Saturday, November 26, 2011

The NZ experience Part 2: Maoris, geysers and a Haka chief

Day 3 (Tue, 22 Nov 2011): Evening activity

In the evening, we took a trip out to Te Puia, a geothermal valley. Thermal activity is at the heart of Rotorua's tourism - mud pools, geysers and spas.

We bought the Family Pass for the combo package, which includes a day tour and a dinner programme. Here, we learnt about history, traditions and cultural heritage of the Maoris.

We visited the School of Carving...

and the School of Weaving. These are the "skirts" won by the Maoris.

Then we were taken on a tour of the grounds. Saw the bubbling mud pools which take place when steam pushes out from beneath the thinnest layers of earth.

Rotorua mud (which is actually kaolin clay) is sold as a beauty product throughout the country, it's supposed to have cosmetic benefits. I'm sure you've heard of clay or mud masks.

Next, we went to see the Pohutu Geyser. Intense heat from molten rock below boils seeping rainwater, turning it into steam. Pressure increases until it is strong enough to shoot water and steam up to 15m into the air.

Some geysers in Rotorua are manually triggered to erupt but the one in Te Puia is all natural. It goes off 2-3 times every hour. We could see the geyser all the way from our hotel, a 5-minute drive away. An amazing sight.

These are the hot springs. Some tourist spots in Rotorua offer thermally heated spa baths and hot pools, similar to the ones in Japan (except you don't have to bathe in the nude!)

As we were headed out to the cultural show, the host picked Kenneth out to act as the "chief" of our group of tourists, to accept the peace offering from the Maori chief, much to his embarrassment.

As chief, he also had to learn the Haka (Maori warrior dance), together with several other men from our group. For most of the men, the combination of enthusiasm plus bad hand-eye coordination makes for very comedic entertainment. I saw some wives laughing so hard, I swear they were crying. I'm sure Kenneth is relieved I can't post videos here.

As part of the programme, we were invited to a traditional Maori feast, the Hangi. It consists of a buffet of seafood and generous servings of pork, chicken and beef, ending with a dessert buffet. The food is delicious, especially the seafood, which I found exceptionally fresh.

To end a perfect evening, after dinner when the sun had set, the host took us on a stroll to the geyser again to see it at night. He even provided hot chocolate so we could warm ourselves while admiring the scene. We were, however, so stuffed we couldn't eat or drink anymore.

Even though the night air was chilly, we didn't need any warming up anyway as the stone steps near the geyser were naturally heated by the hot springs. They are so hot we couldn't sit down for a long period at a time, lest we burnt our butts!

We were very fortunate to catch the geyser blowing for just 5 minutes or so before it stopped. Amidst the night sky, it was spectacular beyond words.

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