Thursday, November 5, 2009

Before I begin Tuesday's story, I want to say a big "thank you" to all the people who have helped me or housed me, usually both. They would be: Linda Upfold in Sydney, Barb and Gus King in Perth, Greg Hanlon in Melbourne, Olive and Frank Bull in Launceston, Liz and Rory O'Leary, and Alison O'May in Hobart, Jill and John Robertson, and Tony and Angela Hillier in Canberra, Margo and Jim Irwin in Coomera, Gold Coast, and Peggy Robinson, and David and Maggie Salter in Wellington, and, in advance, Jill and Bruce Carlsson in Auckland. You have all been fabulous hosts and I shall be writing to each of you when personally when I return home. I certainly couldn't have managed all this without your help and support and I thank you all.

On Tuesday Morning, then, David (caterer immaculata) and Maggie Salter came round to Peggy's house to pick me up for the drive to Auckland, which we were going to do over three days. Our first leg would take us the appproximately 350kms to Lake Taupo and the town of the same name.

The landscape which we drove through was ever varying from the rugged hills in the south, through the central plains and back into more rolling countryside and finally into the desert of the beginning of the volcanic area and finally into Taupo itself. I had never been this close to active volcanoes before, and their grandeur was mesmerizing. They were snow-capped, the tallest one being over 9000 ft. There was no sign of their being active; no smoke or anything, but the way that they protrude from the landscape makes one realize how really insignificant we are!

On arriving in Taupo, we found our motel, and it was here that I discovered that this whole trip from south to northwas being paid for by the Wellington group and the Auckland group combined. I have no idea how I'm ever going to thank you all for your generosity. Suffice it to say that I was almost reduced to tears again. I shall treasure these memories all the more for this, and I do thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Once we were checked in we took off for one of the most incredible sights in the area: the Huka Falls. This is the start of another hydroelectric scheme which supplies some 15% of all New Zealand's electricity. The falls themselves are caused by the river being forced into a narrow channel, and while not high, they carry some 15 cubic meters of water per second. The sheer rugged power is a wonder to behold.

We returned to Taupo for dinner and then turned in fairly early with me looking forward to a new day, when we would get to see some more examples of the geothermal nature of this area. Everyone had warned me that the Rotorua area, our next destination, smelled very strongly of hydrogen sulphide from all the geothermal outlets - geysers, mudpools, vents and so on, and thus I was a little disappointed that it wasn't nearly so bad as I expected. I was expecting the whole area to be a natural "stinkbomb" and in fact, it does smell, but not nearly as badly as I had been led to anticipate.

The next morning, I awoke early, as I usually do and took a walk around the town for a couple of miles or so. It was very quiet and the skies were threatening. The volcanoes, which had been quite visible the previous evening were shrouded in cloud, and I wondered if we'd be able to see anything later on. I needn't have worried.

Our first port of call on the drive to Rotorua was the "Craters of the Moon" area. This is a large open area of vents, craters and mudpools, with a walkway which runs all around it. The walk takes about three quarters of an hour, and to be honest, we were all a little disappointed. I suppose we'd all expected something a little more spectacular.

However, we were not disappointed by our next place to visit. The place, which I'll call Orakei Korako until I can find something with the proper name on it, is a geothermal area which boasts of itself as the best naturally occurring site in the world, and I, for one, wouldn't gainsay it.

We were taken by boat across a lake and deposited at the bottom of a huge rock ledge where hot water runs down, and all sorts of colors are deposited on the rock from the dissolved salts. The walk around the area took about an hour and a half and was all up hill and down dale. I have absolutely no idea how many steps we climbed and descended, but they seemed innumerable.

It seemed as though every time we turned a corner there was something new to be seen. There were hot springs (and I mean HOT), geysers, mudpools, a cave with a warm lake in it, a rock shaped like an elephant's head. It was a true wonderland with colors which beggar description. I think we were all amazed and it more than made up for the disappontment we felt at the Craters of the Moon.

We drove on to Rotorua for lunch and tried to get a look at a working geyser (the geyser at OK is unpredictable), but were told we would have to buy a ticket even if we didn't want to see anything else. I was, by this time, pretty tired, and my knees were aching, and so we decided to go back to the motel and rest up for the evening's festivities.

David and Maggie had arranged for us to go to a Maori Cultural Evening at the Tamaki Maori Village on the outskirts of town. We were picked up at out motel and driven out to the village. On the way, the driver regaled us with all sorts of stuff and told us that each busload of people had to be represented by a chief. Somehow, because I had played rugby when I was at school, I was selected.

The three chefs, one from each bus, by sheer coincidence, all turned out to be British. One from west Wales, one from Luton, and me. We had to face the Haka, where warriors with fierce gestures and threatening moves, tried to intimidate us. We had been warned that we must keep eye contact and not smile. Once we were accepted as guests, then the people we represented would be welcome in the village.

We were entertained by people doing traditional village things such as carving and playing games, and then we were led into the dining hall for a meal cooked in the way of the Maori, underground. The evening's entertainment went on a little longer than expected, but was really quite exceptional.

On the way back, I was informed that I, as chief, had to sing a song. I had been warned that this might be the case, so I launched into "Five Nights Drunk" (what else?), which raised some laughter.

I have to admit that I had a certain trepidation about the evening, thinking that it might turn out to be really kitschy, but it was, in fact, thoroughly enjoyable. I'm not sure when I'll be able to upload this narrative, but it will probably be in Auckland. We shall be leaving for there in an hour or so, but before that, we shall take a further look at Rotorua.

Watch this space!

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