Monday 18th November
The day didn’t get off to the best of starts because during the night I had been in contact with my dad about the moneycorp card issue. Not only was it still not possible for me to load the moneycorp card but because I hadn’t really been using my new credit card I’d forgotten the pin to that which only really left the expensive debit card.
I waved the coach off from the hostel in Rotorua and an hour later boarded my own to Auckland which was almost totally empty. After a quick stop in Matamata, the closest town to where they filmed the Hobbit and where the information centre had been built in the shape of a hobbit house i was on my way again back to Auckland.
By the time I got to the ferry terminal I was about 30 minutes later than estimated however luckily Peter was still able to pick me up at the other end. Arriving back at the house we chilled out with a beer and Peggy showed me her pictures of her journey on the Transiberion railway in the 1970s.
Tuesday 19th November
In the morning I was finally able to speak to Halifax and they agreed to send the statement moneycorp required so I am hopeful the situation will be resolved soon. Peter had a job in Auckland so he was able to take me in directly. I therefore had a bit of time to book myself a hostel in Auckland and to finally get a new pair of walking shoes and a pair of sandals/jandals/thongs.
After using a bit of free WiFi in McDonald’s I went to the hotel pick up point. For a while it looked like I was going to be the only guy but a few more turned up. Some of the group had met a couple of days earlier and the rest of us had only just arrived so initially it was a bit difficult to integrate. The coach wasn’t full and it felt a bit quiet but as usual after the first stop (again in Matamata) there was a bit of movement and people began to settle.
During the next couple of hours Craig our coach driver sent round the list of activities for the next couple of days, tried to teach us a song to perform that evening (I believe it was ‘Run Rabbit Run in Maori) and made us do introductions at the front of the bus. I also spent the time chatting to those in the surrounding seats, two Americans (Greg and Jesus), an Australian (Summer) and two others.
It didn’t feel like long before we were in Rotorua and at the place to go Zorbing, though for copyright reasons they were known as Ogo. I had already decided before leaving I wanted to try this in New Zealand and that I wanted to do the zig zag course in the water ball.
I was second to go and whilst I tried to run and stand up as long as possible I lasted less than 5 seconds, as I tumbled down the hill and after a number of summersaults in a few seconds I eventually decided the easiest way was to sit whilst I rolled down. Eventually I was able to recover my composure and started to stand and then run before the above process was repeated for about a minute. I actually really enjoyed it, it wasn’t as adrenaline fueled compared to some activities I’ve done but it was fun all the same if a bit short.
Back on the bus and Craig continued to teach us ‘Oma Rabbiti’ and after a couple more practice’s we’d mastered the lyrics and timings without the need for words. Shortly after we arrived at the Maori Marae. The girls entered first because in Maori culture they were deemed more precious than men so it showed we were coming in peace.
We were led to the meeting house (which would later be where we would sleep) where the chief of the tribe welcomed us and sang a song before we rose and sang the song we had learnt. Next we undertook the Hongi greeting, the gentle pressing of noses and after this we were considered part of the family.
We had some food and were then given the opportunity to ask a member of the tribe some questions. I found this particularly interesting because we learnt the way the Maori heal involved energy and sounded similar to Reiki.
After the session I saw him speaking to one of those on the bus and got involved in the conversation. We ended up speaking for a further hour or more about various topics including the fact that the land is still seized from the tribes by the government for development. However to me this really sounded similar to the UK where the government is persisting with the new High Speed Train despite the protests or even fracking where the government has appeared to put an American Energy Corporations above their own local environment and populations wishes. Even the tribe representative agreed it wasn’t really persecution because they were offered payment (even if not the true worth).
We certainly lost track of time and when I got back to the main hall it seemed everyone was already asleep.
Wednesday 20th November
Most of us had an early start as we had a day of activities. I had opted to do White Water rafting however because the World Championship practice’s were taking place later that day we had to leave particularly early.
We arrived at the centre and after the usual physical battle of putting on the wet suit Mitch, Jacob, Timo Summer and I were sitting in the boat with our life jackets on and oars in our hands. Our guide gave us some key commands to practice – row forward, row back and crucially “get down”. This was the one to remember when we went down the waterfall. Also more ominously we were also advised what to do if we fell out…
The boat was taken to the river on the back of a truck but we decided to run as it wasn’t far. Mitch and Timo being tallest were at the front, Summer and I following their strokes in the middle and Jacob and the guide at the back. We were so busy focussing on the commands and strokes that we didn’t notice the guide telling us to row full speed head on in to the bank (which we did).
The rapids themselves weren’t as wild as I had expected but I guess we were tossed around a bit. The main event however were the waterfalls we would be going down. As we approached the first we got in to our positions and I gripped on tightly. As we disappeared over the edge we were soon swamped by the water but we had all stayed in.
When we got to the biggest we felt fully experienced however we could see someone in one of the other boats had fallen out. This one did feel more exhilarating. As we went over it felt like the boat was tipping on to its side and as we were near enough vertical I could feel myself lifting up so gripped tighter than I had before. It was all over in seconds but looking at the photographs the boat was totally submerged by the waterfall.
In order to celebrate our victory over mother nature, Summer and I were told to get in the front and the other guys were told to row in to the waterfall. If I wasn’t already wet enough, I was now completely drenched but it was good fun. As none of us had fallen out we were told to jump out which we did though I struggled to pull myself back in and needed a helping hand before we got to the final waterfall though I got in to position in time.
Once we had were at the bottom we all had another go in the front going head first in a waterfall but soon the adventure was over and it still wasn’t 10:00. We got back to Rotorua and as the rooms weren’t ready went to get a snack.
I had the afternoon to check out the town and discovered a Hell’s Pizza when walking with Amy and Mardi. This was particularly exciting for me because other than Santa Maria it had been my favourite pizza place in London before it closed. I went in and told the staff I’d been to the branch in Shepherds Bush in London and whilst I wish I could say they were as interested as me they clearly weren’t.
I explored the rest of the area on my own and walked around the lake up to what I thought would be Sulphur Point but what ended up being much further on. It was quite interesting to see the steam rising from the shore and as I wanted to know a bit more about the history I called in to the local museum and walked around the Government Gardens.
In the museum I was in time to watch a 20 minute video on how a volcanic eruption in the late 1800s destroyed a tribes settlement and some natural basth terraces that were considered the 8th wonder of the world. The eruption was blamed on a Maori legend and the greed of the tribe after they had started charging tourists visiting the area. The video included sounds and vibrations which caused two small children to be taken out in tears and their crying added to the realism of the catastrophic tragedy.
After the video I went on a guided tour and the history of the building was explained. The bath house was funded by the government but it never made the money expected nor was the building fully completed before it closed. The sulphur in the water and the lack of ventilation had meant that the building was difficult to maintain. At one point when it was reopened it was used as a nightclub and many of the original statues were damaged in this period.
We were taken to where the baths were located, to where the furnaces and pipes feeding the baths were located (one was still there and the damage caused by the sulphuric water was evident) and the roof terrace. The guide also explained that in 2011 the building was finally completed to the original plans.
The guide also took us to an exhibition on the local tribe who had donated various artefacts to tell their story and it included a moving tribute to their role in both wars. We were also shown information regarding the number of recent earthquakes and I was shocked to realise there had been 5 in Rotorua in the past week alone. We also saw the live webcams for the various active volcanoes 3 of which were in the Tongariro national park which we would be staying at. I noticed all these were code green but I wasn’t sure how much notice they would have if there were any eruptions.
Returning back to the hotel I joined Amy and Mardi in the bar before everyone on the trip headed to an Irish Bar. I bailed fairly early but it had been a good way for us all to get to know each other.
Thursday 21st November
Before leaving Rotorua we had the opportunity to visit the main attraction in the area the “Whakarewarewa Thermal village”. Here we were taken around the living village Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao (the gathering place of the army of Wahiao).
We entered using the bridge constructed over the river in 1885 (prior to this visitors were carried) and once in almost immediately saw steaming pools. We were shown the steam box hangi that is used to cook food in the ground and a member of another group asked if the food still tasted fresh despite the areas location. Our local guide said they couldn’t comment as that is the only taste they were used to which was a rather fair point.
We also saw some of the local baths (for the tribe) and whilst we couldn’t go in we were allowed to touch the water entering it. The water is meant to have healing properties and whilst it is not for me to say either way it certainly felt a bit oily and different.
Next we were taken to an area where we could see the two geysers (Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers) but sadly neither erupted during out stay. We also saw the local church where due to the geothermal activity bodies are placed in tombs above the ground and the Whare Tipuna (meeting house).
Finally we saw a traditional culture show which was very similar to the one I’d seen a couple of days previously and at least 3 of the performers were the same but this didn’t make it any less enjoyable. There was a slight variation because during the final section we had to take part in a routine.
As I found my way to the exit I quickly headed for the mud bath but it seemed that area wasn’t as well attended to as the baths and was a bit overgrown. The mud bubbled below but it was a bit underwhelming though I’m not really sure what else I expected.
As we boarded the coach i regretted not trying the Spa during my free time but during my two visits to the town I’d done a lot. Next stop Lake Taupo and the Tongairiro National Park.