February 3 found us in the port of Tauranga, a town of about 15,000 down the coast from Auckland. But we didn’t spend any time there as we were scheduled on an excursion to Rotorua, a famous geothermal area. Ngaio Marsh’s interesting novel “Colour Scheme” is set in this area, at a thermal spa near a Maori village.
Along the drive we passed a number of Kiwi fruit plantations. Our guide explained to us that until 1969 (I think) there was no such thing as Kiwi fruit. These fruits were originally called Chinese Gooseberry, and the first seeds were brought to New Zealand by a visitor to China early in the 20th Century. After World War II it was well enough established to begin exportation, but confusion reigned because Chinese Gooseberry sounded like it came from China. So the growers got together & decided to address this by changing the name to Kiwi, presumably after the New Zealand bird of that name. The rest, as they say, is history!
Our first stop was at Whakarewarewa village, a Maori village dating to pre-European times that is still home to some 80 Maori. Our guide grew up in this village. It is special because it is the only place where villagers still live among the geothermal features, including boiling mudpots, geysers & steam vents. As we walked across the bridge into the village we could see the steam vents among the houses. Unfortunately it was a gray & drizzly morning, but that didn’t interfere too much with appreciating this interesting place.
We stopped in front of the Maori meeting house. We had seen these before in Waitangi & Auckland, but this was the first time in a working village. The carvings on the front represent an ancestor, with the carving of a man on top & the two long rooflines representing arms. In front were two old wood carvings of men, which our guide pointed out showed the English influence: they were wearing bowler hats.
We visited a steaming pool called Parekohuru. The Maori in this village cook their food using the hot steam from the earth. They build boxes vented from the bottom & leave food wrapped in foil to cook, then retrieve it later. Very efficient.
The steaming water is also used for bathing. Several large bath tubs have been carved out of rock, then grooves from the hot water pool carry bathwater to the tubs. These are used by the entire community.
The village has two churches: one Catholic and one Anglican. We were told that when the missionaries came the head man was being pressed by both groups to convert his village to their faith. He resolved the issue by calling the entire village together in front of the meeting house, then dividing them into two groups. This group will be Catholic, he announced, and this other group will be Anglican. Thus Christianity was spread to people who weren’t consulted about their actual beliefs. We visited the Catholic church, probably the smallest we have ever seen. It has a graveyard in which all the graves are above ground because they would be destroyed by the steam vents if they were dug into the ground.
We had some free time to visit steaming pools, then headed for the song & dance performance.
The song & dance at the village was similar to what we had seen before, this year & in 2016, but it was easily the best Maori performance we have seen. Several different styles of dance, fast & slow, some with Poi balls swinging & a Haka with eyes bulging & tongues out. They were really very good.
With all the hot springs in the area it’s not surprising that Rotorua became a spa area. After leaving the village we drove over to see the old bathhouse on the shore of Lake Rotorua. Originally opened in 1906, it is no longer in operation as a bathhouse but was restored as a museum. Currently it is closed because of recent earthquake damage. Then we rode in a suspended gondola up the side of the nearby mountain for lunch at a place for mountain sports.
The lunch wasn’t much, but afterward we had some great Hokey Pokey ice cream. From the mountainside you could see a good way, even back to some steam vents in the area of the village. One of their more popular activities was a “luge” run, on wheels rather than on ice, all the way down the mountain. Looked like fun but we didn’t have time to try it. There was also a jelly bean store with mosaic copies of well known paintings & pictures made entirely of jelly beans!
Continuing from the flowers in the picture above, this is a good place to put some of the other flowers we saw in this area.
From there we went for a visit at a sheep farm called the Agrodome. The show began with the introduction, one by one, of championship sheep of more than a dozen varieties. Some of them were pretty exotic looking, with enormous coats of wool. Each was lured to its proper place with a bowl of food on a pole. After eating, several fell asleep on the stage (showing they had done this a lot). These are real sheep that walked on stage, not museum displays.
We were given a demonstration of sheep shearing. We were told that this was the first time this sheep had been sheared. It was amazingly docile and relaxed, not in the least afraid of the electric clippers. The whole coat was off within about two minutes, without a cut or a scrape, & the sheep didn’t seem to mind.
Next the amazingly well trained sheep dogs came on stage. Some ducks were released & a dog rounded them up, never touching them (the ducks looked surprised). After some more maneuvers the dogs leaped up onto the backs of the sheep that had been standing (or sleeping) patiently on the stage & ended up standing on the highest ones in the center looking around. It reminded us of our granddog Lucy, an Australian Cattle Dog who, lacking cattle, loves to jump up on our laps and place her paws on our shoulders then look around as if this were her domain.
Afterwards we went outside to watch a demonstration of one of the dogs herding a group of sheep (who looked like they would rather be somewhere else). The dog’s demeanor was all business as he followed directions communicated by a whistle. After the sheep were inside the small stall the dog walked directly across to a dog size hole in the fence then over to its designated spot, where it lay down to accept adulation from the people filing past toward the bus. It really knew its business.
The sheep farm show was a lot more interesting and fun than we had anticipated. As we left to return to the ship, we saw a sculpture of Prince, the prize Merino sheep we had seen in the show.
Back at the port, waiting for the sail away, we spotted a stand of Norfolk Pines on the other side of the peninsula & several sea birds. As dusk approached the bay looked serene.
As we sailed away from the dock we passed Mount Maunganui, with the town of the same name and Magnificent Ocean Beach in front of it on the narrow peninsula. There was a sculpture of a Maori warrior in the harbor & we saw a beach and some rough surf on the edge of the mountain
So we sailed away, as the wind drove the surf onto the rocks, looking forward to another fulfilling day in New Zealand.