New Zealand-Chapter 23: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.1)

Going into this trip, I’d couldn’t even count the number of people who told me how much they loved their time in Rotorua. The guidebooks raved about it and all the tourist literature showed it as one of the country’s most popular destinations. I’d really enjoyed the Zorbing and Skyline Rotorua the previous day.

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My first stop of the day was Te Puia, one of Rotorua’s two main geothermal area. It bills itself as New Zealand’s premier Maori cultural center as well.

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The first building the visitor comes to inside the gate are the replica traditional Maori meeting house where Te Puia hosts their Maori cultural show. I’d see this already in Queenstown, so I elected not to see it again here, but I did stop in and take a look at the intricate artwork carvings inside the meeting hall.

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One of the exhibits I enjoyed the most was the Pikirangi Māori Village, which gives visitors a look into a pre-European Maori settlement. I’d seen a number of the modern Maori settlements in my travels around the country, this was the first look into this era of Maori culture. the area included examples of the first type of residential huts, as well an earth oven that shows the how the Maori cooked and prepared their tradition Hangi dinner.

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After walking around the two village replicas, I joined my tour which began with a walking tour of Te Puia’s most famous sight, the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. This is the country’s most active geothermal area, and an area held sacred for hundreds of years by the Maori.

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Te Whakarewarewa is an area of steaming pools and bubbling mud pots.

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The area’s main attraction is Pohutu Geysir, which we were able to see erupt over 20 feet into the sky while we were on our tour.

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Inside the geothermal area are the remains of the old Pa, or fortress, that was built here in ancient times as a stronghold. I was especially impressed by the cemetery area and the carvings that accompanied all of the graves.

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The highlight of Te Puia for me was our last two stops on the tour. The first was Te Rito, the National School of Weaving, where we were able to observe weavers and basket makers employing their craft.

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I was also extremely impressed with Te Wananga Whakairo, the National School of carving. Maori art has many beautiful aspects to it, the carvings are my favorite part.

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On my way out of the facility, I was able to observe the beginning of the pōwhiri or welcoming ceremony.

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My plan for the rest of the day was to wander around the city of Rotorua, checking out this city I had heard so much about. I’d intended to wander down to the lakefront to see if I could get on one of the many sightseeing/lunch cruises that were offered. After a quick drive around the area by Rotorua’s main spas, I began to realize how crowded the city was on this Queen’s Birthday weekend.

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I stopped downtown to get some postcards and other souvenirs, and trouble even finding a parking spot. When I did start walking around the city’s little commercial district, I was put off by the number of souvenir shops and tour booking companies. I’ve dealt with these all over the world, but other than an afternoon in Queenstown, I had seen much of this touristy stuff in New Zealand. It wasn’t at all what I had in mind.

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After picking up some postcards, I again attempted to drive down to the lakefront and find some parking. The lakefront was packed. There was some sort of arts and crafts fair and a festival going in the area and it was packed with people. I began to get frustrated as I drove two, three then four blocks away from the lake only to be frustrated by the lack of parking and the throngs of people heading toward the park that sat across from the lake.

Twenty-two full days into my trip, I was beginning to see my patience level wain from being so tired, and I knew deep down that I didn’t have it in me to deal with the crowds I was witnessing. So it was, at that very point, that I did something I rarely do- I scrapped my meticulously planned itinerary and fled Rotorua as fast as I could. I headed west, with no real plan in mind. That was a fateful decision- what awaited me was the most unexpected and wonderful day of surprises during the whole trip…

NEXT: Photo Essay- Te Puia, Rotorua

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9 Responses to “New Zealand-Chapter 23: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.1)”

  1. I took the exact same tour! I don’t remember the masses, maybe because it was almost off-season, yet your post brought back memories of how much I enjoyed my time there – I love Rotorua 🙂

    • Erik says:

      I think I had crowds because it was Queen’s Birthday weekend and people were on holiday.

      Obviously, I did not love Rototua, but I also think it deserves another chance 🙂

  2. Dana Newman says:

    congratulations on getting out of there and following your heart!

  3. fotoeins says:

    It is amazing what happens when we make that “left turn in Albuquerque”, or in your case, “getting the heck outta Dodge.” Aside from the American references, I’m glad things worked out when you changed your plans; I think one can tell you were happily surprised in your subsequent posts, too.

  4. It has been over 20 years since I visited Rotorua, thank you for reminding me about this special place.

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