Tuesday 11th November – Thursday 13th November
Manakau to Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
Manakau to Rotorua
Having said our goodbyes to Julie, Sam and Joe on Tuesday morning, Doug took us with him on his regular commute to Palmerston North (or Palmy, as locals know it), where we had some breakfast then picked up our train.
Once we were on our way, we passed some beautiful scenery, including views of one of a number of active volcanoes visible from the train line.
Unfortunately the rain set in while we were travelling north, meaning we saw a bit less of the National Park area than we’d hoped, but we were soon getting off in the city of Hamilton.
Hamilton station was a short distance out of town and we needed to get into the city centre to pick up our coach to Rotorua. There didn’t appear to be any staff in the station, but there were some maps, so we took one to figure out how to get downtown. As we were looking at the map, a very nice guy came up and asked us where we were trying to get to. When we told him he offered to give us a lift, as he was going that way. We gratefully accepted…and chatting to him on the way in, it turned out he was the train driver who had brought us to Hamilton! Bonus marks to Kiwi Rail for their door-to-door service!
The coach journey was a bit late leaving and took slightly longer than planned, so we were already late as we arrived into Rotorua. This was made worse when the coach broke down about two blocks from our final destination! Luckily the driver was happy to give us our bags and let us find our own way for the last bit of the journey.
We were keen to visit Rotorua for two reasons – to see the geysers (and other geothermal activity) and find out a bit more about Maori culture – we weren’t disappointed on either count.
Cycle ride, Rotorua
On Wednesday we borrowed some wobbly bikes from our motel to cycle into Rotorua and explore some of the city. It sits on the shore of Lake Rotorua, which is actually a caldera (created 240,000 years ago, when the magma chamber under the volcano here collapsed). There is still a lot of geothermal activity in the area, including the geysers, and the city gets quite smelly, especially near to these active areas.
Rotorua Canopy Tour
An early start on Thursday morning and time to get a view of the area from higher up! The Rotorua Canopy Tour consists of a number of zip lines and wooden bridges, all in the beautiful setting of virgin forest. Only 5% of New Zealand still has virgin forest (which would have greeted Maori settlers when they arrived hundreds of years ago).
The morning was huge fun, and our guides kept things interesting with additional challenges (we both managed backwards, but upside-down zip-lining was less successful!)
The Canopy Tours also take the conservation of the forest very seriously. Many of the birds that are native to New Zealand are under threat from introduced mammal species, such as possums, rats and stoats. As a result, keeping the population of these pests down is a big part of their work. They’ve come up with a great way of fundraising for this (in addition to the Canopy Tours themselves) – companies/individuals can ‘sponsor a trap’ and can even go online to find out how many pests their specific trap has caught and killed! The tour was massive fun, and it was great to see the contribution the company is making to protecting such an important historic environment.
Te Puia is best described as a cultural centre, designed to protect and promote Maori culture. We decided to visit on Thursday afternoon/evening, to find out more.
Our visit started with a fascinating guided tour. Te Puia includes schools for traditional arts of weaving and carving. Weaving courses last up to a year, and carving for up to three years – small numbers of Maori are given scolarships, and visitors can see the students at work.
The tour then took us to the geysers. The larger of the two, known as the Pohutu Geyser, can reach heights of up to 30 metres. It’s believed that the geyser has an underground system of one or more chambers, which are filled with hot water, steam and gases. The water in the chamber starts to boil when the chamber becomes sufficiently pressurised and hot. This forces the water up through the geyser vent, usually once or twice an hour.
As afternoon turned into evening, we were taken to see our dinner, which had been cooking for several hours. The traditional method of Maori cooking is called hangi, and involves putting the food under the ground, on hot coals. We were taken to the hangi pit, as our feast was revealed (in the photo below you can see the pit with coals on the left, the food in the middle and the pit cover on the right).
This was followed by a fantastic performance of singing and dancing by a group of men and women in traditional dress. Joanna joined some of the women in the audience to learn poi (which involves swinging a ball on a cord) and I joined a few of the men to learn the haka!
The evening was finished with the hangi feast, and a final visit to the geysers. All in all, a fantastic experience, and a great way to learn about Maori culture, while also supporting its future.
Alternative blog title of the day
Joanna wanted to call this blog ‘Zipedy do dah, zipedy ay, Maori oh Maori what a wonderful day’. I used my veto to prevent this happening. You’re welcome!