Monday January 23 2006 Auckland to Rotorua

I had to be at the hotel downtown for the start of the tour at 6:50 so everybody was up horribly early. I was there in time, although it was very close. The tour with Greenworld was on a small van. There was already another couple from England on the bus. We then picked up two kids from Korea who spoke almost no English. Our driver, Gary had only been in Auckland for four months and didn't have the usual tour guide repartee. He was very nice, just neither informative nor talkative.

Our first stop was for coffee in Matamata, a small town where Lord of the Rings was filmed--thus the nickname Hobbiton. Although the land had to be restored after filming, there are a few vestiges left but I only saw pictures of them. I had a potato pie -- a 2-inch diameter pastry with a meat filling, topped with mashed potatoes.

Our next stop was outside Rotorua at a New Zealand Farm show where we saw sheep shearing, cow milking, etc. The sheep dog demonstration was interesting. I was happier across the street at the next venue, Rainbow Springs. This is a rainbow trout preserve, but it had all the flora labeled and several native birds caged and identified, so I got a better idea of the natural history of NZ.

Then off for lunch at Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute for a hangi lunch (boiled dinner -- stuffing, pumpkin, corn on the cob, sweet potato, white potato, cabbage and chicken, traditionally cooked in pots in either clambake like pits or in thermal springs. The tour of the complex was quite rushed. We observed carvers, flax makers who stripped the leaves of their flax plant (which looked like yucca) with an abalone shell and spun it by twisting strands on the side of their legs! Te Puia also had a thermal area like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone complete with their small Old Faithful like geyser. This ended the day part of my tour and the driver left me off at my hotel, an old fashioned one on a main street leading into the city center.

I walked the half mile or so downtown, shopped a bit and used the internet. At 5 pm a bus picked me up at the hotel for an evening Maori Feast and program. This was fantastic! There was a lot of pomp and ceremony that might have seemed hokey, but I enjoyed; a tour of a reconstructed village with traditional activities such as mock fighting, cooking and weaving. Then into the main community building -- the traditional building representing a spine in the main roof beam, and ribs in the side beams where there was a program of Maori music and dance. The harmonies and traditional dances were terrific. Again a hangi dinner -- but this time added mussels, lamb fish and more pavlova for dessert as well as steamed bread -- sweeter than New England brown bread, but similar in texture. Even the bus ride back to the hotel was fun with the driver encouraging folks from the different countries on it to pick and sing a song they would all know!

When I got back to the hotel I tried out the heated swimming pool, the mineral baths and the jacuzzi style pool.