Spring Break: Rotorua and Taupo (day 3 and 4)

April 21st

After a lovely but light breakfast (as we were all still stuffed from out delicious hangi the night before) we headed to Te Puia where the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute is located for a tour of the cultural grounds and a glimpse at the way that the modern Maori are preserving their heritage. Our guide was sweet and showed a real love for her job and thus for us. I’ve been really struck by the kindness and patients all of our guides have been throughout these trips to share that which they are most passionate about with us. I love watching and listening to people talk about their passions like that. You can see the change in their face, in their eyes, even in their voice. It happens to my mom when she talks about her love her country and its history, my dad when he is talking about his family and memories from the past (especially ones involving sports). Next time you are talking with a friend, bring up something you know they love and watch how they change. It is really quite something else. But I’ve gotten very off-track! So, our guide lovingly brought us around the Institute where we got to see how the traditional Maori carvings is done and taught. This is a skill only taught to the promising young men of the school while the women learn the art of weaving.

Te Puia is not only home to these beautiful pieces of art but also a natural wonder; the Pohutu Geyser. It sprays up to 30 meters high! Across from the geysers is a large platform of rock that sits on top of the heated springs that is the geyser’s water source. It acts as a heated seat! We lounged on the rocks and took in the view for a while. The steam from the geyser made it difficult to tell where the geysers stopped and the big white clouds in the sky began. It was a beautiful day.

Our next stop was the Agrodome for a Sheep Show. Now I had no idea what to expect from this visit but sheep and cattle are a huge part of the economy in New Zealand so it seemed fitting that we get a taste for what so many Kiwis make their living doing. We got to see 19 breeds sheep displayed on a stage, each breed represented by a champion ram. The show included a sheering demonstration which I have to admit I didn’t really care for. I have been to farms and seen sheep sheered before but never like this. You could really tell that this is an industry to the shearers. The sheep was pulled onto its hind quarters so its legs were sticking out in front of it which immobilized him. The sheerer proceeded to, very aggressively, sheer the sheep by flopping it around and kneeling on it. Now, I’m sure that the sheep wasn’t harmed in the process because that would be pointless to making a profit but the whole event seemed rather inhumane to me. After the demonstration there was a call for audience participation and a few of the Loyola kids got selected to feed some ewes and milk a cow on stage. This was pretty funny to watch and very entertaining. After the show ended we went outside to watch a demonstration of a sheep dog herding 3 sheep around obstacles and into a pen. Of course I was quoting the movie Babe the whole time. The dog was adorable and perfectly trained—you could tell that he had a pretty goofy personality too. I saw him riding in the front seat of a tractor later on, just like his human counterpart. We had lunch in the barn and it was incredible—the perfect meal to prepare us for the rest of a long day.

After lunch we headed to participate in a truly Kiwi attraction that I have to admit, is really bizarre; Zorbing.  For those of you who don’t know, Zorbing is basically the equivalent to a human hamster-ball. You start at the top of a hill, climb into a giant plastic and air-cushioned ball and race down the track.  There were 3 people in my ball total and we opted to add water to out ball, just a bucket or two, so that instead of being glued to the plastic sides by centrifugal force (thus being constantly turned upside-down) you splash around in the bottom and try not to land on each other. All of the bouncing is absorbed by the outer ball so the ride is pretty smooth, but the weight of the passengers makes you really fly. Brianne, Dave and myself piled into our Zorb, which was not an easy thing to get into, and by the count of three we were off! Now, I consider myself a pretty adventurous person and I thoroughly enjoy a thrill but I have to admit I didn’t love the whole Zorb-experience, at least not as much as my friends. It’s pretty funny actually, for all of the crazy stunts I’ve done this was probably one of the more tame and it scared me the most! I think I suffer from claustrophobia a little bit. As it turned out, I couldn’t see out of the zorb because the double walls of plastic were so thick. It was also pretty warm with three bodies jumbling around in the small space. To me it felt like an eternity to get to the bottom and I was the first one to clamor out when we finally rolled to a stop. Isn’t it funny; I can jump off a bridge into a wide open space for over a hundred meters but I can’t roll down a hill! There is a Loyola tradition with the Zorbing that the last group to go down gets to roll over everyone who has already reached the bottom. The guys who were running the show got us all lying down on our stomachs in a row to be rolled over. Now I have to admit I began to question even my own sanity when I realized I was about to let myself be trampled by a giant ball containing three of my friends. Welcome to New Zealand. They let the ball fly and it rolled over us in a flash. It was one of the weirdest sensations I’ve ever felt. Once we were all at the bottom we couldn’t stop laughing. We dried off and piled back into the bus for the last adventure of our day.

We ended the day with a guided tour around Rainbow Springs, a natural freshwater spring that feeds into streams and pools that are filled with thousands of Rainbow, Brook, and Brown trout. The springs are surrounded by one of the largest collections of native ferns and trees in the North and we got to see the national emblem of New Zealand, the Silver fern, up close and personal. The front of the fern is a rich green while the back is silvery to the point of almost being white; it was beautiful! We also got to see a lot of the native birds that were on display. One of the birds they had was an Alpine Parrot, the only species of parrot that thrives in the mountains. We actually had seen one in the wild while we were at the glaciers in the South Island. It was tearing apart a car’s windshield wipers for its nest (not an uncommon phenomenon in the South).  We walked next door to explore a Kiwi habitat! This was the first live Kiwi bird I had ever seen. They are so cute, but so odd looking when you first encounter them! They have two hind-legs they use to dart around but the shape of their body makes it look like they should have little wings on their shoulders, or perhaps even 2 front legs to support them. Instead they look like they are continually hunched over. They are nocturnal birds so the enclosure was very dark and quiet—and spooky. This facility is part of Operation Nest Egg, an initiative to conserve the Kiwi bird that was started in 1995 and has been the most successful operation to date. It is run by the Department of Conservation. It was really amazing to be able to watch these remarkable birds interact with each other. They are a New Zealand national treasure. We went back to the hotel for dinner and the rest of the evening was our own to relax.
April 22nd

We only had one event planned for our last day in Rotorua so we had the rare opportunity to sleep in a bit. After the crazy and adventure-packed couple of weeks I had had the rest was really appreciated. After breakfast we went to the Skyline Gondola for a beautiful cable-car ride up the side of Mount Ngongotaha for a panoramic view of Rotorua City, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding area. At the top of the Mountain there was a great little attraction area with a bungee swing that many of the Loyola kids tried before our departure as well as a great restaurant we ate lunch at and a luge ride! The luge was really fun, you sit on a little scooter and ride a tract down around swerves and bends going as fast as you can. At the bottom of the ride there was a ski-lift that brought me back up to where I started that sported even more great views of the city bellow. It was a fun afternoon with a laid-back pace. We got to explore and goof around in the sun before making our way back to Auckland—back to the reality I had completely forgotten about since our departure for Christchurch.

You know you had a great vacation when you come home and all you want to do is take another one. Those two weeks in April contained some of the best days of my life that I won’t soon forget.
Fun Fact: Kiwi birds mate for life, some have been together for 30 years. It is the only known bird to have external nostrils at the end of its beak, and one of the few birds to have a good sense of smell. At night a Kiwi can often be heard making snuffling noises, which is caused by the bird trying to clear dirt out of its nostrils when it is searching for food.

Pictures: www.photobucket.com/erb_at_hangi
                 www.photobucket.com/er_at_agrodome

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