Monday, July 18, 2011

South Pacific - Rotorua and the Waka Village

The morning dawned frosty and crisp.  We had a wonderful breakfast buffet... more muesli for me and then out to take a look at the hotel grounds in the morning.  The sun was sparkling on the crunchy grass out by Lake Rotorua

It's hard to believe that it's the midst of summer back home and our family is sweltering as we slip on the icy boards walking on the protective boardwalk to the lake. 

We were warned that if we go out to the lake, we should not leave the safety of the boardwalk and venture out onto the unstable rocky ground.  The lava runs very close to the surface of the grounds all over the Rotorua area and people have been known to crack through the thin surface from time to time and it's not good... That warning was good enough for me but we did see some people walking out onto the rocks.

This day is for touring and our first adventure is the Duck Tour.  We were herded aboard this 1948 WWII amphibious vehicle whose top speed is a rollicking 30 mph for a tour about town.

It's an open air vehicle with roll-down window coverings similar to those on sailboats.  We were all shivering and blowing smoke clouds as we went.  We were all given duck toys that made ridiculous duck noises which we blew whenever we encountered people.  This always brought a new wave of giggles from the kids.

Our first "step" into Blue Lake was a bit disconcerting...  One second we're on the road, and the next we're in the water and miraculously.... puttering right along.  The lake is a bowl shaped volcanic crater.

We made a loop out onto the lake with rolling commentary about the history of the area to keep us entertained.  There are very expensive homes and vacation properties dotting the shore in some areas, but it is mostly undeveloped leaving nature's beauty for all to enjoy.  The water is very clean and crystal clear.

Upon leaving the water, the driver stopped and got out to check the undersides of the vehicle for lake weeds.  Evidently there is a problem with growth of a particular type of water plant that the ecologically conscious Kiwis wish to keep from spreading to other lakes.  We were banned from entering Lake Rotorua due to it's weed problem.  Our next stop was lake Okareka.

We had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a beautiful Black Swan.  I've never seen one before and was fascinated by the grace and beauty of this bird. He/She? paddled right up to the shore, probably to see if we had any handouts... sadly we did not. I fell in love with the ruffled bootie.

Next stop... the Waka Village.  Or to be more specific....Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao.  Yeah we're sticking with the Waka Villiage for short! 

We walked across a bridge over a narrow running stream and into a world unlike any I've ever seen. 

Within this tiny village, there are about 65 or so people who live very strange lives.  They live around and among thousands of vents that emit a continuous fog of sulfur smelling super heated steam. 

The ground is very thin here and there are many areas fenced off where it is too dangerous to walk.  It was a cool day but almost balmy here in all this steamy fog.

A native Maori woman was our guide.  As she took us through the village, she explained how the people use what, to most people, would seem to be a disadvantage... they've turned it into a way of life.  Scattered among the homes are boxes built over the smaller vent holes.  Inside the boxes, they have placed grills on which the villagers can place foil packets of food.  They leave the food for 2 hours or more and when they return, it's done!  Whole meals are prepared in this way.  The good thing about it is that if you leave the food for more than 2 hours, it is just as good.  Moist, flavorful and healthy without being dried out. 

Every morning and evening the villagers gather to bathe in the super heated spring water.  There was once a pool where the mineral springs collected, but there was a shift and a huge crack opened up and the water all drained out leaving only mineral deposit formations on the rock bed. 

What is a villager to do?  They routed the spring water to fill four rectangular pools where they can come and soak away the worries of a villager's life.  They fill these tubs each morning and evening.  They come and soak using no soap, but depending on the properties of the waters to cleanse them. Their simple way of life was charming, although I could see myself skipping a bath or two if I had to dash from my home to the warm pool in this cool air.

We continued up the hillside through the center of the village past the tiny church.  The cemetary is there beside the church with all of the graves being above ground due to the underground activity.  I guess with a population of only 65 people, you don't need a very big cemetary.

The youth of the village are moving away leaving only a few of the more traditionally minded to live the old way.  There weren't many people out and about in the streets.  Everything was clean and orderly, kind of like a modern day Western.

We stopped to see one of the many bubbling mud pits scattered about the area.  It was fascinating to stand and watch the steady blup blup of the gasses rising up through the thick mud.  They made ever widening rings.  There are mud baths in the area but this was too hot for humans.  They say that the mineral infused mud has many beneficial properties.  We'll see...

On our way back down the hill, we stopped at the village lodge.  It was a traditional meeting place where the villagers hold ceremonies.  All of the little spots you see on the totems are made of carved abalone shell.  We were not allowed to enter this sacred place. 

This carved totem shows the tattooed face that is a symbol of status among the Maori people.  This is still practiced in NZ today and we saw several people with tattooed faces.  Only the elders and people of high social status are allowed to wear the tattoos. 

We left the Waka Village and continued on our tour of the area.  I'll stop here and continue the day in a new post.