Tag Archives: Rotorua

The sound of lava on willow

Friday 14th November – Monday 17th November
Rotorua to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand

On Friday, we took a bus from Rotorua to Hamilton, and then completed the Northern Explorer train route by riding on the Hamilton to Auckland section.

Our final few days in New Zealand were spent in Auckland. Although New Zealand’s capital is Wellington, Auckland is by far its biggest city, boasting some one million residents.

Rotorua to Auckland
Prior to catching our bus to Hamilton, we took a walk beside the lake in Rotorua, and saw the unusual (for us Europeans) black swans that live there.

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We had an hour or so to spare in Hamilton, so we grabbed a snack. Simon decided that a photo was in order, as he felt that a snap with this waffle, banana and chocolate combo should be the updated version of the ice cream sundae shot that my parents always took when I was on holiday as a child!

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Auckland
We arrived in Auckland in the evening on Friday, and we caught a glimpse of the Sky Tower (the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand) on the way to our hotel.

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Saturday was unfortunately rainy (although we can’t complain, as we have really had very few days of rain on our trip), but we did manage to have a look around the city. We used our guidebook to follow a bit of a walking tour of the city centre, taking in the modern Auckland Art Gallery building, Albert Park and the university area.

In the evening, we went to a city centre sports bar called Fox’s to watch the Four Nations Rugby League final between the New Zealand Kiwis and the Australia Kangaroos. The game was taking place in Wellington (about 650km from Auckland) and we would have loved to have been able to be there to see it live – rugby league is a less popular sport in NZ than rugby union, so we could potentially have got tickets – but the timings did not work out due to our flight on Monday. However, the atmosphere in the pub was great and we really enjoyed the match – particularly as the Kiwis were eventually victorious 22-18, after a close-fought battle.

Sunday was a brighter day and we kicked it off with a tasty breakfast in an alarmingly-named coffee shop close to the Britomart station.

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We then took the train a short distance out of the city centre to go for a walk to get some views of the city. We walked up Mt Eden, which is in fact a volcano (Auckland is a city built on fifty volcanoes – Mt Eden is extinct, but not all of them are!). The top of the volcano later formed a crater, which is sacred ground for Maori people.

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A sign at the summit confirmed that we were a long way from home!

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From there, we walked through to Eden Park, the stadium where the NZ All Blacks play rugby and the NZ Black Caps play cricket, to watch a Twenty20 cricket game between the Auckland Aces and the Northern Knights. It was mainly a family event, and only one stand was being used by the attendees (hence why the stadium looks deserted in our photos!). This was our first ever live cricket game (we’re definitely going to attend a game at Chester-le-Street when we get home) and it was fantastic to see some sport at the national stadium.

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We finished our day back in the city centre in the Britomart area, just behind the central station, which contains a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.

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Thought for the day
On one of Simon’s favourite sit-coms, The Flight of the Conchords (about a Kiwi band and their manager, trying to make it big in New York City), the wall of the manager’s office is graced by a tourism poster featuring a photo of sheep grazing on the rolling hills of the North Island and bearing the legend: “New Zealand – like Scotland, only further away“.  

In fact, and as much as we love Scotland, it seems to us that NZ really isn’t like anywhere else on earth: 

– This stunningly beautiful country, which is not much bigger than the UK, boasts beaches, volcanoes, geo-thermal pools, alpine mountains, earthquakes(!), cool cities, rainforests, glaciers and even fjords;  

– Its 4 million incredibly friendly residents seem to get along harmoniously, despite their varied backgrounds, with far less of the friction between original inhabitants and European colonists than is the case in other countries;

– 75% of the country’s energy needs are supplied by renewable sources, principally hydro power from the multitudinous rivers and geo-thermal energy from deep underground;

– Its legal system has managed to avoid a “compensation culture” by instituting a state-wide system to compensate victims of accidents and fine the perpetrators; and

– New Zealand has no snakes and only one (very rare) poisonous spider.  Add this to the fact that there are no large predatory mammals, either native or introduced, and you have a country where, unlike Australia, the wildlife is not generally out to destroy humanity (the geological fault lines are another matter, however…).

In other words, we loved New Zealand (or “Godzone” as it is sometimes known, after it was described by a poet as “God’s Own Country”). In fact, if we didn’t know better, we would think that the entire place had been carefully designed – perhaps by legendary Kiwi movie director, Peter Jackson…

When we first arrived, we kept saying to ourselves: “We need to do everything we can while we are here – we will never come this far again.” Within a week, our catchphrase had become: “Next time we are here…”!

Goodbye New Zealand – I suspect that we will be back.

PS The title of this post was inspired by our day of volcanoes and cricket. I think I missed my calling as a tabloid sub-editor!

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Rotorua smells

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. 

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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.  

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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.

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Te Puia
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. 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!