Spa and Maori culture

So – Rotorua – geothermal activity. Day two was time to get up close and personal. After a walk around town to get our bearings we headed for the Polynesian spa. Two different springs feed the spa – one on the acid side of ph, the other on the alkaline. Jay from our group had gone zip-lining, but the rest of us met up at the spa. Wilf and the ladeees, taking the waters. It was very nice – we could drift from pool to pool and then have time outs on the heated loungers. By early afternoon the bus tours were beginning to arrive, which was a good time for us to move on. That and we were getting rather pruney.

Wilf enjoys the acid pool,

And over in the very hot alkaline bath…

The Maori iwi (tribes) in the Rotorua area have cultural events that are available to the public. We went to visit Te Puia, just outside the city in a valley filled with geothermal features. Our tour of the very impressive facility started with a walk through their school dedicated to traditional Maori arts beautiful work, both traditional and modern.

There is a spectacular geyser in the valley, that erupts very regularly.

When the little spout to the left starts to go that means the big one is imminent.

Like that!

We also enjoyed a traditional welcome ceremony in the long house, followed by a delicious dinner. Part of our diner was cooked in a covered pit, using steam from the ground. After dinner we returned to the geyser to drink hot chocolate while sitting on the heated rocks. They geyser was lit up, making the night time eruption even more spectacular.

I can’t find a decent night time picture, so here’s the long view of the valley.

Everything about the visit was first rate. And everyone we met was effusive in their thanks for our visiting. ‘Your visit to our land makes it possible for our culture to survive. Your admission makes jobs in this facility, and allows us to fund our school. This would not happen without you.’ The story of the first peoples here and their interaction with colonial forces is different than how it played out in Australia, Canada and the US, thought here are many common themes. And not all Maori are prospering. But this seemed to be an example of an iwi who had taken control of their situation and who are determining their path forward.

So much to learn…

Roto Vegas

After a few days on our own in Auckland we have joined an overland tour with Intrepid Travel, which will take us around the north island. It is a small tour – just six of us with our guide/driver. Two Brits, two Americans, and us.

Our first stop is in Rotorua. In a country of just under 5 million people, Rotorua sees about 3 million visitors a year, hence the nickname Roto Vegas. No bright lights or high rises, though. Seated beside a lake, the city is in a geothermally active area, which is part of what makes it so interesting,.

Okay – true confessions time. Our inner eight year olds got a bit of a work out on this trip. As we drove into the city there were surreptitious glances going round our little bus, until Lizzie spoke up. ‘That smell?’, she said. ‘That’s the smell of the gasses produced from the geothermal activity. The locals call it the smell of jobs and don’t really like it if you mention it.’ Okay then. Someone hadn’t farted on the bus. Good to know.

Blurs blurp bubbling mud pools by the lake shore.

After dinner at the local street market we went out to walk amongst the Redwood trees. Once upon a time a bright light got the idea that growing California Redwoods in New Zealand would be a great forestry idea. Latitude south matched well to their latitude north – what could go wrong? We’ll just plant them, and then our grandchildren can harvest huge trees.

Well, best laid plans. Turns out there’s way more rain in this part of the world. Which means the redwoods grow really fast. So fast that instead of producing the dense hardwood as they do in California, they produce a softwood – not what they were looking for.

Outside Rotorua the demonstration forest has been converted to park with hiking and biking trails. But in the centre is the Redwood walk, which is up in the trees. We went at dusk so we could enjoy the walk and the lighting installation.

Up the ramp we went, to walk between the trees.

Amongst the trees are huge lanterns, created by David Trubridge.

And here we all are

It was quite wonderful, walking high up in the trees. The engineering of the whole thing was pretty cool, too. The bridges moved but the viewing platforms were stable. Everything was rigged so as not to damage the trees – I would have loved to how they did it.

Things seem bigger here

Food wise, at least. We set off on a trek across the Central Business District of Auckland to find Brothers Brewing. Which we did. And it was wing night. $1.00 per wing. We ordered a dozen – seemed like a logical decision.

We got to talking to our table mates and time passed. And then the proprietor came out with two huge platters. Turns out when they say wings they mean the whole dang thing. We were rather taken aback, but tucked in. It felt like we each ate the equivalent an entire chicken. And it was rather a wrestling match top get them apart. When we left we mentioned to the bar man that in North America a chicken wing is just part of the wing – the tip gets discarded and the two segments are each sold separately. He got a far away look in his eyes and he said ‘Good to know..’ So – we apologize to folks if the wings just got more expensive.

In all the chicken and beer mayhem I forgot to take a picture, though.

Next day we stopped at another brew pub and they had New Zealand green lipped mussels on the menu. Let’s share a plate as a little snack of a local delicacy. This is what showed up:

They were good but OMG – huge. First huge chickens, now huge mussels. Seems to be a theme. Don’t get me started on the toast at breakfast! And we have been scarfing down the giant toasts at breakfast because the butter here is the best we’ve ever had.

Nice eggs, eh? Folks down here like to put an egg on almost everything.

Why yes, that is a chicken Caesar salad. With a poached egg on top.

I’m sure you’ll all be comforted to know that we aren’t going hungry – we’re working our way through as much of the local specialities as we can. I’ll report back later on adventures in pie land.

And to finish for now – Auckland past and present…

Yep. Another Aquarium.

There was discussion between us about what kind of a trip our New Zealand adventure would be. Would we rent a vehicle and drive? Would we take a cruise around the islands? How much of the country would we see?

Lots of people from North America manage driving in countries that drive on the left side of the road. And I’m sure we could, too. But – we decided we didn’t want to. Taxis, transit, tours – they would work for us.

And that is how we came to be standing by the side of the road on a hot summer day, waiting for the shark bus to take us to Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium. The bus was pretty much as advertised…

We’ve been to many aquariums, but this one is unique in that it is entirely underground. Marine archeologist Kelly Tarlton had a dream to build an aquarium, and he found this site, which was a former sewage storage tank facility. Time and money and ingenuity – and TaDa – the tanks have been transformed into an underground facility. It was very interesting. Part of the facility was a reproduction of the Scott’s hut in Antarctica, along with information about the Antarctic explorers and the work that continues there.

Part two was a big display of Gentoo and King penguins, who live together in a snowy colony.

The third area is a large shark and manta ray exhibit. We’ve been to many aquariums where the displays have the tank above and around the viewers, often with a moving sidewalk to move the traffic along. This was first of that kind, and it is still going strong after more than thirty years.

One of the things we enjoyed about this facility was the fact that it is so quiet. Even though it is summer here the facility was not packed with people. We’ve been to bigger facilities with more critters =- very impressive. But this was small,focussed and almost intimate. Really well done.

And how often do you get to ride in a bus shaped like a shark?

No oxcart this time !

Hey! Hello from the other side of the world! Once again we’ve de-camped from winter and headed south. Way south – all the way to New Zealand! We decided to dive right in and take a little tour from our first stop in Auckland. A short ferry ride away is the island of Rangitoto. Six hundred years ago it was an active and erupting volcano – now it is a nature preserve.

It is summer here, and hot, so we decided to take a tour. When we were last in Japan we had rides in an oxcart – this time we had friendly Bob and his tractor rig.

So – you know what the thing is about riding in an open cart on a volcanic rock?
Dust. OMG the dust! And the rattling! My FitBit was convinced I had walked thousands of steps just riding along. We rode up though the forest that has slowly slowly grown up on the lava. Eventually we came to – you guessed it – stairs. ‘Cause it is never a really Sharon and Wilf adventure without stairs.

375 steps, to be exact. Leading up to the summit and a fantastic view across to the city and all around the bay.

(Okay, that’s the telephoto view, but still – pretty nice!)

It was a really nice little excursion from the city – a chance to see some nature, to see the city in context. We also brought along a little pack lunch – had our first New Zealand meat pies in a pavilion by the shore, under the very watchful eyes of a hungry sea gull..