Day 2 – This morning in Rotorua started off with a bang! And by that, I mean I realized I left my hiking boots at the Polynesian Spa the night before. Not exactly non-essential gear. After a harried 5 minutes of frantically searching the dumbest of places – in the shower? really? – the truth smacked me in the face. In my hurry to escape the ick that was the thermal baths, I shuffled away in my flip-flops… no boots in hand.
Luckily, my hosts were kind enough to try and track my footgear down for me as I had no time to do it myself… because I was about to go on an eco-adventure zip-lining through the forest! YAASSS. So, laced up my sneaks because they were the only semi-appropriate footwear available, and jumped in a bus to Rotorua Canopy tour center.
After following the advice of this charming sign, (though it’s always a good time to go, amiright Skylar?) I was ready to do another kind of zipping.
They strapped us into full body harnesses and off we went into the forest. The group was a nice mellow bunch. Two of them were fellow hardcore nerds on their way to Hobbiton afterwards. Chatted them up a bit on the ride over, but the guides did a fantastic job of breaking the tension and making the ride pleasant for all. Not that the ride was long. It took all of 15 minutes to get to the reserve. And then began 3 hours of unbridled fun.
When I first started down the path into the forest, the initial impression was that I had walked onto a film set. It was too “tropical” and “forest-y.” The greens were too green, and somehow everything just looked too pristine and sparkling and perfect. Truly, it felt like a film set built for a scene in an adventure movie. I was assured that wasn’t the case, and that my weird obsession with film sets would be satisfied in Hobbiton. I subdued my Truman inspired suspicions and on we went.
Being the only solo person on the tour, I figured it was my duty to volunteer as the sacrificial lamb and go first. No significant other to witness the horror of whatever mishap might befall, so it seemed the right thing to do. Also I was itching to get my first hearty dose of adrenaline straight to the bloodstream. There was a lot of adrenaline to be had.
Our route for the day looked a little something like this…
…and though the zip-lining was great, made even more wonderful by the stunning surroundings, I found myself enjoying the conservation story just as much. Not terribly surprising I suppose. These canopy tour people are good at keeping us thrill-seekers safe and inspiring LOLs on bus rides, but they’re also pros at clearing the forest of some evil vermin. Evil in this case because they’re eating up the native species – like cute little kiwi birds.
WANTED – dead, not alive:
1. Possums – introduced from Australia because New Zealanders wanted to get into the fur trade business. Turned out to be a bad move.
2. Rats – Crafty stowaways. Dude said that at any given time there are 2 rats per 5 cubic meters in the forest.
3. Ferrets + stotes – ferrets were introduced to try and control the multiplying bunny population. Well, why go for fast-running bunnies when you can instead kill a much easier target – kiwi birds that try to hide, not run, when scared. Le sad.
So people are doing their best to clear the forest of these critters. It’s kinda nutty how much damage the creatures have done. We were told that in the 1770s, explorer Captain James Cook famously said that the NZ birdsong was deafening, and that their song was strong enough to wake him from a quarter of a mile out to sea. OUT TO SEA. Not the case any longer. It was fairly quiet, with the occasional chirp every now and again. The only bird I saw during the entire 3 hour excursion was a very friendly North Island robin that feeds from visitors’ hands. Great little guy that hung around and listened to the guides with us.
I left the tour exhilarated and exhausted. By the end the zipping felt less zippy and more like *shrug* yea, funnnnn. So they taught us how to flip upside down. Very good, these guys. Couldn’t help feeling sad on the drive back thinking about one particularly striking statistic – NZ used to be 85% forest, 15% other stuff. Now it’s 85% farmland/other stuff and 15% forest. The lorax in me died a little bit. So many thousands of years gone so quickly… made me extra appreciative of the little patch I was able to visit, and that the money I paid would contribute to further conservation efforts. *Pats self on back*
Canopy tour done, I returned to the Silver Fern Motel to great news! Hiking boots had been located. I showered right quick, picked up my shoes and grabbed some grub at a charming little cafe called Lime. Next up was a thermal park, Wai-o-Tapu.
Wai-o-Tapu: A Wonderland of Stunning Geothermal Activity. New Zealand’s most colourful volcanic area. Views of unique volcanic features. First class Visitor Centre with retail and cafe facilities.
Not my words, and the cafe was really just ok, but everything else was mind-blowingly cool and trippy. This place is really explained best via pictures. Because so many colors. So much wonder. So hot. So pretty. So much wow. (see?)
This bird! I forget what it’s called. But listen to the sound it makes. It’s described as the yapping of a small dog. Pretty accurate imho. A small group of us were watching and laughing and giggling.
Bubbling mud pool.
I walked the whole trail, which was blessedly light on tourists.After the thermal park, hurried back to meet a family member that lives here. Who’d-a-thunk-it! Cousin (Walden side) Anne’s been living in New Zealand for 15 years now. It was the first time I’ve met her as an adult, though our paths have crossed here and there in the past. She very graciously invited me to stay with her for a night. Before heading to her home, she took me to a couple cool spots. First was a loop around a lake referred to as Blue Lake. Gorgeous blue water with little sand beaches and surrounded by a lush forest. Halfway along the loop there was a little promontory where you could see the Blue Lake but also the adjacent Green Lake. One is blue and one is green and no it’s not like Iceland/Greenland. A sign told me that blue is blue because it’s bottom is rhyolite and pumice. Green is emerald green because it has a shallow, sandy bottom. One last interesting tidbit before I lose you, Green Lake is actually called Lake Rotokakahi and is considered sacred by the Maori so no swimming, no boating, no fishing, no nothing! Would love to learn more about the Maori, but not sure how/when I’ll fit it in. Anyhow, the walk was wonderful with one minor mishap. I’d been wearing my Timberland’s for too long, and my reward is a quarter sized section of raw exposed skin on the back of my right foot. TMI? Yes? Painful? Oh hell yes. Glad I was able to validate my own stupidity.
Walk complete, we headed to a liquor store that Anne recommended highly. Turns out her husband Matt is as beer obsessed as one LXW. There was indeed a grrreat selection, and some choice US beers as well (which, in my mind, confirmed this place’s good taste.) I bought a couple bottles for later. Anne insists I must keep them cool and during my drive in the scenic south, pull over for a particularly soul-crushing vista, crack open a beer, and sit and sip. Anne is a wise woman, and I cannot wait to do exactly as she says.
The last stop of this very busy day was Anne’s home. It’s a little paradise carved into the mountainside overlooking one of the lakes. Anne, Matt and their 12-year-old kiddo Josh have an enviable home complete with a brown lab mix called Fudgie, 4 chickens and a fat guinnea pig known as Harvey. They also have some killer swings in their 1.5 acre space – like, I swung from the top level platform for one of them and I kid you not, the rush was 5 times any of the ziplines that day. Gave me a second wind.
Wonderful Anne whipped up a delicious dinner. There was fennel and pomegranite involved, ’nuff said. Matt shared some of his NZ micro-brewed IPAs and we enjoyed a night of warmth, both physical and familial. And I tucked into bed with a full belly, a happy heart, and very, very tired body.