We were up early and after a brief visit to the sights in Taupa we arrived in Rotorua. We have a strange tracker box which you plug into the cigarette lighter which works through the radio in the car. The service is tourist radio and it lets you know information about New Zealand and some of the key places you are passing. It told us about Rotorua as we approached and it mentioned the smell which accompanies the hot spa and other delights centred around the volcanic activity in the town. It was immediately noticeable but thankfully most of the time it wasn't too offensive. It's the smell of rotting eggs, which accompanies the geothermal sulphur smoke.
We checked into the campsite, being a little bit naughty in order to save money Martin checked in and I hid in the van to save on incurring the extra person cost. Mission completed we headed straight to the free thermal park in the centre of town. It was a sight to see, gas bubbling from water and mud pools, steam coming out if the side of the main road, people's gardens and ponds it really was impressive.
In the centre of the park was a lake, the steam rising and swirling in the wind made an impressive sight, difficult to capture with a camera. Next stop it was back to the campsite to drop off the van and then straight into town to look around. We ended up at the lake, looking out over the water, beyond the black swans was a beautiful set of hills, which we later found out to be the edge of the volcano.
We wondered back, I spotted a Pizza Hut which does buffet lunch on the way back, I made a mental note to find one of them again soon; we were saving ourselves for the evening activity we had booked that morning: an indigenous cultural evening at the famous Te Po geyser with a buffet of hangi which is food cooked in the ground. It was expensive but something we both wanted to experience.
We got back to the campsite, had a small lunch and then used the campsites mineral pools; one at a warm 37 and another at a hot 40 degrees, I found the 40 a little too hot, a little bit like goldilocks the 37 was just right for me. We had showers and freshened up; the camp toilets were fabulous, they even had music, lets hope that all the sites in New Zealand are as good....a little less extortionately priced would be helpful though! Once ready we drove to Te Po for our evening of entertainment.
First on the agenda was a tour of the site, we had got there so early, in order to make the most of it, that we went around the gallery and gift shop at a snails pace waiting for the tour to start. We were greeted by a vey friendly member of staff who took us around, showed us the resident Kiwi birds, which are extraordinary bird/ mammal creatures; the only thing that makes them a bird is the fact they don't suckle their young: they don't even have feathers!
We went down to the geyser but got there just after the main eruption, we didn't mind though as the talk en route was so informative, explaining the different types of native plants and the plight of the kiwi in coping with introduced predictors: New Zealand only had birds before the colonials arrived.
Our tour finished at the training schools, next to the indigenous village. We had time to look around the schools, the wood carving school was all shut up, but we were able to look though the glass at some of the intricate work: I was surprised how they we such large scale projects, the carving, so delicate must take months to complete. The weaving school was still open so we had a look around the displays: again housing intricate and time consuming work before we made our way back through the gift shop and through the entrance once again to congregate around a large central jade stone.
Our guide for the evening tour was a very confident, and surprisingly slender looking Mari (they tend to be large and stocky) he talked us through the area we were currently congregated in and then whisked us over the to hangi where the men uncovered the lid of the 'cooker', removed all the damp cloth that had been wrapped around the food in the brick lined oven. It smelled mouthwatering!
Next we conducted the Mari greeting ceremony as if we were a visiting tribe, it was all well done and each stage was explained to us. Once the treating was conducted we were welcomed into the hall for the dancing and entertainment. It was all very well organised and choreographed. At one point women were invited up to the stage to do a Poi dance using what looked like a solid Pom Pom on a string (a poi) we followed the movements as one of the ladies stood at the front to demonstrate, it was easier than I expected - they were very kind to us, but I did struggle to catch the Pom Pom which you had to do repeatedly throughout the song but I enjoyed myself non-the -less and was thankfully joined by a number of other women from the group so was saved the embarrassment of attempting it on my own!
Next it was the gents turn to join in with the war dance: the Hakka, they went through the various steps, Martin was in the front row right in front of me, they made them do the scary war face, with the tongue sticking out which signals aggression, and then some other chest and leg slapping movements as well as some foot stomping, they then pieced it all together: it was very impressive to see, even if they were all dressed up in jeans and shirts rather than bare chested with woven skirt like garments!
The next dance signalled the end of the performance....and time for the feast! We were invited over to the restaurant area where the food was blessed, Mari style, before we began the mammoth, but exciting, task of eating our way through the piles of food on offer. There was seafood, salad, the hangi which included sweet and regular potato which had been cooked in the same way: in the ground, as the meats. Then there was potatoes in cream, rice, pasta and a plethora of deserts; yum!
After dinner we took a little golf buggy style train down to the geyser where we sat on hot stones and drank hot chocolate whilst watching the steam and water plume from it. Against the night sky it made a spectacle to see, the hot stones kept us more than comfortable on a very clear and cold night, the only thing you had to watch out for was steam coming from the cracks in the stones.
Around 9 pm we returned to the main entrance again by the golf buggy trains before setting off back to the campsite: we had an amazing time, although it was expensive it had been well worth it.