Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2 Dec 15 – Day 3 (Rotorua)

Woke up very early this morning because we had Champagne breakfast at the Skyline on top of Mount Ngongotaha which oversees the Rotorua city as well as the Lake Rotorua. We took the gondola up and was really glad that we had the car all to ourselves. Reached the top, waited for the rest and Cynthia told us that each adult is entitled to a glass of champagne. Even though SWT and I are not excellent drinker, we still took one each. Found a table next to a glass window and we had a great view of Lake Rotorua while eating our breakfast and sipping champagne. Breakfast was really good but we didn’t finish the champagne. Once we were done eating, went out of the restaurant to take more photos before we regrouped with the rest to go to another part of Skyline where we did the luge ride.

Rotorua Skyline Luge is the original luge that began back in 1985. Subsequently, they opened branches in other countries. There were three tracks over at Rotorua Skyline Luge, the beginner or scenic track, the intermediate track and the advance track. As most of us don’t have any experience on luge ride, we were told to attempt the scenic track first which was 2km long. Cynthia told SWT and me to go ahead first and so we did. The instructor briefed us on how to operate the luge cart which was fairly easy. Lift the handle to brake, release to move and just turn the handle to steer left or right. Easy-peasy. We were given a chop on the hand to certify that we had passed the initiation and off we went. SWT was in front initially but she was moving far too slow for my liking and hence I overtook her shortly after we moved off. Then I was speeding all the way down and at one point, I almost lost control and almost ran into the railing. It was a close call but it was all good fun. We reached the end of the track fairly quickly and then we took the chairlift up to the top. While on the chairlift we took a couple of selfies. During the luge ride, photos were taken and we saw the photos at the sales booth when we were back to the top.

While at the top and saw the others zooming down the tracks. Some of them even went for extra rounds. We took photos of the surrounding and did a little walk about around the Skyline area while waiting for the rest to finish. Soon most of the group made their way back to the meeting point. Browsed the souvenir shop and then Cynthia told us that we could make our way down via the gondola first. So SWT and I hopped onto a gondola and went back down to the coach. After everyone came back to the coach, we moved off to the next destination, the Agrodome Farm, where we were to catch the 11am farm show featuring 19 breeds of sheep as well as a few farm dogs. The first show just ended when we reached the place and most of the sheep were back to their holding area except for the merino sheep that refused to move. The farm dogs were still around for people to take photos for a short while before they too ran away. Since the 11am show still hadn’t started, we popped into the nursery to check out the other small animals like the rabbits, baby alpacas, baby lambs and so on.

Returned to our seats and waited patiently for the show to start. While waiting, we saw a sheep popping its head out and sometimes even venturing out of the holding area. Some audience seated near the side went over to take photos with the sheep. Soon the show started, we were introduced to the 19 breeds of sheep such as the Black Romney, Suffolk, Drysdale, Dorset Horn and so on. Then came the highlight of the show where we were treated to a live sheep shearing demonstration. According to the shearer, the trick is to press a certain pressure points on the sheep so get it to lay still or something like that. The poor sheep was totally at his mercy and was totally naked at the end of the demonstration.

The shearer then threw the wool from the poor sheep down to the audience to have a feel of the Romney wool. The wool was rather course and hence we were told that it is used to make into rugs rather than clothes. On the other hand, the merino wool is used to make into clothes and NZ is famous for merino wool products. Then there was a mock sheep auction with bidding from the floor, kids feeding baby lambs with bottled milk, hand-milking a cow by few audiences and finally the farm dogs running in and onto the sheep. The show lasted for an hour and we were told that we can pop across to the herding area to watch farm dog herding sheep after the show. Headed out to the herding area to secure a good spot. Soon the show started and we were amazed at how obedient the farm dog, Blue, was and amused at how the sheep were running around in a group steered by the dog.

Soon the show was over and we had to return to the coach again to head to the next destination, the Rainbow Springs, which was just a very short distance away. Over there, we met up with the guide and she showed us the rainbow pool that contained the rainbow trout. She told us that the pool is connected to a stream and the trout are free to swim in and out of the pool. Then we were led through a forest where we saw the redwood trees, silver ferns and other plants. Visited the place where the kiwi birds were kept and we were fortunate enough to see a kiwi bird running around in the dark. Came out of the place and we saw other animals such as the kea, parrots, lizards and so on. We were also shown a very big green stone and were told that we can get good luck by touching it which was what I did.

After the tour ended, the guide told us that we can have a go at the Big Splash ride. Guessed the guide wasn’t very clear and some of us thought that we need to pay extra for the ride. Most of the group members were not interested. SWT was contemplating because she didn’t want to get wet. I, on the other hand, was quite eager to do it even though I was also a bit scared knowing that at the end of ride would be the falling from great heights. In the end, we did the ride with two other Caucasian siblings, an older brother and a younger sister. They were seated on the first row while we chose the third row. The ride was ok with a lot of low hanging branches and fake dinosaurs. It was towards the end of the ride that was a bit exciting. The boat was lifted to high level and then slide downwards creating splashes of water. SWT was wet on the right side while I was wet on the left side. As the boat returned to the starting point, I saw Cynthia standing at the side of the waterway taking photos of us. Waved to her and then we were back to the starting point. The staff who was manning the station asked if we would like to go for another round since there was no one else in the queue. So we remained in the boat and went for another round.

While at it, I was telling SWT that Cynthia was probably wondering where we were and cursing us for delaying the rest. Soon we came to the last part of the ride and this time, SWT was shouting at the top of her lungs when the boat went sliding down. We were wet again and this time, my whole butt was wet. Returned to the starting point and SWT almost slipped and fell while trying to climb out of the boat. Fortunately, the staff was quick to grab her by the arm. I got off without any accident and quickly headed to the exit through the souvenir shop. Saw the rest of the group members in the shop and we made a trip to the toilet before boarding the coach. Cynthia came back up on the coach looking flustered. When she saw us, she asked us where we were just now. She was frantically searching for us inside the Rainbow Springs compound when she failed to see us at the exit after the first ride ended. Explained to her what happened and ended the episode.

According to Cynthia, our planned activities for the day ended with the tour at the Rainbow Springs and that we would have the rest of the day free to ourselves. The driver drove round the Rotorua area near to the central and did a short city tour. For those who wished to go to the Rotorua central, the driver dropped us at the mall where some of us had lunch there. SWT and I went to look for the bakery café that we saw the day before and popped in to survey the baked goods at the counter and then browsed through the menu on the wall. As SWT is a small eater (smaller than me), we decided to order one chicken set to share and a pot of tea for herself. Food was just nice for the two of us and while eating, we discussed as to what baked goods to get afterwards to try as well as studied the map that we obtained from the hotel reception the night before to see where to explore. We settled on the freshly baked raspberry lamington and chocolate Afghans cookie as our tea break snacks because those were the recommended food to try in NZ and we were to walk over to the lakefront area to explore. It wasn’t difficult to get to the lakefront area as it was just a walk along a straight road where we passed through the Eat Street. Got to the place, took some photos and strolling along the pavement next to the lake.

Found a bench where we ate the chocolate Afghans cookie while surrounded by the seagulls. The cookie was really tasty and not too sweet. After we were done, we followed the route that the coach drove passed earlier on and reached the rose section of the Government Gardens. We took lots of photos of the pretty and colorful roses which were as big as my palm. Moving on, we saw the Rotorua Museum and the Blue Baths. Snapped photos of the exterior of the two buildings and we continued on to other parts of the Government Gardens where we saw the Rachel Spring, a historic alkaline hot spring, and other thermal pools. And because of these thermal pools, the area has a very strong sulfur smell and sometimes so overpowering that it choked us. Soon it was closed to 5pm and we made our way slowly back to our hotel, the Sudima Hotel. While walking back to our room, we stopped by the place where our Hangi dinner would be cooked and took a photo of the pit. We rested in our room till it was time to go for the Hangi dinner and Maori concert.

We were led to a big room with many long tables and realized that we would be dining with other groups from other tour agencies. The emcee who was the chief of the Maori performing group briefed us of what was going to happen and the arrangement of the dining process. Each table would be cued to take food from the buffet table in an orderly manner so as to ensure that everyone has taken at least one round. Then it would be free and easy. We had rewena bread, a kind of traditional Maori bread, with some sauce as starter. One thing off our to-eat list. Yay! The bread was unique and so were the sauces that went with it. The buffet spread was great too with corns, pumpkins, sweet potato, potato, fish, the Hangi pork (a traditional Maori method of cooking pork using heated rocks buried in a pit oven), roast lamb, steamed pudding, pavlova and so on. I love the fish in particular. After that, SWT and I shared the steamed pudding and pavlova which were another two items from the must-eat list. Finally I know what pavlova taste like and look like. Ended dinner with some tea and then the Maori concert started.

It was really entertaining and we got to know more about the Maori culture. I like the various Poi dance in particular and love the songs and music. The Maori people can sing really well or perhaps because they are performers, I wouldn’t know. After the concert ended, we were given time to take photos with the performers. Since it was still early, we popped over to the Pak’nSave again. Before the trip, we did a bit of research on the hotels that we will be staying in the South Island and it seems that big supermarkets are scarce. So we thought perhaps we should do a little bit of shopping in case we can’t do so over the next few days. For the last few trips, I would usually get a big bottle of fruit juice to drink in the room to aid in digestion. As we still need to take domestic flight to the South Island, I was contemplating if I should. After confirming with Cynthia earlier on that I can put big bottle of liquid in my check-in luggage, I decided to get a bottle of 3-liter orange juice. At the same time, I also bought two packets of the yogurt powder. After we were done, we returned to our hotel for the night.

Thoughts: Personally I feel that the activities should be more spread out to occupy the whole day so that we can have more time per place. For instance, I would like to spend more time exploring the Agrodome Farm. Though I know that Cynthia was trying to rush us for the 11am show so that we can have better view, I feel that after the show, we should be given time to check out other parts of the farm. I’m pretty sure there are more things to see than just the show and nursery. Plus, I was hoping to have time to check out the woolen products available at the shop in the farm. As for Rainbow Springs, it was the same. I am damn sure there are more things to see than what we were shown. And also it would be nice to have more time to browse the shop even though I was probably not going to spend any money there.

The Maori concert was really great and so was the dinner. Cynthia told us beforehand the way the Hangi feast is cooked and that because it uses sort of steaming method, the food might taste bland. However, I find the taste to my liking, no extra seasoning needed. 

Last few trips that I had was free and easy so I would stay in one location throughout and had to settle my own meals hence I would usually buy a big bottle of fruit juice to put in the room to aid in digestion. I had forgotten that I am now on a package tour and that breakfast is included. And breakfast will always come with fruit juices. Argh! Should have forgo buying that big bottle of orange juice and instead get more yogurt powder or the avocado oil.

And I just found out that I didn’t manage to record the sheep shearing demonstration. I thought I had set my mobile phone to recording mode, apparently I didn’t. Argh!

Some (fun) facts of NZ from the driver:
  • Manuka oil from the Manuka flower is also known as tee tree oil by the European.
  • Possums are considered as an obnoxious animal or a pest in NZ. As NZ has no predators, possum numbers grew rapidly and they pose serious threats to the native plants and species. As they are nocturnal animals, possums are active during the night and when face with an oncoming car, they will just stand frozen and get flatten by the car. Hence, we see a lot of roadkill while traveling on the road. As possums are a plenty, their fur is used to make into clothing and sometimes they are mixed with merino wool to make into clothing.
  • The purple and sometimes yellow plant called lupine is considered an obnoxious plant. It blooms during the summer time.

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