05 July 2016

Rotorua

A long day of sightseeing today, and another great day of mostly clear weather, fortunately.  I started out by visiting the excellent Rotorua Museum, housed in an old bathhouse.  This area was a famous destination for "Taking the cure" where you could soak away your troubles (or arthritis, or rheumatism, or whatever ailed you) in hot spring soaking tubs, complete with a touch of sulfur to get you extra clean.

The bathhouse is grand Elizabethan architecture that has been restored and is a source of pride for the region and the nation.  I took a tour and learned about the previous history as a bathhouse, and also about the area's rich Maori heritage.

Next was a return visit to the gondola, to get a daytime view of the city and the adjacent lake, before I headed 25km south to visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley.  Along the way, my progress was impeded by the relocation of a herd of cattle from a paddock on one side of the lane to the other, with the farmer not on horseback, but rather on motocycleback.  I had never considered a motorcycle to be a valuable farming implement, but I suppose it makes sense.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is billed as the world's youngest geothermal zone, and the only one that was created directly as the result of a volcanic eruption, precisely on my -85th birthday.    The valley includes a number of unique features, including the largest hot spring in the world (a short video of which I posted on Instagram @krynger), as well as a number of
pools of varying acidity and temperature.  some appear to be boiling (where really it is just bubbling from escaping gases), while others actually are boiling.

I then enjoyed a leisurely drive around the local lake before heading to Te Puia, which is home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.  At night, you get to enjoy a Maori cultural performance  of dancing and music, followed by a Maori feast, cooked underground on hot volcanic tocks.  The whole experience was not unlike visiting a luau show and dinner in Hawaii, with a quite similar menu even, proof that the modern interpretation of the Polynesian diet is consistent across the region.

The music was much more operatic and lyrical than I guess I was expecting.  To be sure, there were the chants and monotone grunting and guttural language I think of when I think of tribal music, but there were some very pretty melodies incorporated as well.

The meal, called a hangi, was tasty, and afterwards, we were ushered onto a very bumpy jitney ride down to their private geyser, Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.  It erupts mostly on schedule, but the locals fondness for drilling wells to siphon off some of the steam from the local geothermal system has caused the geyser to be a little less reliable and a little less impressive, but it was fun to see it erupt in the dark among the swirling clouds of steam.  They served us Hot Chocolate as we set on disarmingly warm steps, kept at a constant temperature thanks to the liquid hot magma not too far underneath us.  Perhaps not quite far enough...