My first big holiday weekend in New Zealand was Easter. They call it their version of Thanksgiving because it’s a 4 day weekend, but that is where the comparison ends. Everything is closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and a day I never knew existed, Easter Monday (hello Jew Girl!). But everything is opened Saturday. What a gyp! Anyway, where is a town that’s only matter of survival is tourism and therefore, most things have to be open on holidays? Rotorua (aka: RotoVegas, amongst other names)! The town is about 3 hours south of Auckland and a huge tourist spot. Everyone told me that traffic during this weekend was nuts and since I had never driven on “the other side of the road” I didn’t want to risk it during a busy holiday weekend. I live in LA, I know how bad it can be! Before I left, I booked my hostel (Kiwi-Paka), bus ticket for Friday morning (not knowing the buses and trains have very limited runs and ended up taking a taxi to SkyCity) and a half day of rafting on the Kaituna River with Kaitaki Adventures and then would figure out what to do with the rest of my weekend.
The bus ride was uneventful and the roads were bare. Where was all this traffic I was hearing about? I got into town and walked quit a distance to my hostel. I could have called for a shuttle, but I wanted to walk and get a feel for the town. The hostel was on the other side of the free geothermal park in town and for me this was perfect. I liked quiet. The room was very clean and comfortable. Kiwi Paka (used to be) owned by YHA and therefore was very clean and had everything I could want for NZ$40 a night in my own double room complete with desk, chair, mirror and loads of hooks! I walked back into town and went to the Polynesian Spa as I got a free ticket when I bought my rafting ticket at the travel store at ACB. Score! The spa was pleasant but I don’t know if I would have paid for it. For free, hell yeah!
Woke up early Saturday morning and went on the rafting trip which was great! The part of the Kaituna river rafters can go down has the highest commercial waterfall (at 7meters) in the world that you can “legally” raft down. Going down that was probably the most scared I have ever been in my life (didn’t help that I had no idea how high 7m was!) but my group didn’t flip and only one person fell out, thankgod it wasn’t me! The trip only lasted until lunchtime (for some reason I thought it was going to be all day) and I now had nearly 2 and a half days to kill. A shuttle came and picked me up and dropped me off at my hostel and in that, I got a feel for the town. It’s pretty big and unlike a lot of other NZ towns, not very walkable. I also took notice of the holiday “traffic”. THERE WAS NONE! Maybe more then usual, but I am used to bumper to bumper jams and there was nothing even close to that in Rotorua. So I made the executive decision when I was trying to figure out the rest of my weekend and to hire a car while in town. The hostel hooked me up with a local rental car company and the women came and picked me up and drove me back to the office to work out the details. I was so nervous driving out of the gravel driveway and of course, flipped the wrong side of the wheel and my wipers came on when I wanted my turn signal. I kept glancing to my upper right and there was no mirror. I kept gliding to the left, not wanting to hit anyway. I felt 16 again and just starting to drive. It was creepy and great at the same time. I drove out of town a bit and went to The Buried Village because I had been to Pompeii before and loved it and thought this would be kind of similar. It was, but kind of a disappointment too. It was so tiny, but then I guess anything compared to Pompeii will be. Still kind of interesting because the volcano that exploded and covered the village was way more recent.
Sunday I woke up bright and early and went to the Agrodome, which is most famous for the Zorb. I didn’t have any interest in doing the Zorb myself (though I did want to go and watch people do it) but I wanted to go to their famous Farm Show. I bought a ticket to that as well as the farm tour and enjoyed both thoroughly. The show was extremely entertaining and showed all sorts of sheep and at the end, lets the audience come up and have their pictures taken with all the animals. I really enjoyed the farm tour as well, if only because the guide didn’t sugar coat anything. The sheep we were petting today could easily end up on our plates in a few weeks. It made me a little sad (I loves me the meat) but I value honesty quite highly and liked that they admit to stuff like that up front. In the afternoon, I went to Whakawarewa which is part Maori Village and part thermal park. I liked that it had a little bit of both in it. I took the free tour at the top of the hour and it was a good intro to the park.
Monday I went to Wai-O-Tapu and saw the Lady Knox Geyser go off, which was actually kind of super lame. Unlike the geysers I have seen in the US and Iceland, they advertise when this one goes off. I wonder how they always know and it wasn’t until I showed up that I found out that they throw baking soda into it every day at the same time so tourists can watch it go off. LAME! But that is tourism in New Zealand. Everything is an experience. Wai-O-Tapu was pretty cool, but I am not like super into rocks and stuff. If you are then this is the place for you! Also, I think I was getting a little burned out on thermal activity. No regrets in going, of course, but I doubt I’ll ever be back. Besides that, the place is HUGE and I got a nice long walk out of it. I don’t really remember what I did in the afternoon. Maybe went shopping because I had a car? I don’t really remember.
I took it easy on Monday and all I did was just go back to the river I went rafting on on my first day to take some pictures and video of people rafting down the 7m fall. Of course, during my tour they took pictures, but I never buy them as they are always overpriced and since I am always alone, it’s never worth the bang for my buck. And I don’t mind if it’s not me, as usually I just want the picture or video to show people what I did, not me actually doing it. Dropped the car off, got a ride back to the bus station from the rental car owner and bus back to Auckland! If I had to do it over again, I would have just rented a car and driven to and from Auckland. But you live and learn! And I learned that not only does everyone in Auckland over exaggerate how bad their traffic is, that even on a holiday weekend, it’s still not nearly as bad as a normal day in LA.
I then ended up back in Rotorua two more times during my travels down under. At the end of the year, when my family came, and we were driving back up from Wellington, I said, we could either spend 2 days in ROT or WLG and 1 in the other and my family chose 2 days in WLG, so we were only in ROT for an evening and the following morning. We stayed at the Rotorua Motor Lodge which I remembered seeing on my Easter weekend trip as it overlooks Whakawarewa and even though the place was kind of shanty and smelled funny, I thought it would be something different. And it was! My sister and mine’s room overlooked the thermal park! We just did dinner at night and the next morning I dropped my Dad off at the Rotorua Museum and then drove my sister and mom to the farm show. I sat out as we were at the end of 12 days and I just needed a break. And while I liked the farm show a lot, I didn’t need to see it again. My mom, who is a teacher, LOVED it and it was a total highlight of the trip, don’t know what that says about her or the trip. She loves things that are campy yet informative and the farm show totally covers that. We then picked my Dad up, had lunch and hightailed it to Auckland.
The following year, I ended up back AGAIN in Rotorua because the tour I wanted to take of the East Cape started and ended there, so I ended up there for about 4 more days with pretty much nothing to do as up until then, I had done everything. I stayed at Kiwi Paka and rented a car from the same place and pretty much just hung out that week. I was in Rotorua for so long because I booked a bus ticket so far in advance and got it dirt cheap and the hostel there was better and cheaper then in Auckland. I had just done all the touristy stuff already. I don’t even remember how I killed time for 4 days. I went to the Rotorua Museum and actually quite enjoyed it. Lots of stuff on the history of the town, not just on it’s geothermal history either. I took a road trip to Taupo for the day. And just drove.
One thing I didn’t do was go to a Maori show and dinner. I don’t know, this just didn’t appeal to me at all. When I was in Hawaii like 15 years ago, we got some cheap tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) and I just felt uncomfortable there. I like traveling and experiencing new cultures, but in natural environments, not Disneyland-type places that only exist to entertain tourists. After a while, I did come to respect all these shows, because they are EVERYWHERE and it’s a good way for the Maori to make money in Whitey’s world. What can you do about that. It just wasn’t for me.
Moral: For a town I was always kind of meh on, I sure ended up passing through a lot! Like Auckland, I never knew when I would be back, so I did all the touristy things I wanted to do on my first time there and then of course, ended up there the most, besides Auckland. Rotorua is a great tourist town. It’s sort of like Vegas in that way where pretty much they found their niche and cashed in on it and you have to give them props for that. There is loads to do and it changes all the time and there is always new stuff to do.