Tuesday, December 1, 2015

30 Nov & 1 Dec 15 – Day 1 & 2 (Auckland and Rotorua)

Reached Changi Airport Terminal 3 about 6:30pm, met up with SWT and then proceeded to Row 7 to look for the Tour Manager, Cynthia Cheong. She handed the group members the necessary documents and then told us to do check-in. Peeped at the weight of my luggage and it read 11.5kg. Cleared the immigration, looked around some shops, took some photos of the decorations in the airport before heading to the designated gate closed to 8:20pm. Only noticed that the boarding time stated on the boarding pass was 7:50pm and got a bit panicky, especially when I heard someone doing last call to a flight beyond the security check. Got to the gate and found out that the boarding for our section was over, so quickly joined the queue to get on the plane. The flight was delayed and only took off about 9:30pm. Watched 1-2 movies, ate the dinner provided, asked for some white wine and went to sleep after they dimmed the light.

We touched down closed to 12 noon and only got out of the airport at 1+pm because of the stringent checking. The temperature was cooling and comfortable with my sweater on. Gathered all the group members, met up with our driver cum local guide, loaded our luggage onto the coach and we were off from Auckland to Rotorua. The first Maori phrase we learnt from the driver was “Kia Ora” which means be well/healthy and can be loosely used to say hi. We stopped at a rest stop for quick lunch close to 2pm. As we had some food on the plane before we landed, SWT and I were not hungry so popped into a mini-mart to check out the flavors available for ice cream. We spotted the Goody Goody Gum Drop flavor and the Hokey Pokey flavor, both were the recommended flavors to try in New Zealand (NZ). So I ordered a single scoop Hokey Pokey ice cream cone while SWT ordered the Goody Goody Gum Drop flavor and the ice cream cost us NZ$2.80 each. It was really value for money because it was technically 1.5 scoop even though the price was for single scoop. After tasting the Goody Goody Gum Drop ice cream from SWT, I was glad I made the right choice by choosing Hokey Pokey.

Soon we were on the road again. The driver told us that it would be approximately two-hour drive to Rotorua so SWT slept while I watched the scenery. We reached our first destination, Te Puia, closed to 5pm. Cynthia quickly went to get tickets while the rest waited. Then we were herded past the entrance to meet with our guide for the tour. Te Puia is located in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley and consists of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, a live kiwi enclosure and lots of geysers as well as mud pools. The guide told us that because of the geothermal activities in the area, there is a lot of sulfur produced and hence the area smells like rotten eggs. The temperature of the water in the area can be as high as 100 degree Celsius. He advised us not to touch the water in the rivers or springs when we are in Rotorua because we wouldn’t know if the water is hot or not.

The guide first brought us to the kiwi enclosure to see the kiwi birds. Unfortunately, they were hiding in their burrows and so we could only view the birds via the TV screen on the wall. After that, we were brought to the area where the mud pools and geysers were. According to the guide, the mud pool is called Koko Mud Pool, named after a famous chief from the original fortified settlement in the area. The mud has many uses and is well-known as a skin care product. Near the mud pool is where the geysers are. The biggest geyser is called Pohutu and it is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. It can erupt to a height of 30m. Beside Pohutu is the Te Tohu, or ‘Prince of Wales Feathers’ and it is an indicator for Pohutu as Pohutu usually erupts after Te Tohu does. We were just in time to see both geysers in action. Quickly took photos and videos of them in action. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay long because we still had to visit the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Followed the guide to the Institute where he explained about the structure of the meeting house, what each section represents and so on. Then we proceeded to the National Carving School and the National Weaving School where more explanations were given. We quickly browsed through the interior of both schools before moving off because it was already passed their closing time of 6pm.

Boarded the coach and we made our way to a Chinese restaurant in Rotorua Central for dinner. As most of the people in our tour group were families or couples, Cynthia requested SWT and me to split up to join different tables. We were reluctant but then we were her only option. As it was our first meal together with other group members, most of the people at my table did not interact much. Survived dinner and stood around the coach waiting for the rest to come out. SWT and I went to check out the bakery café few shop space away. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day. Got onto the coach and soon we were at the hotel, checked in, settled down and then we went out again to the Pak’nSave supermarket that was near to the hotel. As per what the members in TA said, the supermarket was really big and the price of the products was really affordable. The supermarket was selling packs of yogurt powder which were much cheaper compared to those selling back home. And I also saw the avocado oil that I was planning to buy during this trip. 

As we still need to take a domestic flight from North Island to South Island in a couple of days, Cynthia advised us to do our bulk shopping during the second last day in South Island where there will be another Pak’nSave supermarket in Christchurch. So I ended up just buying a bottle of 1-liter orange juice, a pack of limited edition All Black Whittaker’s Peanut Slab and a small Lolly Cake while SWT bought a pack of Copper Kettle potato chips, a pack of Heartland potato chips (a brand recommended by Cynthia) and a pack of chocolate drops. Walked back, put down our things and we packed for our spa activity at the nearby Polynesian Spa. We asked for a standard private room and a towel each which in total cost us NZ$56 of which the deposit of NZ$10 was refundable. We were brought to our room, quickly changed into our swim suits and then went into the pool because it was quite cold. The water was comfortably warm and we had fun time soaking ourselves in the pool. Took some photos using SWT’s mobile phone and soon the 30 minutes were up. Quickly changed out of our swim suits, dried ourselves, returned the towels, collected our deposit and hurried back to our hotel. SWT was for the idea of not taking shower but I was against. Not sure if she did shower in the end though I definitely did. Blew dry my hair, shared the small Lollly cake with SWT, sorted out the money we owed each other, packed for the next day and then hit the bed.

Thoughts: As usual, it would have been good if we were given more time to explore Te Puia but I guess it is always going to be the problem with package tour. The mud pools and geysers were really a magnificent sight. Photos and videos cannot do justice. Lolly cake was one of the must-eat food in my list and the after-thought was that it is a tad too sweet for my liking.

Some (fun) facts of NZ from the driver:
  • Silver ferns are unique to NZ. The underside of the leaves is silvery in color and in the olden days, the Maori people use the underside of the fern leaves to find their way home because when bent over, the fronds would catch the moonlight and illuminate a path through the forest.
  • There are three types of kiwi in NZ: The Kiwi Bird; the Kiwi Fruit and the Kiwis. The New Zealanders don’t mind calling themselves Kiwis. In fact, they are quite proud of it.
  • There are many sheep in NZ and the ratio of sheep to people is six to one. Beside sheep farm, there are also deer farm and cattle farm. There are also vegetables farm and the crops grown rotate every year. For example, a piece of land could have grown onion last year and that same piece of land can be growing potato this year. The reason for the rotation is to maintain the level of nutrients in the ground.

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