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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Again we have a sunny day, so we spend the afternoon sitting, relaxing and sunning ourselves.

DAY 38: To Rotorua

The journey to Rotorua poses a few problems – there are three alternatives. The SH-5 is the most direct but takes us to Taupo (where we stayed on 10th February). Then there is the SH-2/SH-38 route, but this has a very long section on un-made road, much of it across the Ikawhenua Mountain range. Lastly, there’s the SH-2 all the way around the Pacific Coast and then SH-30 across to Rotorua. The final route would be more interesting, but it’s over 300 miles! We select the 150-mile route via Taupo, and look forward to seeing it again.

It’s an easy, fast-paced drive and we’re soon on familiar territory at the lakeside in Taupo. We pull up for a leg-stretch and coffee right in the centre of town – it all feels very familiar, even the ‘Art in the Park’ sale, which was on the last time we were here. Nothing tempts us in art sale so we stroll down the lakeside promenade and check out the “Hole in One” competition. This is another Kiwi rouse to part visitors from their money – you can win $5,000 if you get a hole in one. But, the green is less than 10 feet square, and it’s moored 100 yards offshore, in the lake!!! I’m not surprised to read that no one’s won the money yet in 2007, but there’s no shortage of punters willing to try. You get 10 golf balls for $20 - since golf balls sink, I wonder how collect them? Anyway ….. A Maori lad has a very good effort – he gets the height needed to bring the ball to a quick stop, but only one ball lands on the green, and that bounces off into the sea. We take our leave, and motor on.

Rotorua is a BIG place, and NZ’s top tourist spot – almost every traveller stops by and visits the thermal parks and Maori sites. Rotorua has the highest density of Maoris, and several ‘tribes’ have their bases in and around the town. There are several Maori villages, plenty of Maori shops and craft outlets, and you can partake of a Maori hangi (feast of meat cooked with very hot stones in a pit filled with earth).

We have booked into the Quality Motor Inn - Geyserland. At the time of booking the motel, I also booked a ½-day coach tour of 4 Rotorua sites including the largest thermal park and Maori centre: Te Anui at Whakarewarewa.

As luck would have it, our motel backs onto Te Anui, and we can see the bubbling mud pools and geysers from the motel’s gardens – you can smell them too!!! It does depend upon how the breeze is blowing, but if it’s coming from the wrong direction, the smell of sulphur (rotten eggs) is quite strong.

On our first drive into town (we’re 3km outside), we end up in the lakeside area and, since it’s Saturday, there are quite a lot of local people – mostly Maoris - walking or playing with their children. The lake is also quite busy; a water plane takes off, another lands, the helicopter spins up and is off too, while pleasure boats are docking and heading out onto the lake. A huge pleasure boat of the Mississippi paddle steamer type advertises an evening cruise with dinner, but we see that it’s a jazz band on board and decide against it. But, we’re hungry now, and head off to the café area.

We pick a restaurant: Chris has Caesar Salad with Chicken, and I have a pizza with chorizo and bacon topping. The chef makes a mistake with the croutons in Chris’s salad – they are rock hard, as if over-cooked in a microwave oven. I mention it to the waitress and she tells me “the boss will sort it out when you pay”. Come paying time, “the boss” tells me that the chef’s new – he’s used ciabatta for the croutons. I still think he’s overdone it with the microwave, but “the boss” gives us Chris’s salad for free – result.

We take a walk to the i-Site looking for ideas for tomorrow afternoon – our trip ends about 1pm and we have no plan for the balance of the day. The i-Site is very busy so we pick up a copy of “Thermal News – What’s on in Rotorua” and scan it for ideas. There’s plenty, especially if you want to throw yourself out of a plane, roll down a mountain in a plastic ball, or jump off the side of a cliff. I see that there’s a downhill motor rally but there’s no ‘where’ or ‘when’ details. Chris takes it off to a Maori security guard for help and they engage in an animated conversation as the Maori describes where the rally is being held. As an aside, the guard tells Chris that there’s only one event in town this weekend – the “Grand” opening of the new Rotorua Energy Events Centre. Apparently, the Prime Minister is attending!

The Rotorua Energy Events Centre is a multi-million dollar sports and commercial events centre – its right in the middle of the town – and there’s a free concert and firework display on Saturday, and Maori events and guided tours into the Centre on Sunday. We decide to investigate.

The concert’s already underway – the acts are hardly world class; the drummer of the first band is the music teacher at the local junior school, but they are competent enough so we sit for a while and listen (until our bums go dead from sitting on the kerbside). Back at the motel, it’s a dinner of nibbles and early to bed – busy day tomorrow.

Day 39 – Things thermal, and More

Our coach picks us up at 7-50 prompt. We have a very butch, German female as our driver, so everything is prompt! Our trip starts at the Te Anui Thermal Park (next door) … we could have walked there is 2 minutes, but …. I didn’t know that when I booked.

We are placed in the capable hands of “Philip”, our Maori guide. Well, he’s name’s not actually Philip, it’s Whelape (or something like that), but he tells us that Philip’s easier. Philip, our first gay Maori, gives us lots of information about the site and the part it plays in Maori legend, and then takes us on a quick tour of the main thermal areas. This includes the mud-pools we can see from our motel, and the main geysers, which that we can also see from our motel. As luck would have it, the “Prince of Wales Feathers” Geyser gets up a head of steam (literally) just as we arrive – it gives us a quite spectacular show, even showering the walkway and dispersing a crowd of giggling Japanese.

The second site is called, “Rainbow Forest” – a man-made centre set in native forest and enclosing a mountain stream, with pools of massive trout and eels. There are also some aviaries with examples of native NZ birds and, of course, a Kiwi House. Kiwis are nocturnal, so the Kiwi House was in darkness and we viewed the birds (two of them) foraging around their enclosed bit of woodland for bugs. They are the strangest bird – fat waddling body on stubby legs with tapered neck leading to a small head and long bill. They scurry around like demonic, over-fat gremlins, searching for food – quite a few visitors laughed as they ran about, stopped, put their beaks into the undergrowth, and ran off again. Our third stop is “Agrodome”. This is not a place for getting into a fist-fight, but a farm setting where you can learn about NZ’s agricultural heritage, a place to learn about sheep basically. There’s a lot of sheep, wool and weaving involved.

The main show, in the Agrodome itself, involves a humorous Kiwi sheep shearer introducing us to 19 of NZ’s 25 sheep varieties, starting with the Merino, the “King of Sheep” as he puts it. He shears a sheep, does a sheep dog trial on the stage with a dog and two ducks, and members of the audience milk a cow. The cow was so full of milk, its udders almost dragged on the floor – I’m sure it was hoping that the milk maid apprentices were more successful that they were – only 2 of 5 got any milk to show for their efforts. All in all, a lot more fun than I’d expected.

After the show we are treated to a real sheep dog trial, with real sheep. However. I got the impression that the sheep could have managed the obstacle course without the dog’s intervention!!!

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