Monday, October 10 (Day 39)
For not the first time in recent months I feel like Alan Partridge living in his Travel Tavern as I slouch past reception. And just like Alan, ‘I feel a bit of a lose end’. I’m coming down a bit. I can feel negativity seeping in. It’s hitting home that the world cup is all but over, and an anti-climax of sorts is kicking in. It doesn’t help that the weather is crap, Rotorua town centre is a characterless shopping grid and I am struggling to muster up the enthusiasm to do anything. I just fancy lying in bed all day, to be honest.
But Rotorua needs to be explored, if only to discover its Maori traditions and world-famous geysers and mud pools. Destination for the day is Whakarewarewa thermal village or, to give it its proper Maori name: Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao.
Whakarewarewa village has been home to the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao People for centuries, and since the 1850’s it has been a tourist destination to tourists from all over the world. This geothermal hotspot abounds with boiling mineral springs, bubbling mud pools, erupting geysers and silica terraces. Close by are forests of enormous redwood trees, rolling volcanic hills and Lake Rotorua. Once upon a time, its Pink and White Terraces were considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world. That was until the 1886 Mount Tarawera volcanic eruption destroyed them and took the lives of many indigenous Maori as well as a handful of nineteenth century backpackers. Today though, Rotorua and this living Maori village are amongst the most popular tourist spots in NZ.
A rather butch Maori woman takes us on a short tour of the village and its various geothermal delights. The Maori bathe here, boil their vegetables and live amongst the geysers and mud pools, eking out a very decent living from the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors. On one hill above the cemetery we are able to see the famous Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers’ geysers erupt and blast boiling hot water and steam 20 metres up into the air. We also see the Wahiao Meeting House with its wooden Maori designs dedicated to birth, life and death. We are not allowed to enter because a member of the community died recently and is being held inside the house in a state of mourning for three days.
Close to the Meeting House we are treated to a Maori concert of song and dance. They even perform the Maori Haka, made world famous these days by the All Blacks rugby team, who perform this traditional war dance before international tests. The original purpose of the Haka was to try and intimidate enemies and hope they would be scared off without any blood being spilt.
It is certainly worth visiting this village if only to get this close-up-and-personal taste of Maori life. The geysers and hot pools aren’t exactly Iceland, but the setting with forests all around and Lake Rotorua in the distance; steam rising in every direction from the landscape, does give Whakarewarewa its own special ambience.
George&Michael have driven down from Auckland and booked into the hostel. They are also feeling very flat after England’s early exit and, like me, feel like they are now unwanted gatecrashers at somebody else’s party. Michael is thinking about changing his flight home to London so that he can join me in the Pacific next week. Meanwhile, all three of us are toying with the idea of returning to Raglan. I don’t know how much news coverage it is getting back home, but an oil tanker has run aground close to where we are now and an environmental disaster is in the offing on the east coast of the North Island. We were going to head out towards Tauranga and Whakatane but it doesn’t seem too appropriate with an international oil clean-up operation in progress. And tonight’s huge storm buffeting this part of the world isn’t exactly going to help the government’s damage limitation work.
I am stuck in two minds: do I head south and try to do the world-famous Tongariro Crossing hike, or head back to Raglan for a few more days of simple pleasures? If the weather is bad then it won’t be safe enough to do the 8-hour hike across the two volcanoes and I will have spent a lot of time and cash for nothing…it’s a tough one.
Sunday, October 9 (Day 38)
Auckland - Rotorua
I don’t know what it is about this van and underground car park but I have had the most bizarre series of dreams I can remember. I don’t even want to go into the details. At one point in the middle of the night, a security guard flashed a torch through the glass. I don’t suppose they want a car park full of drunken rugby fans. Luckily, George-Michael’s van has curtains and my torso was hidden inside a sleeping bag. My mobile died during the night, so I don’t know if it’s 6am or 3 in the afternoon as I lock up the van and head for the hostel.
Turns out it is 10 when I wake George in Base. Michael is nowhere to be seen. I borrow George’s I-pad and quickly sort myself an online bus ticket. There is absolutely no way I want to hang around with thousands of victorious French blokes (many wearing skirts), and pubs full of whining Aussies all day. It is definitely time to run for the hills. I grab a coffee near the wharf and jump on the noon coach to Rotorua, four hours away.
Once I’m in Rotorua there’s just time to unpack my weathered rucksack, get rid of yesterday’s foul stink and get myself down the Pig & Whistle with Canadian Rebecca, who works at ‘Flashpackers’, for the day’s quarter finals.
The Aussies, as I feared, squeeze past the South Africans, while the Argies give the All Blacks a good run for their money before tying the game up after an hour. Argie Alex texts from Auckland to say he’s gutted but proud of his team. Tony is also in touch to say goodbye before he heads off on Tuesday, while George-Michael tell me it’s a nightmare being stuck in Auckland with all the Aussies and French. I did warn them. After several dozen matches we are down to the last four and most of the new friends I’ve made in NZ are about to start flying home. Those of us that are left are stuck with very expensive semi-final tickets for games not involving our teams. Most of us which we could sell them and use the money for cocktails on the beach in Fiji.