Real Volcanic Activity

Trip Start Oct 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 07, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, February 11, 2012

Conor: On the morning we left Waitimo we stopped briefly to walk around some of the caves that were walk-able and got to see some wetas, which are basically like massive crickets. We then drove straight on to Rotorua, or Rooo-to-rooooa as our bus driver pronounced it. Rotorua is a city (read as average sized town) in the centre of the North Island that is well known for being based on massive amounts of geo-thermal activity. Only a few km's of earth separate it from a massive lava flow which basically means there are tons of geysers, hot pools and bore holes all over the place. The locals all had bore holes dug in their back yards giving them free heating for years, until it was banned as it was damaging the local land. However this still means that steam rises from back gardens and pools all over the city, which was quite cool to see as we drove it. It also meant the whole place tended to reek of sulphur, which added a certain charm to the place! We got to our hostel, settled in and then got ready for the main event of the evening; the Maori cultural experience. This was another Kiwi bus activity that involves going to recreated Maori village for a traditional meal and shows etc. Rotorua is supposed to be New Zealand’s cultural capital which is why the show takes place there. We had all been told to expect a traditional challenge when we arrived, and to look forward to a really good feed.

Annabel:  Firstly, sorry if you find that piece above a bit hard to read, Conor was rather tired when he wrote it so it’s not the most coherent writing ever!  So, for the Maori evening we all got taken over to the village by shuttle bus, and for each bus group of people there had to be an elected chief.  On our bus we tried to nominate the amazing American, Noodles!  But he was not so keen so in the end it was one of the Gay brothers who took on the task.  When we arrived we all had to stand around the entrance to the village in a semi-circle while the chief from each bus stood in the middle of the semi-circle, facing the entrance.  When we were all assembled the ceremony began.  It involved the chief of the village standing above the doorway, sending out four different warriors in turn to perform the welcome ritual to see if we were friends or enemies.  We had been told by our Kiwi bus driver, the brilliant Bruce, that what the warriors were doing was imitating different native New Zealand birds, and we were both really pleased that we knew this as it made the ceremony even more interesting.  Had you not have know that was what they were doing I think it definitely would have seemed pretty random.  To conclude the ceremony, one of the warriors placed a fern leaf on the ground in front of the chiefs and signalled one of them forward (it so happened to be our chief, Mr. Gay) for him to show our intentions.  If he was to step on the leaf then that would signal we were they to fight, but luckily he didn’t do that and did the correct thing to show peace which was to pick up the leaf.  I know this all probably sounds pretty touristy and set up, and I guess yes it is.  But the Maori people do take this very seriously.  We were told that one time a chief stuck his tongue out at a warrior during a welcome ceremony, something you should never do, and the warrior did actually hit him over the head with his club!

After we had been welcomed and shown out intentions, we were welcomed through the doorways and into the village.  The village was really amazing, it was actually set up like a traditional Maori village would have been with houses and work sheds and fires, and in small groups we rotated around the houses learning about different aspects of Maori life. Conor got to try a traditional game which was meant to help train warriors (he came 3rd out of 4, so probably not going to make chief anytime soon!), and I had a go at a Poi dance.  After we had had a good look around we were called through to see the unveiling of our dinner, which had been cooked in the traditional way in a hot rock pit covered in hessian sacks and earth.  Then while this food was being all sorted out for us to actually eat it, we watch the villagers perform some songs, dances and games.  The show was quite good, but both Conor and I decided that it was nowhere near as good as the performance we had seen at Whitangi Day.  It was then time for the main event, dinner!  Unsurprisingly, traditional Maori food was not very veggie friendly.  But it was all ok for me as I had the veggie option of rice and spring rolls!  As I didn’t eat the main buffet I can’t really comment on how it was, but all around me seemed very happy with what they were eating and it all did look and smell very good.  When it came to dessert there didn’t really seem to be a traditional Maori element to it as it consisted of sponge pudding and custard, and pavlova, Conor’s favourite!  After all our stomachs were full to bursting we had one final performance which was our chiefs performing the Haka, and a really random sing-a-log which felt a bit like a Christian camp!  It was then back on the bus back to the hostel then over to the Lava Bar for a few drinks.  Unfortunately for the guys, we left just before the wet t-shirt competition started.

For the standard Kiwi bus route, people only stay in Rotarua for one night.  However with the buses being so full at the moment we weren’t able to get on one for a few days so we were staying for three nights.  The day after the Maori evening we did a trip which was definitely in my list of 'reasons to go to New Zealand’.  And that was to go and see the set of Hobbiton!!!  We got picked up at around 2:30pm and were driven for about an hour through some amazing hillside landscapes to get to the location.  When we got there we were both really surprised and refreshed by how un-commercialised the place was.  It was just a very basic, but very nice, little shop and café with some sheep and a shearing shed.  After having a bit of time to look around the shop at all the things we would like to buy but not the money to buy them or means to carry them!  We boarded another bus which was to take us to the actual set, which was just a quick 5 minute drive away down a road through some hills which had been built by the army to accommodate all the filming traffic!  I was so excited!!!

Had we had done this about a year ago, at the point when we arrived at the set I would have been absolutely gutted.  That is because, after the filming of the Lord of the Rings the set was to be all taken down, as this was the agreement with the farmers.  However, half way through demolishing it rain stopped play, and it was at this point that the farmers said why don’t they just leave what is left and they will let the public come and see it.  And that is what happened.  But all that there would have been to see was the general landscape of the set which white painted plywood for the frontages of the hobbit holes, as the original set was not built to last. They weren’t allowed to have gardens or props set up either.  So, like I said, if that had been what I’d have seen on arriving there, I would not have been happy as we had no idea that is what the tour used to be like (even though after looked back at a locations book I have that is what it shows!).  Luckily for us, Mr Jackson is just about to finish filming of his new film, the Hobbit, which involved re-building the entirety of Hobbiton but this time in durable materials so that it could remain there for the public to go and see!  It was really wicked to see.  Everything was there, the Party Tree, Sam’s house, the lake with the Green Dragon and watermill and bridge over it (although you are not yet actually allowed to go over to these),and of course, Bag End.  For the tour you were basically taken around the set with a guide who told you some interesting facts and stories and you could take as many photos as you liked, the only rules were that you could not sit on any of the props or go through/over any of the hobbit hole garden fences.  So unsurprisingly we went crazy with the photo taking!  If you are now looking around on the post think ‘where are those photos?’ Sorry, you will not find any.  That is because we do not want to be sued by New Line for breaking the confidentiality agreement we signed!

Conor: We spent about an hour and a half at Hobbition, exploring all the different sets and hearing stories of the more extreme fans that have visited. One of the coolest bits for us was when we saw a part of the set not used in the filming. Originally Guilliamo Del Torro (a director both Annabel and I like) was supposed to be doing the hobbit, and he had constructed several hobbit holes before he had to quit being director. These hobbit holes were not used in the film but were still there to see, and it was really interesting to look at how the film might have been really different!

After dragging Annabel away from Hobbition we went back to the café and got to watch a really random sheep shearing show, hosted by a very rural farmer, who wanted to tell us all about the sheep and cattle trade! The sheep shearing itself was pretty aggressive to watch, but that’s rural life. Annabel also got to feed a lamb, which of course she really enjoyed! After this we received a free pie, cookie and drink which was a bonus and then got a lift back to Rotorua. We spent the evening relaxing and trying to write blog posts.

On our last day in Rotorua we started off by visiting a Giant Redwood forest which was absolutely massive, so we both spent a few hours exploring the walks that were there. Annabel ended up walking 11.2 km in just under 3 hours, which she was very proud of! In the afternoon we figured we should actually look into the history of Rotorua itself and went to the museum that is located in the old Victorian bath house. Rotorua’s thermal pools made it a prime location for water treatments and the place was pretty massive. Highlights were the amusing animations of Maori legends and the room which simulated the eruption of Rotorua’s volcano at some point in the 1800’s (which wiped out the original Victorian holiday village). There was also a pretty nice garden in front of the bath house, with a croquette pitch, which old New Zealanders seem to love! Finally we saw one of the hot springs, that smelt really sulphury and which gets up to about 212°C.

We left for Taupo the next morning, but on the way we stopped at the Ta Paiu ?????? thermal park, for a look at some more really really hot pools (we cooked eggs in one of them), some erupting geysers, some Maori carving and cultural stuff and finally got our first look at the elusive Kiwi! They were much larger than I expected and one of them seemed obsessed with running round one particular shrub, but it was really cool to see them. I don’t think there is much chance of seeing one in the wild! At this point we had fallen behind most of the friends we had made at Hot Water Beach but luckily the amazing Arron and Sarah had stayed a few nights in Rotorua, so we all got back on the bus and made our way there….
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