Our first adventure out of Auckland was taking a Naked bus for a four-hour, 240 kilometer trip to the center of the north island. Our destination was the tourist town of Rotorua noted for its geothermal activity, center of Maori culture, and scenic mountains, lakes, and rivers
The area was settled by the Maori before Europeans arrived in the 18th century. Maori had been attracted to the area because of the rich volcanic solid and the many fish in the lakes and rivers. Two large lakes, Rotorua and Taupo, were formed from the caldera of extinct volcanos.
Our hotel was on the shore of Rotorua lake two blocks from main street. Along the shore sulphur mud pots bubbled out of the ground. Rotorua is nicknamed Sulphur City; when a breeze blows off the lake, there’s a main aroma of sulphur. It’s not offensive, more a hint that you’re in a center of geothermal activity.
The town is a Maori resort with many souvenir shops selling postcards, souvenirs, clothing, and knick knacks. The city had added benches, wide side walks, and green areas, but was nearly deserted with vacant and boarded up retail shops. The financial crisis hit the resort hard. It had probably grown too fast. When we walked from our hotel to Te Puia, we passed dozens of motels and hotels on both sides of the road, all with vacancy signs and few cars in parking lots even curing a busy summer tourist season.
One of the main attractions in Rotorua is Te Puia theme park which features geothermal mud pots and geysers and the recreation of a Maori village and crafts center. We spent half of our afternoon walking through the geothermal area over paths and wooden platforms through the more sensitive areas.
The central geothermal feature is Pohutu geyser which erupts about every thirty minutes. As it erupts, heated water splashes over a barren mound and spills into a stream and emerald-green pond. Tourists line up on a wooden bridge over the sulfurous stream to take pictures with Pohutu in the background. No one leaves without a few photos of Pohutu erupting.
Maori crafts center
After attending a Maori ceremonial dance, we walked through the crafts center where Maori artists were weaving and carving wooden ceremonial masks and statues. All during our travels throughout New Zealand, we saw Maori art displayed in parks, museums, and towns. Maori art is beautiful, almost haunting in depiction of their culture and legends.
Rotorua and Te Puia were our introduction to the beauty of New Zealand and its rich Maori culture. Much more was ahead of us.
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Next: Maori ceremony
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