04/12/12 - Rotorua
Rotorua is a small town known for 2 things; its geothermal wonders and its Maori heritage. There are so many geothermal parks and spas, and Maori villages and cultural experiences, that it's overwhelming trying to decide what to do if you're only there for a couple of days!
Right facing our hostel was a public park, complete with the usual children's playground, but with the additions of steaming ponds, bubbling mud pools and naturally heated spas to dip your feet in. The other trips I mentioned at the start were so expensive that we decided to combine a few by visiting Te Puia. This is a Maori site that happens to be a geothermal valley, complete with erupting geysers. These natural wonders are so surreal, that unless you're a professional geologist or a whizz at physics, they're hard to get your head around! To normal people like you and I, all we need to comprehend is not to get too close to a steaming or bubbling pool, as they can reach up to 90C, and secondly the sulphur gas they emit absolutely STINKS. But the smell is worth it, as I'm not sure how many other places in the world you can get up close to an erupting geyser that isn't dangerous. It's certainly not something you see everyday!
The geothermal wonders are not the only attraction, though. The land is still owned and managed by Maoris, who populate 35% of Rotorua. At Te Puia they teach how their ancestors utilised the land, such as cooking food in the boiling pools. They also put on a cultural performance, including serious practices they would have followed in pre-European times. This was one of the most memorable parts of our whole trip so far, for this very reason - they chose Rik to be chief.
The show was set up as if we, the audience, were a visiting tribe, and the home tribe (the performers) had to make sure we came in peace before they invited us in.
Once inside, they sang some welcoming songs, before the chief had to conduct the 'official' welcome. This traditional Maori welcome is a firm handshake, followed by touching noses twice. So Rik had to go up on stage, face 5 very nearly naked, very intimidating men, and touch noses wih them. It was SO hard not to laugh, but we were warned beforehand that we mustn't as it is very disrespectful. I filmed the whole thing anyway so get in contact if you would like to see this very manly interchange!!
The rest of the performance was brilliant, especially the world famous haka war dance. The girls were really talented singers and the men were so invested in their words and actions. If anyone goes to New Zealand and doesn't experience any Maori culture, then they haven't seen the real New Zealand. The main greeting to say hello is Kia Ora (bro) and that is the ancient Maori language. And their tribal symbols are sold everywhere, as pendants carved out of bone or jade - which they call Pounamu and used to think was more valuable than gold - that made me smile!
There's so much to do in Rotorua we simply couldn't fit it all in. Zorbing was invented here, so we went to do a bit of that. Well, Rik did, I didn't as
1. it was mega expensive and
2. I'm a big whimp.
It looked like fun though! We also visited the Hobbiton movie set tour, which is on a farm about an hour away. It was so beautiful, and we went at the right time as they had built extra holes for The Hobbit, and you now get a free drink in The Green Dragon Inn. It was disappointing to learn though that there is nothing behind the hobbit holes! It's just mud and grass, as they only build the exterior. The detail in the whole place is amazing though, down to hobbit clothes on washing lines and real vegetable patches, extra large versions to make everthing and everyone else appear smaller.
So we crammed a lot in, but I wouldn't have it any other way on this speedy tour of NZ.