Monday, January 9, 2012
Many of the towns and villages that we’ve come across in New Zealand have a repeating series of syllables in their names. Kerekere, Katikati, Whatawhata, Pukemoremore and even Ramarama. What an amazing place that must be to live if you’re into ramas. Every rama MUST come there! Homearama, travelrama, golfarama, maybe even Gravelrama. Not having time/desire to further investigate the splendor and possibilities that Ramarama offered, we forged ahead to Rotorua, and after spending the first night there at a spacious yet pricey Best Western that only had one night available, we traveled a few kilometers across town to a more cozy and affordable Kingsgate Resort. At least they’ve updated the lobby because it was nice and inviting. The rest of the property screamed “dated!” I expected to turn on the TV and see a preview for Jaws or Towering Inferno--coming this summer! It would be the first time we would all be sleeping in the same room, which worked out fine after Annie called down to the front desk to get a rollaway so Ben wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor like he did the night before despite the fact that the room he and his sister were in had two beds. What a goofball, wonder where he gets that from!
After a sun-splashed day on Friday, Saturday was grey and damp but that didn’t stop us from hitting the New Zealand mini-golf close to our hotel. The woman at the counter was quite friendly and explained how we would see a cornucopia of wildlife on the course. That’s if you count three rabbits and some pigeons.
We braved the light rain that showed up on the 5th hole and stayed with us through the round, and Annie, being the mudder that she is, prevailed with a low score of 42, thanks to a pair of aces. As the rain continued to fall, we headed into Rotorua for some brunch at Fat Dog Café. An attempt at an early check in at Kingsgate was denied, so we headed back in the direction of the mini-golf where a Kiwi Adventure was nearby. Learning more about the native birds of New Zealand was high at the top of the “to-do” list for Marley and Ben. The story of the Kiwi is fascinating and lived up to the high expectations our kids had. The kiwi birds are tightly protected to the point where no photos are allowed in their habitat. We captured some of the other specimens they had on display there, mostly birds and lizards. It turned out to be about an hour long stop, well worth the time and money.
The rain continued to fall as we attempted to head out for dinner Saturday evening. However, something seemed odd as I put the key into the driver’s side door and turned it to unlock the other three doors. The other locks didn’t respond, so I got in, unlocked the doors for everyone else, put the key in the ignition and turned. Nothing. Apparently I had left the lights in the “on” position while driving around in the rain during the day, and either the warning beep when I parked the car at the motel didn’t go off, or I missed it in my excitement over my Kiwi Adventure. I went to the reception desk in the lobby and no one had any jumper cables, but they had over booked the hotel (in fact earlier in the afternoon when we were all in our cozy room, an Asian man with a key to our room tried to get in with his son, but I had the chain on the door and rebuffed his attempts to make our room even cozier-although there was room on the deck that looked ready to collapse) and one of the workers was taking the motel van and about a dozen guests to a sister property and someone over there had cables and he would bring them back in about 20 minutes. As the kids explored the outdoor areas of the hotel, Annie and I grabbed a beer in the bar and I saw my first televised golf since leaving the states. After about 15 minutes, the hotel worker returned with the van and jumper cables but also had a somewhat concerned look on his face. He led me out to the van and its battery was completely enclosed, making it useless for our task. I started looking around for a potential jumping partner and a Land Rover filled with a family pulled in. The driver, a redhead with an obvious sense of adventure and a strong New Zealand accent didn’t hesitate at all in helping us out in our plight. One false start and a readjustment of the cables and the Nissan Bluebird roared to life and we were on our way to dinner, where we plotted our strategy for catching at least some of the Bengals/Texans playoff game the next morning.
The “rainiest summer we’ve ever had/seen in years” as we heard from more than one local continued Sunday morning as we checked out of the Kingsgate after taking advantage of the free breakfast before heading out. The main attractions in the Rotorua area are the Maori villages where you can see tribal dances, and the geothermal springs. Rainy weather gets in the way of enjoying either of those, so we headed toward our next stop of Napier with a slight feeling of emptiness having not been able to explore either of those activities. We hoped to possibly hit the town of Taupo along the way to grab some food and hopefully some wi-fi to catch the Bengals game but right on the edge of Rotorua was Te Puia, which boasted of Maori displays and some geothermal activity. However, the admission price was almost $160 dollars, so we piled back into the Bluebird and continued on our way hoping we would find a similar but less expensive option.
About ten kilometers down the road just such an option presented itself in the form of The Waikoto Geothermal Wonderland. It was about half the cost of Te Puia, so, after making some contact with friends and family back in Cincinnati to keep us updated on the Bengals playoff game, we walked through the gift shop and hit the trails. It was fascinating to see the thermal pools up close, and read the history of the region and how the pools were formed over tens of thousands of years.
Forty five minutes or so were enough for us, so it was back into the Bluebird and south toward Taupo as the Bengals were trying to stay competitive with the Texans, down 17-10. Taupo was about a half hour away and as we pulled into town to try to find some internet connectivity, the Bengals had fallen behind 24-10 and from the reviews from the homefront, it wasn’t looking pretty. None of us were all that hungry anyway, but we did pause at the McDonalds to get a picture of Air Ronald before getting back on Route 5, and taking the scenic two-hour drive to Napier. It had been on our radar since early last year, once we started planning this trip and deciding to make New Zealand our first major stop. Napier is billed as one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture anywhere in the world, so Annie and I were stoked to be ensconced in one of our favorite design styles and to be off the road for most of this week.