Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Off to Wellington via Rotorua

Thermal steam is continuous around the villages.
Following the Glowworm Cave Tour, it was back into the car for a two hour trip east to Rotorua. This is a well-known Maori village on the banks of a hot mineral lake. There are many bubbling mud pools, geysers and mineral springs in this area. Most visitors complain about the smell in Rotorua. It has a very strong sulfur or rotten egg smell that comes from the geothermal springs and lake upon which the town was built. After a while, it doesn’t seem so bad. The local people breathe it in all of the time as the Maori live in villages filled with geothermal springs. It is supposed to be good for sinus issues, but it didn’t seem to help mine!

A view out our hotel window. Smelly, too.
Rotorua is a place where steam rises from the cracks in the pavement! There are bubbling mud pools (in which we did not bath as many do) and geysers (Kiwis pronounce it like we do when we mean an old person) gushing from the rocks. The Maori people of Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao still live at Whakarearewa, which is known as the Living Village. These families and their ancestors have lived here for many generations and have been hosting visitors since the early 1800’s. The village guides are the people of Te Arawa.  It was a pleasure to be among these people and their culture. It is a spiritual place.

Chicken and vegetables cooked in the ground with
geothermal heat for a hangi dinner.
The Maori use the natural geothermal resources to cook their food and for bathing. The food is steamed and cooks very quickly consuming no electrical or gas energy. They use the geothermal waters and mud for healing the mind and body. Several of the Maori villages in the area offer cultural performances, tours and hangi meals. There is an entrance fee for visitors and even the children will remind you that you need a ticket to come in. 

Fortunately, the gondola takes you up and brings you down!
To the Maori, the geothermal resources is known as “waiariki” which means “water of the gods” and is interpreted as “hot springs.” They consider the springs as a treasure. Maori warriors bathed in the sulphurous waters to both heal their wounds after battle and to remove the tapu (sacredness) of war. For more than 150 years, people from around the world have been coming to Rotorua to enjoy the health and beauty of the geothermal waters and mud and the unique therapeutic and spa treatments developed here using these resources.

Dennis and Larry at the start of the luge run.
While the locals know where to go safely to the mineral spring pools in the bush, we chose to go to the established spas. Our first visit was to the Polynesian Spa (listed as a World Top 10 Spa) where they have two types of mineral pools: acidic and alkaline. The acidic geothermal water, known for its therapeutic benefits, bringing relief to tired muscles, aches and pains, arthritis and rheumatism. The alkaline geothermal waters feels very soft and is good for the skin.

While somewhat skeptic about the therapeutic value of the pools, we all felt much better the next day. In fact, Larry was sure it was not going to do anything to help our aches and pains, he was the first to suggest we do it again! Unfortunately, Vicki and I did not partake of the many spa treatments such as skin detoxification, scrubs and massages. I should have planned that into the itinerary. Shame on me!

Larry coming in for a crash landing!
Rotorua has much to offer for a vacationer besides the geothermal activities. Kiwis are outdoors people. Most activities involve water, tramping or hiking in the mountains or some kind of thrill! The country has become a tourism economy. While there are acres and acres of farmland, the main product here is thrills and spills adventure!
Three fearless warriors who made fun of me!
Let the games begin! Much to my surprise, Vicki wanted to do a Luge run and zip line at the Skyline Gondola adventure center. I wasn’t too sure my back was up to it, but we all rode the gondola up to where we donned our helmets and headed to the start line. Actually, it was a lot of fun and we did three runs! The luge is a gravity-fueled ride in a special three-wheel Luge cart. After a run down the mountain side, you hop on a chairlift to return to the top. I must say it is easier to ski away from a moving chairlift than it is to step off while it is still moving and try to get out of the way before it hits you or you knock down your partner!

I just wanted to walk down these stairs!
Then we headed off to do the zip line. I have done it before, but this was a little different and faster. The landing area was very different as we came in fast! Loved the ride, but not the way we landed. When I started down the steps from the landing platform, I was told that the event is not yet over!

I kept saying, "I can't do this! I can't do this!" But I did!
What I didn’t know was the final stage was a free fall off a platform to the ground below. This is not my cup of tea, thank you very much!!! I was unable to escape and was the first to go. It was terrifying! I had a harness and a rope to hold, but the idea of falling straight back off the edge of this high platform was awful. Of course, my family enjoyed my terror and even took photos! I guess I am here to tell about it, but not interested in doing that part again.   
Dennis playing in a stick competition.
We attended a cultural event at the Tamaki Maori Village since Vicki and Larry had not been with us at the Waitangi Treaty Center. This is a traditional Maori village deep within an ancient Tawa forest. The event lasted 3.5 hours beginning with the Haka ritual ceremony. The audience is actively engaged in the various demonstrations of games, weaving, dancing, etc. It gave us a look at a Pre-European Maori Village and a cultural performance.

Learning the HAKA!

The guys were drawn into the action and learned the Haka – sort of! The funny part was at the end when they stick out the tongue in defiance, Larry’s tongue was blue from frozen blue lemonade Slurpee earlier in the day! This time we stayed for the traditional Hangi dinner of chicken and vegetables cooked in the ground on hot rocks and covered with dirt for hours. Actually, it was very tasty!

The aftermath of blue frozen lemonade!
"Don't mess with me!"
Of course, the evening was capped off with a little challenge. When we got in the van, the battery was dead! It was 9:30 pm and we are 15 km from town in the woods! Fortunately, we had joined AA (same as our AAA – not the AA you might be thinking) so I called for road service. A friendly tour bus driver helped us find someone to jump the battery before AA arrived, so Dennis drove around for a while to charge it. Always something to add to the adventure!
The ladies have games they play with sticks and
some type of soft ball on lines.

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