Truthbutter

Rotorua

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Everything we did in Rotorua was awesome! In the morning, we had a ziplining canopy tour, which was easily one of my favorite things we’ve done. We got super lucky with our tour group, because an entire family was late for the tour and we left without them, so we ended up having two awesome guides and just four other people (including Sarah and myself) on the tour. Normally, I think it would’ve been about ten people, and that would’ve meant a lot more waiting around for other people to zipline.

The forest we were in was absolutely beautiful, and I would’ve been happy just hiking through it. But we got to zipline through it, and walk over swinging bridges high up in the air in between. If you know me, you know how much I love trees and forests, and I’m pretty sure everyone loves ziplining, so this was basically the best thing ever.

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To make it even more fun, our guides were hilarious. They were two guys, probably around my age, and they just goofed around and made us laugh the whole time. But they were also really good about teaching us things about the forest, and pointing out cool plants and birds, which I loved. And at one point, a slug fell from a tree onto our platform, and one of the guides decided to take it ziplining with us. We named it Sluggy, and I’m pretty sure he’s the only slug to ever go ziplining through a New Zealand forest canopy. And then the other guide started doing T-rex impressions, and we all ended up walking back into the tour office acting like dinosaurs. It was definitely a fun time, and if I could repeat one New Zealand experience, it would probably be that tour.

Afterwards we went back to the hostel, and now I’m going to tell you a very sad story about what happened to me at lunchtime:

I was so hungry, and I was so excited to eat my leftovers: Bolognese sauce with rice noodles. It was all packaged up deliciously in a tupperware from a couple days before, and my anticipation as I put it in a bowl and stuck it in the microwave was immeasurable. My anticipation continued to grow as I sprinkled cheese on top and picked up the now-steaming bowl of food to carry it over to the table. I neared the table and moved to place the bowl down, nearly bursting with excitement to eat it. And all of a sudden…my bowl was upside-down on the floor, and my lunch was all over the carpet.

It was definitely one of those “man, I really wish that hadn’t happened” moments.

I still have no idea how I managed to drop it, but there was my lunch, all over the floor, and the only other food available to me at the time was some butter, uncooked rice noodles, and mustard. So, I did what any other hungry, non-germophobic person would do: I scooped up the top layer of food off the floor, put it back in the bowl, and ate it anyway. And then I carried out the sad job of using a metal spatula to scrape the remaining Bolognese off of the carpet and into a trash bag.

(Pro-tip: if you ever find yourself needing to clean lots of food off of a carpet, a metal spatula with a flat edge works really well. But hopefully you’ll never be in a situation where you need that piece of advice.)

So, that was the sad part of my day. The rest was awesome. After recovering from the lunch incident, we went zorbing on the longest zorb track in the world, created and run by the inventors of zorbing. Don’t you love how I just used the word ‘zorb’ three times without telling you what the heck it means? I guess I’ll tell you now. Zorbing is where you dive head-first into a giant clear ball with a friend and some water, get zipped into said ball, and are pushed down a hill. Definitely sounds like something you’d do in the country that invented bungee jumping, doesn’t it?

Rotorua is one of the only places in the world where you can zorb, so Sarah and I had decided at the start of planning this trip that we definitely wanted to try it out while we were there. The track we went on was called the Sidewinder, and it lasted about 2 minutes and curved all around (as the name implies), compared to other zorb tracks which last less than a minute or just go straight. It was such a blast! It’s hard to describe the experience, but you basically just slide around the ball and tumble all over each other, and you can sort of see out of the ball but not really, and you get pretty wet. It was a lot more intense than either of us was expecting, and I’m not one to scream on rides, but there was a lot of screaming involved with zorbing. Definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.

After we got back to the hostel and showered, we had about an hour to explore Rotorua before we were picked up for our Maori cultural experience that evening. Rotorua was built in a really active geothermal area, which made it really interesting to wander around, even though it wasn’t nearly as pretty as some of the places we visited on the South Island. The park right across from our hostel had grass and gardens and pretty trees, like a normal park, but then we’d randomly happen upon a fenced-off area of boiling mud or a massive steaming lake. It was really cool, actually. Even after we left the park and walked through the streets and down towards the Maori village on the lakefront, we kept passing random patches of steaming ground or pools, and the whole town had a sort of sulfury-geothermal smell.

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I was starving again by the time we got picked up for our cultural experience, and since the ‘experience’ would include dinner, I was already very excited for it. The bus took us to the Tamaki Maori village just outside of town, and when we first arrived, I didn’t quite know what to think about the whole thing. The bus driver chose two “chiefs” from our bus (unfortunately, they had to be men, or I would’ve volunteered), and explained that some members of the tribe would come out to greet us in the traditional way, which would include lots of jumping around, brandishing of spears, grunting, chanting, and threatening facial expressions. Then they would make an offering of a fern leaf (or something similar) that the chiefs had to accept. The whole things was really interesting to watch, but it was a little uncomfortable at the same time because everyone was standing around them in a circle staring and taking pictures, which made it feel less authentic and more like watching animals at a zoo. But after the traditional greeting was over, the chief of the tribe started talking to us in English and joking around, and I think everyone instantly felt more comfortable and welcome. And throughout the rest of the night, I continued to be impressed by how all the Maori people managed to be authentic, but relatable to us tourists at the same time. I felt like they really brought us into their world without sacrificing their own culture, which isn’t an easy thing to do. And even though the whole thing was a performance, they also made us feel like friends, rather than just audience members. I think it really helped that they all spoke English extremely well, too.

Anyway, after the greeting, they took us into the village in the forest, which was so neat; it felt like something out of a book or a fairy tale or something. It’s hard to describe, really. The forest was made up of really tall trees that formed a canopy above, but left plenty of room between the trunks at the base. The tiny carved wooden houses were situated among the trees, with little fires burning out front, and there were walkways in between them, but you could pretty much walk wherever you wanted because most of the ground between the trees was firm and packed and clear of plants and brush.

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We were divided into smaller groups, and at each house there were one or two Maori tribe members who would teach us something about their culture and do a demonstration or lead an activity. The first few houses we went to showed us traditional games that were used both for fun and to improve hand-eye coordination, and Sarah and I both volunteered to try them. It was actually really fun! We also got to see a traditional Maori war dance, and all the men had a chance to learn it. Since most of the men in the tour group were older, it was quite funny to watch them try to do it.

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After that, we all went into a larger building where there was a stage, and they performed some songs and chants and dances for us. It was so fun to watch and listen to. And then we finally got to eat! They had prepared a traditional hangi meal, which was cooked by hot rocks in a pit dug in the earth over a period of three hours.

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I had chicken, lamb, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, which all had a delicious smoky flavor from being cooked in the pit. I also had some fish and salad, which weren’t cooked in the pit. And they had real butter, as well as mint sauce and cranberry sauce for the meat. Everything was so good! I couldn’t eat any of the desserts they had (gluten), but I didn’t really care because I just got seconds and thirds of the dinner. It was buffet style, so we could have as much as we wanted.

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We got on the bus to go home around 9pm. Our bus was mostly Spaniards and Italians, and they were singing songs in Spanish and Italian for most of the time, but then the bus driver requested that the Americans (just me and Sarah, surprisingly) sing a song. We sang Hakuna Matata. And then our bus driver said “okay, now you all have to sing this next song, because until everyone is singing, I’m not going to stop.” Nobody knew what she was talking about until we turned into a roundabout and she started singing ‘She’ll be Coming ‘round the Mountain,’ and…she didn’t turn out of the roundabout. And she still didn’t turn out of the roundabout. Some people started singing along, but she kept going around the roundabout. We must’ve circled that roundabout seven times before she was satisfied with our singing, which was actually an impressive feat considering she was driving a huge tour bus and the roundabout wasn’t that big.

So, quite a busy day, but it was a good one!

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