Take a bath in a natural hot spring in Rotorua, that is how you ruin a perfectly good bikini, a perfectly good silver ring and how you also give yourself a new afro hairstyle! Interesting place Rotorua, interesting things going on below the surface. This town is built on an area of extensive geothermal activity. Take a walk down the street and random jets of steam blow from the side of the road. The hostel where I stayed, Kiwipaka, was completely heated by natural geothermal, I loved the bathroom with the toasty warm floors and the hot hot showers. I have never been anywhere like this before.
Surprised to meet up again with Alberto and the two Dutch girls on the way to Rotorua.
Some people no matter how hard you try to get rid of them... hehe! I also met Renata from Canada who I hit it off with immediately. We had one of those intense 24 hour on the road friendship things, all day on a bus together, out for the evening few drinks then we go our separate ways. These encounters can actually be quite meaningful and i will definitely be keeping in touch with the crazy Canadian climbing chick J On the way to Rotorua we drove through Lord of the Rings land, past the Tongariro National park and Mt Doom. We also briefly stopped at the incredibly powerful Huka falls, just outside of Lake Taupo
. 200,000 litres of water per second apparently and a glorious bright blue, pretty stunning sight.
Feeling a little silly walking through a field in our caving gear
Next on the ‘Karen has a go at some crazy new activities’ agenda was a spot of trekking and black water rafting through a dark underground cave filled with glow worms!! Yes, this really was as much fun as it sounds! The famous Waitomo glowworm caves are over 30 million years old and just a few suspicious looking hilly mounds disguise this magical underground world. A couple of hours drive from Rotorua to Waitomo town where we are made to don these ridiculous thick rubber wet suits, miners hats, and white wellies! We were then given a large black inflated tube for floating in the underground river, needed to be a snug fit for your ass, and off we went looking completely ridiculous walking through the fields to find the entrance to the caves.
Trekking through the dark, slippery, cold underground tunnels was quite a challenge in itself wearing these clumsy boots and restrictive clothing.
Angora rabbit shearing shed
We finally reached the start of the underground river and guess what muppet was selected to be the ‘fearless’ leader of the group? Yep moi, the first one to bravely lead the group through the narrow waist-deep, eel-infested waters in COMPLETE DARKNESS!!! Oh yes it was headlamps off here ladies and gents, as we were here to see the glowworms! I had the fear of the unknown, slowly feeling my way in the dark along the side of the cave, the French girl behind me clinging trustingly onto my shoulder. There were eels, large buggers too, and millions and millions of glowworms surrounding us. What a sight! Wading tentatively through in the cold and the dark but with such a beautiful miracle of nature, lighting the roof of the cavern like the stars above Lake Tekapo.
Hangi, Maori traditional underground oven
The sound of gushing water was getting louder and louder, we were reaching the top of a waterfall in pitch darkness YIKES!! End of the road? OH NO! Darkness, cold, welly boots, eels, glowworms, gushing water, no idea whatsoever how far down that waterfall goes but hey no worries right, just wedge your ass in your rubber tube and yes fall!!! Leap of faith our guide called it! Yep lucky for me, I was the first one to jump, to check that this is survivable! Did I feel confident? Bugger no, but what other choice did i really have? OK, here we go, inflatable tyre snugly around ass, then fall BACKWARDS in the dark down the waterfall argggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh, hit the water below, go right under for a few seconds, say hello to the eels, then phew!! I live to see another day! When the whole group had screamed their way down the leap of faith we were then ‘assembled’ still in our tubes so that I held onto the feet of the French girl behind me and she the person behind her and so on.
Maori cultural village
The guide then grabbed my feet and started pulling us all along the river. I just lay back in my tube, like the guide had told us, relaxed and enjoyed the serene wonder that is floating through a dark cave surrounded by glowworms. Truly beautiful and unforgettable. If you get a chance to do this you just gotta do it!
Once back on dry safe land and after warming up with a yummy soup, I had a couple of hours to spare before my bus back to Rotorua so stopped by an Angora rabbit shearing barn. I really needed those two hours as the lady there wouldn’t let me leave, telling me her whole life story and how she came to run a rabbit shearing business!
Back in Rotorua, I spent the evening learning about the culture and traditions of the first NZ settlers, the Maori.
Maori cultural village
Rotorua has the largest Maori population in NZ and it is possible here to spend the evening at a village set up to give a flavour of traditional Maori way of life. The indigenous folk of New Zealand seem extremely well integrated with the European settlers, perhaps in contrast to the situation in Australia in my opinion. When the Europeans first arrived to NZ, the Maori stood their ground and both sides agreed to a treaty. This has resulted, in my opinion, to greater understanding, equality, and also a great amount of respect for people regardless of ethnic background. During our visit to the Maori village we had to form our own tribe for the evening, appoint our own leader (poor guy had to keep giving cringy speeches) and learn some Maori songs. We then learnt about how different tribes would greet each other and the importance of accepting ceremonial offerings as a sign of coming in peace.
Quite enjoyed the sheep shearing demo! Oh there's a sheep there too??
Our dinner was cooked the traditional way in a Hangi, an underground oven. A full blown roast dinner, delicious lamb, sweet potatoes, veggies and some kind of stuffing. To say that I enjoyed this meal is a little bit of an understatement. I realise that I hadn’t actually eaten a proper dinner in maybe a month, as i had just been grabbing things on the road. Cooked to perfection, i couldn’t actually remember enjoying a meal quite as much as this.
The cultural show after dinner demonstrated the importance of tribes, of hierarchy, making peace and declaring war. The highlight of the demonstration was being taught the ‘Haka’, the Maori declaration of war, that has been adopted by the All Blacks NZ rugby team, designed to psyche up the team and intimidate opponents.
Hobbiton film set
It was quite something watching semi-naked men slapping themselves til their skin was bright red while chanting in Maori. Actually, i got the giggles big time! One of the Maori performers was a bit overweight and his thong did not quite cover his bits and bobs! Put it this way, I experienced a little bit more of Maori culture than I had bargained for watching him jump around!
There was an unexpected treat for me after the show too! Next door to the Maori village is the Rainbow Springs wildlife sanctuary. I was lucky enough to get one of the Maori ladies to take me through and show me the nocturnal native wildlife of NZ, thus completing my mission to see as many as possible. It was quite bewitching to see huge rainbow trout swimming around in a big circle around a natural underground spring into a lake.
OK, I know, I know, rainbow trout are not exactly native NZ right, hut hey kiwis are right? So here was my chance and I was lucky to see several brown kiwi running around in the protection of the park. Very strange looking things in the flesh, they just do not look real with their strange beaks and the way they kind of hop around. Maybe not quite as special as seeing them in the wild I know but considering that the majority of new Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild I was pleased just to see them running around the park.
Up early again next day to visit Hobbiton!! Very special time to visit the movie set from Lord of the Rings as it is currently being spruced up and prepared for filming the next instalment ‘The Hobbit’. Apparently, since Lord of the Rings was filmed, the set had been left to deteriorate and the sheep had taken over!! With filming for the next film about to commence, new hobbit homes had been built, gardens restored, and it was looking amazing.
Hobbiton film set
There was just two of us, me and an American lass, being given the guided tour of the film set. As i signed a secrecy agreement, i best not tell you too much about the set itself but I got a bit of a shock literally!! I was taking a photo of a hobbit home and accidentally touched an electric fence put up to stop the sheep ruining the newly planted gardens! Buuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, Ouccchhh LOL!! The guide was relieved that it was me and not the American girl who got electrocuted as she might have sued their asses hehehe!!
After a bonus show, watching a very fit man demonstrating how to shear a sheep, we bottle fed some cute baby lambs at the farm near Hobbiton then back to Rotorua for some natural spa treatments in the geothermal baths! The name of the spa ‘Hell’s Gate’ does not inspire too much confidence right? Steam, mud, sulphur smells, hit you as you enter this weird, barren moon-like place.
Black water rafting in Waitomo caves
Half an hour wallowing in hot mud which felt like having silk rubbed all over your body, gorgeous, followed by an hours soak in a hot sulphur spring bath that made me feel sooooooooooooooooooooooo relaxed. My hair did not thank me though, oh no! Maybe already a bit dried out from all the New Zealand outdoor adventures, but this really tipped the balance into an unmanageable dry afro mess! Also my bikini, I washed it about four times and couldn’t get rid of the sulphur. On one of the handwashes, i forgot to take off my silver ring and it went black just from the residual sulphur coming off the bikini!! Potent and scary stuff Mother Nature!!