Friday, May 27, 2016

We Visited Rotorua on 20 and 21 May 2016

One thing good about New Zealand is they have maintained Maori names for their cities, rivers, lakes, volcanoes and other things in a very big way. Rotorua from Maori: Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe, "The second great lake of Kahumatamomoe") is a city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, in the Bay of Plenty region of NZ’s North Island. Rotorua has an estimated permanent population of 56,800, making it the country's 10th largest city. 

Rotorua is a major destination for both domestic and international tourists; the tourism industry is by far the largest industry in the district. It is known for its geothermal activity, and features geysers and hot mud pools. Plenty of lakes and rich forests flourish in the area. The pungent smell of sulfur from the geothermal valley engulfs the entire town. The moment one gets down from the car the smell becomes evident.

More importantly there is a large population of Maoris in Rotorua. They have lived here ever since, taking full advantage of the geothermal activity in the valley for heating and cooking.
A Maori warrior
Another interesting aspect of their culture is the process of naming. The names were chosen to describe landscape features, or to celebrate stories, people and events. Often places were named after ancestors or body parts, to emphasize tribal or personal claims to land.

“Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu ”   is the Maori name for a hill near Hawkes Bay. This is reputed to be the longest name of any place in the world. It means ‘the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land eater, played his flute to his loved one’.

It took us almost 4 hours to cover the 232 Km from Hahei to Rotorua, with halts in between to freshen up. As expected the landscape is fascinating – meadows all through with various kinds of trees adding to the overall beauty. The villages and small towns enroute are extremely well laid out, neat and clean. Each house looks better than the other. We stayed at the ‘Jet Park Hotel’ in the centre of town. The city itself is green and peaceful with trees and lovely houses. Each bungalow has a well maintained lawn.
Lovely Houses
We spent a very interesting afternoon at the ‘Agrodome’, a sheep farm. They demonstrated sheep shearing and dogs shepherding sheep according to the rancher’s directions.  We got to see and feed a variety of Sheep, Deer, Emu and Ostrich. 
Brahmin the Bull

Jai feeding a Emu

Jai feeding an Antelope

Kiwi Tree

A stern looking Yak

Early next morning we visited ‘Te Puia’ to explore The World-Famous Pohutu Geyser, Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley and the Kiwi House. The eruptions can be seen from far and the magnitude of the geyser becomes evident as one goes closer. It erupts to a height of 100 ft twenty times a day. A patient wait is really worth it. Next to it is a smaller geyser named ‘Prince of Wales’ erupting to a modest height of 30 ft. Side by side there are a number of boiling mud pots and fissures. The visit offered a very interesting and unique experience.
The World-Famous Pohutu Geyser from a distance

At the entrance

Kia Ora - Welcome

Our Maori guide

Naveen in a Maori House

Jais turn to photo op

Mud Baths

Pohutu from close

A break

At the Geothermal Park
Naveen with a Maori girl
A Maori girl showing flax work
Thereafter we lazed around Lake Rotorua for some time before heading off to Redwoods area to see these mighty trees. Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake in the North Island with a surface area of 80 km sq. Interestingly NZ is a country dotted with innumerable number of lakes.41 major, 229 medium and 3820 small lakes.
Lake Rotorua
We were extremely lucky to see 5 out of the 7 most outstanding lakes of NZ. Most of their big lakes are Calderas of extinct volcanoes. A caldera is a large cauldron-like volcanic crater caused by the collapse of an emptied magna chamber, which can extend several tens of kilometers. 

Just five minutes from downtown Rotorua, a beautiful forest awaits you. Known to locals as ‘The Redwoods’, the 5600 hectares ‘Whakarewarewa’ forest is a perfect playground for walkers, hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers with magnificent stands of towering native and exotic trees. The biggest attraction are the Redwood trees - Native to the North West coast of America, given to a Maori chief by a German botanist. The largest Redwood in Whakarewarewa is approximately 72 metres tall and 169 centimetres in diameter. These majestic trees may not have the girth of their cousins the Californian Red Woods, but are pretty impressive themselves. 
Jai near the Redwood

A Redwood
A comparison

This was followed by a lovely lunch at an Indian hotel for a change.

We spent the evening in a Maori village “Mitai”. We were treated to a wonderful Maori cultural extravaganza and a delectable dinner with some Maori dishes – stone cooked succulent lamb, chicken, potatoes and much more  We were called ’The tribe of the Four Winds’, meaning four different directions of the world. He said that we (the visitors) were also called ‘sacred feet’ as from the moment our feet touched their sacred land, there was a deep connect between them and us. A beautiful thought. There were 14 different nationalities attending the show. The Maori MC was quite humorous and held our attention as he welcomed each nationality with a few words in their own tongue. 
A Maori Village Scene

A Maori couple in a sing and dance sequence

We went and watched the war waging tribals come in their canoe the famous ‘Waka’ – rowing with great fervor and thundering war cry. All the warriors paint their face and body with tattoos to portray a fierce exterior. What followed was a great experience watching Maoris showcase their dance and music from a stage village. Their dances reflect the fierce gestures of the warriors while attacking the enemy and so on. The evening ended with the Chief making a speech about ‘our sacred feet’.
A Maori Chief
Tattoos play a very significant role in Maori culture. They have a form of body art, known as moko but more commonly referred to as Maori tattooing. The art form was brought to the Maori from Polynesia and is considered highly sacred. Maori tattoo traditionally does not involve the use of needles; rather the Maori used knives and chisels made from shark teeth, sharpened bone or sharp stones. The inks that were used by Maori were made from all natural products. The focal point of Maori tattooing was generally the face. Only people of rank or status were allowed to have, and could afford to have, tattoos.

Today tattooing is a big time business with many tourists wanting to be tattooed.

The night ended with a bush walk to watch glow worms and a tryst with their holy spring.

The visit to Rotorua was truly a bag full of amazing experiences.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

We Visited Hahei - NZ – 18 and 19 Apr 2016

Mercury Bay Hahei

We left Auckland at 9.45 am and made our way to Hahei on the famous Coromandel Coast. We reached our destination at 1215 h – a drive of 175 Km. The drive is extremely captivating taking us through endless mountains and valleys. The surroundings keep you enthralled throughout. Most of the time is spent in photography and viewing. As one rounds ‘Firth of Thames’ the vegetation becomes even more dense and interesting. The drive is extremely lonely with very few cars on road ,no signs of any habitation outside of cities and villages, no human beings to be seen anywhere and definitely no animals.  

The driver should be very alert at all times. To break monotony it’s good to pull over and take a photo break – it helps.
The landscape
We checked into  "Hahei Holiday Resort". It is a very well appointed resort - extremely clean and comfortable. The facilities include a barbecue pit, free laundry, fully equipped kitchenette and a small restaurant. The cottage we stayed in was extremely well equipped – down to a can opener and corkscrew! It had wooden floors and a verandah to die for! The place is huge and accommodates camper vans and tents. One can walk across to Hahei beach behind the resort.
Naveen at the entrance to the resort
Jai absorbing Hahei

Hahei is derived from the Māori name for Mercury Bay, Te-Whanganui-A-Hei, or "The Great Bay of Hei". Its resident population is around 300 and it is home to the world famous ‘Cathedral Cove’ and a hot water beach. The village itself is very small with one all purpose store, a single petrol bunk, a few restaurants and resorts for tourists. Two of us wanted to stay a little longer in Hahei than planned while the other two wanted to come back and settle down for good. That was the impact of this cute little village.
The Gang
Starting with Hahei we took a special liking to Kiwi ice cream in a very big way. Their ice cream is quite rich and creamy. The helpings are awesome and the flavors are mind blowing.

Some Ice Cream Cone
The store keeper was very helpful and went out of her way to book us for a speed boat ride to visit the coves.
Getting ready for the ride
The Coxswain and the guide told us that Captain Cook landed on the beach that now takes his name in November 1769, to watch Mercury (hence the Bay’s name) cross the sun. After some astronomical calculations Cook worked out the latitude and longitude, putting New Zealand on a map.
A distant island
 We went on a speed boat ‘Hahei Explorer’ to watch the coves and the volcanic coastline. The one hour tour covers the entire coastline giving us an opportunity to take a close look at all the coves, enter some of them and watch the volcanic formations which dot the entire sea area. This unique combination of sea, sand, rocks and trees makes the coastline extremely attractive and romantic.

Fascinating Rock Formations

From inside the cove a novel experience

All dressed up
One of the coves leads into a fascinating cave- when you look up you can see a tiny bit of the sky surrounded by a magical circle of trees looking down on us. The coxswain of the boat told us that the Maoris used to come to this cove to find peace, quiet and calm.
A very unique cove

At the bottom of the cove

Entrance to deep cove

Imposing volcanic rocks as the lava flowed

Yet another deep and narrow cove

Mares Leg Cove,

Sea,Sky,Rock and Trees - simply fascinating

Finally the Cathedral Cove
No wonder people from all over the world come to Hahei to unwind and enjoy – it offers unlimited outdoor activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, surfing, trekking and living in the wild. We ended the day with a glass of chilled beer and a delectable lunch. 

Hahei resort observes ‘Quiet Time’ between 10.30 PM to 7.30 AM during which time there should be no noise and no music.

The next morning was spent lazing around the ’Hot Water Beach’. Some volcanoes develop huge underground reservoirs of super heated water. Over time, this water escapes to the surface — cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 64ºC (147ºF) at a rate as high as 15 liters/minute. This water contains large amounts of salt, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. The hot spring starts one hour before the low tide and lasts one hour after the change. We reached the beach at 1000 h sharp as the low tide for the day was at 1100h.

A tiny bubble of hot water escaping from the sand
Jai with a shovel all set
The whole exercise was to dig a pool sufficiently large to accommodate the four of us to lie down in the sand where the hot water wells up. The hot water is to be found only at two spot on the beach. Everyone heads for it an hour before low tide. The hot water from the spring mixes with the tidal wave making it hot enough to lie down and laze. One can see the steam rising up from the sand where the water is really hot.   The atmosphere on the beach immediately transforms you into a child. Four of us went into a frenzy to dig a hole for ourselves to bathe in this unique volcanic hot water. The spring water by itself is extremely hot and unbearable to touch. One has to be careful to avoid getting the soles of the feet burnt. As the tide rises, the cold waves of the sea engulf the area so one can only sit for those two hours or so.
Naveen refused to leave the pool and continued to remain in the spa for two hours.

The Hot Water Beach scene

Jai, kats and Naveen enjoying the spa

Naveen refusing to get up

One last attempt
Totally pleased !!!!
It was indeed a novel experience.
Totally agree with the notice
Very reluctantly we departed from Hahei next morning, carrying with us loads of wonderful memories of this charming little seaside village.