New Zealand: Rotorua

After an awesome 24 hours in Taupo we were off to Rotorua, famous for it's unique natural scent...

An area that packs some serious geothermal punch, there are geysers, hot springs and mud pools everywhere. Vents puff out what looks like steam from people's back gardens and there seems to be evidence of geothermal activity on every street corner.
Whakarewarewa Redwoods
Unable to check in to our hotel we made our way to the famous Whakarewarewa forest. Mikey used to be a pretty awesome mountain biker and this was his stomping ground! 

See how much he loves the trees?
They really are ginormous, towering above everything around them. For some reason I've always had a fascination for big trees (no comment) but I refused to hug one myself after noticing the masses of spiderwebs and their inhabitants crawing along the bark.

Blue and Green lakes
Our next stop was the local blue and green lakes. I'll admit that I was expecting the lake to look a bit, but I was reliably informed by my local guide that the cloud cover didn't help.

It was still lovely, even though the heavens opened up forcing us to have a much neede caffine break in the little cafe on the lake's edge.

The 'green' lake is considered sacred in Moari culture and very difficult to get to so we cut our losses and decided to visit the nearby, and intriguingly named, Buried Villiage.

The Buried Village
In the below photograph you can see Mt Tarawera, a volcano that is responsible for one of the largest eruptions in NZ.

On June 10th 1886 it erupted, but the main damage came when a vent opened in the local lake of Rotomahana producing a pyroclastic surge that covered the surrounding area in metres of boiling mud.
I don't know why we're smiling, frankly.

The village of Te Wairoa was almost completely destroyed. An olden days tourist town, people came here to see the (now obliterated thanks to the eruption) '8th wonder of the world' the pink and white terraces.
Many decades later excavations began and the museum showcaes the findings. It's pretty fascinating stuff, if a little horrific at times.
Should we have laughed at this information board? It just seemed to darkly comic not to...

I also loved how one of the rocks was actually labelled 'fireball'.

This is the 'famous' sewing machine tree. Does what it says on the tin really. No one knows how it got there. Brilliant.

Inside one of the excavated sites you begin to get a sense of just how much mud fell here. Bear in mind that this has had over 120 years to be eroded too.

120 people died, but many were saved thanks to the efforts of a few serious heroes.
One woman, 'guide Sophia' managed to fit about 100 people in to one of these traditional huts. How? I've no idea, with great difficulty I imangine.

One of the strangest things about the eruption was the 'signs' that many witnessed. The waters of the lake receeded and then returned several times, but many people also spotted a 'Phantom Canoe' manned by unknown Maori warriors disappear into the mist. Some people have been party poopers and put forward explanations but I like to prefer the seriously spooky option that a ghost canoe filled with souls of the dead paddled it's way in to the volcano...
A fantastic quirk of nature did come out of the eruption though. The villagers had used poplar wood to make fence posts and, thanks to the very fertile mud, the posts actually grew in to massive trees. How's that for hardiness? Unfortunately the trees had to be cut down as they were causing damage to the site, but pictures show that you could still see the orignal posts embedded in the new trees.

We opted to do the guided tour, and I really wish I wasn't writing this post a month after the holiday because I've forgotten all of the brilliant facts that our guide told us.

The local Maori tribe asked excavations to be stopped as they considered it to be a sacred grave site, so there's still heaps of things buried underneath the earth.

I'm not going to retell all of the stories we heard that day, but suffice to say it's definitely worth a google. Especially if you love volcanoes, terror, death and wonderfully preserved artefacts.

Of course we treated the site with the respect it deserved.

Umm....we couldn't resist!

There was short walk that promised waterfalls and silver ferns so we set off.

And got distracted (I made him do this).


The walk took us through some seriously stunning scenery.

I was really starting to understand why everyone I know who's visited NZ says if their favourite place in the world...

Views of the native bush - ferns, ferns and more ferns!

Sadly, we had mud pools to find so after one last look at the volcano that caused it all we jumped in Betty the car and whizzed back to Rotorua and the lovely eggy smells.

Kuirau Park
When I said that there are fumeroles everywhere in Rotorua I wasn't joking. Just around the corner from our hostel was a free local park that had so many different vents and things to see that in a couple of hours we barely covered half of it.
I did think, however, that putting a scented garden next to hundreds of things spouting foul sulphur stink was a pretty silly idea. No?

Everywhere we looked there were mineral pools with steamy surfaces sensibly fenced off to prevent idiots from boiling themselves alive.

It didn't take us long to discover our first mud pot - and, my god, it smelled bad!

It's not too awful until the wind changes and the gas gets blown right in to your face. I basically had this reaction when it first happened.  

The mud was pretty awesome to watch though.

Sooo hypnotic...
What with the earth being a tricky madam the fumerole locations are constantly moving. Some are drying up...

...while some are popping up and causing health and safety issues on the footpath.

Seriously, if you head to Rotorua don't waste $60 paying for entry to one of the large parks. We were more than happy with the free one! More money for pints of speights.
Of course someone who came before us was a right joker. Lets desecrate the local area of interest lolz.

There was even this crazy one that sounded like a kettle boiling thanks to the pressure and steam!

We even found a teeny baby one - so tiny and yet still pumping out heat!

Tamaki Maori Village
The final stop on our super tourist day was the Tamaki cultural experience, and evening of learning about moari culture...and eating traditionally cooked food. Yum!
We had a few panicked minutes when our bus turned up twenty minutes late (and I was still wet from a shower!) but before long we were on our way. When the journey began our 'tribe' (coach of people) was assigned a chief who would be our boss and envoy for the evening.

We waited for our nice friendly greeting...but instead we got Te Wero - the challenge!

 Seriously fearsome warriors came up in turn and intimidated us with the Powhiri.

But soon they decided we were an acceptable looking bunch.

After our chiefs all had a nice friend making hongi it was time to enter the village itself. 

There were several stations for groups to wander between, all demonstarting a different aspect of maori life.
The below wooden grid is used to train warriors. There are 150 different ways to cross it and some have to be performed while partially submerged in water. Erk.

There were also carving demonstrations.

And of course the haka! I was very disappointed that my ovaries meant I wasn't allowed to join in (and Mikey was too chicken to volunteer!).

We were shown how 'poi' worked...

...and games they played for fun. This involves holding sticks and running from right to left depending on which is called out. Running the wrong way or catching the stick beside you means out!

Thankfully our rumbling tummies were soon happy as the smell of our dinner wafted towards us. It was time to lift the hangi!

This is a traditional way of cooking food. Different meats and vegetables are lowered into a hole filled with white hot coals, covered in hessian sacks soaked with water and finally covered with earth. The food is then cooked and steamed for a good few hours meaning that it's beautifully tender and has a lovely smokey taste...mmm I'm hungry thinking about it.


Unfortunately for our hungry stomachs dinner was not yet served. Instead we were led inside the Wharenui to see a performance.
We saw poi demonstrations, singing, dancing and some very complicated hakas. It was brilliant!

But, finally, we were at (imo) the best part of the evening. Food!
I'd had hangi before (cooked in Mikey's backgarden using a shopping worked) but this was pretty darn good.
There was also pavlova, a dish that I now know has the same dispute of origin as the ferocious cream tea war between Devon and Cornwall. An Aussie guy genuinely ignored us for most of the meal because Mikey said it was definitely a kiwi dish. I'm not even joking.

Very tired after our action packed day we decided to party like it was 1999 and read in bed before going to sleep. I know, I know, we really need to tone it down.
The morning dawned bright and blue and we enjoyed the view from our balcony before packing up and heading off.

Obviously not before taking some super cool head-in-the-hole pictures.

Thanks for having us Kiwi Paka!

Polynesian Pools
After a whirlwind few days we decided to treat ourselves and relax at one of the local spas.

We got there early to beat the crowds and were please to see lots of locals having a dip before they went to work.

This place was a total bargain - only $25 for unlimited access to 16 different pools.

Each was heated to a different temperature (you are supposed to work your way up...) and is either acidic or alkaline. Both have properties that are purported to help a number of health issues.

As we don't have muscle problems or arthiritis I can't attest to it's effectiveness; I can say that it was rather nice to sit in the hot pools with sun shining on us looking out over Lake Rotorua. We did occasionally hop out to 'feel the benefits' after the cool air chilled us right down too.

If we didn't have a family BBQ to scarper back to I think we could have sat in here all day!

The healing benefits of the water were 'discovered' in 1878 when a local priest bathed and found himself miraculously cured of his arthiritis (are we sure it wasn't just Jesus? No?). One of the springs is named the 'Priest pool' after him!

Since then the spa has been rebuilt and developed, but you can still see some of the original baths - although the water didn't look too nice to bathe in... We stuck to the approved new fancy pools!

As you can see we found the whole thing terribly stressful. Especially the bit where we got out and ate cheese toasties for breakfast (no fluffy towels included, sadly).

Anyone who has ever lived with me with attest to the fact that I LOVE having a bath. Back in the UK I'd have one nearly every day (ask my Dad how much his bills went up when I was home from uni) but even with a lush bath bomb nothing compares to this...

Perhaps is was the sun..or the warmth...or the minerals...but we felt pretty darn good after our hours of soaking. After a very scientific process stolen from Goldilocks ("This one is too hot, this one is too cold") we found that our perfect temperature was a lovely 39 degrees.

We can't wait to go back and treat ourselves to a private pool with a bottle of bubbly! Probably around the time we sail around lake day!

Dried off and feeling like perfectly cooked lobsters we decided to actually see the Lake that the town is named after.

Very pretty, although we were more taken with an activity that seemed to involved putting small children inside bags of plastic, inflating them then pushing them onto the lake and seeing what happnened. Brilliant.

Fitzgerald Glade
After making sure no children were seriously injured (probably not) it was time for our trusty steed Betty to carry us back to Cambridge.
On the drive we kept seeing a little owl giving us driving instructions. Mikey informed me that it was actually a local NZ owl called a morepork. In moari culture the morepork warns of danger and death, so it was obviously a perfect candidate for road safety signs.

We did eventually find an explanation. He's here to keep us safe, guys! I absolutely loved it, another reason to adore New Zealand.

Heeding the warnings of 'Ruru' we drove safety in to the famous Fitzgerald glade. It's a bit of alright.

A road covered by overhanging trees, so beautiful!

And then we were home, greeted by Oscar and the rest of the family for a lovely afternoon and evening of eating and drinking.
Not too much drinking though, because we had even more to see the next day...

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