Rotorua, New Zealand
Another day, another place. The bus ride was under two hours and I walked through town, past the city centre backpackers, just beyond a retail park and into the edge of the suburbs, just far enough in to feel quiet and out of town and arrived at the Funky Green Voyager. So far New Zealand has been similar to my Ireland trip in two vital ways – beautiful scenery and a commitment to independent hostels that has taken me to slightly out of the way places. I arrived with no agenda, but Maori culture and/or geothermal sights are what people come here for, and Anya gave me a quick rundown on the tours available. Well, sod it, why not, for three reasons;
In Paihia, my German room and tourmate had said of the local treaty grounds ‘I did not do ze cultural performance because I knew about zat’ and I figured it was my turn to have that feeling.
Going to a Maori performance in the evening gave me the rest of the day to meander whilst knowing I was doing ‘a thing’ later.
The geothermal park involved a tour in the morning, returning about 1pm and my bus to Gisborne left just after 2pm.
Those three were the mechanistic, efficient, reasons that pleased me, beyond the ‘want to see new Zealand’ ones. In doing those I ducked the main local Maori sight, that the cruise ships apparently head for, and the smaller village that is walking distance from funky land. I spent the day in Rotoroa, which I thought charming, all shops and businesses of one or two stories and covered walkways, with the ‘dining area’ almost on the banks of the lake. There are plenty of options for getting on to and over the lake, all from one hub-take your pick from speedboat, seaplane and helicopter. I saw people heading for the plane and waited around to see it take off, but it just taxied across the water. After 15 minutes it was halfway across and I wasn’t waiting just to see if it took off at that distance.
Another bright sunny day. The small group I was in was picked up by the Mitai village bus at 5.45, taken to the village for an evening of multi lingual greetings. The idea was that we were assembling a tribe of many nations and I think he found 21 by the end, only Curasol had him stumped for a native greeting. We went into the forest, past an astonishingly clear pool with bubbling geothermal base, for the warriors to canoe past, they sunk the canoe and waddled into the reconstructed village, where we joined them for chiefs’ greetings, call and response Maori language lessons and songs. Plus a haka, of course. Great performance, but it feels a bit odd to have culture packaged in this way – I certainly felt I understood the meaning of ‘I know about ze cultural performance’ now, I wouldn’t feel the need to go to another. By now it was dark and we could eat the hangi, an eat all you want feast of lamb, chicken, potato and sweet potatoes which was good, and my new self doesn’t even over eat when faced with abundant food.
I had seconds, mind.
Finally we saw the local glowworms in the next door park, once everyone had got the message to switch off their torch, and the bus took us back around ten. Cultural package, seen.
In the morning I booked my geothermal park tour, as it happened with the same three people who had been with me in the evening – we must have been the cash rich, time pour, element for that night. I booked with the owner who ended up quizzing me about my tour. I reminded him of himself, when he’d had a year off, and he took great delight in leaving me with “enjoy going back to work”. Had he been Australian, he’d have been more disappointed to realise I still have two months to go; as it was, he was just pleased for me.
Another bus, another tour. A better one, though. The park was about 25 minutes away, and our trip started with Lady Constance geyser going off. It is a naturally occurring geyser but is induced at 10.15 every day for ticket selling. Impressive, she hit about a 5m height. Originally there was a prison nearby, the geyser discovered by prisoners who were cleaning clothes in the hot water, only to find those clothes jumping 20ft in the air and spreading themselves over a large area. The soap had broken the surface tension between the 150 degree water and the layer of 90 degree water above it, causing a geyser spout. They use something similar but more environmentally friendly now.
From there we went into Wai-O-Tapo park. There are three walks laid out, making one big loop if you tag the one onto the next, around 70 minutes for the lot, including stopping to go ‘wow’, ‘ooh’ or even ‘fucking hell’. Again, that’s a pretty packaged experience, but the place is stunning, from the dark carbon pools of the Devil’s ink pots, through the green and orange of the artists’ palette to the green/yellow of the last pool. A riot of colour, bubbling hot water and mud throughout the place. There is an optional walk to a waterfall, which continued my ‘is that it?’ fall tour; tiny but pouring into a dramatic lake, azure water surrounded by trees leaning in conspiratorially.
In the afternoon I was on the bus to Gisborne, a four hour ride. Gaz was on his fourth trip to New Zealand, alternating sight seeing with heavy drinking, and when he left me in Whakatame I had the skinny on pubs in Gisborne.
Reading: Nicci French, The Memory Game. Interesting and nicely plotted but without any ‘wow!’ in its revelation (or ‘reveal’ as the kids without grammatical cares are calling it).
A quick Zing! from The Guardian:
‘”I expected him to come to me in a flashy car, but I ended up driving him about in my old blue Fiesta and I was left to pay and display. Then he said he was taking me to Nando’s – my face fell” – Turns out Adnan Januzaj was right not to take Melissa McKenzie to a more expensive restaurant, given she immediately went to a tabloid and whinged about it.’