Rotorua, day 2

Up early, had breakfast and went on our way to the start of today’s adventures. We headed back toward Rotorua and beyond to what’s known as Hell’s Gate. We came for the mud and sulfur baths that the area is known for. Well. We arrived a tad early for our scheduled time and sat in the car going over things for the rest of the journey. Dian decided she needed a refreshing breath of air and opened the car door. Wooooeeee! The sulfur stink was overwhelming. Heck, I could have farted with impunity! I hollered for her to quickly shut the door. She looked at me and said “how much did we pay for this?” I very quietly responded “$180”. Since I had been the one to see a YouTube video about the place before we came here and suggested it I had my fingers crossed that it would be good. We went inside and checked in to find out the scoop. Were told it was best to do the walk around the sulfur pools first. Sounded good to us. We wandered around on a very easy path for about an hour and a half seeing lots of pools of every size and shape, steaming up to over 100 degrees Celsius, with a number of mud pools as well. We walked through a bit of a forested area, which was delightfully cool in the day’s heat, plus it had a good view of a small waterfall.

We eventually made it back to the start where we picked up towels and a plastic bin for our clothes and paraphernalia. We changed into our swimsuits and headed for the mud bath. You are only allowed to stay in for 20 minutes for fear that you may pass out. No problem for us! We marched straight in and immediately felt the soft mud on our feet. We scooped up more mud and spread it all over ourselves. It felt amazingly good! Soft as silk. We stayed the full 20 minutes before the attendant said it was time to get out. We rinsed off and headed over to one of the sulfur pools. Equally warm and delightful. They had sun shades over part so we didn’t have to worry about burning. I was thrilled while soaking that I heard a family come into the pool speaking Danish! I spoke to them and they were equally surprised to find an American speaking Danish. We had a wonderful conversation before we felt like we been in long enough. Amazingly enough the worst of the smell was that first whiff. Either it wasn’t as bad or we became inured to it. We climbed out, got showered and dressed and headed back to Rotorua.

We drove around a bit to see part of Lake Rotorua then stopped for coffee and a snack before heading over for our evening Maori dinner and show.

The evening event was absolutely delightful. We went to the place we were told to meet for it thinking that’s the spot for the night, but no, we were told to board a bus waiting outside. Dian and I looked at each other, shrugged, and got on board. We had the nicest, most entertaining bus driver yet. Six of us were on the bus, or “waka” and I thought it was overkill with the full sized bus. Then he pulled into a hotel lot and a passle of folks clamored aboard. He took us about 15km outside of Rotorua, but along the way had us learn some Maori phrases and customs, including having one of the men volunteer to be the chief of our Takahe tribe. A guy named Gary from the big tour group reluctantly agreed. Hmmm… Not much enthusiasm out of those folks.

We reached the event site and piled out dutifully forming up behind our tribe’s chief. The traditional Maori greeting to see if we were friend or foe followed. None of the 6 chiefs showed much pizzazz… Seems to be the way of the tour bus people…sort of flat. Well, we enjoy ourselves no matter what! We were in for whatever was to come. After the greeting we were led to various areas in the “village” with different Maori explaining or demonstrating various aspects of their culture. Fascinating. For Dian and me the most fun was when the women asked for volunteers to work the poi balls in dance – we both jumped right in. It was great fun, with the only drawback being with both of us doing it we didn’t get pictures. You’ll just have to take my word that we were fantastic.

Next was the unveiling of the food for the evening which they brought out of large pits in the ground that had large stones heated then the food layered in on metal grated trays then covered in what looked like burlap. When asked about the difference between how the food was cooked here or at a Hawaiian luau we were told that Hawaiians use banana leaves and the Maori use foil. Ha!

We were then led into an area with tiered seating to watch and listen to some dances and songs and the famous haka, or war dance. Dian and I had begun chatting with the gentleman who seemed to be in the lead, James, and he couldn’t have been sweeter. A granddad multiple times and yet he’s back in school getting his master’s so he can better help his people. He noticed Dian have some difficulty getting around and the rest of the evening he made sure we had easy seats to get to.

Dinner followed. They set up huge buffet lines which they had the folks at various tables go up to in an orderly fashion. The food was plentiful and delicious. They even had a special vegetarian entree for me, plus there was a good deal on the buffet I could eat. They were so efficient in how the entire evening went we asked about how many people / shows they do a day – we were flabbergasted to learn they do three a day, averaging a total of about 500 people. No wonder they have it down pat.

Finally after a bit of a closing ceremony we all filed out to our respective buses. We saw James and went to thank him for his help and he said we had to do the Maori greeting of the foreheads and noses touching twice to say goodbye. The ride back to town was the most entertaining ride I’ve had in ages. Our same driver from before started singing, having us sing along, which many did. He somewhat taught us a Maori song as well. But the most fun was as we entered a round about he began to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” and proceeded to keep going round and round! Hysterical! But his best remark was made as we passed a McDonald’s when he said ” and the American embassy is there off to the left “! Ha!

Back to the house where we quietly entered so as not to wake our hosts after our fun day.

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