Posted by: asprockett | August 31, 2013

Geothermal Activity & Maori Cultural Experiences in Rotorua, New Zealand

Well, Dan called it. I am officially becoming a hot springs holiday aficionado. When we first started researching all the fun things to do in New Zealand, we were a bit overwhelmed with all the top-notch options. But when Dan found the natural hot springs in Rotorua, that easily moved to the top of the list. For those who know me, they know I don’t like to be cold. So the idea of handing out and enjoying hot springs, especially when we found out they also came with an incredible view (see photos below!), I was sold.

We arrived in Rotorua and checked into our hostel. The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) was far better than I could have possibly imagined: clean, quiet, plenty of showers, recycling, comfortable beds, towels, and an enormous and fully equipped kitchen.

Dan making hamburgers in our gourmet hostel kitchen.

Dan making hamburgers in our gourmet hostel kitchen.

I’ve found the key to hosteling is to think of it like glorified camping and not like staying in a hotel. It goes easier on you that way. But the YHA Rotorua was impressive and is a place I would stay again, regardless of my financial status. So right off the bat, our trip south on the North Island of New Zealand was off to a good start.

Before traveling to New Zealand, I had reached out to some of the local Rotary clubs and was kindly invited to speak at the Rotorua Sunrise Club’s meeting. Now, I’m happy to talk about my journey and my current studies in International Public Health to anyone who will listen, so when you add the serious bonus of the breakfast buffet the Novotel Hotel puts on, you can believe I (and Dan who also came to the meeting) was one happy hosteler.

Posing with Rotary banners representing clubs all around the world after presenting to the Rotorua Sunrise Club.

Posing with Rotary banners representing clubs all around the world after presenting to the Rotorua Sunrise Club.

We took it easy in Rotorua (needing to catch up from the night before’s lack of sleep) and ventured over to the Polynesian Day Spa and it’s hot springs in the mid afternoon for my first experience with natural hot springs. The spa offers several different hot springs choices, so we opted for the seven (yes, seven!) hot spring pools in the Adult & Priest Spas. (The spas were named for a priest who, after sitting in the waters, received much relief from his arthritis.)

The pools have either acidic or alkaline waters, ranging in temperature from 37°C to 42°C (99°F to 107°F). The acidic water does give the whole town a slight sulfur smell, but honestly, you don’t really notice most of the time. And the perk of sitting in these fresh, warm, natural waters completely outweighs everything else in my book! Apparently the acidic pools are supposed to be good for your muscles and the alkaline pools good for your skin. I’ll have to research the science behind that, but for the time-being, I’m happy to just accept that I felt pretty darn good after sitting in both pools.

Our view from the geothermal pools. Yes, we did try out all seven!

Our view from the geothermal pools. Yes, we did try out all seven!

We spent several hours hopping from pool to pool, enjoying the view and the setting sun. I’ve found that 39°C is my ideal hot springs pool temperature. My little crush on New Zealand turned into a full-out love affair after our day in the springs.

The next day we ventured to Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao. What’s that? Didn’t quite catch the name? It’s Maori for “The gathing place for the war parties of Wahiao” but for tourists like us, you can find information about it under “Te Puia.” Te Puia was designed to preserve, honor and educate others, especially young Maori, about traditional arts, knowledge and culture of the Maori people.

Carved wooden masks of Maori gods.

Wooden carvings of Maori gods.

Selected Maori candidates can apply for 3-year apprenticeship education at the Carving School or the Weaving School. It is uplifting to see the effort that has been put into respecting, honoring and continuing the beauty of the Maori culture. It is encouraging to see the strong role Maori leaders play in New Zealand and the work they do to teach about their history.

To get a feel for that history, we started our day at Te Puia with a cultural performance sharing traditional songs, stories and dances.

Maori cultural performance.

Maori cultural performance.

And yes, we both had the opportunity to participate, but no, we do not have rhythm. Although I must say, Dan did impressively well at the Haka (war) dance.

Giving it our best effort to learn Maori dances. The Poi dance for me and the Haka for Dan.

Giving it our best effort to learn Maori dances. The Poi dance for me and the Haka for Dan.

The Maori would use the dance to psych themselves up before a battle and to try to intimidate their opponents before the fight even started. Believe me, if I were their opponent, I would have r-u-n! The New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, have adapted the haka as part of their pregame ritual.

We then went on a guided tour that took us to the hot springs, Pohutu Geyser (it was going off!), and Ngamokaikoko mudpool. The mud is 90-95°C and boils as you watch it.

Geyser erupting.

Pohutu Geyser erupting.

Near the geyser cement was laid over the ground, creating “hot seats” where the warmth from the geothermal springs warms the concrete. On a chilly day, I found my happy place right there, toasting my buns while enjoying the view.

My happy place.

My happy place.

Our guide also took us through the kiwi house. Kiwis, the endangered national bird of New Zealand, are nocturnal birds and sleep 18-20 hours each day. We felt incredibly fortunate to actually see one of the two birds in the enclosure up and foraging about. Dan and I were both surprised at their size, which is closer to that of a volleyball as opposed to the baseball size we had imagined. Their feathers look more like fur and they use their long beaks to find food in the ground. Fascinating animals!

We also got to see New Zealand’s famous silver fern, featured on the All Black’s jersey and many other places throughout the country. There is even discussion of changing New Zealand’s flag to feature the silver fern.

Dan with the New Zealand silver fern (Cyathea dealbata).

Dan with the New Zealand silver fern (Cyathea dealbata).

We spent a bit more time hiking about the area, making a second stop at the hot seats, and exploring the museum before heading back into Rotorua. We popped in the shops and even found (and made a purchase at) Charity’s, a local store supported by Rotorua Sunrise Rotary and donates all profits to charity.

We also started plotting how we can return to New Zealand, especially since I’ve added “own and frequently visit a vacation home in New Zealand” to my bucket list!

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