The journey south from Paihia to Rotorua was a long day of driving, being about 3 hours back to Auckland, where we stopped for lunch, and a further 3 hours from there to Rotorua. The journey was broken up though by stops at picturesque Wharengi Falls and also the village of Mata Mata, which is near to the film location for the hobbit village in Lord of the Rings. Our accommodation for the night was on an actual Maori Marae in the village of Okere Falls. Each tribe had its own Marae, which is basically a meeting hall and a ceremonial building which is used for functions such as weddings and funerals. We were greeted by a very nice Maori couple, who were very westernised but like all Maori very knowledgeable about Maori traditions and heritage. Once again we went through a ritual entrance proceduce, however this time it didn't involve screaming men. We walked through the entrance arch and then paused for a moment to pay respects to the ancestry. We then removed our shoes and went in to the main building, where a fat Maori man talked and sung to us in his native language. We then had to cringeworthily sing a group song back to him, and finally he greeted each one of us in the traditional Maori way of touching noses and foreheads.
Before it got dark we took a short stroll out to view the Okere Falls themselves, which are only small at 21ft high, but are the highest commercially rafted waterfalls in the world. We then stopped for a beer in a German bar before returning for a nice home cooked roast prepared by our host family. While we were out they had also laid out mattresses and sleeping bags in the main building for us to sleep in. Before bed we were given more interesting talks about the Maori culture. It seems to me that the Maori are very well respected in New Zealand from both politicians and the non-Maori population. This appears to be in sharp contrast to how Aboriginals are viewed by Australians - those I've met on my travels have done nothing but berate Aboriginals in a pretty racist way. Their complaints largely focus on how they see Aboriginies to be lazy people who do not integrate in the community, preferring simply to mope about complaining about how hard done by they are. This certainly cannot be said for the Maori, who are a central part of wider New Zealand heritage.
The next morning we departed the Marae for our motel on the other side of Rotorua. Rotorua is a city of some 70,000 people situated on the shores of a large lake, and also in the middle of a very active geo-thermal area. The whole city stinks of sulphur (rotten eggs smell) and there are steam shafts and vents all over the place, even in people's gardens. After checking in, we took a trip to a different Maori "thermal" village over the road, where houses have been built directly next to active geysers and hot pools. We were given yet more talks on the Maori and viewed another show, but I was mainly interested to see all the geo-thermal stuff. There were violently bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers and beautifully clear steaming lakes. The villagers use the underground heat for their hot water, as do many properties in the city - our motel room for instance has its own hot tub!
In the afternoon I took a bus trip on my own out to colourful Wai-o-Tapu 27km south of Rotorua - nearly everyone else had opted to go for a mud bath at a nearby spa. It was a beautiful area of amazingly coloured lakes, strange sulphur features, large gargling craters, large trees and more mud pools and geysers. The most famous pool had a beautiful red tint to it, but there was also a bright green lake, and plenty of yellow and white formations around. There are many other geo-thermal areas similar to Wai-o-Tapu in this fascinating area, but alas we are departing tomorrow south to the capital city Wellington, stopping on the way at New Zealand's largest lake - Lake Taupo. Again, I could have happily spent longer here, though without a private motor car getting about the place is very expensive and difficult to arrange. Unlike in South America there is an assumption here that you will be travelling in your own car, so for myself on a bus trip its a bit tricky sometimes. I would have liked to have gone up the cable car in Rotorua for instance, but its a good few miles out of town and there are no public transport links to it. Still, my impressions of New Zealand are still whole-heartedly positive. The people are still lovely and the scenery so far has been very pleasant - we are just starting to leave the green hills and will soon be high up in the beautiful mountains on the volcanic plateau. Can't wait. Kia Ora.