I spent 3 nights in Rotorua and I wish I could have spent 10 more. There is just so much activity here and tons to do. I took Naked Bus on Thursday, Oct. 1st from Auckland to Rotorua. The buses are actually very easy; they are usually right by the hostel. To find my way, I have been taking screenshots of the directions from the bus drop off point to the hostel while I still have wifi. Walking to your hostel, even if it's a 20 minute walk, allows you to get to know the town a bit right away.
I got to Crash Palace on Thursday evening and relaxed a bit. I met two girls from the Seattle area who were traveling together for a couple weeks. We asked the hostel staff where we should get something to eat and she told us about a night market right in town. We walked about 10 minutes down the street and saw a bunch of tents with steam coming from them. It seems like Auckland and Rotorua have a very large Asian popuation; there are Chinese and Thai restaurants everywhere. However, I saw a paella tent and it smelled amazing. I got a to go box and he filled it to the top with traditional paella: muscles, chorizo, the works! It had a spice to it which I loved (and I may or may not have added a couple extra drops of hot sauce).
Along with the food tents and trucks, many people set up tents for crafts and clothes. The wood, jade, and bone carvngs in this town are amazing, and all relate to the Maori culture.
When we got back, we found out that it was Crash Palace's birthday! Free beer for everyone! We had a couple drinks and talked with other travelers. One group that was traveling together met at another hostel down south and decided to rent a caravan together, kind of like what Heather, my hostel friend in Auckland, is doing. Two Germans and a Canadian--all passionate about hiking.
Culural Differences... or not
One of the German men was wearing a very interesting outfit: Black corduroy vest and bell bottom trousers with a white button up shirt, a skinny corduroy tye, boots, and a hat. I asked him about his outifit and he said that he was a carpender from Germany and all of the carpenders in his group wore this traditional outfit everyday. It seems a bit unpractical while traveling but I was so interested. His English wasn't the best but it seems like he is in a private society of German carpenders that have chapters all over the world. He was also telling me all about the hazing they do. Apparently, one time they made him chug all this beer--I don't remember how much but I would basically be on my ass if I drank the same. But hey, he's German and I'm not. After he got drunk they pierced his ear with a nail... one guy held his head on the wooden table, one guy held out his ear, and one guy was in charge of the nail and hammer. Then they had 3 shots for him to drink (of whiskey, I think): One for him, one for his "fraternity," and one for his ear after they finally detached him from the table.
I was so tired that night, I went to bed at around 8:45 -- 9 pm, but not until I booked white water rafting for the next day. I didn't want to turn off the lights because I was sleeping in a 10 bed dorm. Luckily, I had my sleep mask.
Friday I woke up, had a granola bar, and waited for someone to pick me up at my hostel for white water rafting. His name was Steve and he owned the company. He took me in his truck to the Rotorua airport where they store the rafts and gear in a hanger. We put on wet suits, wet shoes, a fleece, a rain jacket, and a helmet and started toward the river. I was the only one there alone and it seemed like the guides were impressed. The rapids were amazing. We went down a degree 5 rapid--the biggest rapid you can do commercially. It was a 7 meter waterfall and so, so fun. The guides were obviously having fun with us--dunking us in the water under a small waterfall and whatnot. At one point, we had calm water so I got out for a swim. It was cold but our wetsuites helped a lot. The sights were just beautiful. It looked like we were in a rainforest.
When my rafting tour guide was driving me back to my hostel, he suggested going to Te Puia, a Maori village and the site of the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. I said, sure! So he dropped me off and I paid their NZ$51 admission. It was beautiful there, but a bit smelly from the sulfur. You could see how the Maori used to cook their food from the thermal activity and it was actually quite warm when you stood near the earth vents. There was also lots and lots of boiling mud. I think I was more amazed about how interested I was about the boiling mud than the actual boiling mud. In the park, you could also see the Maori schools of wood carving and weaving.
I caught a public bus back to my hostel. One of the great things about Crash Palace is that it offers free uncooked pasta. I went to the grocery store down the street, got some red sauce, and came back to cook my meal only to find out that there was free BBQ at the hostel that night. I was starving so I had two dinners. The had ham (which they call bacon, I guess), sausage, a colorful salad and loaves of bread. There was also ketchup there which I thought was strange but then I saw people dipping their bread slices in it--sounds weird but amazing.
After dinner I got a shower and headed out to a bar with some people in my dorm. I got a cider. It was a clear cider and was not very good. Then I got a lager, also not good. Like the beer, the bar was lame so we just went home.
On Saturday, Julika (from Germany), Nicole (from Switzerland), and I went to Wai-O-Tapo, the "Thermal Wonderland." Wai-O-Tapo is part of a Scenic reserve and has the larest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal sytem in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. This area is covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. This area is associated with volcanic activity dating back about 160,000 years.
We first saw the Lady Knox geyser which naturally erupts pretty randomly every 2-24 hours. Because a bunch of people were there to see it, a park worker put disinfectant in the geyser to start the eruption process.
We also saw more boiling mud. Yaaaas.
Beneath the ground is a system of streams which are heated by magma left over from the earlier eruptions. The water is so hot (temperatures of up to 300 degrees C. have been recorded) that it absorbs minerals out of the rocks through which it passes and transports them to the surface as steam where they are ultimately absorbed into the ground. When I just go to Rotorua, it kind of smelled like rotton eggs. This is assocated with the hydrogen sulphide coming out of the ground.
There are naural thermal pools all around this area and our tour guide/bus driver Blue told us that it's great for many health conditions. He told us that many times, doctors will send their patients with arthritis to NZ to bathe in these magical pools.
My favorite parts of the park were the Devil's Bath and the Champagne Pool. The Champagne Pool is the largest spring in the district. I believe it is abou 65 meters in diameter and 65 meters deep. It's a bubbling pool due to the carbon dioxide. The pool was formed about 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption. Minerals contained in the water are gold, silver, mercury, sulfur, arsenic, thallium, antimony, etc. which give it its amazing colors.
Devil's Bath is large crater adjoining he bush line with an amazing naural lime green water color. The color is a result of excess water from the Champagne Pool mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts.
Yes, I totally just took that information from the brochure.
Instead of dropping us off at our hostel, our bus driver, Blue, dropped us off at his Maori village. Apparently, he was part Maori, part Moriori (the native population before the Maori), and part Irish. He looked 100% Irish to me. It had some traditional homes and buildings but it also had small modern homes (more like shacks, kind of). It was nice to walk around the lakeside to see this village with its church and large, traditional meeting house. We didn't see anyone until we visited our bus driver's aunt's gift shop in town. She was so nice and informative of all of her items. She told us stories about the carvings her nephews made in the village and what they mean. I got a jade necklace carved in a shape that represents strength and individual determination.
I went back to the hostel and just sat. I was so tired. I was going to get some free pasta but Nicole suggested I go with her to a Maori feast.
When traveling, always accept any offers to explore that come your way.
So I went! It was about NZ$80 but it was worth it. There were 3 buses and each bus elected a chief. Once we got to the village, the village people (very convicing modern Maoris) came out and offered a peace offering to our chiefs. It was actually really cool even though it was touristy. This village was made by a few Maori people who wanted to keep the Maori tradition alive and known around the world. It was created to look like a Maori village. It had different areas where the people dressed in traditional garb and taught us about the fighting dance, weaving, agility exercises, wrist exercises using a soft ball on the end of a rope so they could better control their hand weapons, games, and carvings and uses of bone.
Our meal was cooked in an underground oven using thermal heat and volcanic rocks. The feast was delicious. We had chicken, steak, fish, mussels, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes (but not like the orange ones you see in the states). We sat next to a Spanish couple and had great conversation over food and the traditional herbal tea.
On Sunday morning, Nicole and I walked over to the market by the bay for a bit before my bus to Tauranga. Tauranga is a bit north (and out of my route) but it was highly recommended to me by other backpackers who hiked Mt. Maunganui in town. What's great about not having a strict itinerary is that I can be flexible enough to make short trips like that.