 10 Holiday Park. Then we drove to the other side and found a quieter area which seems popular with the locals. Here we relaxed in the shade and then had another swim. Next to the Blue Lake, is the Green Lake, which is privately owned and not accessible. This is the prettier of the two. Fortunately, there is a viewing point from where both lakes can be seen. Not far from here is a village which was buried by a volcanic eruption in the 1880s - New Zealand's Pompeii. Sadly we weren't able to visit on this trip though we did go to their café but left without being served.
Rotarua is also known as a centre of Maori heritage. We went to
visit a Maori village and this cultural experience will be the subject of my next blog.
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