Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Zealand Day 4 Part 2 : The Exciting Rotorua

Continuation from Day 4 Part 1 on 9th September 2011.

I think everybody would agree that the visit to North Island will not be complete without setting our foot on Rotorua. This area is so different.. and I read somewhere that it captures the best of New Zealand all in one place. I really waited for the time when I can spend time in this city, too bad we don't have enough time and one day allocated is definitely not enough.

It took about 1hr 30minutes from Hamilton to Rotorua, passing through Cambridge and Tirau. Tirau is a beautiful place, but we wanted to get to Rotorua early so I didn't get the chance to take pictures around Tirau. Other than that, the scenery is quite typical like the one we can see in other parts of North Island, the greeny hills with occasional cows and sheep, accompanied by the clear and blue sky.

We get to Rotorua at about 3pm, and of course, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Rotorua is a sulphur city which is due to hydrogen sulphide emission, hence the smell. We then head straight to our motel, Alpin Motel. It was quite a big room, with backyard where we can have hot water in the pool. The kitchen is complete, with the electric stove, microwaves and all you need in the kitchen. Internet connection is limited to 50MB though. But we were on holiday anyway, right.. so 50MB is OK just to check mails etc.

Rotorua is the place if we want to explore geothermal earth forces, Maori culture, as well as enjoying its scenery. When we checked in, we realised that Alpin Motel is located opposite Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, just within walking distance. Brilliant!! So after performing our prayer, we head straight to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, located within Te Whakarewarewa thermal reserve. Actually there are two operators in Te Whakarewarewa, that is Whakarewarewa Thermal Village and Te Puia. The main attraction I think is Pohutu, which is a big geyser which can erupt up to 20 times a day. Though Pohutu is located in Te Puia, it can also be seen from Whakarewarewa Thermal Village.

The difference between Whakarewarewa Thermal Village and Te Puia, apart from the admission fee, is Whakarewarewa Thermal Village still have people reside in it, whereas Te Puia is a commercial centre. The villagers themselves who will bring visitors around and explain things, which I think makes it more interesting [and cheaper too!]. I understand that there's also no electricity in that village. We didn't get to enter the village that evening, because it was already too late, so we planned to come again the next afternoon [to catch tour at 1pm].

Rotorua is quite a beautiful city, we wander around the Government Gardens where the Rotorua Museum is located, as well as Kuirau Park where we can see things like boiling mud pool for free.

We wanted to do something at night, so we called Tamaki Cultural Village. It is located about 15km south of Rotorua, when we called it was already about 5:30pm and luckily there's still space for us. The original admission fee is around NZD105 if I am not mistaken, but since we did not want to join the dinner due to halal issue, we were charged NZD50 per pax.

Tamaki Cultural Village is not opened to visitors just like that, we need to get into the village all at once so we were required to wait at the entrance at 6:20pm, to wait for the bus taking all the other visitors from town. We reached there quite early, so we had to wait outside the entrance for the bus to come, and it was freezing cold that night.

Alhamdulillah, at 6:20pm the bus finally arrived, and we were allowed to enter the main entrance together, but not into the village as we had to have the permission from the Maori warriors to enter. At this point, all visitors were asked to line up between the main entrance to the actual village entrance, and two 'tribal chiefs' were chosen from among the visitors. We were not allowed to laugh, or smile, or talk throughout the ceremony, until the point where the Maori warriors accept our visit in peace and allow us to enter.

It was quite an interesting ceremony, though I do sometimes feel scared looking at the warriors' faces and martial art style :). We were then allowed to enter their village, which is set in the middle of an ancient forest within Rotorua, built according to the original Maori village. I've been interested in Maori culture for quite some times, so this is what I am waiting for. We were then brought to experience Maori culture within the village, where the 'villagers' explain about their history and culture. We can ask questions along the way.

It's kind of interesting experience. Once we've done with the history and culture around the village, we were then introduced to the traditional method of Maori cooking, hangi.

Hangi is a method of cooking using heated rocks underground. The food is put on top of the heated rock, then covered with earth for several hours till the food is done. I read somewhere that some used clams as one of the layers to give moisture to the food as well as enhanced taste, but the one in Tamaki village is using water to moisture. In the past, before the proper hangi place like this was invented, Maori used vegetation and sticks as layers to separate the heated rocks from the food and earth.

Done with the hangi, we were then brought to the place where we could enjoy their traditional performance, including the famous haka. This one is much longer and more interesting than the one I watched in Auckland Museum the other day. I enjoyed the performance very much.

The final itinerary for the night was dinner. After the performance, all visitors were brought to the dining room, where they will enjoy hangi dinner. But because of halal issue, we didn't join that.. too bad. I badly wanted to taste how the hangi tasted like, perhaps have to dig hole behind my house myself hahaha.

So while the rest were enjoying their dinner, we went back to our motel and I cooked for our dinner. I cooked rice that night on the stove, using basmati rice. As am not expert in cooking rice on the stove [Malaysians are pampered with the rice cooker], I purposely choose basmati rice as this kind of grain is the easiest to cook, a little too much or too little water will not affect the result as much. So while the rest were enjoying their hangi dinner, we enjoyed our rice, beef curry and stir fried cabbage with prawn. Yummy!

Next : Geothermal experience around Wai-O-Tapu

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