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Published: March 26th 2016
Our next place to visit on North Island was Rotorua. We left Napier on a cool but bright day and journeyed through lots of agricultural land, mainly growing fruit (apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums and grapes). There were far fewer campervans on the roads and we saw our first deer on this island on this leg of the trip - maybe there were more vegetarians in this neck of the woods? There were many more really pretty churches though and the landscape was gently undulating with hills rather than mountains, all seemingly covered with trees, trees, there were so many trees and, consequently, so many log lorries. We stopped for a comfort break in Taupo where scalding hot water from the underground activity trickled into the lake and attracted many wildfowl to the warmer waters, including the beautiful and unusual (for us) black swans. Once again there was a marked lack of signed rest stops though the day was turning grey and misty and the tree lined roads and hills didn't lend themselves to outstanding vistas. We finally saw a tourist bus in this leg of our journey (Kiwi Experience) and, in Rotorua itself, a red Megabus was just departing fully laden
with what looked like a mixture of locals and travellers.
We located our lodgings in Rotorua, the New Castle Motor Lodge, and drove into town being a little too early to check in. The motel was a short way out of town as the main attraction for the less energetic is the geyser activity and the sulphur pools and the smell of sulphur permeates everything. Our motel was opposite the rose gardens and I kind of hoped the roses would spread their heady perfume over towards our motel! The town of Rotorua is very attractive to all ages - for the youngsters, and young at heart, there's lots of sporty stuff to do, ziplining and the like, and there were many backpacker hostels right in the centre of town to accommodate them. We called at the I-site tourist information office to find that, for the first time in our travels in both Australia and NZ, they had no maps! I couldn't believe it! My map collection was going to be missing a key location! The sulphur smell was much stronger in the town itself but we found the air conditioning in the cafe we chose for lunch managed to
keep it outside.
Our motel was owned by a Chinese couple. It was the Chinese New Year period and the motel was decked out in twinkling fairy lights and red and gold streamers. At least, I think that was the reason for it - maybe it looks like that all year round?! Whatever, it was quite a local attraction and cars began to pull up outside as soon as it was dark to take photos of the scene. I know this because I was sitting on my balcony watching them all - I dread to think how many photos I have featured in and spoiled. I can hear people now saying 'That would be a great picture if only that random woman wasn't in it'. I resisted the temptation to do the Queen-wave from the balcony, but only just! Our room was enormous with a spa bath, an electric blanket and tons of electric sockets and sachets of coffee. I could write a book on all the things a traveller needs and doesn't get supplied with .... This was bliss!
The following day we went to see the geysers at Te Puia. The day ticket was the cheapest
option and they cost an extortionate $50 each. We took our time strolling around the geysers, mud pools, steam ovens and went to see the kiwis in the darkened room, determined to get our money's worth. We almost saw the haka but we were obviously being a bit too slow so we watched some wood-carving and saw a replica boat used by the first Maoris instead. Even so, it was hard to spend more than a couple of hours there and it all felt a little bit 'manufactured' for the tourists apart, of course, from the geysers and pools which were natural phenomena. Indeed, we went back into Rotorua town afterwards and you could see (albeit smaller) free versions of mud and steam pools which occur naturally everywhere in the town. Down by the lake the black swans and ducks were either having a communal siesta or had been overcome by the sulphur fumes because they were sleeping, en masse, heads tucked under wings. It was a strange thing to see. Happily, they all woke up so I think it was just nap time.
Our journey from Rotorua to our next location was somewhat 'fluid'. We took a detour
to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. There was no particular reason for this other than Steve thought the Bay of Plenty sounded really nice and that was good enough, though Dan, Dan the Weatherman had a nice way of saying Tauranga which also made us want to go! Our journey took us through Te Puke. I got the giggles. I mean, I'd have to relocate if I lived there - Where do you live? I live in Puke! Though, in fairness, it's probably pronounced somewhat differently ... no matter. The trees, trees, trees theme continued and so did the lorries - red lorries, yellow lorries - and, sadly, there was much more roadkill as a result, mainly possums and hedgehogs which I gather were brought over from the UK by the initial settlers after they got homesick for them and they've done very well there. Maybe they could be our insurance population if ours dips into the 'at risk' category .... Anyway, we spent about an hour in Tauranga and it was a very pleasant place with young mothers and their children playing down by the shore and older members of the community strolling along the prom. There is
a super collection of bronze sculptures relating to the Hairy Maclary stories which I'd never heard of but I could appreciate the movement and personality the sculptor had captured. The children played amongst them with delight and the adults kept stroking and walking amongst the individual animals. Apparently, the story author is local to the Tauranga area so it is fitting that they are located there. Research has shown them to be a big boost for the tourist throughput so it's a good thing, every which way.
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