Next day we take a walk around the town which has a nice lakefront setting, go to the local farmers market and then visit Whakarearea Thermal Village which isn't so free but we did get a very good tour and cultural performance so worked out pretty good value
. The village was founded by a Maouri tribe in the late 19th
century and they realised that they could make money from offering guided tours which they have been doing for almost 100 years. The village itself is pretty rough and ready but we are given a tour around the hot pools, boiling hot pools they use for cooking, the natural steam ovens and a lookout over the Pohutu geyser which can spurt up to 30 metres in the air. They were definitely letting off a whole load of steam when we were there. It seems that part of the reason for the rough and ready look is that in 2003 part of the village collapsed as too many hotels and motels were tapping into the hot air and so there wasn't enough pressure which caused the ground to collapse. At one point during our tour it started raining so we all hid in the church and the guide was quite happy to answer any questions on the Maouri tribes that our group had – turned out to be an interesting half an hour. After the rain stopped we went to watch the cultural performance which was a show of men and women in traditional dress performing songs. They sang the traditional welcome song, a love song, the haka and got some audience participation for a second haka. Although touristy, it was interesting to see plus pretty impressive how both the men and women contort their face for the haka.
The next day is my birthday and so after a drive around the local area to see the green and blue lakes, I’m treated to an afternoon in a spa for hot pools and then a mud treatment – the mud here is meant to be special as it contains so many minerals
. It was a very relaxing afternoon and definitely forgot the backpacker life for the afternoon. As another birthday treat we went for dinner at an Indian restaurant before going to watch the New Zealand-Australia game. The atmosphere in the pub was one of tension and nerves – so finally when New Zealand won there was a big sigh of relief but no celebrations, I think they are still too nervous. Since we’ve arrived here, it has been said that New Zealanders have learnt something from the Scots, Irish and Argentinean supporters in terms of creating an atmosphere so hopefully they have learnt this in time for the final – if not the tension will be unbearable here. But anyway, a very enjoyable birthday despite being another year older.
The next day we leave Rotorua to head north to Taurangua to meet Jonny’s family friends. Allyson met us in town and we drove back to her house where she looked after us (and spoilt us) for the next couple days. We did have to drive Walter across the beach to park in their garden...but we did so with no incidents! We then went with Allyson to see a bit of Taurangua and Mount Maunganui. From this point you can see the Reena ship which is stuck on a reef 4km out from the beach and has been leaking oil. When we were there the beaches were immaculate, the volunteers have done a really good job in clearing it up. But the future of the bays remain in the balance as they are struggling to get the remaining oil off the boat and the containers keep washing up on the coast
. Given that this town’s main attraction are the beaches and watersports, there is great concern for the up and coming summer season and if the local businesses can survive. Hopefully they can contain the situation with minimal damage to the environment but it looks like the ship will have to be sunk as it is slowly breaking up. Apart from the eyesore off the bay, the area is beautiful with views over the bays and rocky coast. We then head back to Allyson’s where the rest of the family drop by and we are treated to green lipped mussels and then a full roast with Yorkshire pudding – it’s been a while since we’ve had that and was much appreciated. Next day we have a lazy day and explore Taurangua, and we meet Jonny’s friend Steve for a coffee. In the evening we get fish and chips at the fish market with Allyson and Nikki and Tim, and head to a pub quiz. We didn’t do so well at the pub quiz (2nd
from last – that is my usual position in pub quizzes) but Jonny and I did get a New Zealand question right so we must be learning something from our travelling. We have a great few days in the area, and we feel very spoilt, but it is time to move on... and next stop is the Coromandel Peninsula before hitting Auckland for the RWC Final weekend.
Our next drive takes us from the coast inland to the volcanic plateau. This area is covered with lakes and mountains – lots of stops for views over the lakes and a good picnic spot! Our stop for the weekend is Rotorua (means Two lakes in Maouri – that came up in a pub quiz). Rotorua is known for stinking of sulphur and has hot springs, hot water beach and lake. Our campsite (Cosy Cottage) had three hot pools, a steam oven powered by the natural hot air and warm tent spots! Our first stop is the government thermal park called Kuirau Park aka the free thermal park. Here you can wander around pools of hot to bubbling water and mud with minimal health and safety – watching where you walk is key! Our evening was spent in the hot pools in the campsite and a nice BBQ.