Monday, September 14, 2009

One of the Most Entertaining Days EVER!

Also known as New Zealand Day Six - May 29th, 2009

I failed to mention in my last post that in the evening we went swimming at our hostel. This is important because this is where we met Pete. Pete is a Rotorua local who occasionally sneaks into the different hostels to use their swimming pool and hot tub after rugby practice. He asked us about what we had already seen on our trip, and asked what our plans for our last few days on the island were. When we mentioned that we were going Zorbing the next day (I'll explain what that is in a bit) Pete told us that he worked there! We jokingly asked if we could get a special discount, and he said if we remembered his name the next day he'd see what he could do.

Thus dawned a slightly cool Friday morning. We drove to the edge of Rotorua and pulled up to the Zorbing tracks. We were so excited! Almost immediately we saw Pete running around outside the office and called our hellos. We registered on their computers inside the office and went to pay for our ride. Pete let us in for free! Better yet, he let us go twice! We walked to the edge of the porch and waited for Pete to bring the jeep around to drive us to the top of the hill.

Now, this is what Zorbing is all about: climbing into a huge inflated ball and rolling down a hill. There are two ways of doing this. Number one: strapping yourself into a seat and somersaulting all the way down (dizzy=barf!), or number two: pumping some water inside the ball with you and sliding down the hill as if you were on a waterslide. This was definitely our choice! Ashley and I jumped in the ball together after Pete added some warm water (they use warm water in the winter, and cold water in the summer), and we headed down the hill!

We laughed SO hard the entire way down, partly because you're given an instant wedgie that you can't fully fix until the ride is over. You can't really see where you're going very well due to the water that's flying all over the place, but it didn't matter. The ball rolls pretty much straight. We hit a big bump at the bottom and thought we had just reached the end of the ride, but come to find out later we had run over one of the workers! It was on purpose though... the employees there were a riot!

I loved that they had a photographer constantly snapping pictures for you; no need to take your camera in the ball and worry about ruining it.

Getting out of the Zorb ball was more difficult than just jumping in head first...

Hooray! We made it! Now let's go again!

To try something different on our second run, Ashley and I took separate Zorb balls, and by doing so we were allowed to go down the zig-zag track. This one made me dizzy! I'd be flying down the hill when the sudden change of direction would send me spinning around the inside and send me down the next chunk of hill backward or sideways; any direction I wasn't anticipating.

I had left my camera at the front desk while we slid down the hill - only later to discover that the employees had a little fun with it when we weren't looking.

Ashley and I with our man Pete. He made it all possible!

After getting dried off and packed up again we drove across the street (literally) to the Agrodome. As you might be able to guess, it's all about sheep!

Several times a day they put on a little performance that shows you every type of sheep that lives in New Zealand (there are 17)...

They explain how to shear a sheep - and then show you...

And command sheepdogs to herd ducks and then run across the backs of the sheep on stage. Of course, there's a meet and greet afterward.

Once outside again they actually let the dogs herd sheep into a pen (think "Babe").

Next we stopped at Rainbow Springs because I was obsessed with seeing a real Kiwi (the bird) while I was in New Zealand. It was Ashley's turn to play tour guide.

We saw lots of animals, including this eel (see the squiggly thing in the water?) that was more than 6 feet long and estimated to be more than 50 years old! Turns out eels really creep Ashley out.

When you pay for admission to the preserve you recieve an empty water bottle that you can fill up at the Rainbow Springs.

Wallabies! Not native to New Zealand, but still cute. And yes, I did see a couple of kiwis, but it was in a very dark room where they were sleeping behing glass... not prime opportunity for picture taking. They were bigger than I thought though.

We had a few hours to kill around town, so we walked around looking for souvenir shops and other interesting things. Here's Ashley and her mangos, our hostel, and the croquet fields out in front of the museum.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to the Mitai Maori Village. For those who are less culturally inclined than others, the Maori are the native inhabitants of New Zealand. The Mitai tribe (among others) still lives on a piece of their original land, and follow their traditions as much as is reasonable in today's modern society. One way the Mitai tribe brings in money is by allowing visitors to experience their old traditions. We were picked up at the hostel by a shuttle and were seated at a table after having our reservations confirmed.

While we were waiting we listened to an older man from the tribe sing karaoke in the background - he was cute! After everyone was settled our host welcomed us and then had us follow him to the Hangi pit where our food had been cooking in the ground. There was lamb, chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing. My mouth was watering.

The food still needed to be sliced up, so while we waited our host took us on a walk down a dark trail to the river where warriors rowed by on a Waka - a war canoe. They chanted as they rowed, made faces at us (they made faces to intimidate their enemies), and followed the commands of their chief who sits in the back of the Waka.

They all jumped out of the Waka and headed to the performance area, while the chief was responsible for tying up the canoe. The poor guy had to jump at least waist deep into the freezing water (it was soooo cold), but as he did Ashley noticed something a little peculiar about his attire... what we thought were dark colored shorts were actually tribal tatoos. And while he had the front of his body covered by some sort of loin cloth, his behind was left quite bare!

The chief greeted us as we were seated in the performance area, and welcomed us to the land of his tribe. One guest had been selected earlier to be the chief of the "Tribe of Many Nations" - aka, all the visitors, and participated in the welcoming ceremony before the men and women danced and sang for us.

The food was awesome! We shared our table with a cute family that was originally from France but now live in New Caledonia. We could only communicate with the mother - she was the only one in her family who spoke any English.

After the meal was over our host once again led us out and down the dark paths to the river where we looked at the lights from glowworms that lived along the bank. The Mitai village is immediately next door to the Rainbow Springs Preserve, and is the home of the enchanted Fairy Springs. The Mitai Village's website explains: "In Maori mythology, some springs were regarded as 'places where the Gods sprung out of the water'. A priest (Tohunga) would visit the Spring and ask the Gods whether this was an appropriate time to plant crops or make war. If it was the right time, as legend has it, a column of light like a clear Rainbow would arise from the water. This is how this sacred place got the name Rainbow Springs. It is also the location where the Fairy People (Patupaiarehe) would descend the slopes of Mt Ngongotaha at night to visit the springs and drink from the waters of life." We stood and watched the water bubble up into the large, clear pool when our focus drifted to what appeared to be a large tree branch covered with some sand on the bottom of the springs start to move slowly. Tree branch?? Ha, no... that's another gigantic eel. Sorry Ash...
We left feeling very full and very tired. It was a great day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Zealand Day Five - May 28th, 2009

Today was meant to be an outdoors day! Planning on enjoying the sun and sand, I finally decided to wear the capris I had packed. We wanted to get an early start, so we headed out and ate our breakfast in the car in the parking lot of a hike we had picked out.

It was freezing outside! I had my hoodie pulled up over my head nearly the whole time and I jogged in place a lot to get my blood flowing again. The hike was only about 7 minutes each way but, like all of New Zealand's sights, it was worth it! There was a cool waterfall, some crazy vines hanging down from the trees, and a tree that grew sideways at its base.

After loading back up in the car we made our way North up to the Bay of Plenty. We passed through Bethlehem on the way... who knew that Bethlehem was really in New Zealand?? There were also pretty Fall colors along the way.

We got lost along the shore for a little bit and ended up at one of the sea ports.

Welcome to Mt. Manganui - volcano. Perfect for more hiking, and filled with spectacular views!! Hiking up...

Nearing the top.

Up on top!
Looking down at the town where we started our hike. We could see surfers hanging out in the water waiting to catch good waves; they're barely visible in the full-size version of this picture.

There were multiple paths up the volcano, so Ash and I explored a different route on the way back down. This path led us through more trees. These are the stairs on the back side of the volcano and an ocean view.

Once we got back to the bottom the path passed right through several large pastures of sheep; each pasture was fenced off, but all the gates didn't have latches - nobody minded that tourists walked through their private property every day.

The beginning of the path we ended on, and looking back at the volcano. It doesn't look so big from this side.

Beach time! Although the air was still fairly cool Ashley and I layed out on the beach for two hours working on our tans. I love the sun in New Zealand! I never once put on sunscreen and I didn't burn at all! That's quite impressive for a white girl like me!

The sand was so beautiful!

Although, it wasn't the kind of sand that would be great for castle making, but it worked great for other things!

We stuck our feet in to discover that the water was FREEZING - and noticed that all of the surfers were wearing wet suits. Ashley and I were probably the only ones wearing a bathing suit on the beach that day.

And of course, we took jumping pictures!

Because of the temperature of the water we started thinking twice about the decision we had made earlier about jumping in the ocean no matter what... but being the crazy Americans we are we had to represent, and so we went screaming (literally) into the ocean. You may not be able to tell, but we were dripping wet here. People were looking at us like we were insane.

Once back in Rotorua for the evening we decided to explore the park across the street from our hostel and found a wonderful thermal pool meant to soak your feet in - a good way to warm up after a cold dip in the ocean! We're eating apples...

The view from my seat at the thermal foot pool.

The whole time I was in New Zealand I had been waiting for the opportunity to go geocaching. My friend Ryan had picked up a geocoin in Las Vegas and asked if I would deposit it in a cache while on my trip. It took FOREVER to fin the cache, but once Ashley found it (smart girl) we were able to examine the contents, sign our names and trade the coin for another.

The coin I left.

Back at the hostel we headed to the kichen and made ourselves a hodge-podge dinner of butter chicken, mashed potatoes, and rolls. Soooo good...

As per our pre-bedtime ritual we played Phase 10. Still playing two hands each to make it more interesting, I won again. Ashley wasn't happy. But it had been a fun day!