The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Doug & Karen's Kiwi Adventure Part 2: Rotorua

After a few days in Auckland, we picked up our rental car to begin our north island road trip. The automobile itself was a Holden Epica. Has anyone ever heard of this car?!:

This wasn’t the first time I’ve driven on the left (intentionally) and I even surprised myself at how quickly I become adjusted to it now. Sure, there were a few minor incidences of turning into the wrong lane while onlooking Kiwis pointed and laughed with a knowing smile that said “tourist.” But mostly we were without incident. For some reason I was more humiliated by the fact that the turn signal and windshield wipers are reversed so every time I went to signal I instead turned on the wipers. Colleen will remember that pain from our time in Australia...but I digress.
Per Karen’s request we took a scenic route through the Coromandel peninsula, along the Pacific Coast Highway, ending up at the New Zealand surfing Mecca of Whangamata—a wide, sandy beach that was nearly empty when we arrived:

That didn’t preclude of from having our lunch on the beach, followed by the time in the day when we chilled:

Some local fauna and flora:

The most surprising discovery here was the public toilet that offered the most interesting and jazzy soundtrack for your bathroom activities. Click below to experience it for yourself:

Finally we arrived in Rotorua. This is the heart of both New Zealand’s geothermal activity and Maori culture. On the geothermal side, it’s a lot like Yellowstone: hot springs, geysers, boiling mud pots, and through it all the sweet stink of sulfur. We visited the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland because it’s said to be the most “intense” of the geothermal areas and we figured that with “Wonderland” in the name it’s gotta be good. Boiling water from deep in the earth leads to chemical reactions to create a spectrum of living colors:

Here’s Karen pretending to be a creature from the deep (not much of a stretch):

The boiling mud pots are especially hypnotic:

It was on a hike in this park that I began my love affair with koru. The silver fern is a ubiquitous plant in New Zealand and a frequent symbol. It can grow in all sorts of forms, from a low shrub to a tall version that looks like a palm tree. In all cases, new fronds are constantly “born” from the center of the plant. The new fronds come out in tightly-wound spirals that unfurl. Within each frond, the individual leaves are spiraled too. They’re quite striking. The Maori call these spirals “koru” and consider it a powerful symbol that you’ll see all over New Zealand (like the Air New Zealand logo). It symbolizes new life, growth, strength, peace, and harmony; the circular shape conveys perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin:

Speaking of the Maori, we also attended a hangi in Rotorua. Technically “hangi” refers to a cooking method where food is smoked underground. For tourists it means something more like a luau, where a traditionally-prepared hangi feast is accompanied by Maori performances. The Maori take the traditional aspects of the feast very seriously. When we arrived, the first order of business was for the group to elect a chief to represent ourselves. Karen promptly nominated me and I became Chief Doug! My roles would then include unearthing the hangi feast, accepting a peace offering from Maori warriors, making a speech to the Maori chief on behalf of all the guests, and engaging him in the hongi (not to be confused with hangi, hongi means “sharing of breath” and is the traditional Maori greeting that involves pressing your noses together twice). Yes, Karen would be warned to sleep with one eye open hereafter...

First I unearthed the feast and took the traditional first taste (which I pretended to enjoy despite the fact that it was my arch-enemy the sweet potato):

The Maori make their entrance by waka (canoe):

Me on my throne:

The Maori enter:

I am rapt with attention—I was coached on what to do (and what not to do) and warned to take it all very seriously:

The chief listens to my speech (with great suspicion):

The hongi:

Then I got to join Karen in a place of honor in the first row to enjoy the show:

I call this “Maori kibitzing”:

The big number is the haka, a posture dance intended to scare and challenge enemies—the All Blacks even perform it before every game:


For the last part of the evening, we toured the Maori land including glow worms (more on them cool) and this natural spring:

Here’s some video of the festivities with a special message from Karen at the end:

Rotorua itself had some nice gardens:

It was here that we caught our first glimpse of the Pukeko—the “other” national bird of New Zealand that you have a much higher likelihood of actually seeing (given that Kiwis are endangered and nocturnal):

Next up…we drive across the north island volcanoes of Tongariro National Park (home of “Mount Doom”) on our way to the capitol city of Wellington!! BUT BEFORE WE GO…A FEW PARTING SHOTS!

We found this genuine Maori artifact by the side of the road. So I peed behind it:

We never figured out what kind of tree this is but you see it all over. At first we thought they were cell towers because they look so unreal:


Next stop, Wellington!


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