Feb 17, 2008

End of the Road: New Zealand, Part 6

Posted by Tom |

Though I've already greatly abbreviated the details of our trip, it does seem like it's about time to wrap up the New Zealand postings - though Mary and I might throw some more choice pictures up sometime if the mood strikes. Also look for her to post the video footage of me bunjy jumping, mostly because you can hear my blood-curdling cry of sheer terror.

We spent a few days in Rotorua, which has been a tourism hotspot for about 100 years. Thanks to the earth's core, it's been a literal hotspot for a few million years more. Rotorua is a pleasant, restrained, touristy town that a.) usually smells like sulfur and b.) has roped-off areas in downtown parks where there is hot steam coming out of the ground. The whole area is awash in thermal activity: grotesquely bubbling mud pools, steaming-hot rivers, and lakes tinted every color of the rainbow by dissolved minerals. We spent half a day walking through one such thermal area, the centerpiece of which is the novel coloration of the steaming-hot Champagne Pool, at left. Rotorua really did have some awesome stuff to see, and its a shame it all smelled so awful.

Rotorua is also the best place in NZ to take part in a Maori Hanji, or big ol' meat dinner. The only way to enjoy one of these is a package tour, so we hopped on a bus and headed to a Maori property on the edge of town, where there was much glad-handling of the gaggle of tourists from every corner of the globe. Then we went outside and watched the Maori glide past in a war canoe...several times, in fact, because they couldn't really turn around in this little canal. The meal was good and the spectacle impressive, if a bit contrived. It was like the Riverboat Discovery of war canoes.

Yes, that's Mary inside a giant inflated rubber ball, fresh off rolling down a hill. This is the only in NZ (well, now Mississippi, apparently) pastime of Zorbing. It's a hell of a lot of fun and, unlike the bunjy, not even a little terrifying. We each went three times: Once together floating around the bottom of a Zorb filled partly with water, once each alone in a Zorb filled partly with water (as in the photo), and once "dry zorbing," where they actually strap you in and you go head over heels. The latter was the most jarring, especially since I ran straight into a fence at the bottom and they closed it right after wards due to high winds. Yikes!

Food shopping was fun, to say the least. Those Kiwis got some kind of problem with Krispies!? We discovered many delish Kiwi treats we're already Jonesing for, chief among them being hokey pokey, the Kiwi name for the sugary honeycomb that appears inside Crunchie and Violet Crumble bars in Canada and the UK. They had it everywhere, and we each ate, oh, about half a ton. They also put it in "Hokey Pokey Squiggles," which Mary and I both agree are the best damn cookies on earth.

We spent the final two days of the trip in Auckland, which was 1 1/2 days too many. Auckland is just big and bland - probably the only genuinely unpleasant place I went in the whole country. It didn't help that I was kinda sick and it was about 90 out and muggy the whole time. The only thing we did of note the whole time there was half a day on Rangitoto Island, a volcanic cone in the middle of the harbor which made for a nice day hike. On the ferry ride back, we stopped off at a leafy suburb called Devonport, where we did the only thing to do that humid afternoon - find some shade and fall asleep.

And that was the trip. Obviously, Mary and I ran into some personal problems along the way, but I in no way attribute those to any characteristics of New Zealand itself. It is an absolutely awesome place, one I would heartily recommend to anyone. Despite everything, I know my memories of the place will be good ones.