New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 383 (193)
Saturday 26th March (2005)
It was a shame that we only got to spend one night at this last hostel, as it was a particularly nice one with a fabulous setting on the hillside overlooking Te Kuiti. Still, all good things must come to an end and we still had a tight schedule to keep so we reluctantly said farewell to the owner and other guest and started to make our way cross-country to Rotorua. With all the winding roads that snaked through the bumpy countryside, I could hardly maintain sixty or seventy Kilometres per hour but we did make good time without stopping along the way, save for the single refuelling stop close to Rotorua.
We had already booked and paid for our accommodation but still needed to collect the vouchers from the tourist information office in town so we made that our first destination once we arrived in Rotorua itself. What with this being the Easter weekend, the whole place was buzzing and there were several lines of people being slowly tended to by the seemingly very limited skeleton staff at the busy office. As I tagged onto the end of one of the lines, I watched a video display highlighting some of the things to see and do here in town. I was quite impressed with the range of activities on offer by the time I got to the front of the queue and was starting to think that we were going to really enjoy ourselves whilst here. But then I spoke with the less than enthusiastic clerk who first told me that I needed to join a different line to collect my B&B vouchers. Still, I didn’t want to be discouraged and so I asked her about the spas and thermal springs here in town instead. In particular, I wanted to know where to go to experience a natural spring in a natural setting, as opposed to a swimming pool complex with spa water piped in. Immediately, she started to give me what sounded like a very-well rehearsed sales pitch on the commercial spa pools in the area. I told her we weren’t interested in those but in natural spas in natural settings. For some reason, she didn’t seem particularly impressed with that idea and immediately tried to dissuade me from visiting such a place. She threw all sorts of scare mongering reasons at me such as the meningococcal that breads in them or the fact that there is broken glass there and that they’ve had problems with people’s cars being broken into and so on. I have no idea how much of this is true but the whole thing smacked of an attempt at preventing me from going somewhere where they weren’t able to make a commission from and that’s the sort of things that really gets on my tits. She might not have been feeding me a line of crap but I trust my instincts in these matters and the idea certainly fit with the attitude I was getting from her. We thanked her politely and went to the counter where we could collect our accommodation vouchers. The woman there was just as stuck up and unfriendly and I was by now starting to really dislike Rotorua already even though we hadn’t yet seen it. I honestly can’t understand why some information office staff here in New Zealand can be so friendly, helpful and go out of their way to volunteer useful information whilst others can be so standoffish and jaded to the point that they are soulless and a complete waste of time. Yes, I think it fair to say that my first impressions of Rotorua were not good. Hopefully, things will improve
We drove around and finally located our B&B but my experience with the less than welcoming staff at the Rotorua information office had by now put me in the frame of mind to expect the worse. Fortunately, what we found was a very pleasant B&B with a supremely friendly and welcoming host. Nothing was too much trouble and he was very sympathetic to all our needs and wants. John, our host and B&B owner, is a really nice guy and goes out of his way to make sure his guests are comfortable and happy. We have a very large room with a queen-sized bed and our own bathroom next door. We can make full use of all the facilities in the house, including the always on, high-speed, Internet. Within the space of our first ten minutes here, we were already giving serious consideration to spending three nights instead of the planned two. Rotorua might just turn out to be a nice place after all.
John, an Englishman as it happens, told us a bit about what there is to do around town and, after unpacking, we set off for a bite to eat and to start with a bit of exploration. We went into the part of town where all the restaurants are but had difficulty in finding a restaurant that was not hiking their prices by 15% due to the fact that it is Easter and a public holiday. There is a bit of a debate going on here at the moment with regards to how some restaurants are levying this surcharge whilst others aren’t. I don’t see why the surcharge should be applied and was reluctant to support any restaurant that carried out the practice. I swear I’m turning into a mean and grumpy old git sometimes.
Anyway, after our quick lunch, we drove over to near the town’s hospital to explore a park that is a thermal area. We wandered around the park and stood to admire the many fenced areas where hot, steaming lakes, bubbling mud pools or pungently steaming sink holes had sat there since before humans inhabited this land. This entire region sits on a very active, thermal, subterranean layer of geologically recent volcanic activity. As we drive around the area, we can see steam emerging from the surrounding hills and farmland where this thermal activity makes its way to the surface to let off pressure and heat. This thermal activity, and the resulting springs and spas, is one of the key attractions that brings the majority people to Rotorua. The other is the rich Maori culture that is showcased here through various tourist industry outlets.
We drove around a bit aimlessly after wandering around the thermal park and stumbled onto one of the commercial spring complexes here in Rotorua. We went in to see what it was like for ourselves and found it to be a similar complex to that we visited in Hanmer Springs on the South Island. It is reputed to be one of the top ten spas in the world but it is still essentially a swimming pool complex with hot spring water pumped in and filtered. Ahhhhhhhrrrrrrgggggg!
We got a bit side-tracked by our afternoon exploration of Rotorua and the tiring effects of the long drive over here started to take its toll, so we made our way back to our B&B to rest a bit and to freshen up. It was by now high time that we left for our evening of Maori entertainment and cultural enlightenment. Back in one of the towns that we passed through, on the way up from Wellington the other day, we booked ourselves into one of the several different Maori dinner and culture shows that can be seen here in Rotorua. We’ve been to similar events before (Khmer culture in Cambodia and Aborigine culture in Cairns both immediately spring to mind) and we were both very much looking forward to learning more about the Mouri culture this evening. The ticket office was just a short drive across town and this is where we left the car in favour of their bus that would take us the few minutes out of town to the re-creation of a pre-European Maori village. The bus driver was particularly entertaining throughout the drive out there. He explained to us all the meaning of the general Maori greeting of Kia Ora, which can be used to say hello, goodbye, how are you doing, nice seeing you and a host of other generic customary sayings besides. Our very entertaining driver went on to recite all these different meanings in no less than fifty-four different languages and his accent was near perfect for each language that he used as far as we could tell. We were both very impressed.
Our evening at the Maori village itself consisted of several different sequential events. Each of the five busloads of people that were brought in had to elect a symbolic chief that would act as ambassador for occupants of their respective buses. These chiefs would take part in various ceremonies throughout the evening. The first of these was the traditional challenge, where a Maori warrior would come out to meet the chief to assess their intentions for war. All of his aggressive body movements, facial expressions and guttural noises are apparently done so as to try to intimidate the visiting chief. This ritual dance lasts several minutes and culminates in the Maori warrior laying down a piece offering in front of the chiefs, one of which would move forward, pick it up and then move back again. This offering and accepting of the warrior’s piece offering is meant to signify that the two sides have decided to accept each other in piece. It was fascinating to watch the ceremony and to listen to the singing and chanting that followed by the Maori women folk. At the completion of this ceremony, everybody moved farther into the forest, where the re-created Maori village was laid out. There were a number of village dwellings with many occupied by Maori men and women engaging in various games and trades that would have been common in pre-European settlement times. Everybody explored the village for about fifteen minutes before we were all ushered into a Mare (meeting place), where we were further entertained by groups of Maori men and women performing different aspects of Maori culture such as song, dance, music, and chanting. The symbolic chiefs were escorted first into the Mare but we were fortunate enough to land ourselves with front row seats right in front of the stage, where we were able to get some very nice photos of the Maori artists up close. This show portion of the evening lasted about half an hour or more and culminated with a Maori dance that involved the participation of the entire audience. This really got everyone in a joyous mood.
The cultural show was followed by our meal in the next hall, where we ate from several buffet tables laden with foods cooked and prepared in accordance with traditional Maori methods. There were some more impromptu Maori chanting and ceremonial dancing to follow the meal and it was a fitting end to a lovely evening. We were further treated to somewhat of an unexpected cultural treat at the end of the evening. Apparently, a small group of Hawaiians were in attendance in conjunction with a cultural exchange they were having with the Maoris. They gave an impromptu performance of traditional Hawaiian dance and music for us all to enjoy. This is just the sort of exposure to foreign and distant cultures that I’m really pleased we’ve been able to experience on this trip and I felt this to be a real bonus. Not only did we get to learn about the Maori culture this evening but a little bit about the Hawaiian culture too – absolutely brilliant.
Our bus driver was no less entertaining with his languages prowess on the drive home and he had the entire bus in fits of laughter at times. It was a very pleasant ending to a very pleasant evening on what had originally threatened to be a very negative day. When we arrived back at our B&B, everyone had already gone to bed so I fired up the computer to see about where to stay whilst we spend a couple of nights in Tahiti on our way to Easter Island in a few days from now. I sent off a couple of e-mails to a couple of different guest houses so hopefully I will get a response in the next day or two.