24th July to 26th July 2011
For my journey to Rotorua and the promise of geothermal mud a plenty, I chose a company called Naked Bus for my transport. Their prices were reasonable and even though the website is a bit clunky I was able to book in a seat. For those of you wondering, the name does not suggest showing up naked, although that could be rather amusing for the driver.
Through couchsurfing.org, I had met a girl from Finland, Katja, and she was joining me for the adventure. She had had to book the bus after mine but luckily the driver agreed to let her ride at the same time as me. The journey was relatively uneventful, but the bus chock-a-bloc full.
Mitai Moari Family
As we drove into Rotorua the hot pools scattered around the park gave the city an appearance of being on fire as the cold air caused the steam to waft all over in thick clouds. As we stepped off the bus were greeted, or rather accosted, by the aroma that makes Rotorua so “pleasant”. Mmmmmm the smell of sulfur pools in the afternoon, nothing quite like it.
We went and checked into the hostel, Crank Backpackers, and then wandered around town, breathing through our mouths, until it was time for our evening of Moari culture. We were picked up by Cousin Ben and escorted to the site of an original Moari village (known for its spiritual aura) and introduced to some members of the Mitai family. turns out Cousin Ben was the Ork who blew up Helm’s Deep, he looked taller in the movie.
After a brief introduction we headed out to be greeted by the warriors arriving in their Waka (traditional canoe). It was amazing standing in the cold and the rain watching these dashing young Maori’s paddle past in a traditional waka, singing songs and all tattoo’d (actually drawn on not real tattoo’s), quite stirring actually.
Then we headed over to the hall to watch a traditional Maori dance and learn about Maori culture. It was fantastic, and when the warriors did the war dance they were rather intimidating, however, the ladies were downright frightening when they performed their version.
During the show all of the Maori cultural items were explained to us by their “chief”. Very eloquent in English and very intimidating when showing us some of the facial expressions. He had full facial paint depicting how the chief might have been tattoo’d in the past and he also had real tattoos down his legs. Looking at them you wonder where his tattoos stopped, he did show us the lovely spirals following his buttocks, but we were left to wonder about what was under the loin cloth.
After the show we were treated to a Hangi, traditional Maori dinner cooked in the earth. Roast chicken, roast lamb, roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, salads and yummy desserts.
After sufficiently stuffing myself to the point that breathing was difficult we headed home to pass out at the hostel. Unfortunately it was a little difficult as our roommates, even though they were trying to be quiet, had everything packed in plastic bags and would lock and unlock their suitcases constantly. Its not as if something was going to get stolen in the 5 minutes between removing things. While I had to say this, as they were very sweet, our roommates were 2 young Asian girls, and just as the stereotype for Americans is loud and obnoxious, the stereotype for Asians is the smaller the girl the bigger the bag and everything is contained in plastic bags. Oh well thats hostel living!
In the morning the girls’ alarm went off at 7.30am. They silenced it and then let it go off again 5min later… some days I wonder if I am too old for hostels. Finally after taking an hour to get ready and leave with numerous times unlocking and locking their bags and rummaging in the plastic bags they headed out. 5 mins later our alarm went off…
Picked up bright and early at 8.30am, our driver took us out of the city towards the active geothermal area of Hell’s Gate and Wai Ora Spa, Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve and a “taonga” (treasure) of “Ngati Rangiteaorere” (the local Maori People). He was full of interesting information and gave us a run down of some of the town’s history and legends. When we arrived at the reserve you could see why people thought this was the gate of hell.
Our tourguide for the park was Tomotei, a member of the local Maori group and apparently a cousin of the Mitai family who we met the night before. After an official greeting and introduction to the park we proceeded to walk through and marvel at how active the land was. I kept having visions of Dante’s Peak and other sci fi movies. I think the best way to explain this area is through photos:
After wandering around pools with names like: Devil’s Bath, Sodom and Gomorrah and Sulphur Bath, we headed on a bush walk. Barely a few metres from the pools a lush forest starts and the trees are covered in a luminescent moss caused by the sulphur in the air.
Then we came across Kakahi Falls. The largest hot water falls in the Southern Hemisphere. At a balmy 40C, a nice hot shower, the falls hold a special place in Maori culture as it was where the warriors would bathe after war. The hot suphur water and low pH was an excellent salve for wounds. The full name is “O Te Mimi O Te Kakahi” which means “The Urine of Kakahi”.
Continuing out of the forest we came across another hellish landscape:
There were further pools with names like: Steaming cliffs (the hottest upto 145C), Map of Australia (naturally formed and looks just like the shape of Aus) and steaming fumeroles. Truly amazing landscape and it gives you a whole new sense of respect for the earth.
Mud Glorious Mud
But now to the part I have been waiting for, the mud bath. I have this childlike love of mud and with a dip into Rotorua’s mud pool, it will mean I have intentionally covered myself in mud on 3 continents (Korea, South Africa and NZ). We were stepping into a pool of grey mud, with a layer of water on top, due to the geothermal activity the pool was a fabulous 38C.
After 20min in the mud we were required to take a cold shower, not only to wash off the mud but also to close our pores that the mud had opened. While it was refreshing, I think I would have rather stayed in the mud. Tiptoeing across the cold ground (it was a rather brisk day) we headed to the sulphur pool and climbed into its welcoming warmth. We were allowed to stay in as long as we liked, but without a pile of mud to entertain me I soon got bored and headed for a shower, smelling a wee bit like rotten eggs…mmmm nothing quite like a sulphur bath!
Once we were clean with only a lingering sulphur smell we headed over to the woodwork shop and I proceeded to try my hand at carving. Not the best result but strangely relaxing, in fact I may take it up as a hobby.
The rest of the day was spent watching movies and relaxing. One of the movies was “Whale Rider”, I watched it in a whole new light after learning more about the culture and enjoyed it so much more. After cheap noodles for dinner we headed off for an early night. Now our roommates had packed up and left that morning, however, snow on the pass made it impossible for them to get to Wellington. So joy of all joys we had our roommates back and another evening and morning of plastic bags and loud locking suitcases.
Since we were only leaving at 4.30pm we spent the next day exploring. The park in town had active geothermal pools all over, and we also came across a section of town that was a Maori community. The traditional Maori hall was facing the Catholic church, kind of amusing for some reason.
The drive home was uneventful and I was soon back with my wonderful friends and preparing for another road trip the following day, to Hot Water Beach!