I think one of the best ways to acquire an overview of an unfamiliar city when you only have a limited number of days in that city is to take a city highlights tour. Most cities now have hop-on hop-off explorer bus tours, as well as luxury coach sightseeing tours. For the hop-on hop-off experience you buy a one or two day pass; the buses complete a circular route, passing the city’s attractions every thirty minutes. It seems that every explorer bus is a double decker with it’s top roof cut off, and they all have the same prerecorded, cheerful and informative commentary. I have a small collection of throw away explore bus ear buds; usually handed out by the driver, with the caution that as a courtesy to other passengers please don’t talk over the commentary.
The 3 hour Auckland City luxury coach tour whipped us around the Auckland Domain, home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the tropical Winter Gardens, and across the iconic Harbour Bridge; then past the super yachts, the New Zealand Maritime Museum, and the upscale apartments and eateries of the vibrant Viaduct Harbour. Most tour buses stop at Takaparawhau-Bation Point; at the top of the Point is a memorial to the Aussie born, 23rd Prime Minister of New Zealand. Kiwi’s have a soft spot for Mike; he foundered their Welfare State and was responsible for setting right Maori land issue and equality claims. The park has great views of Auckland city and Waitemata Harbour; a great place for just sitting under a tree with some fish and chips, or playing a game of pick up cricket with the mates. If you add conquering the AT HOP public transport fare card, licking Tip-Top hokey pokey ice cream from a cone at Mission Bay, drinking copious cups of lattes in and around Queens Street, a Fullers Ferries trip to Davenport, and walking the old North Head military tunnel complex and gun emplacements, then there wasn’t much left to do in Auckland. I wasn’t interested in the Harbour Bridge climb or bungee jumping from the top of Sky Tower.
As we crossed the Harbour Bridge our luxury coach tour driver made us aware of a must see attraction before leaving Auckland.
if you look at the concrete barrier in the middle of the bridge here you will notice
that there are only three lanes opened on this side, there are five on the other
side, we’ve got a machine that re configures the lanes for the morning and afternoon peak hour.
It’s a specially designed machine that moves the concrete lane dividers; it’s a zipper. Omaha doesn’t have a zipper. I don’t think any of the bridges over the Missouri River, or any of the freeways ringing the city are designed for a zipper. I longed to see the zipper. I diligently searched Auckland Transport’s website to find the Harbour Bridge zipper machine schedule; we headed for Rotorua without seeing the zipper.
As we motored the south motorway toward Hamilton I tried to remember back to the first time I was in Rotorua; it had to be the early seventies. I visited Christchurch and Queenstown, and spent a day on the Milford Sound fjord. I hitch hiked through the South Island; along narrow winding roads meandering through sprawling, lush pastoral farm lands. It seemed the Southern Alps were the distant horizon and you could reach out and almost touch Mount Cook. I remember taking the ferry from Wellington to the North Island, and downing a few beers with a couple of thirsty Kiwis. My Rotorua of fifty plus years ago was a landscape of geothermal, belching mud pools, hidden by drifting billowing steam, and shrouded in damp and sulphurous air. There were no fences and you were able to wander among the bubbling mud pools and hissing geysers.
Tirau nudged me from my faint memories of the past; about a forty minute dive from Rotorua, it was a great place for a lunch stop. The corrugated iron dog and sheep constructions, add extra charm to the quaint town. The information centre and the public toilet are in the dog, and a wool shop is inside the sheep and ram.
Across the road from the corrugations is the The Twisted Café. I chose a slice of homemade egg and bacon pie, and as we sat eating and admiring the corrugations, mused over a customer’s question when they were choosing from the selection of homemade foods in the display cabinet
what’s in the asparagus courgette? and the answer was unexpected; asparagus
instead they chose an everyday steak pie
Because we went through a bottle of chilled water eating and admiring the corrugations, it seemed prudent for a pit stop before leaving on the forty minute plus drive to Rotorua. We were wracked with indecision; the The Twisted Café toilet, or the public toilet inside the corrugated dog.
Most people know Rotorua for it’s geothermal wonders rather than queues. When you approach Rotorua on Highway 5 you’re cautioned that queues will activate the traffic lights at Ngongotaha Rd; Middle-earth is just a short distance from Tirau and queues must wander from their settlements. We had been driving somewhat close to the rolling grasslands of the Shire and Hobbit Holes so I stopped the car and checked for any queues that could have stowed away. And for the rest of the time in Rotorua I remained vigilant and alert, and on the lookout for any queues straying onto the streets, or hiding in unsuspecting places.
The people of the Whakarewarewa Valley have been guiding visitors through the geothermal attractions, and their village since the mid eighteen hundreds. We spent most part of a day in Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village; a traditional village where people live and use the natural geothermal resources to cook, bathe and heat their homes. As you cross the bridge into the village you’re encouraged to throw coins to the local children treading water in the river below. They dive for the coins, keeping found coins in their mouth, until your tour guide moves the group along; they’re known as the penny divers.
It’s said the tradition of throwing money started before a bridge was built. Visitors were carried across the river by the villagers and in gratitude would give coins, and throw coins to the children who were swimming in the river. The Living Māori Village is an odd place to visit; you’re walking past peoples houses, boiling mud pools, thermal cooking pools, the community bathing area, and the cemetery. It’s where people live. The guided tour includes a Māori cultural performance; the performers share their dances, songs, rhythmic chants, haka war challenge, poi dancing, long stick games, and short stick games. And you can indulge yourself with an optional sweet-corn on the cob, and a Hangi meal that includes the world famous Whakarewarewa steam pudding.
Some say that you don’t know what you don’t know; and what I didn’t know was I had been eating mum’s Hangi since I was a little boy. When our village tour guide whipped the top off the steam box, pointed down into the sulphurous vapour and asked, who’s having the Hangi meal, I was back sitting at our kitchen table as mum reached for her pots on the stove. Mum learned to cook from her mum. Her cooking was built upon Australia’s culinary beginnings; using cheaper cuts of meat, and simple vegetables. If the meat wasn’t roasted or grilled, it was boiled. Most times everything was thrown into a pot and boiled until it was soft. Tripe and pigs trotters were boiled, and smoked cod was simmered in milk; and a milk and flour white sauce with onion and parsley was spooned over it. The ultimate was mum’s Irish Stew; lamb chops, potatoes, carrots, and swede were thrown into a pot and simmered until soft. We ate the stew with slices of white bread and butter. Our Hangi meal at Whakarewarewa was steamed chicken, beef, carrots, sweet potato, stuffing, gravy, sweet-corn on the cob, and the world famous Whakarewarewa steam pudding for dessert. So mum knew about Hangi cooking way back when.
Our guide shared living in Whakarewarewa; even encouraging us to feel the water of the community bathing area. The warm, mineral rich waters have a unique feel and cause your skin to feel soft and refreshed. Villages only bathe when their village is closed to tourists; families appear and bathe together without clothes in one of the sunken baths. And our guide mused as to the cleansing, healing, and restorative properties of the thermal waters, and talked of the tradition and history of the Māori guides.
Maori villagers acted as guides and boatmen to the visitors who trekked from Rotorua, to marvel at the eighth natural wonder of the world; the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana. Visitors stayed at the Rotomahana Hotel in the village of Te Wairoa and were carried by boats across Lake Tarawera to Te Ariki village. After walking to Lake Rotomahana they were paddled in canoes to the foot of the terraces. The terraces, and the dramatic cascading pools were formed when silica rich water from hot springs and geysers cascaded down the hillside and the silica crystallised. The visitors bathed in the warm pools of silky clear, warm, mineral rich, thermal water. The Pink and White Terraces disappeared, presumed to be destroyed, when Mt. Tarawera erupted in 1886. Several Māori villages were also destroyed along with the town of Te Wairoa.
And we learned more of the history of the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana at the Museum of Te Wairoa. Sixty years after the eruption of Tarawera a family, known just as the Smith family, bought the land above the buried village and began excavating; looking for the remains of Te Wairoa. The museum is a private business run by the third generation Smith family. The museum has a rather small parking area so it appears the Smiths have never had many luxury coach sightseeing tours stop at their museum. The 12-acre outdoor grounds are suited to a lot of wandering; and you won’t be interrupted by abundant archaeological distractions. The museum building is home to relics of the Tarawera eruption as well as a 3-D diorama of the Pink and White Terraces. I puzzled over who made the diorama, and what it was made of. I fought the temptation to reach out and touch the diorama. Some may say the entrance fee is somewhat exorbitant, but it’s not everyday you get to stand alongside a 3-D diorama of the Pink and White Terraces.
It would be really cool if they had some dry ice under the diorama to simulate steam rising from the staircases of waterfalls and boiling geysers. And just outside the museum building is a less majestic cement model of the terraces; the quintessential example of folk art.
I really should think about making a working scale model of a corrugated iron sheet making machine; imagine being able to make miniature sheets of corrugated iron. I need to google corrugated iron sheet making machine schematics.