04 August 2011

Rotorua II – New Zealand Feb 2011

This was a day full of touristy things to do and a missed opportunity for some adventure.
Rams on the stage
We started the day with a visit to the Agrodome Leisure Park for an entertaining sheep show featuring 19 champion rams on stage. The rams were waiting for the show to start in narrow corridor like lanes on the sides of the hall leading up to the stage, from where the showman would take them one by one from a gate. We were seated somewhere in the middle of the hall, but because I wanted some nicer pictures decided to move up in front. Next thing I know, he tells me to hold the gate shut and keep on an eye on the sheep and ensure he doesn’t come on to the stage. He had barely turned and the sheep jumped over the gate and was on the stage. I didn’t do a very good job, did I :-)

One by one the sheep took their positions on the stage and then the energetic presenter did some sheep shearing. It looked like quite a strenuous activity and later we came to know that it involves loads of exercise - a shearer who shears 300 sheep in a 9 hour day it seems does the same amount of exercise as a cyclist who does 2 marathons back to back.

This was followed by a hilarious sheep auction. He spoke so fast, it was almost impossible to follow what he was saying. The next bit I found particularly interesting, when they released some working sheep dogs or Border Collies on the stage.
These dogs nimbly jumped over the backs of the sheep and ran from one end of the stage in circles in such speeds that I am sure several people must have felt dizzy! People from the audience were also given an opportunity to jump up on stage to feed milk from bottles to the lambs and hand-milk a cow!

At the souvenir shop noticed some interesting stuff – candy and sweets with names like Sheep droppings, Squashed possums, Kiwi Poo sweets and the like. Nalini even bought some for her grandson!

As we left this place, noticed some Zorbing on the other side of the road. I was in 2 minds on whether I should try that. I wasn’t scared, but somehow being in a ball, rolling down on a small hillock seemed claustrophobic to me so I decided to give it a skip. Now I wonder if I should have tried it!

A short drive and we were at Rainbow Springs. As we entered we were asked to pose for a snap – we could decide if we wanted to hold a Kiwi or a Tuatara- which looks like a lizard but actually belongs to the dinosaur lineage and so is considered the magnificent living dinosaur. These would then be superimposed on our snap! So looking like absolute jokers we posed with either our hands cupped or majestically holding out our arm for a lizard! While in most places they show us soft copies of our snap and if we want we can print them, what bothered me here in the end was that they had printed the snap – and not just one but an entire kit consisting of a few postcard snaps, 2 large snaps etc. Unfortunately none of us wanted that kit, so what a waste!

We enjoyed a serene walk under the shade of towering Kauri, Rimu and Californian redwoods and amid spring-fed pools and streams teeming with Rainbow and Brown Trout. Enjoyed some native wildlife including Skinks, Geckos and the Tuatara. But the stars of the show were the Kiwis. Since they are very shy, they have a special dark and silent enclosure for them and it was a bit difficult to spot them, but we managed.

The last scheduled stop for the day was at Te Puia, also called the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and Maori Arts & Craft Institute. There was a guided tour by a Maori lady, whose ancestors belonged to the tribe settled there. She even showed us snaps of her aunt and grandmother in a collage there. She began by telling us how to pronounce Whakarewarewa. Not very easy, believe me.
And then gave us an enlightening tour of the village and walked us to the Thermal Reserve. On the way she showed us the Silver Fern, the national tree which gets its name from the silvery-grey underside of the leaves. They light up in the dark and were used by Maori tribe people to light the way. Young fern fronds are tightly coiled in a spiral and resemble the traditional Maori form called the Koru. She pointed these out to us too. Both these symbols are wildly used in NZ – like the NZ airlines logo is the frond and they fern is used by the national netball team.
Finally we reached thermal reserve which has boiling mud pools, gentle hot springs and violent geysers.
The most famous geyser, of the 65 geysers found in here is the awe-inspiring Pohutu Geyser, meaning big splash or explosion. Pohutu erupts up to 100 feet high, depending on her mood, and as frequently as 20 times each day. It is the largest active geyser in New Zealand and the southern hemisphere.
We were told that the eruption is a sight worth waiting for, but we were lucky. The moment we finished our guided tour and reached there, she erupted! What a magnificent sight!

While the rest decided to move to the souvenir shop from there, Indu and I decided to explore some more of the village. Rotowhio Marae, the fortified village had some awesome carvings. Saw a Kapa Haka, a short cultural show. Also got a chance to make some traditional Maori symbol postcards using some blocks and a pencil as souvenirs. Visited Te Wananga Whakairo, the Carving School, and Te Rito, the Weaving School.
Back at the hotel, I received an SMS from a friend asking if I was OK...went outside and asked and came to know that a major earthquake had hit Christchurch. Switched on the TV and saw the chaos. Unfortunately the epicenter was quite close to the town centre and all that area had been cordoned off. We were to be in Christchurch 8 or 9 days later so though we were a bit worried as to what would happen, Anita reassured us that things would be closer to normal in a few days.

With that in mind, Nalini, Hema, Anita and Indu decided to go to a spa for a mud bath and sulphur water dip. They found it quite relaxing and came back with glowing skins! To end our day and holiday in the North Island we had a Thai dinner in the town and by the time we reached the hotel we were all ready to crash out.

01 August 2011

Rotorua – New Zealand Feb 2011

Rotorua, one of New Zealand’s premier tourist destinations is known for its thermal activities. We knew it the moment we entered. The distinct smell of rotten eggs due to the sulphur was omnipresent.
We started the day with some sightseeing and adventure. Our itinerary said 'Gandola Ride' and even though the itinerary said ride up to Mount Ngongataha, I had something like a Venetian Gandola in mind...with a serenading handsome man!
However, the Skyline Skyrides Gandola here was just a cable car! Enjoyed some spectacular views from up there of Rotorua and Rotorua Lake.
The LUGE track!
There were some activities available and I had decided on a Luge Ride as soon as I read about it. The Luge is like a go-kart, but the interesting thing was the track which we had had glimpses of when we were coming up on the cable car. Winding hairpin turns inside what looked like a dense forest and quite steep too. Quite obviously for adventurous New Zealand, this is the world’s FIRST concrete luge track. Hema too was keen...rest all seemed in 2 minds. So the 2 of us bought the tickets and geared up with our helmets. Slowly I noticed, one by one, the others too joined. I guess it looked too tempting! Initially I was a bit apprehensive and went quite slowly. Moreover, the huge redwood trees around us were beautifully distracting. But by the end of it I was quite comfortable and managed to speed up a bit.

After the Luge ride, a UFO flying saucer awaited us - a 4D simulator known as the Voyager. There were 2 shows - 'Scenic Adventures of the South' and 'Xenopod'. The 1st was quite exciting and enjoyable and made me decide instantaneously that we should try the Shot-Over Jet in Queenstown (more on that in a later post). The 2nd was like most 3 movies and as usual gave me a headache!

Maori poi
From Skyline we went to visit Kiwi Orchards called Kiwi 360 at Te Puke. When we reached, there was a Maori traditional dance called Maori Haka going on and we decided to watch that. Men and women in traditional costume consisting of a Flax Piupiu Skirt thumping their feet and emanating war calls were quite entertaining.
Nalini and I also decided to join them on stage for a wee bit and try some Poi - a performance art in which balls are suspended from a length of flexible material, usually a plaited cord and are held in the hand and swung in circular patterns.

Rolling on the grass
After the show we went for a very, very touristy KiwiKart Tours. And like most very, very touristy things was a bit of a letdown. A ride in a toy train designed like a Kiwi through orchards of Avocados, Oranges and of course Kiwis. Unfortunately the Kiwis were raw and we couldn’t taste any fresh fruit. But Nalini had alternative plans so that we would always remember this part of the trip with giggles. The lush green carpet grass on small hillocks was too tempting for her and she decided it would be fun to roll down on the grass. Soon the rest of us also joined her and there we were having the fun of our life. As if this was not enough, she decided so what if no Kiwis, let’s try some oranges. It is true, stolen fruit is the YUMMIEST! Truly, we were KIDS that day.

The Blue Lake Walk

That was the end of the official itinerary for the day, but the ever adjusting Barry was more than willing to take us around for some more time. I had read of some nice walking tracks near Rotorua and we decided to go to Blue Lake or Lake Tikitapu where one can enjoy one of the most beautiful walks in Rotorua by walking 5km around the lake. It was really a very scenic walk. Dipti was a bit tired halfway through the walk and suddenly she turned to Soldier Mode – walking with a purpose and no distracted talking, posing for snaps! She just wanted the walk to end.
At the end of the walk, Indu and I decided to walk inside the lake – it was like a spa for the tired feet.

Kuirau park

From there Barry took us to the Kuirua Park, an informal public park with a lot of geothermal activity. What a steaming, hissing and bubbling walk that turned out to be.
It was now time to retire and what better way to end the day than with ice cream. Barry suggested the Hokey Pokey ice cream, which is the local flavor - plain vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of toffee, which some of us tried. Quite nice but I preferred my berry flavor!