July 9, 2008
A Touch of the Maori Tradition
(I had typed this up in my laptop at the end of the day, but had no Internet access so could not upload it until July 15th)
We woke up about the same time again today. Jin said she was too sore to go snowboarding, but I couldn’t really decide. I wasn’t sore or stiff – just a little around the shoulders and shins, but I barely felt the stiffness at all. Anyway we rolled out of bed about 7.20am, and started packing up before going down for breakfast. We had pancakes again, with lemon juice + maple syrup, and banana and kiwi.
We checked out about 8.45am, by which time I made up my mind that I would snowboard for half a day. Jin said I could use her boots and snowboard so I didn’t have to rent any, and we went to see if we needed to get a lift pass for Happy Valley.
It was a little colder than yesterday, and as we were driving to Whakapapa Village, Jin asked me if I really wanted to do this. I told her that I think I would regret it if I didn’t.
It was a beautiful day just like it was yesterday, and we didn’t need chains to drive up. Because we arrived a little later than yesterday (about 9.30am), we had to park even further down, at Daypark 6 🙁 I pulled on the ski pants and my jacket, and put on her boots in the carpark, and then we trudged up towards the entrance to Happy Valley.
The signs didn’t indicate whether we needed a lift pass for Happy Valley, and Jin went to customer service to ask, but there were too many people in there so we just jumped onto the chair lift down to Happy Valley.
I strapped on the board and I attempted to snowboard… only to realise that I had forgotten everything I had learnt! Jin helped me down the slope as I tried the toe edge, but did quite badly. We then took the chair lift back up the slope and this time Jin tried to guide me down using the heel edge, but I fell a few times and cursed really loudly.
Finally halfway down I started to get the hang of it, and managed it on my own although I fell a few times. I went up the chair lift again and tried both the toe and heel edge all the way down. I managed it, even though I was pretty slow.
I had promised Jin that would be my last, but I wanted another go again and she said OK, so I went down the slopes again. While I was tempted to try another round, at the chair lift someone was checking the tags and I heard her telling a couple of boys that they needed a lift pass, although she let them go. When she saw me, however, she didn’t stop me. I think it was because I still had a tag on, and I was lucky she didn’t check it because it was dated yesterday! But anyway, I thought OK… maybe this was a sign for me to stop!!!
So back at the top, I found Jin sitting comfortably inside the Bistro, and I bought myself a hot chocolate before we made our way up back to the car. I stripped off all the cold and wet things before we made our way onto Rotorua.
I had already binned my sunnies yesterday, and could barely keep my eyes open anyway, so I took a short snooze before Jin woke me up at Taupo, as she wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the bungy again. I thought about it, and decided against it even though I had a $55 voucher. I didn’t feel up to doing the bungy again, and I was feeling a little queasy for some reason.
We stopped by Lake Taupo as it was too beautiful to pass by. I took some scenic shots, before we walked right up to the water edge where an Australian black swan, green-headed ducks and some mallards were. Jin even made me climb a small tree for photo shots before we made our way onto Rotorua.
On the way we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which Jin said was really worth it (entry fee $27.50 pp) because the champagne pools, colours, and boiling mud pools were beautiful. However I suggested we come back the next morning because there was a sign which said that the Lady Knox Geyser erupts every morning at 10.15am, so why not catch that?
We went on to Rotorua where we stopped by i-Site to enquire about the Maori villages. We signed up for the Mitai Hangi and concert ($92 pp) because not only were there a hangi dinner and concert, but we could also see glowworms… plus it was slightly cheaper than the other village ($95pp). However with this package, we could get a free entry to either the museum, Hell’s Gate Thermal park, or the Wildlife Park. We ruled out the museum immediately, and I tried to decide between the thermal park or the wildlife park. In the end we opted for the thermal park because I wasn’t really interested to pet lion cubs… and anyway we were told that the lion cubs were now too big to carry for petting. I didn’t really want to see lions because it’s not like I haven’t seen any before!! However because Wai-O-Tapu and Hell’s Gate were in opposite directions (Wai-O-Tapu was in the south whereas Hell’s Gate was in the north) we wouldn’t be able to see both, so it looks like I have to give up Wai-O-Tapu 🙁
We also enquired about lodges, and were recommended the Treks Backpacker’s Lodge. It was only $68 per night for a room with ensuite bathroom and we could pay at i-Site, so we did.
We drove over and found it was a new lodge – so many of the facilities were still in excellent condition. In fact, it was the first decent backpacker’s lodge I’ve stayed in!! There were plenty of salt and pepper and herbs, unlike the others; and everything was so clean and tidy. Instead of open cabinets under the sink where everything was randomly placed, they had closed cabinets with labels on to make it easy to find things. There were signs on the fridges that “Everything will be cleared out on Monday (or Wednesday or Friday, on different fridges) at 11am. No exceptions!” which I guess is how they keep their fridges free from rotting food. The lounge was so comfortable and inviting; in fact I’m sitting in their dining area at the bar typing away.
Our room doesn’t have a heater but it was still hot; Jin said it’s probably because the room is very well insulated and keeps the heat from the afternoon. We have a twin bed room, and it’s really very cosy. We even have a key card and a key each.
We had checked in about 4pm, so after dumping our things in the room, we went for a walk in town. We stopped at a few souvenir shops, and finally bought some things from a souvenir shop owned by a Pakistani because the things there were so much cheaper. Jin bought some bone carvings, whereas I bought some cheap metal bling-blings and some paua necklaces.
On the way back to the lodge, we stopped by the Pig & Whistle which was a bar, because Treks gave us each a voucher for a free drink (house wine/beer/soft drink) so we sat in there and chatted while enjoying our drinks before making our way back to the lodge.
Jin took a quick hot shower because it was cold. I had on only my jeans, a sleeveless and a long sleeve shirt, and I was freezing colder than she was because she had more layers than I! She called me crazy for wearing so little but hey, I thought I was acclimatising. I just pulled on my reversible waterproof jacket though and strapped on my knee guard and ankle guards because my legs felt a bit weathered from the skiing and snowboarding from the past 2.5 days.
Our voucher indicated that the pickup from our lodge would be between 5.45 and 6.10pm; and we were at reception by 5.50pm but the lady told us that the bus had already left. In fact, before we had even got back to our room, we had told her that we would be in our room in case the bus did come before we were there, but she told us she had been so busy that she was unable to tell the driver to wait. Plus, two more people had only just signed up, so the bus driver thought that he had everyone as he thought he was only supposed to pick 3 people up, not 5. She called him and he said he would turn around to pick us up.
We waited and waited and waited, and it crossed my mind that if we didn’t get to go tonight, we’d have to ask for our money back, although it was indicated that no refunds would be given. But damn, I wanted to go!
Our bus finally came about 6.15pm, where the nice jolly man apologised. He told us there would be about 100 people tonight, which was only “a few”… there were about 240 last night. We made it to the village by about 6.25pm, and went in and sat at table 9 to wait for the show to start. It started about 6.40pm, where a local speaker started the ball rolling. He gave us a brief description about what was going to happen tonight, and then asked for someone to be the “chief of the tribe of four winds”. He told us that ladies were excepted, because we were too precious. “As we used to say,” he explained, “if a man dies in battle, it’s only one life lost. But if a woman dies, a whole line of generation is lost.”
An elderly Englishman called Paul volunteered, and then the speaker asked all of us about the countries we came from. There were about 11 nations altogether: England, Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala (apparently it’s the first time in 6 years they have someone from there), Malaysia (us plus a whole bunch of other Chinese), Holland, Switzerland, India, Russia, and other places I can’t remember. So he called us the Tribe of Eleven Nations.
We then went outside to look at the hangi where our dinner was being cooked. The hangi is this big hole in the ground, and they cooked lots of stuff over fire and hot rocks. There were kumaras (sweet potatoes), potatoes, chicken, lamb, stuffing, etc.
We were hungry, but dinner wasn’t ready yet. We were going to take a little walk into the forest, and fortunately blankets were provided as it was cold!! We went to a shallow stream and waited for the Maori men to arrive. They came in a 10-men canoe and did a brief performance for us on the water. Their coordination was amazing.
After that (at about 8.10pm), they led us to a “theatre” with plastic chairs and a wooden stage, where the Maori performance was conducted. The performance was about half an hour, with many different dances, weapons demonstration, and “games” – they even made us stand up and learn some of their “sign languages” (just different hand movements which mean different things). They finished with a haka dance before adjourning for dinner. I recorded their performance on video, although during the haka was I hoping they would finish soon as my battery was really low!! The performance was good – I was very impressed by their level and their ability. But I must say that it was a little below expectations as I felt it was so commercial. I guess I shouldn’t have such high expectations.
Dinner was buffet style, and there were heaps to eat. And they were all really good!!! There was ranch salad, fried rice, potatoes, kumaras, simple salad, lamb, chicken, stuffing, and garlic bread. I had a cup of tea, too. I took a little bit of everything and managed to eat almost everything on my plate but couldn’t quite manage the last of the potato and kumara. Dessert was chocolate log (just chocolate cakeroll with cream), trifle (which was really sweet), and fruits (which tasted like they came out of a can).
At about 9pm, they split us into two groups – one group had paid to see Rainbow Springs or something like that. The rest of us grabbed a torchlight per pair, and followed our guide into another trail in the forest which was really, really dark. Along the way he made a a stop where he explained about the different types of ferns which the Maori men used. One of them was the silver fern, which made a silvery reflection when the moon shone upon it, and they used that to help them find their way back to their village if they got lost. The base was poisonous, so they dipped their darts in them to kill their enemies more quickly. Then he pointed out some other types of ferns (I can’t remember their names) which were used for weaving, house construction, food and medicine. I remember thinking, my god if they used the wrong fern they could accidentally kill themselves. How do they tell the difference? They looked the same to me!!!
Then we went on to another stop where he showed us a wooden fence which he explained was constructed around the village to protect it from enemies. The horizontal posts were typically very far apart to prevent enemies from climbing over, and the vertical posts were typically much closer together. He also explained that when an enemy was killed, its head would be placed on top of a post. If there were many heads on the posts, it means the village was strong. If there were few heads, he said, “it means that it’s a new fence!”
We then went onto a trail and saw some glowworms by a bank. I couldn’t take any photos though because it was too dark. The glowworms cannot be seen if there are any lights, so the flashlights have to be switched off. They were just tiny pinpricks of fluorescent light, so the camera couldn’t pick them up.
We walked on a little further to Sacred Springs, which had bubbling sand and super clear water. There were eels and trouts swimming in there. The trouts were from California, he joked.
“We can’t eat the eels and trouts from this spring, because if we do… there’s only bubbling sand to look at and it’s really boring.”
And that was the end of the tour. The guides were really funny, which made it quite enjoyable.
We got back on the same bus we arrived in, and reached our lodge about 9.45pm. Jin went straight to bed, whereas I made myself a hot chocolate and sat out at the lounge. I’ve just moved myself to the couch because I felt a bit cold. Didn’t make any difference though. I guess I just don’t have enough layers on 😛
There are no fires or heaters in this lodge; I guess it’s just the insulation that keeps it warm. There are coffee machines ($2 per cup) and a junk food dispenser. I’m still cold, but I need to take a shower before bed. I didn’t want to shower before I sat out and typed because I wanted to be nice and warm before I snuggled into bed.
Did I mention that this lodge also provides towels and a bottle of handwash? It?s super!! Too bad we’re only staying here one night. And too bad that now that we’ve got oil and salt and pepper and stuff, we’re only making toast in the morning…
(A little later)
Just had a nice hot shower. The water smells of sulphur. I guess it’s because the water here are all from the ground, all naturally thermally heated.