Another bus, another town! We reached Rotorua mid afternoon and spent our first half day exploring and planning our next few days. We tried the local specialties in alcohol, notably a craft beer and peach cider,(both delicious), but not until we had charged into Nandos to prevent further withdrawal symptons suffered over the last four months. We also sampled the Friday nightlife, which more closely resembled a quiet Tuesday after work.
The next day we went window shopping down the high street and to the natural hot springs and mud pools on the outskirts of town. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, which is really interesting, but also has an unfortunate side-effect of making the whole town occasionally smell like rotting eggs (this is not an exaggeration). This did not deter us from wandering amongst the vapours and watching the alternatively clear waters and gloopy mud bubbling in their pits.
That evening we couldn’t resist trying one of the fantastic looking restaurants on Eat Streat, having tried to confine ourselves to cheap, hostel-cooked meals for 2.5 weeks now. Great decision. I had the best curry of my life, in all seriousness, and we had a kind of spiritual experience during the whole meal. Go to Indian Star, Eat Streat if ever you are in Rotorua, it will be a tremendous life decision for you.
The next morning we got a shuttle bus to Wai O Tapu, an active geothermal area half hour from Rotorua. There are three walks to do round the park, taking you past various pits and hot springs bubbling with sulphuric water and mud. We saw the Artist’s Pallette…
Halfway through the morning we also watched the Lady Knoc Geyser erupt; with a natural eruption ever 2-3 days, for the sake of visitors it is helped along a few times a day with a box of soap, which breaks the surface tension between the upper and lower vault.
Returning to Rotorua, we spent the afternoon doing our research on The Hobbit films in preparation for the next day, and went to a local pub quiz in which we came a surprising last.
At last, the big day came, and having psyched ourselves up with a run along the bay we made our way to the Hobbiton movie set. An hour or so on the bus and we reached the Alexander farm, with a short video and anecdotes from the driver describing how Peter Jackson and his team came to find their perfect physical manifestation of Tolkien’s Shire. It was, honestly, stunning. I cannot admit to being a die hard LOTR or Hobbit fan, but the excitement of being somewhere from a world famous film collection and to see the detail that goes into film making is too much to describe.
Our guide took us through the whole village of Hobbiton, describing the process of finding, building and maintaining the set, pointing out how ridiculously meticulous yet important Jackson’s attention to detail was.
On our last full day in Rotorua we spent a morning at the Polynesian spa, built around and using the town’s natural hot springs and supposedly therapeutic waters. Tourists have been visitng Rotorua to use the hot springs as spa facilities since the 1800s, and it was fun to try out all the different pools and read about the original Priest pools, named after Father Mahoney, whose athiritis was supposedly cured after a soak in the spring.
Then that evening we visited the Mitai Maori village for an introduction to traditional Maori culture and a Hangi feast. There were talks about various aspects of old and modern Maori life such as food preparation, shelter, and tattoos; then a demonstration on the river of their tribal canoe, followed by a show of their tribal dances, songs and Haka; then the fantastic Hangi feast prepared for us as a mix of old and new village food. The night ended with a walk through the forest, our guide pointing out edible, useful and medicinal plants to us and helping us spot glow worms on the banks of the path. It was a really well-presented exhibit of Maori spirituality and culture, highly recommend and really not as gimmicky as I feared.