Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Zealand Trip: Rotorua

Saturday 28th August 2010

Rotorua Museum, the former bath house

So for my second day in Rotorua I visited the museum which is the original bathhouse on the shores of Lake Rotorua. It was more or less like a hospital that used the various different spas for treating patients. Inside there was a bit of history about the baths, the local history including the volcanic eruption that buried a nearby town. The other part was on the local Maori tribes.

Closer View of the Rotorua Museum.
It really is an interesting looking building.

One of the baths inside.
Needs a bit of a clean before I climb in.

One of many steaming holes in the ground.

Steaming road.
It had just finished raining and the sun was out
Just in the right place at the right time I guess...

Finished with the museum I headed to a park on the lake and bought a hamburger from a small take away shop for lunch. From memory the hamburger wasn't too good because the bun was too soft, I like my bun toasted.

A float plane resting on Lake Rotorua.
It is in fact a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter.

After lunch I walked back to the centre of town and caught a bus out to the gondola. The gondola goes up the side of a hill on the outskirts of town. While the view is nice, the main attraction is the luge.

Going up, looking back

Looking forward, still a long way to go.

The lost world is in fact half located way up this hill.
Not sure why they are there though...

Not knowing exactly what the luge was when I got on at the bottom I only bought a return trip on the gondola, on getting to the top and watching for a while I wished I had have got one of the packages that included both. So I went and bought three rides on the luge.

Great view, the luge track.

While lining up for my first go

All I can say is wow. That was so much fun. Lucky I bought three rides as there were three tracks, a beginner or "scenic", intermediate and expert. So I first tried the scenic. Sure enough it was a scenic drive through a pine forest, and as I would later discover very long in comparison to the other two tracks. It allowed me to get a good feel for the luge. Eventually I got to the bottom and jumped on the chairlift back up to the top.

On the way back up.
The chairlift also transports luges back to the top.
(notice the luge hanging off the chairlift in front)
I thought this was quite clever.

The top luge station

Next was the intermediate. There I got a taste for speed. Finally was the expert track, where I am pretty sure I managed to get airborne. Surprisingly I didn't hurt myself. For safety they do provide helmets. The trick to not coming off is to lean into the corners. One wierd thing I noticed was that along the track there were discarded helmets and even a one point an abandoned luge, with no sign of it's lugist.

It really is as fun as it looks.
These are the two faster tracks near the bottom

After all that excitement I went and had a drink in a cafe and then got kicked out at closing time. Once again on the way down I had a gondola all to myself. Knowing that the buses run every half hour I knew one wouldn't come a long for a while , just as well as I had to walk a fair way just to find a bus stop.

One last look at the view before heading back down.

Once again I was pretty exhausted by the time I got back to my hostel. I just played games on my computer before heading to the kitchen to make some dinner at about 9 pm and watched a movie for a while. Once again I was pretty much alone. Well that is apart from the girls in the adjacent rooms who made a lot of noise coming back from some pub or nightclub at some hour of the night.

Sunday 29th August

This day I was going up to Matamata to visit Hobbiton,the hobbit village from the Lord of the Rings films. My ride which I organised the day before was picking me up from the tourist info centre at 1 pm.

From memory I had McDonald's for breakfast as it was more or less the only thing open on Sunday Morning. I walked up and down the shops a bit but they were still closed.

I headed to the town shopping centre, which was quite small by big city standards, but it seemed all the locals were there this morning. The main attraction was "The Warehouse". I remember there were "The Warehouse" stores in Melbourne a few years ago, but they were nothing like this. It is more like a Big W, but a bit more down market, from what I could see you could pretty much buy anything from hardware, camping gear, clothing, washing machines, toiletries, cd's, books and groceries. I bought a bottle of water and a bottle of coke.

By now it was getting on for 11:30 and not being sure when I would get the chance to eat during the afternoon I bought some Asian take away for lunch in the small food court. Big mistake. It was pretty awful. The other choices didn't look much better either.

I wandered back through the centre of town towards the tourist info centre. By now there were a few shops open. I stopped in a bookshop and newsagent. For some reason I also went into a Khatmandu store. Turns out their goods are more expensive than they are worth in New Zealand as well.

When I got to the tourist info centre my ride hadn't turned up, so I sat and waited. Soon enough a mini bus with Hobbiton written on the side pulled up and I went and introduced myself to the driver. He told me to get in and wait, and that I might be the only person going today from Rotorua. After a few minutes of talking to some one he came and got in the van and said that we would go past a few of the hostels to see if there are any other passengers.

The driver was a Maori also named Ben. He told me a lot about the local area and a bit about his family. The drive to Hobbiton was mostly back the way I had come two days previously but eventually we turned off the highway and went across the back roads. We pulled up at a roadside cafe, which was opposite the gate to the farm we would be entering.

Inside the cafe I had to sign a waiver. The reason is that they are rebuilding Hobbiton for filming of the upcoming Hobbit movie. Basically we were allowed to take photos for private use, but are not allowed to post them on the internet. So no photos of Hobbiton sorry.

Eventually another mini bus rolled up outside and this was the actual tour. On board were two couples, both backpacker types from Europe. We wound our way down the road past the electric fence and all the warning signs, they are serious about security here. Before we knew it we were in Hobbiton, it was all very familiar (even if you've only seen first film The Fellowship of the Ring you'd know it)

Basically we walked around looking at the various features of Hobbiton such as Bag End, the party tree and the lake. On the opposite side of the lake were the mill and the inn as well as the bridge. It was very muddy, my new shoes got very dirty. The tour guide urged us to take an umbrella, and it boy were they needed as several quite heavy showers passed over while we were walking around. She told us tales of groups who ignored her advice.

After a good 45 minutes of walking around we cleaned the mud off our shoes and piled back into the bus. Back at the cafe we were given the obligatory New Zealand sheep shearing exhibition in the adjacent shearing shed. We also got to feed some lambs. I managed to get the milk formula all over my shoes (they still have the stains on them some four months later)

Sheep show part 1: Shearing.

Sheep Show part 2: Feeding the Lambs

I got back in my bus with Ben, and back to Rotorua we went. On the way Ben was telling me about the Polynesian Spa, and convinced me to go when I got back. He also told me that Tamuera Morrison from 'Once Were Warriors' and the Star Wars prequels was his cousin. While possible, I'm still not sure about that...

After dumping my stuff at the hostel and resting for a bit I headed down the Polynesian Spa. I didn't bring anything to swim in. Luckily the spa will rent you a pair of shorts and a towel. Sold!

Don't let rented shorts put you off. They were actually clean as far as I could tell. I just tried not to think about it.

The spas are laid out so that the water cascades from hottest pool to coldest and eventually into the lake. It was a fantastic feeling to be sitting in a hot spa out under the moon lit sky. I mean it was probably only 10 degrees C, but that didn't matter.

I don't know how long I spent going from pool to pool, but I felt so good. So relaxed and so warm. Overall my favourite spa was the one closest to the lake. You could lie on your stomach and peer out at the lake. I should mention it was drizzling the whole time too, which just added to the atmosphere.

When I got out,dried myself and put my clothes back on, I returned my shorts and towel and wandered through the steamy streets back to the hostel. On the way I came across an Indian restaurant and decided to stop there for dinner. From memory I had a really nice butter chicken.

Needless to say I slept really well. Lucky as it was a travel day the next day.

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