- Waitomo – Hobbiton
- Hobbiton – Tamaki Village
- Tamaki Village – Rotorua
The bus departed the Kiwi Paka hostel at 9am, giving us a little extra rest for once! We did make a small stop back at the caves, taking a walk through the bush to see some of the cave openings and waterfalls but then headed East to Rotorua.
We had to drop off most of the us at Hobbiton, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings film set, whilst the few of us that had no interest/hadn’t seen the films just ate lunch in the sun, surrounded by Chinese tourists. Happy to leave the packed Hobbiton set, we “drove” onwards. In fact, the bus began overheating and we broke down half way up a hill in a very, very convenient location on the side of a 100-kph highway, upwind of a cow carcuss which brought with it a fragrant perfume and hoard of flies, and steep hills either side to expose anyone going to the toilet! It actually turned out to be pretty funny, just as it needs to be in such a situation.
After scouring the bus for as much water as possible to refill the radiators, we did eventually make it to the geothermal area of Rotorua: New Zealand’s volcanic hotspot. Naturally, the town also came with its own sulphur-based air freshener (rotten eggs I hear you say) but it wasn’t unbearable.
We paid for our Maori experience and awaited the departure bus, taking us out to Tamaki Village where we were welcomed by a traditional Maori maiden singing and dancing. Our group chief, Chief Daniel, had to lead us through the village gates, followed by the woman of the group and then the men. At the welcome ceremony, the men had to sit in front of the women as warrior protectors whilst we were formally accepted to the community by the touching of noses and foreheads twice.
After afternoon tea and sorting out our rooming (meeting another bus newbie in Mitchie), we gathered again in the ceremony area to learn the Maori alphabet and a song with dance moves. These were to be performed later at a banquet in front of 150 people!
Continuing to indulge ourselves in the Maori culture, we were then introduced to big long sticks and traditional games. First up was a series of poetic words accompanied by the throwing of sticks, first one person to your right and then alternating between this and two to the right, skipping out the middle man. Needless to say, it was pretty tough for our traveller brains and sticks were flying everywhere (videos to follow from the GoPro)! The next game involved moving to the stick maowi (left) or matu (right) of you, without letting the stick drop. I got to the last 4 but then my little legs and arms couldn’t stretch as far as the boys! The Maori’s play lots of games involving sticks as a way to strengthen their arms and improve their skills for battle during adulthood. But they were all pretty fun for us to tryout too.
After showering and getting ready, we joined those experiencing the Maori culture just for that evening, led by several other “chiefs”, and lined up outside the gates. Then the village people rowed along the river and performed the Haka in front of the chiefs as a threat if we were to enter. A peace offering of a fern was awarded, and traditional songs and greetings performed before we could enter the village.
Inside the Tamaki village, we were shown traditional dances, games, instruments, weapons, boats, carvings etc., and then shown how they cook their food, using the local geothermal rocks and slow cooking meat and veg in baskets (also done by the men, not women). The tribe performed various routines and songs for us, all absolutely fantastic, before we entered the banqueting hall.
The food was insane! Lamb, chicken, fish, muscles, New Zealand carrots, sweet potoato, steamed pudding, pavlova, fruit… you name it! After a few glasses of wine, we then descended upon the stage to perform our newly learnt song (I think singing something about Kiwi Experience is welcomed to Tamaki and learnt the alphabet, as at one point we song ‘A E I O U’ to the melody of ‘Stupid Cupid’). Naturally, it went wrong but was a good laugh nonetheless. The men then performed the Haka, which was even more hilarious to watch:
When the evening guests left, us overnighters gathered around a bonfire, roasting marshmallows on spears, drinking wine and eventually chilling out in the 3 hotubs. It was such a lovely chance for me to get to know some of the other members of us bus better as none of the girls had chosen the overnight option with me. We ended up going to sleep at 3.30 after all getting along so well (aided by alcohol!).
A breakfast was put on for us in the morning before we were taken back to Rotorua and the rest of our group. It was the first time we were splitting up as myself and a few others decided to stay an extra night in Rotorua geothermal town and see what it had to offer.
I joined up again with Monique and Emily, after watching the news in absolute dispair at Donald Trump winning presidency. To take our mind off of things, we went for a lunchtime of fun! First, we took the Skyline – a gondola – up the top of Rotorua’s largest hill/mountain, overlooking the large lake that neighbours the town. The view was stunning:
This gave us access to the luge. The luge was SO MUCH FUN! Essentially Mario Kart in real life, racing toboggans down a hillside track, overtaking and undertaking and getting air over the jumps. We regressed many years but absolutely no way did we care, completing the course 3 times! We also had a lovely lunch at the top of the hill overlooking the stunning scenery (including the various Asian tourist photoshoots going on and their incapability to ride the toboggans or move out the way for people!).
Due to our inability to understand bus timetables (God help me when this is in Spanish in South America), we walked the few km’s back to the hostel, through various gardens containing geothermal pools. Once back, we all decided we wanted to relax at the spa and headed off towards Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa which is one of the world’s Top 10. As you can imagine given the geothermal nature of the area, the spa contained many sulphur pools and the smell of rotten eggs did linger. However, this did not stop us kicking back and relaxing, taking in the views and taking the piss out of the hundreds of Asian tourists that seemed to be invading our day of fun!!
On our way back towards the hostel, we stumbled upon a night market of at least 50 street food stalls. Obviously a chance to eat food was not going to go amiss, and I took the opportunity to devour a muscle fritta, calamari stick and berry and dark chocolate brownie, whilst also taking each and every free sample of food along the way. It was a really spectacular end to our lovely day with the girls and was yet another reason why I loved my time in Rotorua so much.
After showering and all the usual evening prep and admin, we headed over to Lava bar opposite the hostel, meeting up with all our other bus companions for a “couple” of beers and a long night of dancing and singing.
Rotorua and the Tamaki village both delivered far beyond my expectations and I loved every second. I left with a big old smile on my face! 😁
Now 10 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and so far, Kia Amo!