Rotovegas, by Any Other Name, Would Still Smell… Not Sweet

For the past few days, we have been staying in Rotorua, a town about 3 hours southeast of Auckland by bus. Rotorua is famous for its sulphurous odor and plentiful geothermal activity, and is known by the locals as “Rotovegas.” Two people mentioned this to us on our way out of Auckland. Intrigued by the consistency, we asked why they thought it was like Las Vegas. We didn’t get much of an answer. We assumed that none of the people who called it Rotovegas had ever been to Las Vegas, but as it turned out, the girl at the sausage cart in the harbor had lived in Vegas for a few months. She didn’t clarify the slogan much except to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Which I think sums up Vegas pretty well.

So, expectations set, we set off on our journey, not knowing what we would find. Naturally, I looked first for bars that were open all night and then for wandering prostitutes. I found neither. There were some neon signs, but the town was completely empty at 10:30 at night when we stepped off the bus. This is no Las Vegas. Which in my book, is just fine, preferring a lake view and nice people to seedy bars and casinos.

Our hotel room had a private spa, but before you get too jealous, let me describe it to you. It was an open-air stone area accessed by a window in the bathroom, about 6′ x 6′, that had two steps to sit on and pipes for the mineral-laden spa water. You filled it up yourself by plopping a PVC pipe in the drain and turning on the taps – hot and cold. It was practical, though not particularly luxurious. It would have benefitted from a little timing mechanism and a thermometer, so you could set the temperature and have it ready when you got back to your room. But, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to in-room hot tubs. (You can start hating me now.)

Our first morning we went off to a geothermal village called Whakarewarewa, pronounced FA-ka-re-wa-re-wa, Maori for (something like) “Village of the tribe of…” some Maori warrior. The tour was terrible but the grounds, including hot springs galore and a huge erupting geyser, were neat. Fun dumb question from the tour, from an Australian (go figure): when learning that the Maori used the hot springs to cook their food by placing wooden grates on top of the steaming holes, guy asked: “How did they know when their food was done?” I wanted to jump in and say, “Actually the Maori invented digital timers.” Turns out no, they did it based on trial and error. Here’s how the first time they cooked lamb and potatoes down there went, as I imagine:

Maori woman #1: “Hmm. When I put the lamb and the potatoes together in there for 20 minutes, the lamb is cooked but the potatoes are still hard.”
Maori woman #2: “Next time, let’s put the potatoes in first.”

Like you were there, right? And people told me my history degree would be worthless.

We then had a real cultural experience at a hangi at a nearby tourist sight. They picked us up from our hotel, and it was a blast from the first moment our guide got on the bus. Informative, fun, serious when it had to be, but humorous and memorable most of the time. They introduced us to the Maori welcoming ceremony, some village customs, games, dances, and songs. Plus, we saw a real haka. We also witnessed as a bunch of completely inept white guys tried to do the haka, which was probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Videos to come later. Food from the hangi (feast) was great, people who were there with us were great, and we got to sing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” while careening around a roundabout on the way home. Tamaki Maori Village – A+!

We then attended a very familiar scene: a fair, though this time for New Years’ Eve. Family friendly fun like bumper cars, a horrible vomitous spinning machine, and fried food galore. Just like being at home. I had a jumbo fried mussel – a giant latka of sorts with mussels inside, which sounded good at the time, but in retrospect, was the worst possible thing for me to eat. I have only now recovered from the havoc that thing wreaked. But it wouldn’t be a fair if you didn’t eat horrible things that you later regretted. We watched Monsters, Inc. with our fellow Tamaki alum Wesley, a 17-year-old Texan traveling with her parents for 4 months around Australia and New Zealand. (The family was very cool. Wesley’s mom Donna has a blog that I haven’t visited yet myself, but I recommend you take a look at anyway: http://www.intothewildblue.com) We watched Monsters, Inc. until we could no longer bear the cold and then went back to our room and waited for the fireworks to stop before falling asleep. Typical New Years’, really.

That’s mostly it for Rotorua. Next fun post will be about Hobbiton and why I nearly bought a hobbithole for myself. Til then, enjoy the pictures on Flickr!

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