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Archive for the ‘Rotorua’ Category

After having been fed so well last night I slept really well.  We got up around 7.30am, showered and sat down for breakfast at about 8.00am.  Not much packing was left to do, and we were on the road shortly after 9.00am.

It took us a little longer than expected to find the right petrol station but once we had filled up the car we were off to Murupara.  Murupara is pretty much the half way point to today’s destination of Waikaremoana Lake.  Our satnav did not recognise the unsealed road directly to our destination and wanted us to go via Taupo and Napier which would have meant a 7 hour trip.  In the end it took us a good three hours along the windy unsealed road including a couple of stops.

We arrived at Murupara, an empty town/village in the middle of nowhere, and found a small bakery where we stocked up on sandwiches and a drink for our lunch later on.  I had a conversation with a local man who assured me that the windy road was very scenic but also advised us to take our time.

And off we went.  The road was windy, but much more manageable than some other windy roads we encountered further up north, and there was hardly any traffic.  We passed through two small settlements and I couldn’t help wondering what life would be like for those people in winter or on very wet days when the road might be closed …

Roughly halfway down this road we stopped for our picnic lunch and the girls had some playtime near the clear stream.  Once again I was amazed at the cleanliness and tidiness of the New Zealand countryside, fresh air, the scent of the trees…
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A good hour later we arrived at the National Park’s Information Centre where we picked up a booklet with some short forest walks.  I asked the girl how much longer it would be to the Waikaremoana Motor Park and was pleasantly surprised and relieved when she said it was just down the road and shouldn’t take more than three minutes.

We parked our very dusty car just outside the office at the Motor Park, filled in the necessary form and were handed the key to Unit No 4, which was just a little further down the main path. 

Our unit has a small kitchen, bathroom, a double bed and one single bed downstairs and two single mattresses upstairs.  Once we had emptied the car we wandered back to the shop to buy sausage rolls and potato wedges for supper – not very healthy, but just what we needed (there were no fresh vegetables or fruit in the shop).

The girls were happy to let off steam outside while Tim and I relaxed with a cup of tea and a biscuit.  After the girls wrote their diaries (107 words for Hannah, 50 for Ellen), we had our supper and then went to explore the area.  We walked up to the lake and had a look at the boats and the other types of accommodation.
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We spotted a sign for one of the short walks and Ellen insisted it would be good to walk up the hill.  We only made it two thirds up as it was pretty steep in places and flip flops were not the best footwear.
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Back downhill to our cabin, a cold drink of orange juice and 15 minutes of winding down time for the girls before bed.

We very much feel away and cut off from everybody else with no internet connection or mobile phone signal, the right place for New Zealanders, or people like us to get some peace and quiet …

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Wallaby slobber

We had a relaxing morning at home (while the washing machine did its stuff) and then in and around the park – we also explored Hannah’s Bay Reserve, wetlands alive with birdsong and frog croaks (one of them really did go ‘ribbet, ribbet’).
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Panorama of Lake Rotorua from Hannah’s Bay.
Rotorua Panorama

Today there were several school groups passing through to go swimming/splashing in the lake, many happy but running wild, and just one quiet, well-ordered crocodile (one teacher who’s got an iron grip, then).

While at home I phoned up Qantas about our e-tickets; they were able to ‘revalidate’ our desired dates free of charge, but the lady to whom I spoke was most surprised that Travel Nation had asked us to do it: firstly it is the travel agent’s job, and secondly there is no reason why they could not have done it (no restrictions such as needing to be in the same country as the airline). That’s what we suspected all along, so that’s a big thumbs down for Travel Nation. Anyway, it is a relief to know that this is now sorted out.

Lunch of yesterday’s free sandwiches (we were given these at Waimangu cafe), then off in the car to find Paradise (Valley Springs). We took the back roads and reached it without too much trouble – sans SatNav – and presented our complimentary voucher for free admission. Well, we were persuaded to buy little packets of food, one for the fish and one for the animals, as well as a plastic cup for drinking from their fresh water spring.

First the loop around trout streams and pools, teeming with plump rainbow trout as well as the occasional eel.
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Also a selection of farm animals to feed, ranging from the conventional pony, goats and sheep to some shorn alpacas which we couldn’t take seriously; with their tufty heads and legs they resembled nothing more than overgrown poodles. Also some wallabies which drooled over the hand that fed them – lovely…

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We tasted the spring water – the same water that is in Ellen’s bottle bought yesterday at Waimangu volcanic valley – except that you wonder what dead animals might be floating in the pool from which you scoop your cupful. (The bottled water is at least ‘micro-filtered and ozonized’.)

The tranquil setting is superb, though, especially on a fine spring day such as this. Tree fern-lined walkways and a canopy walk, the soothing sounds of trickling water – this is the New Zealand we remember.

After our circular walk we waited outside the lion enclosure for feeding time at 2.30pm. The lions were sensibly resting in the shade and we did likewise. But as soon as they saw (or heard) the wheelbarrow full of horsemeat, they were up and ready for action. The keepers introduced the animals (there was a shy young lioness called Hannah at the back) and then chucked lumps of meat over the high electric fence. Some caught the food adroitly before it hit the ground, while one pushy male often fought the others for possession of the latest prandial projectile.
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Hannah the lioness.
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Then back to base for tea and a little rest before the evening’s activities. (Also time for some pre-emptive packing.)

We walked out into Lee Road at 5.40pm to be collected, and eventually a minibus picked us up. Mitai is a family concern, with staff numbering around 100 altogether. Tui (as in the bird) was our driver, and she told us they had recently returned from a European tour, during which time they performed in Salisbury and Swindon. So they must be pretty good…

We arrived at the venue (on the other side of Rotorua) and it soon became apparent that this is another large-scale outfit. A dining tent laid up with over a dozen tables, each seating ten guests, and later we discovered that there was a second, similar tent in use as well. Visa/Mastercard machines everywhere – in case you wanted to buy the add-on of a nocturnal kiwi viewing tour.

Our host, ‘Ben’ (not his Maori name) was big and jovial and entertained us well enough. A hapless Irishman named Shane was chosen to be our chief, and he had to make a speech on behalf of his ’16 tribes’ (i.e. nationalities in our group) on stage before the show – along with the chief from the other tent.

First we inspected the Hangi (ground cooked meal) with its huge trays of chicken, lamb, potato, sweet potato and foil-wrapped stuffing, and then we walked down to see chanting Maori warriors arriving in their Waka (canoe) from just around the riverbend.

Our hangi.
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Waka arriving.
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Another waka.
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Curly fern.
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The show followed; not at all the staged selection of similar saccharine songs we remember from Christchurch, but a mix of commentary, demonstrations of instruments or weapons, poi dance, stick juggling, warrior training (e.g. stepping rapidly between sticks – to practise avoiding tree roots, apparently), and the occasional song as well. All presented with panache and purpose, and without the ‘please don’t pick me’ audience participation section, e.g. let’s get the men to do a Haka and see how ridiculous they look.

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About an hour later it was time to eat, so back to Table 11 (which we were sharing with a construction manager from Reading who is between jobs, a London student spending a year at an Australian university and a French Canadian travelling for six months). The buffet food went down well with all, and even the girls returned for second helpings. The hangi meal was supplemented with numerous side dishes (pasta, rice, salads, etc.), the chicken was tender and the lamb lean (I’m not normally a lamb fan but this was delicious).

Dessert: chocolate swiss roll, trifle and/or fruit salad – most went for the first two, though I don’t know how traditional they are…

As the evening darkened, we ventured outside and down to Fairy Spring, where glow worms scattered their subtle blue spots of light along the banks. Then it was time to find our bus among the many waiting vehicles; quite a mass evacuation of all the visitors, but we got a minibus to ourselves for our out-of-the-way drop-off.

Back a bit before 10pm and straight to bed for our well-fed girls (they are excused their diaries for tonight). Do we recommend this ‘indigenous cultural experience’? Yes; it’s professionally organised with excellent food and entertainment, even if the sheer scale of it makes things a bit impersonal.

Tomorrow we press on to Waikaremoana Motor Camp, bordering another large lake. Not too far, but it’s along miles of twisty gravel track.

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Misbehaving moon

A good night’s sleep for most, but not for Kirsten who was kept awake by the moon… After breakfast we drove into Rotorua to get some information about places to visit during our brief two days here.

Hannah’s shoe shop in Rotorua.
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The first information place we tried turned out not to be the official ‘i-Site’ one, but we came away with a handful of leaflets and a vague idea of prices for Maori villages and geothermal sites. Two Maori sites were on the outskirts of the town and virtually next door to one another, so we decided to check them out.

First of all Whakarewarewa, offering a guided tour, Hangi lunch and a ‘cultural performance’ for $59 per adult (half price for children). Then Te Puia – which looked to be a far larger set-up judging by the coaches outside and the man directing cars to another parking area (we persuaded him to let us pause to note the prices) – with a tour and performance for $50 per adult (and no meal).

The first option looked the most promising, but we spent an hour at a Chinese internet cafe (a whole block of Rotorua seems to be Chinese-owned) during which time we not only uploaded blog entries and checked emails but also looked up reviews of tourist attractions. Whakarewarewa came out half way down with mixed comments, but a place called Mitai received glowing tributes. (I think it was rated second highest, with Wai-o-tapu claiming the top spot). So should we spend a little more money for a really worthwhile experience? (One advantage; the girls would only be charged $19.)

It was lunchtime by now so we got sandwiches at the Bakehouse Cafe (also Chinese-run) before walking to the ‘proper’ tourist information office. Here we asked to book the Mitai Hangi and concert for tomorrow evening, only to be offered free family entrance for another attraction – a choice between Rotorua Museum, Paradise valley Springs or Hell’s Gate Thermal Reserve. Now Hell’s Gate had received such diabolical reviews on TripAdvisor that we ruled it out immediately, and the girls helped us opt for Paradise Valley (where they can feed the animals…). So a welcome bonus here, saving a good $80 on entrance fees; anybody else planning a visit here, please note. (Apparently these ‘Hot Deals’ are available only through the i-Site office or on the Rotorua Hot Deals website.)

Next we drove to a fairly well-reviewed geothermal site, Waimangu, about 14km south of Rotorua. It is the world’s youngest geothermal area, dating from an eruption in 1886 which generated a series of craters, completely destroying all plant and animal life in the region. Since then the area has been recolonised, including a wide range of thermally-adapted plants and micro-organisms.

We followed a 4km downhill walk past most of the important features; two craters with lakes, numerous bubbling sulphurous hot springs, silica terraces, pumice flats, steam vents in the rock faces. Inferno Crater Lake has a beautiful pale blue colour to it, but it would be no place for a swim; it has a pH of 2.1 (highly acidic) and it can be as hot as 80C… The girls loved the exploring and the exercise, even if Hannah was more inclined to invent her own explanations for what we saw, rather than refer to the printed leaflet.

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Inferno Crater lake.
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We reached the end of the trail – and Lake Rotomahana, where one can take a boat trip – just in time to get a free shuttle bus back to the visitor centre (and, more importantly, its cafe).

We drove back towards Hannah’s Bay (stopping briefly at a supermarket); a pasta bake for supper, after which the girls settled down to their diaries remarkably happily (or does the promise of a sweet at the end help somewhat?).

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Tomorrow we’ll try Paradise Valley Springs (rainbow trout and lions) and then the Mitai trip in the evening – we’ll be collected and returned, apparently. So many other things we’ll have to leave undone; helicopter flights, rafting, Zorbing, the ‘Off Road NZ Monster 4×4 Thrill Ride’… And especially the ‘New Zealand Caterpillar Experience’, whose tagline ‘Not just a load of old bulldozers…’ must win a Shooting Yourself in the Foot award – that’s probably exactly what this ‘indoor display of vintage Caterpillar machinery innovatively staged in recreated native bush settings’ amounts to.

Let’s hope the moon will behave itself tonight…

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A long time ago I studied tourism and went on quite a few school trips in Belgium as well as abroad.

Often on my return my dad would ask me the same question : “Would you like to live there?”, and every time the answer would be : “Probably not”.

If he were to ask me this question now, my answer would be different. 

I loved New Zealand 9 years ago, and still love it very much.  I envy the New Zealanders, their country is beautiful, green, clean and tidy and the people are some of the friendliest I have come across on my travels. 
Would I want to live here?  I think I’d love to, but couldn’t bear to leave friends and family even further behind.

Is it just a case of the grass being greener on the other side … ?

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Hannah’s Bay

Another fine day, this one for travelling. We took quite a while to get packed and loaded; we seem to have accumulated so much extra temporary stuff (food, mainly). The bach also needed a quick clean to get rid of the grot we brought in when it was wet.

So we were away by a tardy 11am, heading on down the wiggly Pacific Highway through Tairua and past Waihi and Tauranga before branching off inland to reach Rotorua (we just avoided setting the SatNav for Rotoroa, which would have taken us to the South Island instead…). A green and pleasant journey – we stopped at a picnic spot for our packed lunch of sandwiches, then carried on to arrive at Hannah’s Bay around 3pm.

The terracotta house with a green roof, our instructions said. We retrieved the key from its cunningly secret location (no, we’re not telling) and let ourselves in. A plush place, no basic bach this. Touch-controlled lighting, the full complement of white goods, ample storage – we like. So we brought in our bags, had a snack and then ventured out (by car) to find a supermarket.

We thought we’d have to drive round to Rotorua itself, but we spotted a small ‘4 Square’ on the way. Not the cheapest option, but it would do for today. Pizza and garlic bread, plus some drinks.

Back to base, then an explore on foot. We are only one block away from the lake, and the upstairs bedroom has views over the water. Just to our north is an impressive playground; the girls spent some time there to stretch their legs after the car journey, and we considered ourselves fortunate to be so close to such a facility. (I later found a booklet listing around 50 such play areas in and around Rotorua – so no-one is far away.)
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A functional toilet block and changing rooms, an authorised swimming area, a public barbecue stand, picnic benches, parking, a huge complex of wooden and metal play equipment, neatly-mown grass all around, properly spongy safety tarmac. It’s rare to find one playground like this in the UK, and here within a four-mile radius they have 50-odd.

Back for supper, then diary time for the girls (this is day eight, now – just 52 to go!) before a sunset trip back to the play park (wear ’em out before bedtime).
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Ploughing through stacks of leaflets; with two full days here, we might be able to do something thermal and something Maori.

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