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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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'.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Watch out for the Hastings section... coming soon!
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