Friday, 21 October 2011

NZ North Island 2 - Rotorua to Wellington

Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Area, Rotorua

 I mentioned in the last post that I stayed in Ruakaka because it was "convenient". I should have phrased it "I stayed [35km] south of Whangarei as it was the nearest available bed to the stadium". As luck would have it, it was one of the friendliest B&Bs I've stayed in so far. After a mighty breakfast and some casual internet surfing (who would have guessed that this would be my only free wifi in NZ accommodation... Asia puts NZ to shame in that respect), I made the long drive south to Rotorua in the heart of North Island.

Rotorua is a geothermal hotspot, home to bubbling mudpools, hot springs and some terrific geysers. The town itself is so thermally active that it actually smells eggy from the sulphur. Kuirau park in the town centre happily steams and bubbles and many parts are roped off so you don't accidently step in boiling water. These range from large steaming pools to small discolourations in the soil or bleaching of nearby bushes. It most recently "erupted" in 2003, covering the park in mud, and it was an odd feeling wandering through, knowing that there's so much energy lurking just under the surface.

I visited Rotorua's star attraction, Te Whakarewarewa, a thermal reserve just outside town. The most famous geyser here is Pohutu which erupts around 20 times a day and can reach 30m tall.

Bubbling mudpool, Te Whakarewarewa

Te Puia, Te Whakarewarewa
The entrance fee included a free Maori culture show (another one...). This time there was audience participation and I was forced up on stage to do a haka. Why is it always me? I basically had no choice because you just don't say no to Maori. The guys that are too big to be All Blacks go into nightclub security and I have never seen people as huge. Seriously, you just wouldn't mess.

The following day I took a drive around Tongariro National Park and through to Lake Taupo, NZ's largest lake. It was a stunning drive, made way longer than it should have been as I stopped every 10 minutes to take pictures. There was a slight hairy moment when I almost ran out of fuel... I'd told myself to refill before the tank reaches 1/4 but (a) the car wasn't very fuel efficient, (b) had a small tank, (c) was automatic, so aside from putting it in neutral down the hills I couldn't really do much else to conserve it, and (d) petrol stations were often more than 50km apart, if you knew where to look. Luckily I stumbled on a tiny petrol station in the National Park, but if that had been closed (as a lot of them are) I would have been screwed.

Mt Ruapehu from the Desert Road
Driving through North Island made me think that New Zealand would make a great golf course. The whole place seems sculpted for that very purpose, with smooth contours and hills that roll even more than England's. There's a terrific amount of open space - a country roughly the size of the UK but with a population of only 4.4 million (the old adage of "more sheep than people" is still true but I'm told that it's getting much more comparable). I also heard that there's around 5.5 million NZ passports, which is certainly believable given the number of them living in South West London. It's almost a rite of passage for a New Zealander to study abroad or just travel the world, which is fair enough given how geographically isolated the country is. Some emigrate across "the ditch" to Australia but Kiwis generally believe that this increases the average IQ of both countries.

From Taupo I drove south (one speeding ticket later, oops...) to Wellington, one of the coolest cities in NZ. Wellington has some great bars and cafes considering its size (only roughly 165,000 people) and a gorgeous location on the southern tip of the North Island, looking out over the Marlborough Sounds. Here I said goodbye to the Sunny, watched the Scotland vs Argentina game and hopped on an early morning ferry across Cook Straight to South Island.

Wellington Civic Square

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