Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Relaxing in (smelly) Rotorua

As you may have noticed, we’ve made some slight adjustments to our blog to show the local time and date at our current location. The lack of internet has made it tricky to keep the blog up to date, so we'll try to reference time and date to help get you a feel for timing.

(Jack Bauer Voice) The following takes place between August 31st and September 2nd (end Jack Bauer Voice)

Our journey continued onward from Wellington to Auckland via Rotorua, a town famous for it’s thermal activities and spas. In fact, part of our 6 hour trip was on New Zealand’s “Thermal” highway. But I get ahead of myself.

Courting Esther

Our trusty ride "Esther"

Meet Esther, our rental car. She’s a 2002 Nissan Sunny EXSaloon with just under 80k kilometers on her. She ain’t a beaut, but she’s cheap (the way I like 'em) and determined to get us to our destination. And she’s an automatic, meaning both of us can drive her. After a quick consultation with a pamphlet explaining New Zealand driving laws, we’re on the road like two 16 year old kids who just set foot in the drivers seat for the first time.

A quick (less than 5 min) read before we start driving the way the Queen wants us to

Jason driving on the left

Swiss driving on the left

We eventually both got a grip on driving, although I (Swiss) still struggle with right hand turns, so I guess Jason could be considered the better driver. For now.

Trivia Question: Are there any non-island countries where you drive on the left side of the road? Our list right now is UK and Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. This question arose when we pondered what happens at border crossings between a right drive and left drive country. Food for thought.

The drive up to Rotorua

While Esther wasn’t known for her fancy features (such as rear speakers, a decent engine, CD player, side airbags, etc), she did have a cassette deck. This, combined with Lawton’s need for new socks, prompted us to do a quick stop at a local mall early on to run some errands. Jason’s mission was to find some socks, my mission was to find a cassette tape (remember those?) to play on our drive up. No offense Wellington, but your radio stations pretty much suck and have the range of a slug in a salt storm. As luck would have it, Lawton found socks on sale, and I spotted the equivalent of a Dollar store, which I figured might just have some cassettes. About 3 milliseconds after entering the store, I spotted the jackpot: A tape adapter to play our iPods via the tape deck. And we even had the choice between the black or white model. NZD 3.80 got us this beauty, which was a deal, as we later found a similar model at an electronics store for NZD 35. It would be a good day.

Our AMAZING purchase at the Dollar Store

A short while later we were on the road, loaded with sandwich supplies for lunch, socks, and a tape adapter to listen to some Bootie.

The drive was fairly uneventful, although we did do a quick stop at “Craters of the Moon” for a 45 minute walk around some smelly sulfur pits. About 10 minutes in, we of course got rained on. Not sure if it was worth the price of admission, but below are some pics anyways.

Craters of the Moon on the way to Rotorua

Yeah, I'm super comfy on this stop

Craters of the moon park

Rotorua – No party after 5

The plan for the evening was to check in at the Funky Green hostel, and use up some of our leftover groceries to make “Rotini Carbonara.” Item 1 was completed successfully, which now led us to item 2, a very manageable item had we known how to make carbonara sauce. This was exacerbated by our inability to connect to the internet and lack of a cook book. Being supposed "problem solvers", we decided to head in town to find a cook book and just write down the recipe there. Now, it’s 6:30 pm, and the town is strangely quiet except for the local grocery store and “The Warehouse”, which looks like a Costco/Sams Club from a distance. A short 10 minute walk further, we notice that EVERY freaking store is closed. Is it some kind of New Zealand holiday? Pandemic flu outbreak? Are we in the wrong part of town? Time to consult a local, who informs us that stores close at 5pm here. We were stunned, as we asked her where we might find a cook book at such a late hour. The answer, conveniently, was “The Warehouse.” A short trek back to this store (think Walmart including all the white trash) revealed a tiny cook book selection, and our recipe was found in a bachelors cook book for simple living. Too lazy to write the recipe down, we just took a picture. So if you’re looking for a good carbonara recipe, see below the fold.

We found a recipe for dinner

Off to the grocery store (open ‘til 8), and boy did we have a delicious dinner.

Geysers and the Human Washing Machine

Tuesday would be our tourist day, as it was the only full day to be spent in Rotorua. The day started out going to Wai-O-Tapu to witness the Lady Knox geyser. She goes off every day at 10:30 am. Below is a video and some pics of Lady Knox:

Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

Apparently there are only three major geyser regions in the world, including NZ, Yellowstone in the US, and Iceland. Checked one off the list, two to go. After the geyser we spent some time hiking around the thermal “wonderland.” Yes, it rank of sulfur.

The Geothermal Park next to Lady Knox Geyser

Yum, bubbling mud

The Geothermal Park next to Lady Knox Geyser

Next on the menu was Zorbing. The activity involves a giant inflated plastic ball with an inner chamber into which you can stick one or multiple persons. You also have the option to add some water to the chamber, which then gets zipped up, and they push the ball down a hill. It’s crazy fun, below are some pictures and a vid. Lawton and his fear of heights opted out of the activity, and instead became the official cinematographer. I did the wet version, which even in colder weather was totally worth it (the water added is warm.) I basically got tossed around the entire ride as if I was in a giant washing machine and lost all orientation until the thing finally came to a halt. I have no idea how it would have been with multiple people in one ball. Good times.

He made it out alive

Everybody’s heard about the Bird

What would a New Zealand visit be without checking out the famous, almost extinct delicacy Kiwi bird. As luck would have it, there’s the Rainbow Springs nature park in Rotorua. Two tours are available, including a cool little jungle walk and a tour of the Kiwi hatchery. We opted for the ~1 hour jungle walk, which was very nice and promised to include a Kiwi encounter along with other birds and land based animals. One can also do the walk at night, which would probably have been even cooler. But we didn’t have the time, so a day walk it was.

Rainbow Forest and Kiwi Hatchery

Rainbow Forest and Kiwi Hatchery

The highlight, of course, was the Kiwi bird. They are nocturnal creatures, and the park had one “dark room” set up so we could actually see a live Kiwi active during the day. Alas, it was too dark to take a picture (I’d hate to give one of the few remaining Kiwis an epileptic attack by using my flash, as tempting as it might seem.) So perhaps this serves as an incentive for you to come visit NZ yourself and experience them in person.

A few words on Kiwis, which by the way, are one funky looking creature. I already covered the nocturnal portion, they have a long beak that they use to scour through leaves and forest floors for food. They actually have their nostrils on their beak, and apparently have an excellent sense of smell. They lack wings and thus can’t fly resulting in them being very susceptible to ground based predators (such as possums). This is because they evolved for years and years in an environment where natural, ground based predators just did not exist. Wings were a waste of energy, and so Darwin turned them into what they are today. At one point, there were millions of Kiwi birds on the island. After the introduction of non-native predators, the population has shrunk considerably, with extinction predicted by some to be around 2015. Quite sad really, and I’m sure there’s more information online for those interested.

NZ Kiwi Info (no, it's a bird not just a fruit!)

NZ Kiwi Info (no, it's a bird not just a fruit!)

Spa and Hostel

Evening plans included a visit to the world famous Polynesian spa for a good soak. The spa was nice, with pools ranging from 38 deg C to 42 deg C and great views of lake Rotrua. I personally prefer non-sulfur spas, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless. The sulfur baths were actually not that sulfury. It should be noted that the entire town of Rotorua has a hint of sulfur in the air, an hommage to the geothermal activity in the area. There was also one filtered pool containing no sulfur, which is where we wrapped up our very relaxing 2.5 hour stay. For those of you on the cheap, there are apparently some free natural springs about 20 mins south of Rotorua on the way to Taupo, but we didn’t do that.

A quick word on the Funky Green hostel. It was ok, the wifi was not free and the connection was shaky. Common areas were a tad limited, and while the kitchen was nice, there was only one sink for dishes. We couldn’t help but feel cramped in the common areas. Other than that, it was a friendly, clean hostel close to grocery shopping and “The Warehouse”, which turned out to be clutch store to have around after 5pm :)


Unknown said...

I'm pretty sure both India and South Africa are left side of the road drivers... District 9 seems to have ingrained one in my mind, and um... I'm pretty sure Sujit told me the other. Yes.

Unknown said...

I wonder what happens when crossing between India and China? Well, maybe there are no roads in that region of the world...

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