Starting Point: Rotorua
Ending Point: Rotorua
Kilometers traveled: 65
We spent today in and around Rotorua, which is sort of a tourist mecca due to the amazing lakes, the huge amount of easily accessible geothermal activity, and the access to Maori cultural activities. The town totally smells like sulphur due to all the vents and hot springs, but after a bit you don’t notice it at all.
We spent our morning in a thermal wonderland called Wai-o-Tapu. We wandered amongst the hot springs, pools of boiling mud, and watched they Lady Knox Geyser. She goes off at precisely 10:15 every morning, spurned on by a surfactant that the park ranger puts into her during his speech…and then he runs off. The lady next to us kept saying that it’s cheating to make a geyser go off that way (she was British so she pronounced geyser as geezer, which I love), and I have to say that I agree with her…it kind of is cheating. But it was still cool.
Highlights for us were the geyser, the champagne pool (with its effervescence of bubbles and amazing red and green colors) and the oyster pool. It was a good walk, although crowded since everyone decided to do the same things after the geyser.
After Wai -O-Tapu, we wandered around the city center of Rotorua and then down by the lake. We stopped off at Pizza Hut (don’t judge, a large pizza for carryout is $4.90 NZ, and you cannot find a more economical lunch). We took it over to the park for a picnic. Then the seagulls descended, as they always do when they know you have food, and we had a funny lunch watching them argue with each other and jockey for positions.
In the evening we were lucky enough to participate in the Tamaki Maori Village Experience. This is a 3 hour long depiction of Maori culture. You board a bus and are driven out to the fortified village, which is called a Pa. Warriors come out, chanting and dancing with a huge show of aggression and then make a peace offering to our chiefs (Kyle was the chief of bus Kiwi, so he got to participate in the ceremony). Then the highest ranking woman of the Pa sings a welcome song to clear the Tapu (forbidden sacredness) from the ground, allowing you to cross over and enter the village.
Once inside, we participated in all sorts of activities that taught us about the Maori Culture. We learned how to dance the Haka, or War dance. We learned about the training that Maori warriors went through. We watched carvings being done and learned about the significance of carving to the Maori. We played games that their children play, and learned how to use a Poi, a ball on the end of a piece of twine. Prior to muskets it was a training tool for warriors. But once the muskets were introduced, it was obsolete. So the women picked it up, made it their own, and now use it to tell stories about their people, and about the different birds in the area.
After the activities, we were invited into the Wharenui, or community house, for some traditional Maori song and dance and then watched a brief video on the sacrifices to their culture that the Maori have had to make in order to survive in this society, and the strides they have made in preserving their own culture along the way as well.
We finished off the night with a huge Hangi, or feast. Hangi is food that is cooked in an oven in the ground over hot rocks. We feasted on chicken, lamb, mussels, fish, kumara (sweet potato), carrots, and stuffing. For dessert, steamed puddings and Pavlova (the dessert the Kiwis and Aussies are always playfully fighting over).
It was a magical evening and we left with a greater appreciation for Maori culture.
There is loads here to do, but, in the interests of saving some time and money, we are leaving a day early. Tomorrow, we head southwest to Lake Taupo.