Saturday, August 13, 2016


We were leaving Sydney, Australia for Auckland, New Zealand for the second half of our tour. We had reached the airport at 7.30 am, three hours before our flight. It was a grey, rainy day. Weren't we glad the previous day packed with memorable activities had been bright and sunny! At the airport we completed the formalities of Immigration and Security Check and were comfortably seated in our flight.
As our flight took off from Sydney at 10.30 am, we bid a nostalgic goodbye to Australia for providing us with an exotic and memorable week. We landed in Auckland after a 3 hour flight at 3.30 pm - you see New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia and six hours ahead of India.

Auckland airport wasn't exactly buzzing or busy. Customs n' Immigration was quick and cool. No sniffer dogs as in Brisbane!

Our 3 1/2 hour drive to Rotorua began at 4.30 pm. We got a taste of New Zealand's famed natural beauty - simple, sweet, serene and soothing scenes of the countryside - green and blue for the most part. There was no snow in and around but it was cold. After a little while, we had a halt at Family Mart and our tour manager came back with snack boxes for each of us - sandwiches, giant slice of cake, apple. Another restroom halt after another hour. We reached Rang Mahal restaurant, Rotorua for tasty Indian buffet after 8 pm.

We then checked in at Sudima Hotel. We had been warned about the rotten smell we were likely to experience because of the hot bubbling pools around. We didn't - because we hit the bed immediately.

Next morning, both of us explored the neighborhood for half an hour - there were bubbling mud pools all around. 

We could see steam rising up at some distance. And sure enough there was the smell of Hydrogen Sulphide!

I had taught a piece on Maori Villages two decades ago to my students and was pretty excited about visiting Whakarewarewa in Rotorua. 

It was about the village of Ohinemutu which is a living village, with houses built along hot pools - without a kitchen or bathroom. Separate hot pools are used by the Maoris for cooking, washing and bathing. I googled Ohinemutu and found that it is just a 10 minutes walk from downtown Rotorua. This place is home to the Ngati Whakaue tribe, who gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built. Ngati Whakaue is a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) which journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand around 1350 AD. Visitors are welcome to walk around the living village keeping to the paths at all times. I wasn't sure whether we'd have time for that.

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast and drove first to Agrodome. 

We enjoyed the Sheep Show - it was fun to see the large variety of sheep as they came on stage and took their designated place - it was no less than an impressive 'sheepwalk'.

Then there was the dog show - I mean the watch dog of shepherds.

This was followed by a demo of sheep shearing which was a unique show. The sheep really looked pathetic after shearing.

We then came outdoors to witness the sheep dog guarding the grazing sheep and lambs.

The lambs were so fluffy, fleecy and cuddly. 

The visit to the gift shop gave us glimpses of the fabulous wool varieties and woolen sweaters / gloves - expensive but unimaginably soft!

Next was the highlight of the day - the Maori Show. Maoris the original inhabitants of New Zealand have now become modernized and also speak good English. 
As we were walking towards the concert place, we got glimpses of Maori art in the form of wooden carvings ....

The Maoris were presenting a cultural show 'Haere Mai Concert' projecting their tradition and culture.
One of the visitors had to volunteer to be the visitors' Chief ( my husband did). He was given instructions by the Maori hostess about the 'Greeting Tradition' of Maoris - hand shake, rubbing of each other's noses twice, shaking of hands once again.
At show time, a couple of Maori warriors came out of the hall, and performed a few steps at the entrance. Then the hostess led our Chief to the hall. They were followed by a couple of bodyguards. The rest of the visitors had to walk three steps behind them. All of us took our seats. I was seated in the privileged position as the wife of the  'Chief'. 

He was then led to the stage to greet the Maori warriors on stage. 

This was followed by spirited warrior dances along with Maori songs. 

Then enactment of a romantic Maori love story ....

followed by women joining the sprightly dances. What impressed us was the flawless English these Maoris have picked up.

We also visited the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute which gave us glimpses of the wood carving .... 

as well as weaving patterns.

We were then joined by our guide for a round of Whakarewarewa  ('Wh' is pronounced as 'f') and is the short form of the complete word which is in the photo above! Take your time learning to pronounce it in one breath.

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and its array of geothermal features - volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles and colorful sinter terraces are impressive. We enjoyed a walk along the geyser terrace.

Te Puia is the geothermal station .....

 with hot mud pools with medicinal value and ....

geysers including the Pohutu geyser which is the star attraction - erupting up to 20 times a day to heights of 30 m. 

It is also the biggest in the Southern hemisphere; unfortunately I couldn't get the video from the start!

After the great taste of Maoris and Maori culture, we proceeded for lunch at 'Lovely India'. 

We started back for Auckland at 3 pm. 

We had our coffee break an hour later at Robert Harris - the sweets and snacks looked inviting and yummy. We enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows.  

As we came out what did we notice in the neighborhood? 
Hobbit House! Harry Potter fans gave a closer scrutiny of the place. As Hobbiton Movie set was not in our itinerary, we couldn't explore it.

We reached Auckland after 6.15 pm and headed straight to Sky Tower.

The Sky Tower is an observation and telecommunications tower in Auckland, 328 meters tall, as measured from ground level to the top of the mast, the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere. It is an iconic landmark in Auckland's skyline due to its height and unique design - it has three observation decks at different heights, each providing 360-degree views of the city. The main observation level at 186 m with thick glass sections of flooring gives a view straight to the ground. The top observation deck labeled 'Skydeck' sits just below the main antenna at 220 m and provides fabulous views. 
We entered the first lift which took us within seconds to the 51st floor which is the first level of viewing. We enjoyed a great bird's eye view of Auckland.

Then we took the elevator to the 60th floor - the second level. The 360 degree view from the top was simply fantastic!
For dinner we went to 'Saffron' owned by South Indians where we enjoyed South Indian favorites idli, dosa, uthappa, chutney, sambar, rasam, curd rice etc.

We checked in at Scenic Hotels - we were happy to get one of the best rooms - on the 7th floor.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel after breakfast and took the 1 1/2 hour flight from Auckland to Queenstown

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