Upon exiting the bus at our hotel, our eyes began to water and our noses filled with the pungent smell of sulfur. “Welcome to Hell,” read the sign at the pizza parlor. We had officially made it to Rotorua.
Rotorua is known not only for smelling like eggs, but it also has the largest Maori population in New Zealand. For this reason, it made the perfect location for our class to continue our exploration of the indigenous culture in New Zealand. We spent the next two days visiting different tribes, participating in traditional ceremonies, and learning about the rituals that are essential to their identity. It is protocol when entering the Marae (the scared house), for each Whane (family/ tribe), led by their Chief, to greet and sing a welcome song. In Māori tradition, women are sacred as they bear children — the tribe’s legacy— and watch over the warriors. For these reasons they are unable to become chiefs or partake in any of the ceremonial carvings Thankfully we have three guys on the trip who stepped up to the plate.
While visiting Te Puia, we had a special experience constituting one of the highlights of my trip. Te Puia is a learning center and school for the Māori. They have attractions for tourists and the money generated goes to the upkeep of the school, including scholarship money for students. Upon arrival, we packed containers of uncooked food and watched as the chef seasoned it properly and lowered our food into a clay oven in the geyser. The fumes and heat from cooking our food and the Pohutu geyser became the backdrop for a delicious lunch. AH, Nature is seriously so cool! During our time in Rotorua, we saw the national bird and icon, the Kiwi, and participated in multiple Hakas!
I put together a couple videos of the Hakas we saw & included a little bonus of the guys on our trip trying their hand at it!
Even though this part of our trip was a little more classroom-oriented, it doesn’t mean we didn’t find ways to take full advantage of what our hotel advertised as ‘the adventure capital of New Zealand.’ We found glow worms in the Raukuri Cave. The girls and I opted for a spa afternoon at Hell’s Gate, Rotorua’s most active geothermal field for mud baths and sulfur soaking. We became hobbits in the Shire, visiting the Hobbiton movie set which was featured in both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series. But, the craziest thing I think I have ever done was Zorbing. If you are unfamiliar with zorbing, click here. Cate and I decided to brave the “Sidewinder Track” which is a 350+ Meter track where the Zorb reached speeds between 15 – 20mph. Despite a couple kicks to the face we both made it out alive and laughing.
Next stop Wellington. We arrived in the country’s capital in the late afternoon and proceed to explore the waterfront. These next two legs of the trip involve a whole bunch of schlepping around as we only spend two or three nights in each place. Wellington is an oddly amazing place, I truly have never seen anything like it. One aspect of it is strictly professional as it is the home to parliament and many national icons. It also emanates this eclectic yopro vibe, but also boasts a nature element as the waterfront provides many running trails and nature walks.
Although we did not love the hostel we were staying in we made the most of it by using its ideal location to spur many trips around the city. Keeping up with our Lord of the Rings obsession we toured the weta workshop where all the special effects were done. They also are famous for working on movies such as Narnia and Blade Runner. We made our way up the historic cable car and actually got to sit in parliament as the current government argued an education bill. Cate and I took full advantage of being in a young city, soon realizing the many trendy boutiques and — with New Zealand in winter here — all the Summer clothes are on sale!