Finally got to see some of the "real" New Zealand - the lush fields, sheep, cows, sheep, rolling hills, and some more sheep. Actually I saw a lot more cows than sheep, probably because the road south from Auckland goes through mostly dairy farms. Also saw deer and ostriches - I think the Kiwis will farm anything.
It felt like we made about a hundred stops en route to Rotorua as the bus' toilets were broken. At one of the longer stops I saw a Japanese guy buy about ten blocks of family size chocolate. The first proper stop we made was at the Waitomo Caves, for a quick tour, as part of the bus trip. The caves themselves were impressive, but nothing was going to top floating through the underground river watching thousands of tiny glow worms. The only thing I can describe it as being like is seeing a city from a plane at night, except this was a metropolis.
Just after arrival at my hostel I had a swim in the thermally-heated pool outside - it was great. Steam rises from it, and the water temperature is around 25-28° C. It's very nice until you get out, when you get hit with the outside air temperature of about 7° C.
There is a definite, distinct smell around this town. Sometimes it smells like popcorn, other times like scrambled eggs, and the other times undeniably sulphur.
We got into Rotorua late in the afternoon; so haven't really seen anything touristy yet. Tomorrow though it will be tours galore.
07/05/01 - Hot Rock Backpackers, Rotorua, 1913
I love the smell of sulphur in the morning.
Rotorua is certainly amazing. There are literally holes in the ground that spew out steam and smoke.
Went up to Sulphur Bay this morning - had a good close look at some of the bubbling/boiling stuff. I arrived and entered a track half way through, blissfully unaware as I walked all over the amazing outcrop that a sign just up the path read along the lines of "Danger - Geo Thermic Area - Do Not Get Off The Path". Luckily for me I didn't fall through the rock and get dissolved by sulphuric acid, but next time I'll definitely stay on the path.
I then went on to "Te Whakarewarewatanga o to Ope Taua a Wahiao", a Maori village built on a thermal reserve. They cook, bathe and wash in various thermal pools/vents around the place which is pretty amazing. They also had boiling mud baths and a geyser - I spent a long time hoping it'd go off, but unfortunately to no avail.
They presented a Maori concert which seemed a bit less "staged" than I expected, mostly because the performers were very casual about the whole thing. I consider that a plus - because you could tell it was a close community and the performance genuine. The Haka was certainly worth seeing.
The only negative thing I saw in the village was an abundance of stray cats, some of which looked pretty mangy.
Generally I thought it was well worth it, and gave me my fill on the geo-thermal stuff. There are other areas further out of town meant to be better, but I've seen enough to be content.
I bought some Maori souvenirs at the village that were legit - they carved some of the wooden idols in the shop (in the corner there were some tools and half-carved pieces of wood). He also confirmed my suspicions about some of the dodgy looking souvenirs shops in Auckland, and even in down town Rotorua.
I tried to get a flight around the town organized, but with not much luck. I'll see how I go tomorrow - Friday will be my "do lots of crazy shit in New Zealand day" - because it seems everyone has one of these and raves about it.
07/07/01 - Hot Rock Backpackers, Rotorua
OK, well my crazy shit day didn't really happen - the most adventurous thing I did was spend three hours in the thermally heated pool outside.
That was good actually, as I spoke to and met a lot of cool people, which changed the negative impression I got of the hostel Thursday night in the bar - a lot of people seemed rude (especially one of the barmaids who served her friends before me, even though I was waiting a lot longer). Plus the usual "where are you from/how long have you been here/where do you go next" conversation can get very boring as well - for everyone involved.
Yesterday I'd planned a scenic flight and some "zorbing" and even a "swoop". I finally found a flight company that did flights with only one passenger so I called them that morning. I got a very apathetic "hello", and after enquiring about the flight got something along the lines of "I'm dunno - maybe call back in an hour and someone can help ya". Yeah sure - with customer service like that, what's the rest of their operation like? I gave them a miss.
So about that time I thought stuff it - I'll just go and do my washing. I didn't really plan to do any adventurous stuff over here anyway, so I wasn't really missing out on anything I really wanted.
I think the only other thing of note I did last night was to walk through the thermal park across the road from the backpackers - it looked unreal at night, moonlight and streetlights shining through trees and into the smoke. I took some photos; the place reminded me of the Dagobah system from Star Wars (without Yoda though, instead some Maori teenagers and a peculiar middle-aged man who kept wondering about). Today I'm going to see Waiotapu - I was going to see it yesterday but I'd already missed the geyser going off so I figured I'd just do it today (that was another reason why my plans fell apart).