En route from Whitianga to Rotorua we stopped over for a walk around an old gold mining railway track. This involved gingerly making our way through dark tunnels with only my dingy torch between about ten people. Some of our number took a wrong turn before the tunnels and almost missed the bus.
Rotorua is a sizeable town, and offers all manner of strange and diverse tourist activities. However, the two that you really have to do (and the only ones I actually did) are Te Puia and the Tamaki Maori village.
Our Kiwi Experience driver guide (who calls himself Guido Popadopolis aka Trevor) gave several of us about 45 minutes at Te Puia to see the geysers and mud pools. This was unfortunate, because the actual tour lasts 90 minutes and also includes an exhibition of Maori arts and crafts. After ten minutes having the cultural significance of the entrance explained to us, we snuck off and made a bee line for the geysers. The main geyser was “on” more or less constantly, as best we could tell, and the intoxicating aroma of sulphur abounded. Between the geyser and the bad weather, we found ourselves fairly damp on our scramble back to the bus. However, we stopped by the Kiwi enclosure for a quick glimpse of New Zealand’s iconic ground-dwelling pillow.
We were not short-changed on the Maori cultural side of things with the Tamaki village. The experience begins as soon as you step onto the bus, which the driver encourages you to think of as a canoe, and where the chief of your tribe is selected from among the more extroverted males. By the time we arrived at Tamaki itself, a little way outside of Rotorua, we had already learnt several Maori words and had been introduced to the premise of the story that was to be played out as we visited. The evening proceeded with a Maori challenge to our newly-appointed chiefs (and by extension to us), a quick tour of the village itself, nestled inside a forest, a dramatic exhibition of singing and dancing, and an enormous buffet meal (a Hangi) prepared in traditional fashion, though utilising some more modern elements. The bus trip back continued the singing, with each country represented on the bus asked to contribute. I was ready to pitch in with Waltzing Matilda, and I probably should have, but continuing the pattern of festive stupidity I went for the first couple of verses from 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (which probably isn’t even Australian). Our friendly Maori driver later engaged us in a rousing chorus of She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain while circling a round-about for about two minutes in a highly-illegal manner. A second bus from the village joined in on the same round-about, probably much to the confusion and annoyance of other road users.
We were staying at the local Base hostel (the McDonalds of backpackers hostels), which was reasonable but nothing special. I managed to get a decent iced chocolate at a nice cafe along the main shopping street in town, and replaced my lost sunglasses.