The gathering together of the war party of VernAndrea
Rotorua, New Zealand
Vern: A thin sheet of ice covered the windscreen of the campervan that morning and I had to use the plastic shovel (which we'd bought for burying our landmines but never needed because of the abundance of public loos in New Zealand) to scrape it off. Dodging the law, we crept out of the campsite at 6:30am and with nothing pressing to do (such is road life) we returned to the parking spaces along side Kuirau Park in central Rotorua and set the kettle boiling. It was a bit of a shame having to burn off precious butane when boiling hot water was bubbling up from the ground all around us but a victim of a big night was sleeping half in the park's hot-pool and a Sulphurchino is probably a bit too exotic for our tastes.
Two figures creeping around the park in the dawn light caught our attention and materialised into a teenager slow panning on his video camera and his long suffering mother carrying out Key Grip (or Best Boy?) duties: ferrying the ladder around, running to the car to fetch props. Last minute school project? Art film of a dancing plastic bag? Or maybe the joke's on us and he's making a killing producing stock footage of the bubbling volcanic mudpools at sunrise for sale to the Jurassic Park 4 film-makers.
The supermarket opened at nine, and soon after that we pulled into a parking space outside. At the same time an elderly couple pulled into the space next to us. Andrea was in the back of the van and slid open the door to climb out, but seeing that the old woman had opened the passenger door and too was about to exit her vehicle, Andrea sat back down to wait and give the woman space.
"Problem?" barked the woman, like she wanted to start something.
"Err, no," Andrea responded, taken aback by the octogenarian on the offence.
"Yeah, good," she sneered, then shut her door and hobbled round to the boot (trunk) of her car to retrieve her walker. We'd realised Rotorua was a tough town, but this is ridiculous! Andrea looked at me with her mouth wide open. We waited until gangster grandma had disappeared across the lot and beyond the automatic doors before we set about our shopping trip.
Queen Elizabeth II is on the paper money here, but the portrait is terribly unflattering and she looks like David Walliams in one of the Little Britain drag characters. I'll put a photo of the bill in the Rotorua album and you can take it up with the Prime Minister. (That's right. I know you read this, Queen. I googled your IP address).
We went for a walk along the well-maintained waterfront. Lake Rotorua was dotted with yachts, jet-boats and even a sea-plane, and a flock of black swans drifted along the edge of the boardwalk. Guard-rails prevented the swans coming ashore and signs prohibited feeding them. One particular swan looked like he was up to no good and glided left to right, left to right, never breaking eye contact. "RocksuppersdownerspotspeedwhatyouneedIgotit," I imagined him squawking. We walked a little quicker to get some ground between us and that lowlife swan. "Even the birds here are badass," said Andrea. And these are strong words from Miss Hughes. If you've read some of the previous posts you'll know she's been taking the birds round here down. Down to Chinatown!
Our stroll took us into Ohinemutu Maori village, where St Faiths Anglican church is an interesting merge of European and Maori styles. Decorated in Maori carvings, its best bit is a window featuring an etching of Jesus wearing a Maori cloak which is cleverly positioned so that he appears to be walking on Lake Rotorua which lies behind the glass.
Next up on our cultural itinerary was a guided tour of the Te Whakarewarewa: Living Thermal Village. This is actually short for Te Whakarewarewa o Te Ope Taua a Wahiao (The gathering together of the war party of Wahiao). Nonetheless, I think a little work is still needed on a short 'n punchy name. Maori locals still reside in this small village amongst steamy bubbling pools. For centuries, the naturally boiling water has been used for cooking (a 'hangi' is a meal cooked in a pot hanging by a rope into the 130 degree Celsius pool), heating and bathing. While they proudly spend almost nothing on electricity, the warm earth's crust is only 30cm at its thinnest here, and thus the area has its hazards. Our guide pointed out an abandoned house, whose owner has had to move because a geyser erupted in the kitchen of her long-time family home. While we were there a young man dropped a bag off mussels into a cooking pool dubbed 'Vigorous Ripples' and pulled them up 10 seconds later ready to eat. It would be great to trade in our single-burner gas stove (which takes between twenty and forty minutes to boil enough water for a cup of coffee).
The Prince of Wales geyser was hissing and spurting in a neighbouring plot of land. Apparently it blasts water up to 50m (150 feet) in an eruption once a month, but not today.
Our tour ended with a cultural show comprising singing and dancing, some great pulling of faces (bulging eyes and tongue stuck out is an act of defiance roughly translating to "I want to eat your brains") and the Haka - the Maori war dance embraced by the All Blacks rugby squad. Andrea was besotted with a cute French kid who was belting back the Haka calls in repetition every time these were roared by the warriors on stage.
Interesting side note: The Rugby team's moniker evolved from when on an early tour to England a commentator described the team as "all backs" (all relatively light-weight and spritely). There emblem is the silver fern and every sport team in the country now has a derivative name. The men's basketball team are the Tall Blacks (an appropriate name for any NBA team actually), the woman's team: the Tall Ferns. The Woman's football team are the Silver Ferns. And for just a while the badminton team proudly went by The Black C***s but it was later changed. I wonder what that old team kit fetches on eBay?
Andrea had quite enjoyed herself mimicking the tongue-extended expression and continued that as we left Rotorua, and all afternoon. We drove west across the North Island and stopped in the late afternoon at a rest stop outside of Otorohanga which was our camping spot for the night.