We headed into Rotorua in the morning and made our way to the local Isite. We knew that we wanted to go Zorbing and have some type of Maori cultural experience so we booked these, as well as our tour of Hobbiton for the next day. After arranging our activities, we headed to a gluten-free creperie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open on Sunday (barely anything was) so we searched for a coffee shop for quite some time. I saw my first ever New Zealand Dunkin Donuts! (We didn’t go there though, buy local!)
After our caffeine fix, we decided to have Indian for lunch quickly before we headed to Whakarewarewa, the Maori village that is still occupied today. The Maori offer tours of their village, focused on the way people live today, the culture and the geothermal natural phenomena that the village is built on.
Upon our arrival we were told that there had been a death in the village so the Meeting House wouldn’t be part of the tour. We were asked not to take pictures of that part of the village. The locals were waiting for the body to arrive, they greet it with singing and never leave the deceased alone. We began our tour with a villager who had grown up there, moved away and come back. He explained that the village had depended on tourism since the 1800s, so they thrived on the activity rather than resenting it. The village only has 60 people living in it. They are all related. Many other relatives have moved away. The families encourage them to move away and make their own way in the world. I was surprised by this, given the small population. The landscape was amazing. Throughout the village there was a huge amount of geothermal activity. There were boiling mineral springs (that they use to cook vegetables, but not meat, because the animal fat causes a chemical reaction that makes the water explode like a geyser), silica terraces, geysers and mud pools. The smell was quite sulfurous and I never got used to it. They use the steam from the ground to cook food, but apparently the smell does not effect the taste of the food. There was certainly a bit of sensory overload. The smell and the colors of the water and earth seemed to be turned up high. The mineral pools are used to bathe daily. The guide explained the appropriate protocol for bathing, as it is always done naked. (We felt that he didn’t need to use such detail.) The baths are gossip central and this is where everyone finds out what is happening in town. Very few homes have hot indoor plumbing for showers so they are forced to use the baths.
(This is the steam oven where they cook food.)
After our tour of town, we headed to the performance center for a cultural experience. The performance showed us the traditions of song and dance from the village. There were seven performers of all different ages and they did a spectacular job. Everyone had a beautiful voice and they were very coordinated with their props. The woman had balls on strings that they flicked around with ease. We also witnessed the traditional battle dance where the men grunt loudly, pose angrily and make intimidating faces. It is traditional for them to bulge their eyes out and stick out their tongues very far and wiggle them around. It was surprisingly intimidating, given the circumstances. (If I was their enemy then I would’ve run away.)
After the performance, we briefly visited the above ground cemetery (they can’t dig into the ground for obvious reasons) and the bubbling mud pools before heading out.
We had to get to the Zorbing track before they closed. When we arrived we were the only ones there. It was great because we didn’t have to wait at all. For those who don’t know, Zorbing is when you roll down a hill inside a giant inflated plastic ball. We had signed up to do three rides, we had planned to do all three of their different tracks. We decided to do the first ride together, just in case we didn’t like it. We had to superman through the hole to get into the ball. There was hot water inside with us. We decided to go down backwards. We started to roll down and we both got so disoriented and freaked out. Water was splashing in our faces and we couldn’t see anything. It felt like it lasted forever. When we were tipped out of the ball at the bottom we were both completely hating it. Lindsay didn’t want to go again, but we decided that we had to give it another chance. We did the same track and went together all three times. The second and third rides the guy running it gave us see through balls, instead of one that we couldn’t see out of. It made all the difference in the world. The second two rides were a complete ball! We were so glad that we persevered.
After Zorbing, we headed to our campsite. We decided to treat ourselves to one of the fancy Top 10 Holiday Parks, since we really needed to do laundry and some cooking. It was completely worth it, the facilities were beautiful and we had hot showers! After we did our chores we decided to head back downtown to check out a craft beer brewery/bar that the Zorbing guys had suggested. We were a bit lost and wandering when we saw some familiar faces. We couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t talked to José and Noemi since we left, but there they were in Rotorua and we had happened to cross paths with them! It was unbelievable! We ended up spending the whole night with them. We went to try craft beer and we even went dancing. It was a great night! It was so hard to say goodbye to them again, tears may have been shed. We felt so lucky to spend another night with them though.
Tomorrow we are heading to Hobbiton in the morning!