Rotorua is one of the most visited places in New Zealand, sometimes called Roto-vegas, and this was to be our next stop. Our hosts actually lived a little way away next to the beautiful Lake Tarewera but we arrived in Rotorua early so had some time to kill there. At Kauria Park we saw some (free) hot springs and bubbling mud holes spewing forth sulphurous steam, and the notorious aroma of rotten eggs, before getting some internet time (and a few $2 bacon and BBQ cheeseburgers) at McDonalds. After a long, winding drive we got to our destination at Lake Tarewera and were warmly greeted by the lovely Liz and Mike and their two small dogs Sherpa and Chances. Now I don't usually like small yappy dogs but these guys were uber cute, especially Chances who would adopt a singularly hilarious pose, leaning back against the sofa with paws in midair, when chilling out in the flat. Two more helpers were due to arrive late that evening and sure enough we met Peter (Scottish) and Yam (Thai) the next morning. Liz and Mikes' multi-levelled house had a great view over the lake and was no more than a minutes walk from a great swimming spot. We stayed in the downstairs holiday apartment that is sometimes let out to guests but usually used to house helpers.
It took a couple of days for us to feel comfortable there but once we did we enjoyed ourselves. The work was varied, a mixture of odd jobs i.e. weeding and strimming the garden, some housework, maintaining the stairs built into the hill at the back of the house (which involved a bit of woodwork and the over-zealous wielding of an axe and machete on my part), tending the Bokashi worm farm, and some hedge trimming and garden maintenance at the other holiday home down the road. Liz, as with most of the places we've stayed so far, grows a number of her own vegetables and herbs and also eats very healthily (who knew salads and home-made bread could be a. so filling and b. so varied?) so Mellissa was able to nick a few ideas for her beloved Cath Kidston recipe book.
Being the adventure capital of the north island we couldn't leave without sampling some and decided to give one of the many local white water rafting operators a try plumping for an excellent, exciting though all too short trip down the Kaituna River. This stretch of the river apparently features the highest commerically rafted waterfall in the world at 7m high, which was actually not as scary as it sounded or looked. However my favourite part was flipping out of the raft into the river (at the guides' behest no less) and negotiating one of the rapids whilst clinging on to the side of the raft for dear life! Our guide also brought a historical/mystical edge to the trip by reciting Maori prayers to the river at numerous points and telling us a little about the history of the river (whose name translates to 'Eel Food' and which is sacred due to the remains of Maori warriors buried in small alcoves along the bank).
Lake Tarewera is a seriously beautiful lake and we tried to spend as much time enjoying it as possible. On out last night Liz and Mike took us out across Lake Tarewera on their tour boat 'The Fat Pigeon Too' to a hot water beach which is only accessible by boat. It was a beautiful evening with the early evening sun producing some stunning colours. We ate on the crossing, swam in the blissfully calm and clear water, relaxed in the warm natural spa pool that we found there, and gazed up at the stars and the gradually revealed full moon on the way back. We were also able to go out in the gloaming one evening kayaking, swimming and I got to indulge my favourite pastime of jumping into water off rocks (and even this time from a rope swing) from a favourite spot shown to us by Mike. Mellissa's earlier sighting of a large manta ray at Russell was I think the reason for her conviction that there may be deadly eels and/or manta rays in the water, and even crocodiles in the far off bed of reeds! But she still had a great time in the lake and using her oar to soak me and often paddling off with a cheeky 'goodbye see you in the morning' as I was scampering around the rocks.
We spent one day back in Rotorua where we completed a brief Lonely Planet-guided walking tour of the city centre. The highlight was the Governemnt Gardens which included in it's grounds the glamourous Blue baths, a luxurious (looking at least) Polynesian Spa and for me a satisfying tilt at a Baseball batting cage.....located within a golf driving range. We returned to the Blue Baths the next evening not to take the waters but as part of the audience for an all singing, all dancing, partly interactive show called, simply, 1931. This was to celebrate the 80th anniversary of it's opening and was a somewhat unoriginal, slightly amateurish but ambitiously staged story of the events sparked by the arrival of a famous diva at a fictitious jazz club based within the Blue Baths building. Mellissa, being an avid musical fan and admirer of that era loved it...even more so when two songs from Chicago were belted out!
Peter and Yam had just arrived fresh from a four month stint working at a hotel within the Tongariro National Park. Mellissa and I had decided to look for paid work next to refill our coffers and we decided, based largely on Peter's repeated recommendation that we would definitely get jobs there if we applied, that we would concentrate on doing just that. A call to the HR guy resulted in a tentative appointment to meet us at the hotel the following week to discuss jobs. After finishing at Tarewera we headed down to humungous Lake Taupo with the intention of sleeping one night in the carpark of a hostel before continuing down and round to Tongariro. However, we would have had an industrial sized rubbish bin as a neighbour so we continued on to a campsite near Taurangi. Our visit to the hotel the following day resulted in us both being interviewed and guaranteed jobs of some kind, a decision about my interest in a Porter job had to wait for a few more interviews to be completed. So we hung around the Taurangi area sampling a couple of different campsites (including one with a heated thermal pool) while we awaited a call. We spent a fun few hours one day at a climbing wall scrambling around the vertical routes, something I'd wanted to try for a long time. It was while we were doing this that we received the call. I didn't get the porter job (this was given to somone who was planning to stick around much longer than we were) but was told hours could be found for me. We were both highly relieved that we would now be able to earn some money and actually quite pleased that we could stay in one place for a while. We would be able to save money whilst also ticking off a few more items from our 'must-do' list i.e. completing the famous Tongariro Crossing, doing a bungee-jump and a sky-dive. Sweet! Unfortunately our relief was to be short-lived....