Rotorua, New Zealand
The name Thermal Wonderland seems a little mystical by first hearing, and to a certain extent it was a little ‘wonderlandish’ but to be highly critical this wasn’t a wonderland. It would be more like the land based mansion of the devil, with bubbling mud pots, green lakes and steaming vents. Strolling through crossing paths of chemical waters all above boiling points, taking pictures standing where they say do not stand (you know who you are) and hearing Spanish speaking guests read out the provided leaflet so loud it was like they were a tour guide are just some of the highlights. New Zealand and its geothermal activity is really something special, so when I mentioned it wasn’t a wonderland, it wasn’t for the reasons it was probably named that, its because I think it needs a stronger more wild and evil title. The appropriately named Hells Gate, just down the road, really does sound right for land that is so active. Following on from this theme, we headed to a working geothermal village with a Maori past, Whakarewarewa. On first arrival we were greeted by a not so heterosexual ex Maori/tour guide – should of guessed via his natural skills to make a Maori dress. His countless ‘humorous’ comments and style could of been useful personality skills used in a Butlin’s Magic show, but he was charming and very good at his job. We spent the first 10 minutes learning Maori alphabet and of that 98% of the time trying to pronounce his town’s name. You think that’s difficult, that’s the short version of the name (see photo). We then progressed through the village to give a greater understand of life living within the compounds of thermal energy all around. Over the years, houses have been built and lost, one even built on top of a steam vent – I bet they wondered why they were getting free heating. The village is working so everyone within all have jobs and use the thermal energy as if they would years ago. BBQ like boxes are strategically placed over natural stem vents and filled with foiled whole chickens, within a few hours a whole village’s dinner can be cooked just as if it were a microwave. Don’t like that idea? Try dipping a corn on the cob in a boiling sulphur lake, 2 minutes. Next up, we were directed to the villages baths, basically rectangle holes in the ground filled up with natural water from the nearby natural boiling chamber. Each day, individuals will go to bathe twice a day in these and they would be automatically filled through a simple process of flannel or no flannel. Later we proceeded onto a Maori show, not before being given a lesson in Maori traditions. Houses are built to represent the body parts of ancestors and chiseled totems represent generations. The carvings can be so delicate as the traditional Tortara wood has the ability for one to carve against the grain. Status and achievements are marked on the faces and when you see a tongue out its a man, no tongue a woman. The three fingers as hands signify birth, life and death; the Maori traditions are simplistic, understanding and sensible. As a background the traditional Haka as was performed later is a stimulation of the body and heart, a psychological performance to prepare oneself for battle and to hopefully scare the enemy to not battle in the first place. “Should I Die or Should I Live” are the words shouted to signify ones ability to face fear and be peaceful. After our entertaining performance including a guy I can only describe as terrifyingly awesome, we turned around to notice the village was on fire. Well, it wasn’t but when you look back and see the amount of steam you wonder if anyone would notice a fire as a fire.