Well, we had another three full days in Rotorua. The town never stopped stinking from the sulphur, but besides that we found a lot of cool things to do and see. On Wednesday we both worked most of the day, then went for an afternoon run around Sulphur Lake. Man is it stinky over there! At times it almost gags you. We ran by the Laughing Gas pools, where a hundred years ago European settlers used to bathe and giggle, not knowing why.
Turns out the gas is nitrox, so that explains the fun. A bit dangerous to be bathing in it, though. We were also accosted by the gulls here. Apparently they don’t like runners!
We got home and relaxed in our own mineral spa at the hotel (hard to say what medicinal value it provided, but it was a nice soak) and then got picked up for our cultural evening at the Mitai Maori Village. Now, we were expecting a hokey, touristy evening, but it was actually a lot of fun. The Maoris had a great sense of humor, and staring with the introduction host (who was amazing—he called out to the audience to see what countries they were from, and 24 countries were represented by the end. He greeted each country with a few phrases in their language. Quite impressive when he started speaking Gaelic, Farci, and Dutch!). Then we got a tour of some cultural activities, seeing how the food is prepared, canoes are carved and rowed, fish are caught, etc.
The young Maori men were quite impressive in their native costumes. Then they took us to a simulated village, where the Chief educated us on Maori tradition and history. There was a lot of music and dancing. All of the participants seemed to be really into it, and we really enjoyed the exuberant Maori woman in the back who kept popping out the whites of her eyes in excitement.
The Chief had a great sense of humor and the best part was the Haka at the end. I’ll upload this video when I have more bandwidth.
After that it was a delicious dinner and then a tour of the Rainbow Springs animal park, where we finally saw a live kiwi! They are so cute, even late at night they seemed very active and busy running around their pens. We also saw the biggest rainbow trout ever, and guess where they came from? Yep, California!
The next day we decided to go mountain biking in the Redwood forest (another flora gift from California). I had never been mountain biking before, and both of us were hopeful that this would be a great new sport for me. I love being outdoors and I love my beach cruiser, so this would be great, right?
Well, we got there and right away I was in a bit over my head since I didn’t know how to change the gears on my bike (been awhile since I rode my 1985 10-speed, the last bike I had with gears!). This bike was pretty fancy, and as soon as I figured out how to ride it, things were getting better. Mark tried to find his way on the confusing map, but first we had to climb a gravel road for about half an hour. Well, that sucked. We finally made it to a trailhead, but it wasn’t the beginner level one we were aiming for. I thought, no worries, level 3 sounds fine. I know how to ride a bike, right? No way. Oh my god, riding downhill through blind turns on a track that’s about two feet wide is absolutely frightening. I could hear Mark shouting with glee up ahead, but I was screaming my head off, and not in the fun way! We met up and I showed him my sad face, and he said, “Uh, oh, you don’t like it?” Heck no. It was way too scary for me, and I felt like I was going to go over my handlebars the whole time. After some time calming me down, he coaxed me back to the beginner loop (“The Dipper”) and we did that loop a few times. He loved it (except for the scary part of never knowing if you are going in the right direction—the trails are not well-marked). He left me there to loop the Dipper and he rode to a bunch more advanced trails. He even saw a local Geyser and great views of Rotorua. I peddled my way back to the car and relaxed, deciding that this just wasn’t my sport.
Since we seemed to be going in different directions yesterday, today we decide to split up. Mark decides to go for the adventurous River Rafting tour down the Kaituna River. I opt for the slightly tamer Sheep Show at the Agrodome! I know, we have SO much in common!
So, picture me petting little lambs, learning about the 18 different types of sheep and how to sheer them, and enjoying the highlight of the show which involved sheepdogs herding sheep!
Then picture Mark, crewing up with a bunch of Kiwi travelers to raft down 11 rapids including a 25 foot waterfall!
Yes, pretty much the same experiences on both ends!
We both had a good time and met back in the evening for dinner and a planning session of our next spot: Tongariro National Park.
We left Rotorua in time to catch the 10:15 eruption of Lady Knox Geyser in Waitopo Thermal Wonderlands. This was the first geyser I had ever seen, and though it was a bit contrived (to time the 10:15 eruption, they drop a reactant into the hole to set it off everyday), it was pretty neat. We had fun taking pictures, too.
Then we wandered around all the other thermal and mud pools, and they were pretty amazing. Tons of different colors and temperatures (none that you could actually get in), and lots of bubbling, gurgling and steam. We learned that in Rotorua everyday there’s a seismic movement of at least a 2.0 due to all the volcanic activity. Luckily they haven’t had any damaging volcanoes for over 100 years.
From there we headed south, stopping at Huka Falls for a quick look and then having lunch at Lake Taupo. After a delicious lunch of California Rolls and Udon noodles, we are lucky enough to bump into another parade! Mark’s less than thrilled, but humors me as we enjoy a more local Christmas parade this time. Seems like everyone knows everyone here, and it’s pretty cute.
Then we drive to Tongariro National Park, known in part for being a big set for the Lord of the Rings films. The weather turns and we get rain and clouds for the rest of the two hour drive. We arrive in the town called National Park and get turned away from a few hotels because they are full. Turns out today was the Goat, a 20km running race through the mountains. Too bad we missed it! We finally find a spot at the Plateau, a nice hostel that offers us a private room with a shared bath for cheap.
Mark goes out for a run but I’m lazy and relax in the common rooms, which are really nice, with a big kitchen, dining room, comfy couches and a TV. He has a great run, exploring Taranaki falls, and even though it’s cloudy he catches a glimpse of Mt. Doom (from Lord of the Rings).
He’s super jazzed and when he gets back we enjoy the hot tub (you have to “book” a half-hour soak, so we book 7-7:30pm). In there we meet some nice German/Swiss travelers who give us lots of tips about the hiking around here. Everyone is talking about the Tongariro Crossing, a 19km 6 hour hike that crosses several volcano craters, lakes, and on a clear day has views of all the famous peaks. We are trying to decide if we should do it. Mark wants to run it, but it just seems impossible to run that far for me, and if we walk it we’ll need to carry more gear because it’s cold and raining and we’ll be exposed for a lot more hours. We decide to sleep on it and see about the weather tomorrow.