After a wonderful Christmas week in Waiheke, we headed back to the mainland North Island to start our tour of New Zealand. Heading to a new location meant saying good-bye to Jerry and Becky. We have been forturnate to have them meet us in Peru, Buenos Aires, and Waiheke. It will be six months before the kids see them again this summer (the longest separation of Ella’s life). We headed over on the same ferry and then parted ways in Auckland.
We headed to Rotorua first. This town has become a tourist destination AKA RotoVegas. This area is known for its geothermal wonders and Maori culture (over 1/3 of the population in this area is Maori). Our motor lodge was just down the street from one of the geothermal parks and the lovely sulfur smell drifted into our room. There is a good reason the town is nicknamed Sulphured City.
We wanted to be sure to have one Maori cultural experience in this area. Te Puia has the Maori cultural experience, geothermal wonders, and kiwis— how could we go wrong? We lucked out with our timing as the hourly free guided tour started just as we entered the park. We had tickets for the cultural experience about an hour later and we able to enjoy most of the tour. Of the geothermal wonders at Te Puia, Pohutu Geyser, is the main attraction. The Pohutu Geyser was skyrocketing as our tour walked towards it. The water can reach heights of 30 meters and this geyser is the largest in the southern hemisphere. In addition to Pohutu Geyser, we saw several bubbling mud pools and steam vents still used for cooking. After the show, we continued to explore the pathways along several mud pools and cooking pits. Even though the day was warm and full sunshine, we were able to find some shade with the lush vegetation. Also at Te Puia are several cultural schools for Maori handicrafts (weaving, carving). We even saw both kiwi birds outside of their huts in the kiwi house. Kiwis are nocturnal birds and the enclosure is in the dark to mimic night time but still the activities of the birds are random. There are several wonderful examples of Maori architecture (Meeting house and village structures) and handicraft (war canoe). Our cultural show was held in the Maori Meeting House and showcased several traditional songs and dances after a traditional Maori greeting ceremony. The interwining of Maori culture into modern kiwi life sets an example for other countries concerning the treatment of indigenous cultures. Maori culture and language are compulsory during elementary school; in the US, schoolchildren still are not taught true native American history. Here are some websites for additional information- Love New Zealand, Encyclopedia.com.
This family loves ziplining and Rotorua seemed like a good place for our NZ zipline! Canopy Tours was simply wonderful. They are active participants in reclaiming NZ forests from non-native pests. Except for one tiny bat, there are no native mammals to NZ. So rodents, skoats, possums, and hedgehogs are all pests and threats to native NZ animals (mainly birds). Many forests are being cleared of the pests to rebuild native bird populations. Canopy Tours is leading the conservation effort in the forest used for zip lining (and having remarkable success). The ziplining was absolutely fantastic with great views. However the unexpected bonus was the education. We were able to see several types of native birds during our tour and heard many more! We gained such an appreciation of the monumental efforts by the NZ government (http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/) and public. Once we were aware of the trapping program, we started noticing it throughout the entire country. The goal is predator free by 2050! Although some pest-free areas exist, there is much work to be done. Canopy Tours was one of the longest zipline tours we have seen. There were 6 different lines in total and two swingbridges. I was impressed with the tour guides. They are very passionate to share the conservation story but also made such an effort to maximize each guest’s experience. They quickly learned each of our names and determined everyone’s comfort level. They ensured that everyone had a great time and tried to teach everyone a trick (backwards flying, upside down flying).
We have been telling the kids about Agrodome for 15 years. We have such vivid memories of the sheep on display and the sheep dog demonstrations from our previous NZ trip. This spot was a must for our NZ tour. The show starts with a “parade” of champion showcasing about 19 different varieties of sheep. There is also a shearing demonstration. Dairy cows are also brought on stage with a mandatory milking demonstration by a volunteer. And for good measure, baby sheep and a duck family are brought on stage. The highlight is watching the sheep dogs “run over” the sheep’s backs. The show is definitely entertaining and a good amount of information concerning sheep farming is gained. We finished with a tour around the working farm. The tour stopped to feed sheep and alpacas (much to the kids delight). The final stop of the tour is the kiwi and apple orchard just before ending the tour.
In addition to zip lining, this family loves Escape Rooms. And there were multiple choices in this town! We are so close to finishing a room with NO hints and we thought…maybe with this room. We needed ONE lousy hint- and we really need that hint because we were way off track. Other than that one mis-step, we completely rocked this room! As always, we found new puzzles and worked as a team to solve our way to success. It was the first room that had a functioning hair-dryer as a prop and tool!
Next stop: Taupo.