Geothermal Wonderland...that STINKS!

Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
Trip End Feb 27, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

After our week in the Northland, we drove all the way back down past Auckland, then through to Hamilton to crash for the night in a motel. Before we turned in for the night, we had dinner at a great Thai place in town called.... "The Original Thai Restaurant" -- kinda catchy, eh? The reason I mention this place is that I had the best Thai food of my life there. It was (big surprise) pork-based, called Crispy Pork Curry. Little cubes of succulent pork tossed in a light spicy coconut milk with all sorts of yummy veggies over perfectly cooked rice. Yum. Anyway, the next day, we returned the car in Rotorua where we spent four days exploring. This is the geothermal capital of NZ and for some strange reason I didn't feel like eating eggs the whole time I was there! One day we took the bus (public transit alert) to the Kiwi Encounter. I think I talk a bit about them in one of the photo captions. They are doing great animal conservation work hatching kiwi chicks and then introducing them into the wild when they are about six months old and large enough to fend for themselves. But dogs, possums and stoats (a ferret like creature) are still killing them at an amazing rate so for the time being these strange and fascinating birds are still endangered. We saw a newborn chick as part of the tour and you got a real sense of how committed the employees are to the cause.

Rotorua is a heavily touristed town in the middle of the North Island.  There is a heavy Maori influence and geothermal activity all over the place.  I could care less about the thermal pools when they smell like rotten eggs (sulphur).  The whole town smells that way.  The first day you're thinking...I gotta get myself out of here and the next it seems almost normal.  We went to a traditional Maori feast called a hangi which is steamed food cooked in the earth.  It's usually root veggies, chicken, fish and lamb.  The fish was great and the rest alright.  There is also a history lesson incorporated into the evening.  Unlike other aboriginal peoples the Maori were not massacred to the same extent with guns and germs.  Supposedly the germs couldn't travel that far on explorers' ships and the Maori were smart enough to trade for guns when the Europeans began arriving in the early 1800's.  Yeah, NZ is actually younger than the US in terms of its arrival of Caucasians. Amanda and I belive that explains a few strong similarities NZ has to the US, i'll talk about that later.  Not that land wasn't taken from the Maori -- it was but there are no "Reservations" I know of like we have in the US and Maori culture is very well integrated into almost everything.  For instance most of the street signs also have the Maori language.  The feast was great and the history lesson interesting!

Since I'm not hot about the thermal pools (no pun intended) we went Zorbing which is a uniquely NZ invention and there are many examples throughout the country.  Zorbing is getting inside a giant plastic ball filled with 10 gallons of water and being pushed down a hill.  You're laughing the whole time because you don't know what else to do and it's loads of fun.  $30 USD for 10 seconds of fun....that's a business model that should work.  Check out the pics and I HIGHLY recommend it.


Except for a couple of nice 100 year old buildings like the museum and tourist center (which were both old bath houses), Rotorua looks like it was built in the 1950's and 60's with a couple really ugly buildings from the 70s and 80s thrown in for kicks. John kept getting lost because all the buildings in the downtown area looked the same, generic two-story buildings with a cafe or shop in the bottom level. I told him that he could use this one hideous communist looking cement 6-story building as a point of reference. At one point we had the guide book out looking for the post office and a woman stopped to help us. When she heard where we wanted to go, she said "You see that really hideous building over there? It's right next door" and she meant the same one I had pointed out to John the day before. So even the locals use it as a reference! Something to keep in mind: pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. It's very hard to get used to. You have to stop for the cars at most intersections or if you are walking across a driveway and they are turning into it. You only have the right of way at a specific type of crosswalk is marked with the "zebra" poles or if the light changes and you have a Walk signal.

Favorite food: I already mentioned the Pork Curry, but in Rotorua we went to the Fat Dog Cafe twice because we got hooked on the "kumara" fries. The kumara (which is actually pronounced "KOO-ma-dah" with a rolled R, and not "koo-MAR-ra" like I first thought) is the NZ sweet potato and they usually serve the fries with a chive sour cream or aoli. It's different then our sweet potatoes. hard to explain.

Best experience:
Hmmm.. we had so many different ones but the Zorbing was definitely fun and different!

So... yes, yes. we have been very negligent with our blog this past month. So we are behind with our word contest. I'll go ahead and reveal the first two answers and then let everyone have a go at this week's entry.

Dodgy Ticker: a bad heart (perhaps the british influence on the language)
Slip, Slop, Slap: to apply sunscreen. Not sure how this one got started but people definitely say it and we even saw a Public Service Announcement to "Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap" so they've added a fourth piece of advice of putting on long-sleeved clothing. We have paid the price of forgetting to put on the sunscreen or missing a body part here or there but now have a pretty good base tan. well, as good as i'll ever get which is still pretty damn pale!! It's amazing that you can go out for ten minutes on a cloudy day and realize you are already getting burned, being so close to the hole in ozone.

ok, this week's entry:

A) our new addiction: pecan shortbread cookies
B) slang for the beetles you see everywhere
C) oddly enough, flip flops (or "thongs" as they say in Hawaii)

Next entry -- the Tongariro National Park and Lake Taupo in the exact center of the North Island
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