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NZ trip - part 3 of 7

(As usual, if you want to see earlier parts, click on my "travel" tag...)

So then, me and Tam and Stephen and Emily piled into a car, and drove north to Rotorua, which is a famous resort with a ton of hot-springs, on account of it being located on a line of active volcanoes. We passed these two really big volcanoes located right smack in the center of the North Island, Ruapehu and Tongariro, but their peaks were covered by cloud. It was kind of neat driving across the Rangipo Desert, though. The line of geothermal activity extends north from those volcanoes, through Lake Taupo (which itself is the remnant of a gigantic crater), up through Rotorua, and onward to White Island off the coast, another active volcano.

On our way in, we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, "Thermal Wonderland!", about a half hour south of Rotorua.

I'll give this to them -- Wai-O-Tapu is *indeed* a thermal wonderland. Of course it all smells of rotten eggs, as does the entire Rotorua district, but honestly, after a while it really didn't bother me. (Not that I would want to LIVE there, or anything.) We walked around and peered into lots of steaming craters encrusted with neon-colored mineral deposits, while mud boiled at the bottom. We happened to have gorgeous weather for it -- nice and sunny, but not too hot or buggy. (I'm not sure how much fun walking around hot-springs would be in the height of summer.)

The whole thing was very well laid-out, with nicely graded paths and boardwalks, and extremely serious signs warning you not to walk off the path or stick body parts into the CAUSTIC BOILING WATER, etc.

(Above: look! Caustic boiling water!)

One of the really stunning things about Wai-O-Tapu was the COLORS, especially of bodies of water. Above is a fairly sizeable lake, colored by run-off from springs higher up (as you'll see in a moment). I would say that, if anything, the above picture doesn't quite convey how bright and unnatural a hue the water looked. I'm not entirely sure what-all chemicals and minerals were involved in these colored pools, but the effect was just spectacular.

(Overall, the color of the bodies of water in NZ -- whether it was the Marlborough Straits, or various lakes, or glacial stream -- totally wowed me. I have pics of more of it coming later. Sometimes it's due to micro-particals of various minerals or something in the water. Sometimes it's... I don't know what. But I really loved it.)

Here, Stephen, Tam and Emily are ahead of me on the path, while to the right of them there is this huge run-off area from the steaming pool of which there are pics above (the one with the boardwalk bisecting it). What's especially cool about this is when you look at that flat run-off area more closely. You can sort of see in this pic that it's skillions of little tiny calcium-deposit terraces, but wait...

How cool is that, huh? Over eons and eons, those little teensy terraces of calcium can eventually turn into *this*:


In fact, New Zealand used to have giant terraces just like the ones at Pamukkale, Turkey -- the Pink and White Terraces, only 30km from Rotorua -- which were a famous tourist attraction, and much like the ones in Pamukkale, they created these "hot-tub" bathing pools that people would get in, and everything. Unfortunately, in 1886, nearby Mt. Tarawera erupted, and destroyed them. So we really only know of them from travellers' accounts, and 19th century landscape paintings, and a few photographs:



Clearly, though, this field of run-off in Wai-O-Tapu is trying REALLY HARD to become Big Terraces again. Give 'em 10,000 years or so -- barring another local eruption, of course! -- and maybe they'll get there...

And all of that field of run-off ended in this spectacular cliff of mineral-stained calcium.

Some more sights in Wai-O-Tapu, including another pool with completely unreal-looking water...

And onward to Rotorua!

It being the off-season, we had no trouble at all getting a motel-room in Rotorua (which appears to be about 90% hotels and motels). Actually, what we *got* was... a motel efficiency apartment. Two bedrooms, living/dining room, full kitchen, and our own private hot-tub with piped-in hot-spring mineral water on a private back-patio. *DUDE*! All of that, for like NZ$120 a night. Unreal! It was perfectly comfortable, and clearly could have slept 6 or 8 if a family had wanted to cram in there.

(We had a similar experience while travelling around the South Island -- nice, clean motels, albeit ones that hadn't had their decor updated since the 60s or 70s, that were often little efficiency apartments, for stupidly cheap.)

That first night, Tam and Stephen and I had reservations for a powhiri (traditional Maori greeting ceremony) and a hangi (feast) at a marae located at Te Puia, which was a Maori center for the arts just outside of town (and which also had on its grounds the Pohutu Geyser and Whakarewarewa Thermal area.


(A note on Maori pronunciation -- mostly it's a "say it like it's spelled" thing, except whenever you see a "wh", think of it as an "f".)

This is the marae, taken from where we (and all the rest of the people with reservations that night; about 40 of us) waited outside the gate, to be invited inside. (For purposes of the evening, we were as a whole treated as a visiting tribal group, with one of our number selected as chief.)

That picture, however, was where my battery crapped out! Ah well. So I didn't get any pics of the rest of the ceremony, either outside or inside. But it really was fascinating. For one thing, when you see a Maori guy performing the aggressive testing dance ritual before your chief and your group are invited in, you (well, if you're me and you're thinking like a folklore major) really get this amazing epiphany about how much of Maori dance/display/aggression posture must be derived from observation and imitation of birds. Which *totally* makes sense when you think about NZ and how omnipresent its bird-life is. (This is somewhat different from the haka, the famous male-group display/aggression dance, performed by, for example, the NZ All Blacks rugby team before games.)

Anyway, the whole thing was lovely, beautifully done, moving, and fascinating. And the food was really good. :)

Ah, but Rotorua has MANY fine offerings! There is, for example, the AGRODOME!!!


I will say up front that on the day we went to the Agrodome, the weather was complete and utter crap. Pouring rain. Fortunately the Sheep Show is inside.

Before the show, while wandering around, we happened into a side room where there were lambs penned up (to be used in the show later), and signs on the pens saying to go in... so we did!

The exciting climax of the Sheep Show involves bringing out a bunch of sheep-dogs (these were huntaways, actually) and getting them to run across the backs of all the sheep, and then *lay down* on the sheep, and bark. (It was actually pretty neat to see the big Pyramid o' Sheep, with one example of each type of breed, while they explained what the different breeds were good for. Not that I will ever be able to remember anything except the Merino, and the Suffolk, the kind with black faces. Still, it was a nice idea.)

After the Agrodome, we drove to Matamata, with the intention to take the guided tour of the Hobbiton filming site -- which is on private land, which is why you have to pay and be guided there. While all of the set dressing is gone, of course, the concrete framework of the hobbit-holes are all still there on the hill of Bag End, and the Party Tree, and all. We were hoping to leave the POURING RAIN behind at Rotorua -- but no such luck. It was pouring just as badly at Matamata, and we decided that we didn't really want to spend $$ (even NZ$$) on the pricey tickets to go... tramp around a farmer's fields in the pouring damn rain.

So we had lunch and hopped back in the car and drove back to Rotorua, and stopped at the Kiwi House.


Naturally, I desired to see a kiwi. How could you not? The Kiwi House just outside of Rotorua is a rescue and hatching-assistance operation, so we got a tour of the whole facility, and then at the end we were taken into a darkened room that had kiwi enclosures on either side. The fantastic thing about this is that since kiwi are flightless, they don't need to be in a cage. Each enclosure had a 3-foot wall around it, and was otherwise just open, and you could lean on the wall and watch while, 10 inches away, a kiwi poked around the underbrush looking for worms.


(They're also bigger than I expected them to be.)

Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures of your kiwi close encounter, because it's a darkened room, because they are *nocturnal*, and flashbulbs would just freak them out. So above -- that's an ex-kiwi, in an exhibit at the end of the tour. And yes, that egg is actual size in relation to the kiwi. O.O

So then, it was back to our motel room, and a nice dinner in consisting of Hell's Pizza (no lie, this seems to be the largest pizza chain in NZ, and frankly, it is *excellent* pizza), and then -- oh, the luxury! -- we returned to our PRIVATE HOT MINERAL TUB to soak for AS LONG AS WE WANTED. While it was not the biggest hot-tub in the world (it was more of a 5-foot-diameter concrete tank, really), we managed to fit all four of us in there. "As long as we wanted" really turned out to be "about an hour", and there is something very decadent about being able to go right from the hot mineral bath to the rinse-off shower and then bonelessly right into bed. (So the convenience factor totally made up for skipping the Polynesian Spa experience, although I'm sure that would have been nice too, and ten times more kitschy.)

And no visit to Rotorua would be complete without... GIANT DINOSAURS! Life-size! And actually a fairly astounding variety of species, too. What was it? Oh, a miniature golf-course; it just looks all dim and mysterious because the weather was crap. (Sadly it wasn't open, or I would have insisted we needed to play there...)

On our drive back south from Rotorua, we swung east in order to go through Napier, a city on the east coast which is notable for having been largely destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1931. Thus, when most of its downtown was rebuilt, it was designed in the architectural style popular at the time: Art Deco. And then, the city dropped into economic obscurity, which had the fortunate side-effect of not making it worthwhile to tear down all the Art Deco buildings to replace them with new stuff. Now, the downtown is nicely spruced up and has its architecture as a tourist draw.

A mere four pictures can't convey how neat it is to have a whole downtown that looks like this. It's very pretty, and looks like a very charming place to spend a weekend. (We were unfortunately there late-ish on a Sunday afternoon, so not a lot was open; but it looked like a good place to return to when things WERE open and the weather was nice. Actually the weather wasn't that bad when we were there.)


The city also has a lovely esplande that runs along the beachfront of Hawke's Bay (seen here, with Cape Kidnappers in the far background, to the south). That isn't black sand. The beach was composed entirely of black *pebbles*.

Another "can't miss!" attraction in Napier -- Opossum World! [sic. -- because they aren't opossums, they're just possums.]

NZ has a massive possum problem. They are an imported predatory species, which were brought in from Australia in the hopes of creating a fur trade. And naturally, they ran amok, and they are a significant reason for many native NZ birds and animals like the tuatara becoming extinct/endangered. So there's constantly a possum eradication programme, but it's not very easy to do. Opossum World is partly a shop that sells possum-fur products (granted, it is wonderfully soft), and partly a sort of museum about possums, featuring some of the most delightfully macabre bad taxidermy jobs you could ever hope to see.

(The ones above were part of a tasteful "roadkill"-themed tableau...)

Finally -- a few botanical pictures.

NZ specializes in imported ornamentals that you have seen elsewhere in small potted or small bush form, that in NZ go absolutely nuts and do things you have never seen them do before -- such as this. This is a *jade plant*. Flowering like crazy. (Just wait until later when I show you the flowering aloe TREE.)

Many of the native NZ plantlife, as I mentioned earlier, is seriously cool and primitive. Take, for example, the Norfolk Pine, which you see just *everywhere*. I somehow neglected to get a good picture of one, so this will have to do:


The thing about Norfolk Pines is that when young, they just don't look *real*. They are severely radially symmetrical. They look like an artificial Christmas tree that has been badly designed, and that somebody has stuck all the big branches into but failed to foof out the smaller branches. (When they get significantly older, they branch out a lot more and start to look a bit more like a normal tree.)

They also aren't really pines, as such; they belong to a more primitive branch of the conifer family. Well, Marine Parade in Napier (the street that runs along the esplanade and beachfront) had a ton of them, so I took these close-ups so you can see the wacky "needle" structure, which isn't like pine needles at all and more like some kind of odd scales:

Next time: the South Island, at last! You think NZ has looked pretty so far? You ain't seen nothin' yet...


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
...why are the possums singing?
Sep. 10th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
... I think we'd ALL like to know that.

(I will try to see if Emily or Stephen or Tam can remember WHAT they were singing. Maybe that's a clue. I fear it was something like a rousing chorus of "On the Road Again".)
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
(What I mean is -- IIRC, there was actually a nearby button you could push to get audio to go with the tableau...)
Sep. 13th, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
Were they animatronic, though?
Sep. 10th, 2007 12:32 am (UTC)

Er, These are wonderful. Plus....the roadkill on the car? Hilarious. And all those art deco buildings!

Another marvelous shoreline photo. And sheep...Um...I know a place not too far from you that has sheep. :)

Sep. 10th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
But WHAT BREED of sheep, eh? That's the question! Because now I'm all SHEEP-EDUCATED and stuff.
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:47 pm (UTC)
Hee! Er, suffolk? Just a wild guess, but seriously.....sheep. Gah.
Sep. 10th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
Oh, the possums. It's considered a civic duty to swerve your car and kill any possums you see on the road!

I very nearly succumbed to a possum coverlet. It was $1200, I think. Just gorgeous.

And, to make it all that much more ironic, the Australian opossum is endangered. In Australia. Argh.

Rotorua we didn't find that exciting, but I did have my first of many chicken, camembert, and cranberry sandwiches...
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
Obviously, NZ and Australia need to set up a possum re-exchange program. "Here, have them back!"

Yeah, we were someplace (I think it was Haast), and there was the most lovely possum throw that was REALLY tempting, but it was in excess of $500, which was a little much. But gorgeous, and soft.

Downtown Rotorua really seemed like a big zero. Fortunately, we didn't spend much time in the actual *town*, and I enjoyed the side-trips pretty well. I don't know how much MORE geothermal sightseeing I would have wanted to do -- although, I would have liked to see an actual geyser do its thing, which I've never seen. Otherwise, Wai-O-Tapu was just perfect, and the Kiwi House was perfect, and the hot tub was great, and... yeah, that's about it.

I'm not sure that Rotorua would be a place I'd be tempted to *return* to -- and I can just imagine how mobbed it is in season. :P

Although... that mini-golf course with the giant dinosaurs is kind of tempting...
Sep. 10th, 2007 02:57 am (UTC)
I haven't read any of these yet - I'm waiting to just read them all at once. Be sure to mention in your final post that it's the last one so I can start then! :)
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)
Don't worry, I will. :) I'm planning to go back at that time and renumber all the parts to indicate how many parts there are, too.
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:54 am (UTC)
LMAO at the possums - and at the idea of them singing 'On the Road Again'. Tasteless probably, but it really appeals to my soh ;-)

And yay for noses that go 'blind' and let you enjoy amazing stinky places *g*
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
tafkarfanfic had INSISTED that if we went to Napier we MUST go to Opossum World, and her recommendation was not off-base. If you are into "wonderfully tasteless", that is. Which, we are. ;-)
Sep. 11th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
I am loving these pix! I have edited several books about wildlife in New Zealand so this is VERY INTERESTING to me.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )