By the time we arrived on the North Island we were exhausted. All that driving, all those beautiful views and all those exciting activities had really taken their toll and we had little enthusiasm for exploring either Wellington or the North Island. We just about managed to drag ourselves around the Te Papa Museum in Wellington which was pretty good with lots of Maori history and some very bizarre rides - Blastback which took us back in time and Timewarp - into the future which had this weird interactive video game where they use a video camera to put your image in the action so we flew and snowboarded which was fun.
Instead of rushing around all the sights on the North Island and not enjoying ourselves we decided we would only visit a few places. We had to go to Rotorua to see the thermal activity there and we decided to spend three nights there followed by one in Hamilton and two in Auckland so we missed out the east and west coasts and the Bay of Islands in the far northwest so we'll just have to come back one day.
Rotorua smells. No really, of sulphur (rotting eggs). Luckily it wasn't too overpowering in the centre of town where we were staying but I don't think I could live there because of the constant smell which can make you feel nauseous and headachy. The smell is even worse at the volcanic sights surrounding the town so we had to rush around some of them holding our noses. Rotorua is in a volcano and although it is unlikely to erupt it is still very active with thermal steaming pools, boiling mud pools and spouting geysers all over the place.
Having been in New Zealand over a week it was probably time to go to find out a bit about the Maori culture so we went to the excellent New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where we had an excellent tour from a lovely guide called Rangi - it was 'Tumeke' which is Maori for fantastic. We also learnt how to greet people 'Kia Ora' which always makes me want to say - 'it's too orangy for crows, it's just for me and my dog'! The centre trains Maori people to carve wood and pendants and make other crafts in the traditional Maori way partly so that those arts don't die out and partly to give the Maori skills to improve their employment prospects. In the jewelry workshop I asked what the white material was that the pendants were carved from and I wasn't sure whether to believe the butch Maori craftsman's response of Auntie Millie adding 'We do still eat people you know'! (It's beef bone... I think). We jumped on the mini train - the Waka Express for a tour around the volcanic sites on the complex and saw some geysers spouting hot water metres high into the air.
Then it was time to go to the meeting house for the midday concert which consisted of various traditional songs and dances which were very polynesian in style with grass skirts and hula type music. It was interesting but difficult to be drawn into it without understanding what they were singing about. The highlight was the huka (war dance) though with scary men rolling their eyes and sticking out their tongues to intimidate their opponents. You can understand why performing the huka before a match psyches the All Black rugby players up for the game.
The Kiwi is an unusual bird because it has some strange characteristics such as nostrils at the end of its beak, no tail and it can't fly which is unusual for a bird. It is an endangered species and being semi-nocturnal it is difficult to spot it. There were a few Kiwi's kept at the centre but they are kept in the dark during the day so that they are active and they sleep during the night which they think is the day. Poor little birds have been tricked by artificial light and darkness. I think I caught a glimpse of a Kiwi but it was so dark that it could have been a moving bush instead.
We arrived at Wai O Tapu in time to watch the 10.15am eruption of the Lady Constance Knox Geyser which shoots water up to 20 metres high. We thought the timing seemed very precise for a natural phenomenon which you would imagine erupts when a build up of pressure gets too much. It turned out that they made the geyser perform for the crowds by pouring a cup of soap powder down it which stimulates it to erupt within minutes. Apparently this technique was discovered when people were doing their washing in the hot water and some soap inadvertently went down the hole and whooosh.....
That afternoon we decided to combat this geology overload and do something less intellectually challenging and frankly downright silly so we rushed over to the Agrodome which houses a variety of fun activities. Richard went for it on the Xtreme Freefall which consisted of putting on a baggy suit and lying on a jet of air which pushes you up so that you feel like you are flying. We had tried it in Malaysia but this one was open air whereas the one in Malaysia was done in a tube so you couldn't fall out. Not sure how much time Richard spent in the air on this ride but it looked like fun while he was.
Reminiscent of something from The Avengers or Prisoner we experienced The Zorb. The wet option was to squeeze yourself into a large plastic ball which has a smaller plastic ball inside and then have a few buckets of water thrown over you before being pushed down a hill so that you tumble around as the Zorb rolls down the hill. It was great fun so perhaps we'll try the dry option one day which just means being strapped into the Zorb rather than sliding around inside it.
We'd been hoping to try driving a 4WD while we were in Australia but we had our Falcon so we hadn't had the chance. Now we took the opportunity to put a 4WD through it's paces off road and found that it could do things we never thought a car could do without rolling it. The 4WD course at 'Off Road NZ' was wicked with lots of mud and water to wade through and steep drops in all directions to negotiate. Luckily we had a good guide talking us through the course over a walkie talkie. Richard and I both had a go at driving while the other person sat in the passenger seat with their hands over their eyes or white knuckled gripping the dashboard for most of the course.
My first task was to drive over a two plank bridge where the planks were about the same width as the tyres. That went ok and then I was faced with a four metre vertical drop where the only way to get down it without the car going head over heals was to go completely against instinct and keep your foot off the brake. Richard then had a go at driving at a 50° angle but perhaps the most unbelievable feat the car managed was rolling down a fifteen metre luge which was a steep (it looked almost vertical) slope with water running down it. When we got out we were laughing hysterically and kissing the ground but it only got scarier.
After some light relief with the less dangerous pursuits of archery, clay pigeon shooting and golf we got strapped into the MONSTER TRUCK. Sensibly we weren't allowed to drive this amazing 4x4 terror truck so Joe, our instructor and driver, took us on what I can only describe as a roller coaster which isn't attached to anything. This truck had such big wheels that it could drive over huge boulders and obstacles and could do amazing sideways skids, go up and down really steep slopes.
Saving the best for last we then got into little sprint cars and drove in circles around a short track trying to achieve the quickest lap time while not spining the car off the road. I'm pretty sure that a passenger had to be in the car so they could be scared stupid and eat dirt when the driver went off the track but I was told it was to balance the car. Richard went first because I wasn't sure that I was up to it because surely you shouldn't spin cars? But, after a few laps I gained my confidence and it was great fun. In the end Richard beat my lap time by half a second which wasn't too bad.
For sheer exhilaration I think the two hours we spent here beat even the fly by wire and paragliding. We were flying when we left and literally had the shakes and were twitchy with the adrenalin pumping fast for a few hours after we'd finished so that when the adrenalin stopped we were shattered.
Trying hard to remember we were no longer on the race track we drove the short distance to Hamilton where we had been hoping to meet up with some people we'd met in Vietnam the previous year, Louise and Simon. Unfortunately Simon was working in Auckland so we didn't get to see him but it was great to catch up with Louise and see the house they were having built. As a result of that Louise and Simon are staying with Louise's sister and family and they kindly let us stay for the night.
While Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, Auckland is the biggest city. We stayed near the centre of the city and because the weather wasn't great we took the opportunity to do lots of souvenir shopping. The first night we met up with Judy who was at nursing college with Richard's Mum, Pat. She has been living in New Zealand since the 1970's and took us to a very nice restaurant in Mount Eden for dinner so thank you Judy, it was nice to meet you. The next day we took the ferry over to Devonport which would have great views of the Auckland skyline on less overcast day. Devonport is a very nice place with a village atmosphere, lots of cafes, second hand bookshops and gift shops. In the evening we went to see some stand-up comedy. I was glad we'd managed to experience some in New Zealand so that we could compare it with Australian stand-up comedy and the comedy at home and it was pretty good.
After a whirlwind but 'temeke' tour of New Zealand we needed some R&R in Fiji>.