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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire Features »
December 2003
The road to Rotorua...
A Pukeko near Lake Rotorua
A Pukeko near Lake Rotorua
Nic's travelled from Auckland to Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty area. It's a region dominated by volcanic activity and traditional Maori culture.

Here's the second part of Nic's tour diary with pictures:
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Rotorua Gallery

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:: NZ Features »

A description of the tour about New Zealand that Nic undertook

History of New Zealand
A brief look at the history of New Zealand

Nic takes a look at New Zealand's largest city

Nic visits the distinctly whiffy Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region

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The official tourist website of Rotorua in New Zealand.

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:: Rotorua Facts »
Population: 56,900

Location: In the Bay of Plenty area of the North Island

Geography: Volcanic hills, geysers and springs, subtropical foliage and a distinct whiff of sulphur in the air.

Interesting fact: Rotorua was first settled in the 14th Century by the Te Arawa Maori

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It's about 150km from Auckland to Rotorua, and it certainly looked a pleasant journey on the map. I left an overcast Auckland at noon, heading south on State Highway One. One refreshing change from England is a noticeable lack of traffic on the roads - I don't think I noticed one traffic jam as I left the city suburbs. And that's remarkable when you consider the area has a population of nearly one and a half million people.

Another strange thing about New Zealand is the abundance of familiar place names from the UK. I thought it was really funny when I noticed Birkenhead on one of the signs as I passed through the suburbs of Auckland - but there were definitely no 'ferries across the Mersey' with this one! It was really quite strange to see these so familiar place names from back home.

A little bit of England…
As I left the urban sprawl of the city behind me, I passed into the beautifully lush countryside of the Auckland region. In fact, it seemed to closely resemble the English countryside with its rolling green hills and oak trees.

On the way to Rotorua I passed through a town called Matamata. I later discovered that this place served as the location of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings films. It is one of the few places in New Zealand where you'll find actual sets from the film trilogy - in Matamata you can still see the actual Hobbit Holes from the Fellowship of the Ring.

Considering that Tolkien modelled the Shire in his books on the countryside around the West Midlands, it really shows just how similar this area of New Zealand is to rural England.

The road to Rotorua…
You leave State Highway One and head onto State Highway Five, which takes you directly to Rotorua. On this route, the hills begin increasing in size and your ears pop as you head ever upwards. Soon, you pass through the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park which consists of a great pine forest.

More possum fatalities…
On this road you begin to notice the numerous furry pelts of possums that didn't make it to the other side. There are over 70 million of the creatures in New Zealand and they're considered a national pest that destroys native plants and habitats. Obviously no quarter is given for them judging by the number of carcasses I saw on the road.

After you've passed through the Forest Park, you travel down into a basin and that's when you see the magnificent Lake Rotorua stretching out before you. I headed into the town and quickly found my hotel - the four star Royal Lakeside Novotel. I was delighted to see that it was literally on the edge of the lake and had some splendid views over it.

However, when I opened my car door I could smell something distinctly strange in the air. At first I thought it was fresh popcorn but then I realised that it was the rotten egg smell of sulphur. Lake Rotorua, and the surrounding area as a whole, is volcanically active and there are numerous thermal vents that pump steam and sulphur into the air.

A little bit about Rotorua…
Rotorua is in the Bay of Plenty area of New Zealand's North Island. It's one of the country's biggest tourist areas and is famous for its volcanic landscape - there are numerous thermal pools, vents and geysers to be found around the place. In fact, just passing through the town you see steam rising from holes in the ground. This is why Rotorua has been given the nickname of 'Sulphur City'.

Lake Rotorua is one of twelve lakes in the area and was created by a volcanic eruption a long time ago. Subsidence after the eruption is directly responsible for the formation of the lakes that now exist.

Rotorua has also been dubbed 'Roto-Vegas' because of its tourist charms - there are loads of things to do from the obligatory adrenaline sports to walking and fishing. It was a shame that I'd only be there for a night because I would have liked a closer look at the place - especially exploring the volcanic features that litter the area.

A shoreline stroll…
After settling into my room, which overlooked Lake Rotorua, I decided to take a short walk along the shoreline. It was a beautiful afternoon - very sunny and warm, which was a complete change to the overcast Auckland of the past few days. It wasn't long before I discovered some of the unique New Zealand wildlife.

There aren't any white swans in New Zealand - they're all black (forgive the pun) and have red beaks! There were loads of Black Swans on and around the lake. They are quite magnificent birds when you first see them, and they look very smart with their black feathers.

Then I spotted a strange blue-black bird that had a bright red beak and face. I discovered from my guide book that it was called a Pukeko - it's a native New Zealand bird that can be found in wet areas like marshlands and around lakes. Apparently, it's a bit of a comical bird because its legs dangle down ungracefully when it's flying!

I took a few photos of the lake and the birds around it before heading back to the hotel. I was in a bit of hurry because I had arranged to attend a traditional Maori Hangi and Concert that evening.

The traditional Maori Hangi
I only had enough time to get changed before a bus arrived to take me to a traditional Maori concert and feast. This little excursion came with the holiday I'd booked and looked like it would be a really fascinating experience. I went with Tamaki Tours, but there are several other organisations to choose from that provide the Maori cultural experience.

A nearly full bus was entertained by a cheerful driver who insisted on teaching us some basic Maori words. This was good fun because we had to suspend disbelief and imagine our bus was, in fact, a waka (Maori for canoe, which was the traditional way of travelling great distances). We also learned that kia ora meant hello and a little bit about how the Maori colonised the area in the 14th Century. The journey was quite an enjoyable experience which was solely down to the entertaining driver - he acted as a great icebreaker for all on the bus.

When the bus arrived at the traditional pa or Maori village, we were taken to an open area known as the marae where we were confronted by the chief. Maori protocol states that visitors cannot enter a village unless a formal greeting is given by the occupying tribe. We were treated to a haka by a single Maori warrior as a formal welcome to the village. It is considered a very serious ceremony and it's stressed that people shouldn't fool around during it as it's a sign of disrespect.

Once we'd been welcomed into the pa we were free to look around the recreation of the village. There were a number of Maori in traditional dress, showing us the old ways of doing things. I must say that the village beneath a canopy of pine trees had a great atmosphere. After about thirty minutes of looking around, we were gathered into a great hall.

The Maori cultural experience is a big draw in the Rotorua area and has two main activities. The first is a concert where you learn about the cultural heritage of the Maori. There are songs and the recounting of stories from the history of the area's Te Arawa Maori. I thought the songs were absolutely amazing - the traditional Polynesian harmonies made for a terrifically inspiring sound.

I personally enjoyed the second part of the night as it was a hearty meal cooked using traditional methods. Meats, vegetables and fish are piled into a large hole along with some very hot rocks. The hole is then covered with earth and the whole things acts as a giant oven. Once it's all ready, you can pick and choose what you want to eat. I had chicken, lamb, fish with some vegetables, which included a sweet potato called Kumara. I have to say that these sweet potatoes were really delicious. The taste of everything I ate seemed slightly smoky but that didn't make any of it unpalatable. All in all, it was a very tasty meal.

After the meal, the bus drivers decided to do the version of the haka that you often see performed by the All Blacks rugby team. Then we were all encouraged to join in with traditional waiatas or songs. Fortunately, we were helped along by the bus drivers or none of us would have had a clue how to sing these old Maori songs.

After a really enjoyable evening we all boarded the bus to return to our respective hotels. Our bus driver said he wouldn't leave unless we each sung a traditional song from our own country. It was bound to happen that I got picked first, so I decided to sing 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' which was very fitting because of the rugby world cup. After my brief rendition of that song, it was the Aussies' turn and guess what they decided to sing… 'Waltzing Matilda' of course!

Some could argue that the traditional Maori Hangi and Concert is too commercialised an experience but I must say I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Rotorua. It costs around $70 for an adult and $35 per child to get in.

A touch of Hollywood…
When I got back to my hotel, I decided to check out my e-mail account before turning in for the night. I'd been on it for about ten minutes when I heard an American voice behind me. He politely asked me if I was going to be long on the Internet. I turned around and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Hollywood actor Seth Green standing there. You might know him better as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Scott Evil in the Austin Powers films.

I found it weird because I'd seen the Italian Job remake on the journey over to New Zealand and he was in that. He seemed like a really nice bloke though, and anyone familiar with his character in Buffy would be pleased to know he's every bit as laid back as Oz in real life.

Still, he can't be doing too well if he's using a $15 per ten minute Internet connection - obviously actors aren't paid what they used to be.

Seth was in town with Burt Reynolds filming a comedy adventure movie called 'Without a Paddle'. It would have been great to have got a picture but I didn't have my camera on me at the time… bah!

A big day ahead…
I decided to get some sleep because it was quite late and the next day I'd be travelling down to Hastings - I wanted to explore one or two of the natural attractions on the way…

NOTE: Watch out for the Hastings section... coming soon!

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