After a joyous coach ride from the north of the island I arrived in Rotaruha. On the first evening I had a delicious Thai meal in a modestly named but excellent Thai restaurant named “amazing Thai”. The restaurant was fairly authentic but they did try and encourage their customers to downgrade to milder versions of their dishes. Fortunately I wasn’t tempted and actually the chicken and cashew nut (classed medium) wasn’t any stronger than a medium Tesco curry. I think the British are probably generally good with their curries as the curries I had in South America were also pretty weak.
After a good nights sleep I spent the day in the town itself. First I headed to the Rotaruha museum which used to be a thermal bath and a night-club. So I saw exhibits on that as well as the Maori battalian in World War 2 and the volcanic eruption of 1886 which radically changed the area and destroyed the famous pink and white terraces near to Rotaruha. The world war two exhibition was especially interesting as the Maori were very brave and fought very well. The German general Rommel is said to have replied that he could win north Africa if he had a battalion of Maori like the allies did.
The other interesting thing was that there were some Maoris in the exhibition at the same time and they didn’t understand why they got involved. Given that world war two was probably the least futile war of the 20th century that is fairly surprising.
In the evening I headed to the local Maori christian church which was also quite interesting.
Then on Saturday I headed out into the countryside. Rather than going on a tour I took the local shuttle bus which was cheaper and better.
First I went to Wai-o-tapu to see the Lady Knox geyser there that goes off at exactly 10.20am each day (amazingly including changes for summer time!). The actual reason for this isn’t nature but that man uses soap to artificially set the geyser off. After that we went to explore the nearby thermal park which was very interesting and I got lots of good photos of that. I even managed to catch one of the rarer geysers in the park erupting which was lucky. After that at 12 noon I got the bus on to the next stop and I went off to have my sandwiches and explore the Waimangu volcanic valley. This was the scene of the 1886 eruption itself and the scenery was stunningly beautiful and actually very green. There were also more thermal pools and things to see there. Finally I returned to town by about 4pm.
In the evening I headed out to a Maori entertainment show and dinner called Mitai. I wasn’t as impressed as I expected by this. Firstly one of our number had to take part in the welcoming ceremony. As he was volunteered (as noone wanted to do it) for the role I felt it was a bit unfair and that the tour should have arranged for a member of staff to symbolically represent us. Then we got to see native dancing and exercise which was very enjoyable before dinner. This was very good and consisted of chicken and lamb cooked in tin foil over hot rocks. However they did rush us to finish the meal more than I would like as I hadn’t finished before the after dinner activities which consisted of a forest tour that would have been better in daylight and seeing gloworms (which would have been better without children who were scared of the dark and insisted on shining their torches around.). So I wasn’t totally happy with it.
The next day I had a lazy morning (hey I’m on holiday) before attempting to rent a bike for the day. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible in town so I took the public bus out of town to see Kiwis and to go on a luge down the mountainside. First I headed to see the Kiwi breeding program which involves stealing the eggs from the wild and birthing them in captivity to improve their survival rate against unnatural predators like stoats. Once they are big enough they are released back into the wild. This has proved very successful and now they have a 60% survival rate rather than the 5% rate they had before. They had also just got some new eggs in which we got to see as well as some adult Kiwis.
After that I headed up to the top to take some luge rides down the mountain with some locals I met in the lift on the way up which was great fun. The luge car actually got really bumpy as it went on the ride down the mountain.