Ian and I spent two days in Rotorua, which is famous for its geothermal springs and for its shameless exploitation of natural beauty – the city’s nickname within New Zealand is ‘RotoVegas’ I think because it has loads of crappy attractions designed to part tourists from money.
However, it also has incredible geysers and geothermal parks, a big spa full of Chinese people (some of whom conveniently didn’t speak English when it was time to get out of the water, which was pretty hilarious to watch), a historic spa-bath centre that’s now a museum, and a lot of Maori culture.
It was also a case study of the frenetic pace we maintained on this trip – we arrived at about 3:30, went road luging (see below) until 5, checked into our hotel, went to a nice dinner, and then went to the Polynesian Spa, where I spent a lot of time peering into the darkness trying to figure out what birds were cawing, and Ian (who doesn’t even like hot showers, much less giant complexes of hot water pools) did his best not to look visibly unhappy. He’s a keeper, that one.
The next day, we got up bright and early to drive to a nearby geyser/hot springs park. They induce a geyser at 10:30 every day, which is not romantic, but it did help us plan our day. The park guide told us that the land had been ‘barren wilderness’ before the arrival of Europeans, which I still havent forgiven him for, but the geyser was cool, and the rest of the park was even better.)
After that, we went zorbing (like, five times each). Zorbing is ridiculous; you get in a giant plastic hamster ball filled with a few inches of water, and they shove you down a big hill. That’s it. thats the whole gimmick. I loved it. I think we did it five times each. Then we went to AgroVentures, which was another ridiculous tourist schlock park – you could go jetboating or simulated skydiving or get dropped from a high place in a sack. We went for the shweeb, which is a recumbent cycling track. there will be another post all about the shweeb (Stay tuned!)
We ate lunch and watched some sheep-shearing, walked around the botanic gardens (with Maori decor, above), went to the history of Rotorua museum, where we got a tour from a patient but somewhat bumbling docent, and then went to a hangi, or Maori cultural night (where my camera battery died). The hangi was kind of like a really bad wedding – tons of food, awkward conversation, and some rigamarole and ceremony before and after dinner. That said, the information about Maori culture was really amazing, and the obliging men in traditional dress (ranging from smokin’ hot to…not so much) did a haka, or war dance. You could tell some were really going for it, too, because their chest and legs turned red where they slapped them. After dinner, they herded idiot tourists (i.e. me) on a little nature walk to explain Maori housing and plants, and look at glowworms. And the food was okay.
The dinner was awkward because we were sat at a table with an English/Canadian couple in their late forties with four-year-old twins. they were super friendly, but the French people on the other side of us sat in stony silence the whole time, declining to make eye contact or even converse with each other.
The next morning, we took an early flight to Nelson, stopping at the Blue Lake (which was exactly what it sounds like) en route. There was free wifi and no security at the airport. I was in traveler heaven.
Amazingly, there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t get to do in Rotorua – the area is known for mountain biking; I wanted to go stand-up paddle boarding on the Blue and Green Lakes; you can go hiking in a redwood forest…I mean, seriously.