Rotorua, My Heart’s DevotionAuckland, Spring 2012
Erin and her host mom Chris invited me to stay with them in Rotorua, and we drove down last weekend, staying there from Friday to Monday. For the past three or four weekends members of our IES Study Abroad group had been heading down to Rotorua, so we figured it was our time to explore the place we’d heard so much about. Our friends the weekend before had spoken highly of zorbing, this incredibly tourist-y sport of getting into a giant plastic ball (either filled with water or “dry”) and rolling down a hill on a course. If you’re thinking it sounds like some weird game you and your little brother would play when you were twelve, you’re correct, except a whole lot bigger.
Because Chris had lived in Rotorua for most of her life before moving to Auckland to teach, she gave us a ton of insight into what Rotorua was actually like. She knew the best places to visit, and the cheapest deals, and was all-around the sweetest lady ever (and our fancy chauffeur). She showed us a park right by her house which was full of hot springs (aka sulfur pools), all quarantined off by giant fences and scary signs stating the intense heat that was contained in the water. Steam was rising off the various lakes, making the park seem a bit eerie even if it wasn’t dark yet, and although the sulfur was pretty pungent, it took about six seconds to get accustomed to the smell. We walked across a giant bridge that crossed a hot spring lake, the mist and fog becoming so strong I could barely see out of my glasses (which were uselessly steamed up anyways). It looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park: any moment I expected velociraptors to jump out of the mist and eat my face off. The whole of Rotorua is covered in hot springs and geothermal areas, and they’re as commonplace as trees. Later we visited Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal national park, and there was a lake in the center of the park that went on for ages. We walked all around Wai-O-Tapu, taking note of the various yellows, reds, and greens that were contained in rocks and lakes because of the different gases that were pumping out of the ground. It was fascinating to look at all the naturally occurring colors there that I had only previously seen in day-glo spray paint canisters. It was misty there, too, to the frustration and delight of our cameras and/or hair. One of my favorite things about the park was a lime green lake that was on the path back to the entrance. It looked exactly like the slime that is used on the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, and I couldn’t believe that the shade of green found in the lake could exist without photoshop. It was definitely a departure from the evergreen forests and large mountain chains that define U.S. national parks, in the best way possible. Wai-O-Tapu was like a post-apocalyptic nature wonderland.
We later went to the Rotorua Museum, a large mansion-esque building that once was a bath house that treated the wounded and ill with shock baths, and learned a ton about the Maori tribes that had founded that area. We learned that Mount Tarawera, a volcano right near Rotorua, had erupted in 1886, killing about 150 people in the area, mostly Pakeha (European) settlers. According to legend, the volcano erupted because the Maori gods were angry with the way the people were treating the land, and like Noah and the arc, decided to wipe out some people to teach them a lesson. Some of the natural wonders of the area, like these pink shelves in the village of Te Wairoa, were buried forever, but there hasn’t been a volcanic eruption since. The museum also had a ton of fantasy/sci-fi art on display from artists who primarily worked with Wetta (nearly everyone’s biography included some involvement in Lord of the Rings), and some pretty famous comic artists. It was a great dichotomy to have traditional Maori art in one gallery and modern digitally-created art in another: the history and future of New Zealand art.
We also went zorbing, which was over way too quickly. We laughed the entire way down, sloshing around in a giant ball until we toppled out at the bottom. It was on the pricier side ($35 for one ride straight down with two people), but it was such a randomly unique experience it was worth it to just see what it was like. We went on the luge as well, riding up the mountain to get to the luge tracks, and speeding down them with slight worry for my life. We rode the fast track three times, making incredibly sharp turns and flying off the ground when we hit the hills. We rode back up to the mountain on ski lifts, and got some great panoramic photos of the whole of Rotorua from up there. Our nights were spent listening to Chris’ dad talk about his involvement in some wars and his great admiration of Winston Churchill, plus delicious pies from Jesters (I always got one with chicken and cranberry, the best combination of foods). All in all it was a relaxing weekend with a great mix of historical and tourist-y activities, a welcome trip away from the city before the stress of exams.
I have about three weeks left in New Zealand, guys. It’s moving so fast!
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