Rotorura, North Island, New Zealand

Although my first stop was Auckland, I’m taking artistic licence with chronology, and will come back to it at the end. Don’t get your hopes up, that’s not intentional suspense. Just that I’ll be revisiting it, and as I learnt from my Santiago appendix, posting too early is bad form.

Well, what can I say. If Inception is a dream within a dream (haven’t seen it, that’s what I heard.) Then New Zealand is a place within a place. That place is 1950’s England (Need to attribute this v. accurate description to Nikk) mixed with suburban middle America (or what I imagine it’s like – having only been to the good bits – California/NYC).  In other words; safe, twee, conservative, and dare I say it, a little dreary and dull.

The landscape is pure Lake District (in the rain) and the left-hand-drive blue motorway signs all look freakily familiar, just with stranger place names like Whangarei or Pukekohe. The farm houses that we pass on the 4 hour trip South to Rotorua are straight up white picket fence. They look so idyllic and remote it’s almost creepy. You know, when something is so perfect it’s not? Like CSI should be called out there, or is this just my sinister mind?

Rotorua’s rep is that of cultural capital and outdoorsy mecca, along with nearby Taupo. It’s famous for sky diving, its thermal hot springs, and traditional Maori culture. In winter, it’s a ghost town. There are more seagulls than people. I photograph a few by the lake in the rain. Yes this was a highlight. Yes I was THAT bored.  The whole town reminds me exactly of a crap Centertainment Sheffield (Soz  Leeds peops, I don’t know any Leeds retail parks, maybe that one where Ikea is?) It’s all sad looking empty Nandos, Dominoes Pizzas, and English pubs in the vein of Yates/Spoons. Now i’m a fan as much as the next person, but when this is ALL that you have? Tragic times indeed.

Also, whilst I’m on one, I hate to winge about the money factor – coming west was always going to be a shock to the system –but when a tin of spaghetti, a small bottle of water, and a mars bar all individually cost over £2.00 each someone is having a bit of a laugh. Thank god for Chinese supermarkets is all I can say, with their 50p dried noodles. Fine dining or what.

It’s not that I hate it (yet) exactly, there’s just hard to find anything to really like. You might statistically be more likely to be killed or robbed at knife/gun point on the streets of Bogota or Quito but at least they have bloody personality. First impressions of New Zealand are that it’s devoid of any character of its own? Harsh, I know. Or maybe it’s just the culture clash (ironic when the culture is my own) of arriving here from SA – which screams history/culture/crazy in every breath. Yes its winter here, yes I kind of hate the great outdoors when it’s not in the sun, yes I’m probably a bit jetlagged and in Latino mourning. I hope to be proved wrong.

Anyway, enough whingeing. After the pinnacle of the seagulls on day one, I thought I’d get my ass in gear and do something useful.

The Whakarewarea Thermal Village (pronounced Fa ka re wa re wa – No word of a lie) is home to the people of Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao.  It’s a living village 2k walk from Rotorua set on the site of geysers and thermal pools. Geysers are the ones off of Uyuni Bolivia that shoot pressurised steam skywards to the lovely aroma of sulphur.  Rotorua is blessed with the smell of rotten eggs, which makes Leeds’s brewery smell seem like baking bread (or other nice smells.) For $30 (£15) you get to learn all about all things Maori. Ooo and you get sweetcorn. Not just any sweetcorn (cue sexy M & S voice), sweetcorn cooked geothermal style, as is the Hangi tradition, in steam boxes and the water from hot pools. (Tastes exactly like regular sweetcorn, case you were wondering.)

We started the tour with a traditional greeting, which was to turn to the person next to us (thankfully a girl) and rubbing noses. Intimate. We then had a demonstration of Maori arts and crafts, where it all went a bit Project Catwalk, and our guide rustled up a grass skirt using a plant, sharp stone and some seriously well honed weaving skills. Very Blue Peter. It was impressive. The best bit / little big cringe if I’m honest, was a song and dance performance including the Hakka.  You know, like off of the Rugby. Three semi naked men in nothing but sashes grunted and stamped and budged their eyes in way of entertainment. I tried to respect this ancient sacred tradition, but just ended up stifling giggles from behind my camera.

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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