Jumping off waterfalls and feasting

August 18, 2013 - Rotorua, New Zealand

From hot water beach we went on to Waitomo which is famous for its caves. The activity for today was "black water rafting": get undressed in the freezing cold and squeeze into a wet, slimy wet suit before spending two hours in pitch black caves and icy water. Awesome.

Black water rafting is different because you each have your own raft which is essentially a rubber ring. You have to make sure you pick one that you can fit your bum through and then it's time to practise the hard part before going into the cave: jump backwards off a waterfall and land in your rubber ring. This seemed slightly terrifying at first, but because I'm a changed person and now really adventurous and daring (ha!) I went for it. It was damn fun and outrageously cold.
Once we'd proved we could handle it, we lowered ourselves down into the caves, sat on our rafts and floated along. The highlight came after we'd jumped down the second waterfall and we held onto each other to form one long raft. We all  turned off our head torches and floated in the pitch black, looking up at the glow worms on the top of the cave. This was amazing, it was like looking up at the stars.  We got out again, frozen, with no blood left in our fingers and hit the showers. The water felt like it was scalding after the icy river, but I stood there until I felt like a real human being again. Then we headed into the cafe for hot soup, bagels and a slide show of all the photos. Toasty.
Rotorua was our next stop and this was when things really started to click with the group. We'd had an annoying "back of the bus" crew who thought they were so cool (snort), got wasted every single night, turned up late for the bus everyday and just generally prevented us all from gelling. However, they did their own thing in Rotorua and actually ended up staying there for longer than the rest of us. With those losers gone, the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief and became one big happy family. Aaahhhh.
The hostel in Rotorua had a hot swimming pool which was bizarre. We spent the afternoon doing the reverse of a regular session by the pool. We'd tentatively lower ourselves into the boiling water, stay in until we were moaning we were too hot and then lie on the sunloungers to cool down and then jump back in to warm up...
After a chilled afternoon we were picked up for our Maori cultural evening. Fellow welshie Hâf had insisted I should do this, so I signed up, saying a tearful goodbye to yet more money and hoping it was worth it. It was. No question about it. On the bus, we "chose" a chief. Actually, the god awful wannabe cool kids dominated as usual and demanded one of their mates be the chief. I'm so glad I never have to see these people again... Anyway, so the chief had to stand at the entrance to the village whilst the strongest men from the tribe took it in turns to attempt to intimidate him into leaving. They did a sort of Haka dance, sticking their tongues out and twirling their spears- very intense. The chief had to stand his ground until a peace offering was made, accepted, and the Maoris accepted us into their home.
We walked through the forest, spending time at each house learning about a different aspect of the culture. The boys learnt the Haka, and then Jack embarrassingly pushed me forward and volunteered me for the women's dance. We had to dance with a poi which is essentially a ball on a string. It's much harder than it sounds I promise.
The family then put on a concert for us, performing the Haka in full and playing traditional songs. Then, the highlight of the night came. The food!! Oh the food! They had prepared a hangi for us- a feast cooked using heated rocks and buried in a pit oven. There was lamb and chicken and sweet potatoes and they were smoky and tender and... Oh wow. It would be awesome if you were a normal human being who was on holiday. But for the super noodle backpackers amongst the crowd it was life changing. The mussels deserve a special mention too. I heard a kiwi taking the mick out of British mussels a while back. Well it was totally, totally deserved. I will never enjoy a mussel again unless it comes from New Zealand. They re the size of my palm and absolutely beautiful.
The next morning we visited the geysers before leaving Rotorua. I've gotten so carried away with food I haven't even explained that Rotorua is somewhat foolishly built right in the crater of a volcano. The volcano is extinct, which just means it is unlikely to fully erupt, but there is still a lot of volcanic activity. The earth's crust here is very thin; only 5km compared with 40km for the rest of the world. This means the sulphur and other volcanic gases are easily emitted through any cracks and the city has a very strong rotten egg smell. Hence the nickname "rottenrua". You can see steam rising from the streets and the water in the ponds are 100'c and bubbling. So no hot spring bathing allowed here! We went to see the boiling mud pools, the geysers that erupt every morning at 10am spurting boiling water metres into the air and to sit on the hot stones which warm your bum (and emit steam through cracks and burn your leg in my case). It was a totally different experience and a geographer's dream. Like all of New Zealand I suppose.


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