At last we had a weekend where we could take a trip away. We got up early, drove to Christchurch airport and parked up. We jumped on a plane to Rotorua in North Island. This is much the most efficient way to get between the North and South Islands and usually does not involve seasickness. We had no checked in luggage, there were no security conveyor belts, and we walked across the tarmac to our aeroplane. Fantastic views through the clouds as we chugged above the braided rivers and the Cook Strait. We rumbled into Rotorua to land 90 minutes later, and joined a slow queue to collect a hire car.
Finding our way out of Rotorua (the UK is not the only place with road works), we drove to Taupo for a lovely BBQ lunch with friends, before returning to check in at our accommodation – optimistically called a Hotel. We had a nice spacious room with a view of the next door petrol station. The room was in need of updating (mouldy shower and tired carpets) but adequate. The hotel was in a prime position very close to the Māori village and a steam belching Geyser. The Maori village is used for shows and hangi (feasts) and attracts lots of visitors who enjoy the cultural aspect of the events. The Geysor is also a great attraction, but comes with an enveloping odour of rotten eggs (Sulphur). So we got the full experience. The weather was warm and beautiful. We flung open the windows, and a few moments later decided we might prefer to melt instead. Hey ho.
We did not stay in our hotel room for long. We drove into town to visit Eat Street (street names are often very helpful here) and wandered up and down the food outlets reading menus and trying to decide what nationality of food we wanted. Then to the awe inspiring Redwoods Forest. We joined a long queue, in the dark. In the rain. With no coats or umbrellas. Hubby folded his arms – a sure sign of doom.
We had come to do the Redwoods Treewalk at night. The cheery young Kiwi attendants kept popping along the line with their glowing iPads to check people in, chat, and tell us that we were only an hour’s wait away. When we finally shuffled as far as the great spiral walkway that was to take us up into the mighty trees our enthusiasm was significantly dampened. We were greeted by an even cheerier young man who told us how lucky we were to see the Nightlights in the rain because the wet makes the glowing lights sparkle like emeralds. He also told us not to touch the trees because their bark is very sensitive (but apparently it is OK to attach an enormous treewalk of rope bridges 20 metres above the ground using huge hooks and nails). His safety advice included the warning that there should not be more than 8 people on a rope bridge at any one time. Now, this was very sensible advice. However, the ladder bridges are completely dark (and wet) so it was almost impossible to work out how many people were actually on the bridge. The best way was to gauge the bounce. He had told us, (quite rightly) that there must be no jumping. However, as people stepped onto it the bridge would sway and bob. By the time you got to the other side the end of the bridge would be boinging towards you with varying degrees of force. Anyway, we made it, and the lights and giant lanterns were amazing.
Definitely worth the wait, even if it did take us most of the next day to regain our “land legs”. We decided to go back to look at the trees properly in daylight from the ground, and they were awe inspiring.
Having survived the night and the fumes, we set out to find breakfast in the town. We ended up in Eat Street again with a wonderful breakfast of coffee with honeyed bacon, poached eggs and toasted focaccia. This gave us the strength to walk to the Village Green by the lake where we were in time to look at a huge rally of vintage cars. The camping chairs were out en masse in the warm sun, with enthusiasts from the local motoring clubs perched strategically between rows of Morris, Mini, early Utes and Chevrolets. Hubby was so intrigued that we walked round the large field twice, and he was persuaded to put a couple of dollars in the bucket. A Gospel service was in full swing under the trees as we left to explore the lakes.
Rotorua is a favourite holiday destination, known in New Zealand as “The Lakes District”. Around the deep scenic lakes in the area are clustered the many baches where the Kiwis adore to spend time. They were out with their boat trailers, kayaks and wetsuits enjoying the water. The children quickly learn to be fearless adventurers. We watched, intrigued, as a family set off from the shore on a particularly popular activity. Mum and dad had placed their two primary age children (in life vests) tummy down on a rubber dingy, and had obviously told them to hang on tight – which they did (for dear life). Mum then attached a very long rope between the dingy and a jet ski and climbed on behind dad. She sat with her back to dad, presumably so that she could check if either of the children had dropped off, and fed out the rope as they left the shore. Dad pulled on the throttle, the children screamed, and the whole family shot off across Lake Tikitapu. We did not see them return.
Further along the road we came upon the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. This is a museum and archaeological site recording the infancy of tourism in New Zealand during the 1880s, when there was a mission and two hotels on the site. Intrepid Victorians stayed here. They visited local scenic attractions and thermal pools, admired the culture of the local Māori population, and sent pressed leaves home in their letters. Until one day in June 1886, a phantom war canoe was seen on the lake, a portend of disaster. This vision was followed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Tarawera, which changed the landscape and buried the village in thick mud. The story of the dead, the survivors and the heroic rescue attempts is told here. It is an atmospheric and beautiful place, with a very steep climb to a roaring waterfall (that nearly finished me off).
Then it was time to head back to the tiny airport to catch our ride home. Only 4 Gates here…well one really. Everyone goes out of the same door and saunters across the tarmac to the Air New Zealand plane. We have watched it arrive from Christchurch through the the huge glass windows. We have watched them unload and reload for the return journey inside 30 minutes. Once we are all aboard, the pilot taxies up the runway, swerves round in a u-turn at the end, and “puts his foot down” on the straight. Up and away into the clouds, heading back South.