Research has often been quoted as the key ingredient in a successful trip. So therefore, looking back, I’ve realised that New Zealand required more than just me saying “I’m going to New Zealand – I’ve heard it’s got plenty (or heaps, to quote the Kiwis) to do.”
Rotorua therefore was a tonic and a lifeline to the trip. It’s a small town slice of suburban life. It is also one of the most cosy, insulated and inviting villages I’d seen in the world. I had very little time there, no more than about 40 hours, which made that first day there so chaotic. I jumped off one of the most uncomfortable coaches imaginable raring to plan two solid days of activity as I wouldn’t allow for another Auckland where I was literally walking like a blinded bat in sunlight. Walking around the strip with the 1970s sun protectors, made of heavy mortar, shielding any light from the shops entrances, I thought what an old-fashioned style to have. Still, the promenade and the shops were all very self-contained, making for a quaint and relaxed stroll around the town; for once I didn’t have to be unnecessarily stressed. The place got most of its major plus points from being relaxed and sedate as well, with every person calling you ‘man’ and smiling without false bravado. So far so good. Having said that, I was a tad agitated about getting sorted, so I offset this by going on a variety of ‘tourist’ tours, the very safe option for guaranteed success. This saved my bacon in New Zealand because I really saw shades of the great, physically breathtaking New Zealand. On that day with the two tours, I originally intended to wear my short shorts, after all this was summer in New Zealand. No such luck sadly. The weather was spitting once again. Still we were hitting the enjoyably named Lady Knox Geysers, a single geyser within a national park discovered by prisoners who got a rather epic surprise when merely doing the mundane task of washing. This is geothermal activity at its most epic, even though the magnificent explosion of the geyser is all tweaked for the delight of the overly keen Japanese tourists… and me of course. So whilst in some ways sitting there waiting for the cone-shaped geyser to be set off at that very specific time of 10.15 felt very much like a form of cheating, watching the pure hydraulic power surge through that fairly small gap in the ground as the water, with all its silica gently seaping over the rocks, that have been dyed a crystal white by all the chemicals was a rather tantalising site. Taking photos and moving on quickly, I was lucky to see some spewing mud pools and absorb the wonderful pursuit of nature’s murky underground energy. From there my tour group and I entered the excellent Wai-O-Tapu, a two-hour walk of incredible visual richness. This is an area where natural minerals have all fused to make a stunning vista for the eyes. This is an area full of mountainous holes, waterfalls and hot springs. Every image sang at me because the minerals all resembled an illuminating portrait. New Zealand is in fact so lucky to have this much to see that the different spots of Wai-O-Tapu almost have to compete each other for awe and amazement value. It was an excellent experience.
My personal high of New Zealand however was a small but neatly placed Mouri village which fused culture, history, guided tour, performance and humour into a nicely arranged two-hour visit. The Maori people are an essential part of New Zealand life, and it’s superb that this village is allowed to really cement that fact. The Maori guide was immensely satisfied to demonstrate how self-sufficient and happy the village are in everyday life. From their communal bathing in 45 degree baths to their own geysers constantly adding a sense of nature and majesty to the commune. Through the tour we learnt about prayer, death, village life, the Maori’s place in New Zealand, and the art of performance. Sadly, because the trip was so many months ago, I can’t awe you with a recollection of the facts of Maori life. All I recount was the feeling of being invited into a family event, especially the performance shown below, with the actors throwing batons, singing love songs and giving the tourist what they most wanted; photographic mementos.
Roturua was hitting the mark, so I decided to tick off some leisure activities before I rushed off to Australia. I visited the theme park just outside the city, going very briefly on those motorised cars you frequently get in theme parks which you have sole control over. I managed to crash rather wildly into a wall because I stupidly failed to master the difference between the accelerate lever and the brake button (they were both controlled by the same lever), much to my utter fury, the 18 year old girls trailing behind me didn’t fain concern or interest in my utter bewildered at such a powerful theme park ride, in fact I think they must have thought me incredibly stupid (which, admittedly I probably looked like) and drove on.
Luckily I had a friend I met on the previous tour who I had dinner with. She managed to help me avoid the egg on my face, although she obviously couldn’t have done much with the dirt all over my shoulder/body from the mud bank I had previously crashed full pelt into.
For my grande finale in Roturua I decided a spa sounded a good idea. It was. Although New Zealand and its non-existent O-zone layer leaves a lot to be desired. The rain was intermittent throughout the day so the spas outdoors felt as safe from the sun as the pools indoor. Obviously this was a stupid logic because it tricked my mind. There was me engrossed in an Agatha Christie clearly not paying enough attention to the advent of some heat rays surfacing after the six minute rainfalls and mild winds. Remembering to put suntan lotion on, and knowing it was too late. I lay in the heated pools of the Polynesian spa, somewhere around 30-40 degrees if anyone wondered, knowing that New Zealand weather was not one of the country’s strong points.
So I was finally leaving. To hit Australia. Heavily burnt and ridiculously excited. Traveling those three weeks by myself was challenging, exhilarating and stimulating. But it was time to focus on the reason I had begun this trip. To experience Australia and see what the place had on offer for me.
Plus I knew I would be returning to New Zealand whatever the weather (which in New Zealand could mean anything) and would made sure for that time, I would be the prepared tourist I should have been for this trip.