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travelling the seven parts of the world

Rotorua

 
Feb 5th, 2008
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We ended up renting a car in Auckland and continuing our journey by car. I have to say you really are spoiled for choice as far as car rental goes, so we spent a good deal of time just shopping around for a car. One of the most complicated things about car rental is insurance - what I found out by reading the fine print in the rules is that regular insurance does not cover windscreen damage, but in New Zealand this is really important, because kiwis have a weird way of building roads that leaves a whole level of small stone pebbles and roadsigns showing holes in the windscreen.

If you think this is not important, think again. In NZ, all roads appear to be under construction. You cannot go for more than 100kms without meeting the dreaded under construction sign, and a sign allowing you to drive at 30 km/h. These construction zones can even follow one after another without apparently either knowing of the other's existence, so you can have a sign that allows you to drive at 30 km/h followed by a 100 km/h sign, and followed by another 30 km/h sign, all within a distance of 1 km.

In fact, there is so much road construction, I would venture to say that building roads for tourists is one of the main occupations in New Zealand. And wherever there is road construction, there are the pebbles.

There is some police on the roads, but we saw someone stopped only a couple of times. It doesn't really matter so much, because the roads are so windy you're going to have a hard time speeding over 100km/h anyway. The policemen seem to target drunk driving, which apparently is a big problem in NZ, with the "If you drink then drive you're a bloody idiot" and "take one for the team, be the sober driver" slogans being everywhere.

The roads themselves are not half bad, especially considering New Zealand's population size and density, but if you are used to 6 lane highways of the developed nations, you are in for a surprise. Finding a 4 lane road is more difficult than finding an erupting volcano, and lots of roads, especially those in south island, will have only 1 lane on most bridges. This is why all maps come accompanied not just with distances between places, but also driving times, and these are usually correct. Getting "lucky" and being stuck behind a lorry doing 30 km/h in a 100 zone for a good half an hour, until the lorry driver starts feeling sorry for you and pulls over, is also a common occurrence.

This also prompted us to change our schedule a bit - instead of driving back to Auckland, we would leave the car in Christchurch and fly to Auckland, and this was a much much much better way of doing things, as we saved several days of time that we ended up spending in the mountains. Mt. Egmont was crossed out of the list of things to see on the basis that it looked the same as the volcano in Tongariro national park, and we would see all of the North Island attractions all in one fell swoop.

Armed with a car, knowledge of NZ's roads and ability to drive on the wrong side of the road with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, we headed out to explore New Zealand. On the day we were supposed to get out of Auckland we of course waisted lots of time in the city, and ended up leaving only at 5PM, right on time for the evening traffic jam. That didn't put us off for a second, and in just a few hours time of driving through an area where people's houses interchanged with sheep feeding on the side of the 2 lane highway, we were in Rotorua.

Rotorua is NZ's Maori center. The Maori are, of course, New Zealand's original inhabitants, though they only got here about a thousand years before the English. It just happened to be so that the next day - the one day we spent wholly in Rotorua - was Waitangi day, a national holiday which commemorates how brilliantly the English screwed over the Maori people, so we heard a lot about how things were done here back in year 1840. From the first moment, you can imagine how the debates over the treaty contents went, with one side being the largest empire in the world having the most extensive and developed military arsenal of the day, and the other having spears to fight them off. But the English at this point will stand up and say, no, we did not use our military power and instead reached a peaceful agreement.

How did they manage that? Simple, they wrote two copies of the treaty, one in Maori, which had terms favorable to Maoris and one in English, which had terms favorable to the English. And then they acted upon the terms in the English language version of the document.

Precisely why this event of the English screwing over the Maori requires a national holiday to remember is beyond me, and for New Zealand, which now positions itself as a "multicultural", "tolerant" and "liberal" (plus any other modern buzz word you can imagine) society, this is becoming a big problem. Waitangi day also saw 2500 Maori come out in protest asking the occupants (that is, the English) to leave their country.

Maoris have a very deep culture, with some concepts spilling over into modern language and perception of the world, such as taboo and mana. While everything that happens around Rotorua appears to be very fake, it is nevertheless a small insight into the Maori ways, so we started our day off by visiting a Maori center, which included geysers packed together Maori performances, all so they can charge you a really high price and have justification for it.



The performance included a few Maori dances, songs, as well as a welcome into the Maori meeting house.

One of the most spectacular things about Rotorua are the geysers and hot pools. Overall, the whole place looks like a small Yellowstone. We started off the walk by eating some corn cooked in a hot pool



It turns out that this was one of the ways the Maori who lived here cooked their food, in a pool heated up by the proximity of the hot molten rock that makes up most of what's inside Earth. It was very tasty.

The largest geysers in Rotorua are only a dozen or so meters high, but provide infinite fun, as the main one there seemed to be quite trigger happy and eruptions were virtually non-stopping. It was nowhere near as big as the Old Faithful, the world's largest of predictable geysers located in Yellowstone, USA, but it covered a large area and with continuous eruptions had everyone engaged.



There were also lots of mudpools. They are a lot of fun, as the bubbles slowly grow large and then burst, leaving a ripple effect.



After having spend the first part of the day in geyserland, we decided to take a ride up the hill with a gondola. It was very windy up top, so it ended up being a pretty scary ride, but in the end, everyone gets there in one piece. Just to be sure, we went down in a gondola with other people, including two kinds obsessed with getting their saliva smeared on the windows.



Up on the hill, they have one of the real fun attractions - the luge. This is a small plastic cart that you sit in while it rolls down the hill, and is tremendous amounts of fun, as long as you can figure out how to break before a corner. Naturally, it is difficult to take photos as you are rolling down the hill, so I relied on the high price photos you get when you are done with the attraction. We were supposed to download them from the Internet from some website, but we placed the receipt that would let us do this with our other souvenirs, and when we mailed them off to Latvia, this receipt went along with it. So you'll get pictures as soon as the box arrives in Latvia, which should be take no more than half a year.

EDIT: the box did arrive! Didn't even take half a year, just 6 months.





There are lots of other, more extreme attractions up there, such as this nice swing:



After that we went off to see some wildlife in one of those zoo-like locations that boast a natural like environment. One of the biggest features there was the trout, which is hardly inspiring, but we also saw some other animals, like this couple that looked like it came straight out of the dinosaur age:


And that was it for Rotorua. There are a bunch of other things to do here, but none are as impressive and cost a lot, so on the next day we headed out to our next location.

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