Rotorua Area

Kiwis, Māori hospitality, hot springs and geysers

From the Hamilton Gardens we continued on to Rotorua. During our three days here we learned about the national bird, the kiwi and experienced the deep welcoming culture of the Māori people. We also enjoyed the stunning sights and odors of an active geothermal valley.

National Kiwi Hatchery

Our first stop was at the National Kiwi Hatchery, which had moved into their new building that afternoon. Ours was the very first tour group to visit the site and the entire staff was on hand to welcome us. The Hatchery’s resident adult kiwi had been released into its new and freshly stocked nocturnal enclosure shortly before we arrived. He was excitedly running about, snatching up slugs and insects. In celebration of our group being the first to tour the new facility, we each received a small stuffed kiwi toy.

We learned of the declining numbers of kiwi due to losses to non-native predators like stoats, ferrets and weasels. Most kiwi hatchlings in the wild do not survive, and there are only 68,000 kiwi left in all of New Zealand. The Hatchery receives eggs from sanctuaries and reserves throughout the country, incubates, and hatches the chicks. They care for the hatchlings until they reach a weight of one kilogram (2.2 pounds), when they are released into the wild.

Ngati Manawa Community

One feature of O.A.T. tours that we love is the immersion into local cultures and interactions with indigenous residents. On this trip we visited the Ngati Manawa tribal community southeast of Rotorua. They welcomed us to their marae (meeting grounds) with an extensive traditional Māori ceremony. A formal introduction of the tribe by the elders detailed their heritage and location of their lands was followed by a traditional song. After a similar response was given on our behalf we responded with a Māori language song that we had learned on the bus ride. We then participated in a hongi, (nose-touch greeting, optional), receiving line with the elders. Next we entered their wharenui (meeting house) for a presentation of the history of their tribe. Over morning tea and coffee we we were able converse with the elders and residents about life in their community.

Ngati Manawa marae (meeting grounds) and wharenui (meeting house)

We then traveled to a nearby family compound where we enjoyed a traditional hangi meal, with pork and chicken cooked on hot rocks underground for many hours. After lunch we learned and performed the Ka Mate haka (war dance). This ceremonial dance had been a staple of the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team for many years. It was an educational and enriching day.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The next day we toured the remarkable Waimangu Volcanic Valley, about 20 km (12 miles) south of Rotorua. An easy 4 km (2.5 mile) downhill walk took as through a giant tree-fern forest and past many steaming and multi-hued geothermal features. We passed Frying Pan Lake, one of the largest hot springs in the world. Then the sky blue Inferno Crater Lake whose water level rises and falls up to 12 meters (39 feet) every five weeks or so as the underwater geyser erupts and subsides. At Lake Rotomahana we boarded a boat for a tour around the lake with a short stop at a geyser that erupts every five minutes. We learned that the lake had expanded to 20 times its original size after the Mount Tarawera volcanic eruption in 1886. The eruption blanketed nearby villages in ash and killed 120 people.

That evening we were treated to a home-hosted dinner in Rotorua. A local family with a large tract of land on Lake Rotorua prepared and served a wonderful meal to our group of 16 travelers. It gave us another opportunity to learn about life in New Zealand.

Next: Christchurch to Moeraki


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