Saturday, June 11, 2011


Ahhh, Rotorua. The thermal pools. The Maori culture. The smell of...eggs.

Our journey began with a 3 1/2 hour car ride down the desolate motorways of New Zealand. And I must say, out of all the wonderful family car trips I have taken, this one. was. tops. Of course I missed my wonderful father singing along to the Eagles and Led Zepplin in the front seat (love you dad), and my mom asking to stop every 40 miles for a bathroom and back break (miss you mom), and even my wonderful hormone-stricken teenage sister texting with her ipod on full blast... but this car ride. I'm still not sure if it was the absence of radio music and commercials or the endless starry sky that I have to thank, but whatever it was...

With about 15 minutes left until we reached our accommodation, I knew we had hit the Rotorua city limit. Sure, the attraction signs and bright lights helped, but it was the refreshing smell of sulfur that told me we had arrived. This "geothermal paradise," although beautiful by day, was extremely uninviting by night - the stench of rotten eggs seeped through the car doors and windows from angle telling us "yes, you have arrived to New Zealand's thermal energy center."

After ending our evening with a wonderful, yet culturally inaccurate, curry feast at the Amazing Thai restaurant and settling into our 1-6 (or, as I evaluated, 12-20) persons "Heavenly Heights" unit in Pohutu Lodge, we quickly fell asleep, with hopes of waking up early and beginning our day with the sun.

As planned, we woke around 7, beginning showers and packing our bags for early check out. With time to spare, my host dad unpacked the grocery items he had brought along for the trip and began the fascinating process of preparing a New Zealand "brekky." Now, if you haven't had the life-changing opportunity to experience such a breakfast, I'd like to explain. A proper New Zealand breakfast is in no way comparable to Bob Evan's. Or Waffle House. Or even an American family's "Sunday pancake tradition." New Zealand breakfasts are indescribable to any breakfast lover throughout the world. So, rather than attempting to convince you of its mouthwatering abilities, I'll instead share the menu (per plate): 1-2 poached eggs on wheat toast, 2-3 halves of grilled tomatoes, strips of bacon (or, in our case, the healthy alternative of chicken (with 90-something% less fat), and a scoop of baked beans (New Zealand's pride a joy).

With our stomachs full, we piled into the car and made our way to my #1 priority of the day: Te Puia. This "premier Maori cultural center and home of the world famous Pohutu geyser" was given top priority due to my craving to experience the country's indigenous culture. In Auckland, I've been greeted with the Maori "Kia Ora" each evening on Channel 3's news, and informed of cultural values by my host family and faculty members, but Te Puia's site and interactive opportunities would help me to truly understand the large pillar of Maori culture in relation to New Zealand's history.

We began our visit in the site's museum, learning about Maori history, traditions, beliefs, and values. From weaving to wood carvings, the people of Whakarewareua and the gaurdians of elements, my host family and I explored various aspects of the Maori before arriving to our 10:15 cultural performance (in my opinion, the best part of the day). Since my arrival to New Zealand I have been patiently waiting to witness a traditional Haka performance by Maori descendants - now I could finally see one!

After watching the Haka and very unsuccessfully attempting to complete a poi performance on stage, we moved on to the geothermal park where we explored the various hot pools, mud pools, and geysers. Home to the "world famous" Pohutu geyser, we sat and watched as water erupted from the ground into the air and reached 30 meters high (100 feet!).

Once completing the 2 1/2 hour trail around the park, we moved on (through the gift shop) to Whakarewarewa Forest (remeber, wh="f"). The forest is known for its towering Redwood trees that reach heights to 60 meters!
Ready for lunch we made a quick stop to the unique, one of a kind, New Zealand owned...Subway shop...before traveling with our $11.50 foot long sandwiches to the lakefront of Lake Rotorua. After our lunch with the swans, we drove to (and quickly passed) the Rotorua Museum in a hurry to the Zorb! site. For those unfamiliar with this extreme sport, zorbing encompasses crawling into a human-sized, blown up plastic ball (or, as my dad would call it, a hamster ball), and rolling down a grassy hill. With options of either being strapped in at the wrists, hips, and ankles, or sitting inside with buckets worth of water soaking you throughout your journey, this New-Zealand invented activity is very popular amongst tourists, and as I disappointingly found out, young children. Arriving to the Agrodome area where the Zorb was located, we approached what looked like a sledding hill (rather than what I expected would be a New Zealand hillside of terrain and unpredictable rolling patterns). After watching two 7 year olds complete the water Zorb and get out laughing and asking for another round, I decided to save my money for another, more thrilling, New Zealand experience.

With my head hanging low, we departed the Agrodome and moved onto the Off Road New Zealand site where my host dad and brother go karted before heading home. Although the end of our Rotorua trip was a bit of a disappointment, the car ride home helped me to regain enthusiasm for New Zealand. Unlike the starry night journey to Rotorua, our ride home took place during sunset. And what a sunset it was. As the sun set behind the rolling hills of Rotorua, I watching as we passed bulls, cows, llamas, horses, goats, ostriches and, of course, sheep!

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1 comment:

  1. Another most excellent summation! I always look forward to them and am never disappointed! It's - almost - as good as being there. Too bad Epcot doesn't have a New Zealand country stop - you could be a docent there. All our love and keep on writing! They're fantastic.