To kick-start the new episode of my life as a bit of a wandering nomad, I was given the opportunity a few weeks ago to head down to New Zealand cultural centre and the adventure capital of the North Island, Rotorua. The main reason for my visit was to lend a helping hand to the Peterpans Adventure Travel team and cover some shifts so one of the staff members could do what we all do best and travel!
Yes, I was shipped off to Rotorua, but fortunately it was not all work, work, work; I was gifted with some incredible opportunities to explore the best of the North Island.
First stop: the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. There are ways to explore cave systems, and then there are proper ways to explore cave systems. The quiet township of Waitomo, approximately 2 hours south of Auckland is home to the largest cave system in New Zealand and one of the most unique and interesting tour experiences in the world – Black Water Rafting.
This is a rafting experience like no other. Don your super thick wetsuit and thermal under-layers, your fetching white wellington boots, and grab yourself a inflated car inner-tube and away you go. Heading deep into the most spectacular section of the caves, this activity combined clambering around the depths of the caves, climbing through holes you never thought you would fit through, and floating peacefully down through the underground waterways in your tube, all under the dazzling glow of the famous glow worms. Technically, it is not actually the worms that are glowing; it is in fact their shit. Wonderful. Has that put a slight dampener on the experience… not at all!
Onwards from the Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo to New Zealand’s most visited tourist attraction and home to 44 little homes once inhabited by mythical midgets… I was on my way to Hobbiton. Set in the beautiful rolling hills of the farmland outside Matamata, Hobbiton Movie Set lures in more people than any other attraction in this tourism rich nation. The 1hr 45m tours take you through this life size hobbit village, up Bagshot Row to the iconic Bag End, home to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. The tour continues through the quirky village and concludes in the intricately designed Green Dragon Inn where you can get yourself a complimentary mug of Hobbit beer. An excellent stop if you’re film geek, and equally fun stop if you just want to see something a bit out of the ordinary.
After spending 3 days working in Peterpans Rotorua and learning about all of the great activities that this fascinating little city has to offer, it was time for me to embrace the 3 things that epitomise Rotorua; Geothermal Activity, Maori Culture, and Adventure Activities.
Although the constant stream of sulphur fumes erupting from Rotorua’s thin tectonic crust makes the city smell like rotten eggs, the geothermal parks are really special. From the dazzling coloured lakes of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, the epic volcanic scenery of Waimangu Volcanic Valley, to the interesting lives of the residents of Whakarewarewa Village, the geothermal environment gives Rotorua a truly unique feel. Boiling sulphur pools, bubbling mud pits and even lively volcanic geysers. One of the most impressive sights during my exploration of Rotorua’s geothermal locations was the thundering Pohutu Geyser. Reaching the dizzying heights of 30m at full eruption, it is among the largest geysers in the Southern Hemisphere!
No trip to New Zealand’s cultural centre is complete without experiencing one of the fascinating Maori cultural experiences. In my case I chose to revisit a place I was lucky enough to experience when I was a young 18 year old on my year out before university; the well known and respected Maori Culture evening at Tamaki Village. It was impressive when I was younger and even more so 9 years later! We were greeted by a flamboyant and pretty intimidating welcome ceremony – men in loin-cloths shouting, staring and thrusting sticks in the general direction of the startled looking visitors, and Maori women hollering and blowing horns to add to the intense atmosphere. It was a riveting few minutes. After the stares turned to smiles and we were invited into the village, our group began exploring the various interactive elements of the tour; stick games, poi, Maori stories, and of course the inevitable embarrassment of attempting the infamous Maori haka.
From the flailing attempts of the tourist haka, to the epic traditional rendition of the same war dance that will make hairs stand up on the back of the neck of any semi-conscious person, we watched in awe at the passionate performance of the Maori people, before we continued our tour and our stomachs began to rumble. If you are hungry in the land of the Maori’s, a Hangi will solve your problems. Cooked underground and steamed in the earth, a Hangi meal is the traditional meal of Maori ceremonies – all you can eat, succulent meat, delicious vegetables; say no more!
That’s two of Rotorua’s big three ticked off. Geothermal, tick! Maori culture, tick! One more go and that is of course the adrenaline fuelled adventure activities. I did my best to make the most of the options. I went jet boating on Lake Rotorua with K Jet, I went zip-lining in Rotorua’s pristine forests with Rotorua Canopy Tours, and also took on Rotorua’s home-grown activity, Zorb. For anyone who has never encountered Zorb before, to explain, it is basically rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable hamster ball filled with water. Like riding along in an oversized washing machine, I don’t think I have ever been so sceptical of something and then actually ended up laughing continuously for the whole duration of an activity. Zorb will do this to you!
So there you have it; my little run down of Rotorua and just some of the strange and spectacular things that this quirky city has to offer. I am sure this will not be my last visit.