On this day back in 1985 I was in Rotorua, in the middle of my tour of New Zealand’s North Island
I had travelled via Palmeston North and the picturesque Manuwatu Gorge. I continued north to the east coast town of Napier, via rolling countryside, sheep, cattle and deer farms, beautiful rivers and valleys.
Napier seafront was lined with tall Norfolk Pine trees, grass areas set up for picnics, then a gravel beach and huge waves crashing onto the shore. It was too dangerous to swim in the sea here, but safer, sandy beaches were close by.
I visited a Nocturnal Wildlife Centre and saw real kiwis wandering around collecting food in the artificial nightlight. I also joined a wine trail here and visited four vineyards, sampling some lovely NZ wines. A local tannery gave demonstrations of the process from pelts to sheepskins. I bought three sheepskins here, which I still have.
From Napier, I took the train around Hawkes Bay and up to Poverty Bay and the town of Gisborne. It was the first place in NZ sighted by Captain Cook and the Endeavor on 7th October 1769.
I was enjoying lovely warm sunny weather, sitting out in the various gardens in town, sitting on the beach. It was not the sort of winter I was used to. I think I had better weather here than the UK was having in their summer.
The journey took me through agricultural low lands were kiwi fruit, grapes, citrus fruits were grown. I wasn’t used to seeing oranges, lemons, grapefruits growing on trees.
The landscape changed as we approached Waioeka Gorge to Opotiki on the northern Bay of Plenty, then on the Whakatane, then back inland to Rotorua.
My first impression of the town was … “Rotorua stinks”.
My ten year old kiwi friend was right when he stated … “Rotorua is where the world farts”
My lasting impressions – An amazing place. A beautiful place. A weird place where the Earth and nature does not act as one expects. A memorable place.
Rotorua is on the edge of a lake, in the middle of a geothermal region. After a few hours you get used to the sulphur smell that permeates the air.
I was again lucky to be staying with friends of friends and had use of a car. I explored the area, saw the blue and green lakes that are next to each other but totally different colours due to the natural chemicals in the water.
Whakarewarewa is a Maori village in the midst of geysers, hot pools, mud pools. You walk along set pathways, through clouds of steam, past huge jets of boiling water forced ten feet into the air, past mud pools with the weird deep sound of mud bubbles boiling and exploding, past lakes where the shore water is boiling and steaming. It was one of nature’s most amazing displays. Several geysers are linked together, performing to a set cycle. One plays every three minutes, shooting water ten feet high. Another plays every half hour but shoots water ninety feet high and lasts for five minutes each time. Spectacular. Another plays only four times a year.
There is a strong Maori culture in the town and region, with arts and craft centres and lots of traditional buildings. I went to a Maori concert, which included a meal, dancers and singers in traditional costume, and a haka. The hostess for the evening explained the songs, the dances, this history and traditions. It was a wonderful evening.
The meal was a “hangi”. A traditional Maori method of cooking where food is wrapped in leaves (or foil) and buried in a pit in the ground on hot coals. Here in Rotorua the food cooks from the natural thermal heat of the ground. The hangi at this concert was exceptional – served like a carvery with a choice of smoked ham, lamb, wild pork, chicken, venison, smoked eel, mussels, potatoes, pumpkin and local sweet potato called kumara. There were salads to accompany the hot food.
I made use of both public and private pools, all natural springs, at varying temperatures. A large pool big enough to swim across was comfortable at 38 degrees, whereas the pool at 43 degrees was far too hot. You came out of that one looking like a lobster.
Rotorua was a wonderful experience, I hope I come back one day.