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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rotorua - Not just a place with an unusual odour ....

Yes, when stepping off the bus in Rotorua, the first thing you will notice is the sulphuric scent on the air. It's a little startling at first and although you won't quite get used to it (well, certainly not in a day - the length I spent there), it's not terribly unpleasant. It's unusual, but the geothermal hotbed that causes the smell is definitely something to explore.

Rotorua is classed as a city, but I would call it a town. I found it rather quaint, set beside the lake of the same name with low-rise buildings. We were dropped off outside the local iSite, NZ tourist offices. The staff were super helpful and stored my backpack for the day for a small fee (It closes at 7pm though and my bus was at 11.15pm). After getting some info, I headed out to Te Puia, a Maori Cultural Park not far from town. I managed to get a bus just around the corner from the iSite and I was at the centre in less than twenty minutes.

Once more, the friendliness of the Kiwi people was displayed by the woman selling tickets. She asked me lots of questions about travelling solo as a woman and she said I was very brave. Then, she gave me half price tickets to the Maori concert which takes place a couple of times daily!

I decided to have a wander around myself first before taking a guided tour. One of the most important things about Te Puia is that it's a place of learning and preservation. Customs of the Maori tribe are in use and taught to Maori students from tribes across New Zealand from weaving to stone carving. Thus, all the carvings onsite are truly Maori and faithful to time-honoured tradition.

During the first part of the tour we were brought up to see the famous Pohutu geyser. This was truly a sight to behold: going off approximately every hour and lasting for upto twenty minutes, this is the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere and it certainly gets your attention. I was mesmerised by it. A natural wonder of the world. The photograph doesn't do justice to how it dwarfs you and the heat can be felt from 10 metres away!

There's quite a lot of geothermal activity here, covering 60 hectares, with over 500 geothermal spots. Even on a cold day, I can't imagine you'd feel it here; there's steam rising from everywhere!

After an hour or so of exploring the geothermal landscape and marvelling at hot springs (that are far too hot to bathe in), we returned to Te aronui a rua, the meeting house where the concert would take place.

A woman came out to greet us, with the typical "Kia Ora!" and advised us on the etiquette of the show we were about to witness and be a part of. A man in the audience was chosen as chief, and we all approached the house behind him, as is customary.

They took us through songs and stories, displaying dances and the infamous haka (with some volunteers from the audience!). Some of the strapping young Maori men weren't hard on the eye either! It was great show and well worth the price of the ticket. I'd be really interested in going to the night time show if I ever return.

The Haka

After visiting the word carving and weaving workshops, I took my last wander around the landscape part of the park and headed back into town. I was very lucky to be picked up by French and German girls who had a car rented for the day and who I'd spoken briefly to at Te Puia.

I grabbed some fish and chips for NZ$12 at a quiet cafe on the main street, about two blocks from the iSite, although I can't remember it's name. It was also conveniently close to my next port of call, The Polynesian Spa. I got an unlimited pass for the Adult Pools for NZ$25 and headed in to bathe myself softer than a furry blanket. It's truly blissful in there with a variety of pools to choose from and temperatures ranging from 37 deg Celsius right upto 42 deg. I didn't stay in that one too long!

The Priest Pools, with the lake in the background
My favourite pool was the Priest Spa pool right by the lake, so birds were flying by and providing a chorus as the sun went down. It was a real treat to bathe in the hot spring waters and wonderful to ease the muscles after a few bus rides.

After touring the seven pools a few times, I decided to grab a snack and head upto the iSite to wait for my bus. Rotorua is absolutely deserted at night so there was nowhere to wait and I didn't see a bar nearby where I could have chilled for an hour before the overnight bus to Wellington arrived. Thus I was a very weary traveller boarding for my long journey (8 hours) to my next stop.