I've now made my way from Wellington and into the sulperous smelling Volcano town of Rotorua, which is in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island.
The journey from Wellington was long and, for the first hour or so, it was pretty dull as the landscape between Wellington and Palmerston North is a little underwhelming - at least compared to some of the sights I'd seen thus far on my travels in New Zealand. After leaving Palmerston it started getting better as I was able to see hills and valleys which reminded me a little of my years spent in Cardiff and South Wales. I suppose the abundance of sheep on said hills added to this.
Then after a while some huge mountains rolled into view. These were different to the ones I'd seen in the Southern Alps, as they sat on their own rather than in huge ranges as I'd seen on the South Island. Amongst them was a small range of mountains which stood out immediately as the ones that were used as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including Mount Doom). What also made this a little more interesting was that the Maori chap sitting next to me explained that the Maori legend claims the (male) mountains in this range were vying for the attention of a smaller (female) mount nearby and during this time they faced off against each other to become the tallest, whilst in the process sending Mount Taranaki (which could be seen in the far distance) packing, although they also believe he'll be back for his revenge one day (similar in a way to the second coming of Christ, but with a more soap operaish twist). This added a bit of colour to the trip anyway. We also decided between us that the reason the mountains hadn't got closer to the lady mount (heh!) was that she hadn't been impressed with this showoff behaviour. A wise decision I suppose.
As for Rotorua itself, there is also a lot happening. On my first day I took a walk round the thermal areas of Kuirau Park. This is quite a weird place, as at first it looks like a normal grassy park, until you see steam is rising from the ground in some places. In the thermal area, there are many hot pools scattered around which in some cases are bubbling quite angrily. There are also some mud pools which are bubbling just as furiously, and all around there are vents of steam rising from the small holes which vent the volcanic heat. It's very sulpherous smelling round here, especially when the steam from the vents wafts into your face. What provided a nice addition to the park were the two smallish mineral baths you can use for free. Addmittively this is a better bet than diving into the bubbling spas around the park, as I'd assume they would probably boil you alive very quickly. Also they don't look that clean.
All in all though, it's still very impressive, and you can see this all for nothing as it just happens to be in a public park - and right next to a small suburb, although I can't see the appeal of living right next to volcanic activity. This area is also prone to small eruptions too, as happened a few years back when it coated the area in mud, according to some of the books I've read on the subject. You can also see where the activity is moving to, as there are some patches of land where there is no grass, so you have to assume that there is volcanic activity coming soon to that spot.
After seeing it all happening, I decided to literally take the plunge and experience sitting in one of the hot springs. For this I went to one of the Spas dotted around town for an hour or two. This was really relaxing, although it did smell a little at times. These springs were fed from the lake itself, which is pretty hot in places, and as a result some of the pools are like sitting in a very warm bath (of about 40 degrees or more). Still it was worth doing whilst I was here.
I decided also, as the area seems to be full of Maori related activities, to go to a Maori cultural site, which included a geyser, bubbling mud pools, a kiwi house and other such fun geothermal japes. While here I got to experience a Maori cultural performance, which was a bit of fun too. It's interesting as they do this whole 'friend or foe' welcoming cermony where a warrior comes out of the Marae (meeting house), wielding a big stick quite fiercly, and then lays a fern leaf on the ground. A 'chief' of the tourists is appointed and he has to accept the leaf as a friendly gesture. I must admit I was curious to see what would happen if he declined it, and whether it would have resulted in the warrior going on the rampage amongst the hapless tourists. Supposedly this actually happened when the first European settlers encountered the Maori, as instead of accepting the 'fern of friendship' they just shot the unfortunate Maori. Still there was no bloodshed today, although there were a few interesting Maori songs, and a haka for good measure.
For my final day I fulfilled a minor fantasy of mine by taking a ride in a Zorb. A Zorb, just to clarify, is a giant plastic bouncy ball in which the passenger is rolled down a steep hill in. I opted to do this with water - as you can either have it this way and bounce around freely, or be strapped in without water - which I feel was the better choice, not least because it felt what it must be like to travel around in a washing machine. It was really fun though, and it lasted longer than I was expecting too. In fact I enjoyed it so much I decided to do it twice. Still I'm very pleased to say I have now rolled down a hill in a giant ball, thats another thing off the list of things to do before I die. What next then? I must admit I've always wanted to throw something at Jeremy Kyle.
A small side note to my time in Rotorua, was that I got a chance to see the kiwi version of The Apprentice. This was totally different to the version we are used to in the UK. First of all there isn't the grumpy bulldogesque face of Sir Alan Sugar scowling at the contestants. Instead there's the grumpy face of a kiwi businessman I have never heard of. Also he's noticibly better tempered than old 'Surallan' (or is it Baron Sugar now?) as he actually acknowledged the losing team had, "done a superb job given the time frame." In that way it really lacks the twattish edge that our Apprentice has, as if someone had lost a task - ambitious task done on an unfairly contracted time frame or not - 'Surallan' would have comparitively treated the loss as a personal insult, and give them a supreme bollocking. I think I'll stick to the UK version. On the plus side, there's no anthropomorphic wig like on the US Apprentice, so it's got a bit of an edge there.
Still, when all's said and done. I've enjoyed my time in Rotorua, but it's now time for me to head to my final stop in New Zealand, Auckland where my flight to Japan awaits, which is my final stop on my trip sadly.