Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - Mangere to Rotorua, Including Zorb

Only 4 million people live in New Zealand. A country larger than the UK has just over half the population London. Since almost a third of those people live in Auckland, we headed south, away from the city and toward the great outdoors. One-third of New Zealand is protected in parks and reserves.

New Zealand's flora is beautiful, but I'm apparently allergic to almost everything. I couldn't stop sniffling and sneezing. The vegetation is totally different from the U.S., and I just wasn't used to it. Tom's allergies started acting up, too, and we both ended up on antihistamines for the duration of our vacation.

Having a good road atlas, we ventured off onto some back roads. So there I was, trying to stay in the proper lane on the narrow, winding road, just minding my own business, when a bee flew into the car and stung me through my pants on my upper thigh. It hurt like hell, and it's a wonder I didn't drive into a ditch. Tom reached over and removed the bee and threw it out the window. I hope it was the kind of bee that dies after it stings.

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New Zealand countryside

The back roads led to Wairere Falls. On the west face of the Kaimai Ranges, these are the highest waterfalls on the North Island, dropping 153 meters (502 feet) in two stages. There were only a handful of cars parked in the tiny gravel lot when we pulled in, and we didn't see another person. The cattle in the foreground of the lovely falls perfected a very New Zealish scene.

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Wairere Falls

We pushed on to Rotorua, where we checked in at Treks Backpackers, a no-frills hostel with towels for hire (rent) if one hasn't had the sense to bring their own. (A towel is NZ$2, plus a NZ$3 bond.) Treks was efficient and spotless, and I'm sure they'd be horrified to learn of the single cockroach that fell from our shower curtain. It's really a decent place. We've stayed in worse, for sure.

In the afternoon we rolled down the hill in a giant hamster ball called a Zorb. A Zorb is an 11-foot diameter, double-hulled, vinyl sphere with two feet of airspace between the inner and outer hulls, so that the "Zorbonaut" rides on a cushion of air. You can either get harnessed into the Zorb or take the unharnessed "hydro" option where they add water. They weren't doing harness style when we were there -- it was too dangerous due to the wind -- so it was the hydro for us.

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Jana the Zorbonaut

For our first ride, Tom and I went together. There are two courses down the Zorb hill, straight or zigzag. With two people, you have to go down the straight course. We started out standing up, leaning against the side of the Zorb to get it moving. The standing lasted about two steps, and I don't know who fell on who in the melee, but we soon wound up sliding around at the bottom while the Zorb rotated around us. It was utterly ridiculous, and I couldn't stop shrieking with laughter. Now I know what it's like to be in a washing machine. Good, clean fun!

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Zigzag Zorbing

We couldn't stop smiling as we were disgorged from the Zorb at the bottom of the hill, so of course we had to go again. Tom and I got in separate Zorbs this time so we could try the zigzag course. Going together was fun, but it was worth splitting up to do the zigzag! The zigzag course is a lot longer, and I was completely disoriented bouncing around on the turns. The Zorb is a jolly fun New Zealand invention, and another reason why Kiwis are cooler than us. We had a ball! I highly recommend Zorbing if you get a chance. And by the way, it's coming this summer to east Tennessee!

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Tom post-Zorb

After Zorbing we'd planned on taking a gondola ride up Mt. Ngongotha for a scenic view and then riding a wheeled luge at the top, but the gondola turned out to not go very high and was way overpriced. Instead, we drove up Aorangi Peak. The road was permanently blocked at the top, but a loitering woman helpfully told us to "walk a wee way" for a good view. We did, and it was a classic view of Lake Rotorua with some silly sheep posing in the foreground.

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Lake Rotorua

The closest place to our hostel for "tea" just happened to be Mexican, Tastebuds Mexican Restaurant. How convenient. It wasn't bad but wasn't great either. It was a reasonable approximation of Tex-Mex considering how far away we were.

At dusk we explored Kuirau Park, an active volcanic area across the street from our hostel. This area most recently erupted in 2003. The park is very nice, plus it's free. The central part of New Zealand's North Island, including Rotorua, or "Sulphur City" as it's sometimes called, is one of four major geothermal hot spots in the world, along with Yellowstone, Iceland, and Kamchatka. Gotta see 'em all!

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Kuirau Park

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Playing at the park

 

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