Thursday morning began with a surprise Valentine’s Day breakfast. I’d spotted Cadbury Mini Rolls in the shop the day before and snuck a pack into our basket to surprise Penelope. She was delighted—and Jeremy and I enjoyed our raspberries and blueberries with thickened cream.
We wanted to see more of the geothermal features this part of New Zealand is known for… but we also didn’t want to spend more than a hundred dollars to see a geyser at one of the Maori village sites, since later that night we’d be attending a Maori performance and dinner. So instead we found a free site about thirty minutes away that featured mudpots (our family favorite). At the edge of Waiotapu Forest, there is a fairly large series of mudpots, which belched and bubbled to the delight of our whole party.
We then headed back to town, stopping at the Redwoods Treewalk grove of trees. Although the Treewalk looked super fun, it was an additional fee—so we opted instead for a walk on the ground. The redwoods were gorgeous, just like at home… except for the towering tree ferns (and the ever-present smell of sulphur in the air).
After our stroll, we drove back to the campground and enjoyed a quick dip in the pool before Penelope & I went to our evening of Maori food and culture. The van from Mitai picked us up, and we were off.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about attending the evening’s performance. Although Mitai and the others in Rotorua advertise their events as celebrations of Maori culture and history, there’s a part of me that wonders about the nature of indigenous performances for largely white audiences. But I also appreciate the Maoris’ desire to keep their culture alive and vibrant—and to share that culture with others.
Upon arrival, Penelope was delighted to discover that we’d been seated with the only other children in the dinner tent. The family (from Australia) was in the middle of a short trip around around the North Island before and after attending a wedding, and the three girls made fast friends. Here they are in front of our hangi dinner (pit cooked, using heated rocks).
The evening began with a short talk about Maori history, then we walked through the reconstructed village to see the Rainbow Springs, a beautiful cold spring (temperature, around 9 degrees Celsius). Fascinating to see the cold spring’s proximity to all of the thermal features just minutes away. There we awaited the arrival of the traditional waka, the war canoe rowed by the Maori men.
We then moved to a stage area, where we saw a traditional welcome ceremony, poi dancing, and the haka. A powerful performance—and we parents reaped the benefit of traveling with short persons, as our two families were offered front row seats. 🙂
All in all, a good evening, one which ended with a Q & A session with one of the older Maori guides working the event. His remarks, particularly about the survival and recent revival of the Maori language in New Zealand, were a highlight for me—but Penelope said her favorite part was the poi dancing. Fair enough—that was pretty cool too.
Friday morning we packed up and checked out of our Top10 Holiday Park in Rotorua, but before we left town we decided to visit the Pak’n’Save, one of the few grocery chains we’d not yet shopped. Inside is sort of like Costco, very much a warehouse feeling to the place—but just regular groceries, not bulk stuff. An interesting addition to our grocery experience. We grabbed some picnic stuff for our drive and headed back to the car.
The drive to Waitomo was just lovely: rolling hillsides that periodically opened to sweeping vistas. Parts of the countryside reminded me of Europe—farmland and hillsides, dotted with willows or Italian cypresses… but tall tree ferns interspersed throughout make you realize you’re definitely not in England.
We arrived at our next campground, the Top10 in Waitomo, in time to read and relax a bit before our afternoon tour of the glowworm caves. The cave system is the reason to come to Waitomo, which is otherwise just a widening in the road, not a proper town—but it’s reason enough. This area is riddled with limestone caves, some small, some enormous—and many filled with glowworms. The tour we elected to take included a walk through part of a well-lit and paved small cave, ending in a boat ride around a completely unlit lake. The lack of lights is very much on purpose, allowing those below to take in the spectacle of thousands of tiny glowworms above. There are no photos allowed on the tour, so I’ll recommend David Attenborough’s trip into the caves.
At the end, we exited through the original entrance to the cave, where the Waitomo River enters and runs underground. You can see a glimpse of the boat heading back into the cave here—and a family selfie. 🙂
From the caves, we drove to the next town over to gather dinner supplies for an evening at home. While Jeremy cooked dinner, Penelope ran off to find new friends and I continued reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. One of the great pleasures of this sabbatical is finding time to read—and I’m managing to do so most days, which has been wonderful. My favorite so far has been Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story. The author, Christine Thompson, is an American who earned her PhD in Pacific literature—and married a Maori man she met while traveling in New Zealand. In this memoir, she interweaves her own story with the history of New Zealand, resulting in a terrific narrative structure. I really enjoyed reading it, especially before traveling to the North Island (where most Maori live—only 15% of the Maori population resides on the South Island).
Saturday was an administrative day, for which we were all grateful. We scheduled no sightseeing and instead spent the day at the campground, at the pool, in our cabin, reading and planning. And coaxing Penelope to complete some schoolwork: writing postcards in French to her class and completing some pages in her math workbook. But by mid-day the lure of the countryside made us reconsider, and we set off on two short local hikes: the Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk and the Marokopa Falls Walk. Both short walks, ending in some absolutely lovely scenery.