For one of my final weekends in New Zealand, I was headed north to what is considered the cultral center of the North Island, Rotorua. I had planned to go over the three day weekend we had for the Queen’s Birthday, but had come down with a cold that was going around. Administration was really nice to let me take an extra day the following weekend (since I had by that time finished my teaching requirements), and it felt a little more fitting anyway- being the weekend before MY birthday.
I got the bus early Saturday morning and arrived in Rotorua midday. i had already booked a day trip the following day to see New Zealand’s famous one of a kind glowworm caves and then a spa package at a local geothermal spa on Monday (I told you! Birthday weekend), so Saturday was the time I had allocated to go to the Maori village. Being the hub of cultral events for Maori traditions, there are plenty of concerts or villages you could go see, and that’s one of the main tourist attractions. The other is that the city of Rotorua is actually sorrounded by hills on all sides that form a ring, and the outline of the creater. The volcanic activity is wwhat gives Rotorua it’s other main attraction- geo thermal activities such as gysers, boiling mud, etc. And it provides for an interesting aroma.
That afternoon, after settling in my hostel, I was given directions into the center of town. I was told to cut across the field, where I encountered soccer practice, a farmers market and steaming lakes! It was crazy to just see steam boiling around as I walked along. I made it into town and took a shuttle out to the traditional Maori village, called Whakarewarewa (Maori only has like 14 letters).
There are other tours that people can take, however, this village is still inhabitated by Maori’s, who run the tours and concerts themselves.
I arrived just in time to see a small concert where they perfrom tranditional song and dances. (Sorry- I had bad lighting!)
They ended with the Haka- the famous Maori war dance. It was performed to psych up the warriors mentally and physically before heading out into battle- and it was pretty powerful and gave me chills!
(As a side note, the New Zealand rugby team always performs it before their international matches to intimdate their opponents.) Here’s a link to a snippet of what a larger concert would look like that i found off of youtube.
After the concert, we were allowed to go down and take pictures- which felt a little tacky, but I still did and tried my best Maori warrior face.
(Yes, his is better.) After the concert, there was a short tour around the village, which looked poor and rundown. It included stops at mudpools, the cemetary and of course thier souvineir store. We were told we couldn’t continue up a the path as we would only enoucounter a gate from the Te Puia Institude that was built on the other side of the village in 1963. They started going their own tours focusing arund a gyster, but still going on the villagers land. There was confusion trying to schedule and collect payment between the Whaka tours (who had been operating and living there since well before ’63) and the Institute’s tours. It was agreed that only the institute would collect and run tours, but still giving the villagers thier portion for using their village, etc. After a while, new boardmembers were instilled and politics came into play, with them not understanding why they were giving the Moari a “handout,” apparently forgetting who’s village it was in the FIRST place. Regardless, as a result, the gate was put up and they each independently run thier own tours. Hence, why even though there are more theatrical and larger Maori concerts or experiences, I was happy with knowing that I was doing the one actually run by Maori’s.
After taking some pictures and before having to meet the shuttle going back to city center, I decided to try some of the corn I heard was cooked in the containers from the ground just by all the heat and steam. I didn’t realize I had been walking by them all the while, until I saw a woman opening one!
They call the method of cooking the food in the ground “hangi” and I decided to had to have some corn. But, since it was so late in the afternoon, I was able to purchase a whole hangi meal for discounted, so how could I refuse! They put the meat, potatoes, veggies and stuffing into a tray, cover it with tin foil and into the pit oven it goes! It’s like a tv dinner… from the earth!
I made my way back to the hostel, content with the cultural experience in Rotorua and looking foward to the next day. My grandfather and his wife do extensive travelling and when they found out I was going to New Zealand they told me the one thing I absolutley HAD to do was see the glowworm caves! I had booked the bus trip on the internet and it was an all day event- as the glowworm caves were actually a couple of hours outside of Rotoura, but this was going to be my last chance and the closest I would be so I had to do it. I got packed for the day and went to the bus station, only to find out that there was only me and two other people going to the caves that day! We had the whole bus to ourselves, and they were going on to Auckland afterwars, so it was just going to be ME on the way back!
The trip was actually really great, though, because it meant we could talk a lot easier than if there was a whole tour group. It turns out that the driver was originally from the village I had just toured yesterday and it was through him I found out all the political history.
Once we got to the caves, they dropped us off and we met up with another tour about to go through. It was UNBELIEVABLE. There was no photos allowed, which for someone like me is a major disappointment. Thank goodness for marketing photos on the internt, but I swear it really does look like this!
When we arrived, we had to actually go through the caves and walk down to where the water was with the boat that we traveled on, looking up at the glowworms above us. Our guide had obviously been doing this for a long time, and even though he was informative…. it sounded like he was narrating a BBC documentary and not talking to real people? Which honestly made it easy to tune him out but at least I could just focus on the magnificant geology around us.
The boat ride was amazing and silent: there are a series of ropes in place at different levels (depending upon water levels, I’m assuming), and the guide pulls us around a couple times just using the ropes. Then, we go around to the exit- where we almost couldn’t go because of the high water levels from recent rain- we had to duck so we didn’t hit our heads!- and pull out to the dock we were disembark and walk back up to the street level. We WERE able to take pictures from there… 🙂
We looked at the shop and then met our bus drivers who took us to a place for lunch before heading back to our respective cities. It was an amazing experience and I could go into all the scientific garble about the glow worms and how they’re the only ones like that in the world- although apparently there is another cave like this in Maylasia, but people can’t go down there because there’s such an extreme lack of oxygen that the carbon dioxide levels are too dangerous! And how really what you’re seeing is the life cycle of one insect, that never leaves the cave, and they get caught and eaten in their own children’s nests! But.. I won’t bore you.
It was a fantastic day, but back in town i made a horrible discovery. It was one that all travellers expect yet still dread. I had finally and officially run out of money. That’s not to say I literally didn’t have one cent to my name, just that the money I’d allocated myself for this whole trip was gone. I guess it’s a good thing I had already reserved my spa package the next day… and that I didn’t have much longer to go until I was back home. 😉
The day at the spa was very cool- as it wasn’t just a spa. They had built a spa at these amazing hot pools, called Hells Gate, where there were different ph balance pools, used traditionally for medicine purposes or cooking as well as boiling mud pools- which the guide said was the only place in the world you could actually see boiling mud. There are lots of spa’s in the area profiting off of the regions geothermal activity, but again this is only one run and operated by Maori’s. I took the tour around and learned about the region before heading back to the facilities for some relaxing- but there were some strict rules.
This is apparently the pool that my mud bath was later to be drawn from!
The tour around the property all the hot pools took about an hour and we learned about how the Maori’s would use the ph nuetral pools for cooking and the sulpher pools for medicinal purposes, etc. The native guide tried to explain to me why the different pools so close to each other could have such different temperatures and acid amounts.
After the tour, you could take a couple minutes to do an imitation Maori carving. (Apparently, there have been several measures taken as so me being white and female does not offend the powers that be…)
I didn’t do too bad, if I say so myself! (The man told me to give it to my father.. since ‘guys like that sort of stuff… I didn’t really bother to try and explain that my father probably wouldn’t appreciate the woodwork and would probably rather have lotto tickets… oh well.)
Here’s where the pictures stop, as I went in to start my spa package. The funny thing was, that during my mud bath or soaking in the hot pools, they kept offering to take my picture, and while you know I normally love that sort of thing… it somehow ruined the relaxation mood. I politely declined. I had my birthday massage and then was back to the city to catch my bus back to Hastings! My New Zealand adventures are almost entirely over.