So then, Rotorua, I’ve missed you for a decade, but you’re still not smelling no sweeter. You see, New Zealand is SLAP BANG on top of one of the most shifty-slidey tectonic fault-lines in the world, which goes some way to explaining why over 80% of NZ’s power comes from renewable resources. In fact, when it comes to green credentials, New Zealand is painfully ahead of the competition and a rather sound bolt-hole for you to run to when the oil runs out or your entire nation gets flooded to death.
But you’ll be dead by then, right? Right.
In Rotorua, the Earth’s crust is as thin as a poppadom and so hot sulphuric water bubbles up to the surface with great alacrity. This was good for the local Maori people who used these hot thermal springs to cook, to bathe and to possibly dispose of irritating enemies such as Justin Bieber. The naturally high mineral content of the springs meant the place was of great interest to the Victorians, who loved all this natural hippy remedy alternative medicine stuff. A few months ago I was approached by a girl selling Dead Sea Salt stuff in a shopping mall. She was quick in inform me that the stuff contained ‘only natural ingredients’ and ‘no chemicals whatsoever’.
I pointed out to her that Arsenic, Polonium, Mercury, Lead and Uranium were all 100% natural and things I would in no way like to rub on my skin and that one could probably find at least two chemicals in the NaCl that made the frikkin salt in the salts that little bit, um, salty in the first place. She acted as though nobody had ever thought to mention these most elementary properties of chemistry to her before. Or maybe they had, but so long as the pharmaceutical companies and snake oil salesmen keep banging on the natural = good, chemical = bad line, there’s going to be at least a few people that fall for the con. Well sod that, accost this ranga in a shopping mall and start spouting utter gibberish at him in order to sell an overpriced tub of mud and you should expect a good old fashioned verbal lashing. Same goes for you, vicar.
Sorry, I digress…
Mand and I tottered over to the Whakarewarewa, the ‘Living Thermal Village’. If you think Whakarewarewa is a bit of a mouthful, try the full name: Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, meaning ‘The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao’. Thankfully, the village name is often abbreviated to just ‘Whaka’ by locals (pronounced ‘Faka’). Whaka is a Maori settlement that’s been around for centuries, the people here living off the free energy provided by the hot springs dotted around the town. We were shown around the town by a lovely Maori lady called Sue.
One thing that I should point out here: there are next to no indigenous cultural experiences open to tourists visiting Australia. In fact, the massive difference in attitudes between the way the Maori and the white New Zealanders treat each other and the way the Aboriginals and white Australians treat each other could not be more pronounced if it climbed up to the top of a flag pole and danced the Charleston. I will return to this topic a little later on.
The tour around the village was great and ended with a free cultural dance show in which we got to experience the ancient and modern songs and rhythms of this particular neck of the woods, together with the Villager’s take on the modern Haka. All good stuff. I then wasted a good half an hour of my life standing there like a lemon with my cameras waiting for the big Geyser, Pohutu, to erupt. A German guy had been waiting for over an hour. A British girl called Loretta was going to miss her bus to Lake Taupo if she hung on any longer.
Ah, miss it. We’ll give you a lift, I say, being all cavalier: we’re heading to Lake Taupo this afternoon anyhoo.
New Zealand is actually an excellent place to hitch-hike around, by the way. It doesn’t seem to suffer from that creeping sense of paranoia that so afflicts the rest of the westernised world and, well, it’s a lot smaller than Australia or the US. If your hiker is boring, stupid or uninteresting, you can happily kick them out after an hour: they’ll invariably be at their destination by then.
Eventually Pohutu went pop, just in time for everybody who was waiting with baited breath to have just run out of battery power for their cameras. Grr!!
Oh well. Mand and I tottered off for some lunch having arranged to meet Loretta a little later on. After gallivanting around the beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL museum (around, mind you, we didn’t go in – it was too expensive) for a couple of hours, we checked out of Rotorua, dragging Loretta with us.
Along the way down to Lake Taupo we stopped off so the girls could have a dip in the confluence of a scorching hot thermal pool and a freezing cold mountain stream, the Goldilocks Zone, if you will. I didn’t partake in the activities since, like a Mogwai, it is unwise to get me wet, subject me to bright light or feed me after midnight. After a quick dip we piled back into the car and thundered down to Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in the bottom half of the planet.
We dropped Loretta off at the backpackers, but no ’orrible bunkbed nonsense for us: Mand had arranged to stay in a fancy spa resort, complete with luxury self catering cabins with a view out over the rather splendid lake. Ahh… I told you we were on holiday.