Welcome to Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island and our latest stopover as we rapidly make our way through the A-Z of Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Rotorua is located on New Zealand’s North Island 228 km by road South East of Auckland and is roughly at the centre of the map down below.
At what felt like the crack of dawn on the 12th September, 2001 Geoff and I flew from Sydney to Auckland on our honeymoon. We’d got married on the 9th and had spent a few days at Sydney’s Whale Beach, and naturally couldn’t wait to get away.
However, when you have a closer look at the date, indeed if I write it in the American date format, I’m sure it will all come back to you…9/12/2001. That’s right. We flew to New Zealand on the morning of September 12 after watching two planes fly into New York’s World Trade Center. Indeed, it was probably still 9/11 in New York when we flew out thanks to the time difference.
At this point, I’m not sure if we knew about the third plane, but while we were in my parents’ kitchen, we watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center and the collapse of the twin towers. Yet, although we were on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia, we felt like we were right there. We could feel it in our pulse. There was no distance. It was absolutely horrific. I don’t remember much about the third plane at the time. However, I do remember US airspace closing down and our little Air New Zealand plane taking off, seemingly above and beyond all the troubles of the world. There have been times when I’ve cursed Australia’s tyranny of distance. However, (then like now as the coronavirus sweeps around the world), it was an incredibly relief, and a case of thank goodness for that!!!
By the way, while all of that was going on over in America, back in Australia, the 9/11 attacks coincided with the demise of Australia’s much loved Ansett Airline, which left my 88 year old grandfather stranded in Sydney. He’d come down from Queensland for our wedding, and getting him home wasn’t a small consideration either. Fortunately, Qantas came to the party, and while having my grandfather stranded was nothing compared to what was happening in America and at a global level, clearly it wasn’t an easy time to get him home.
Meanwhile with American airspace shut down and the demise of Ansett, I now marvel at how we got to New Zealand at all. However, I clearly remember thinking that we were flying into one of the safest places on Earth, and that a bit more distance from the rest of the world could only be a good thing. I certainly wasn’t worried about going to New Zealand at all.
However, although we were geographically isolated from events in America, there was no escape. The world was on tenterhooks. When we went out for dinner on our first night in Auckland, all the restaurants had TVs set up showing continuous coverage. Everyone was glued to it. Indeed, when we went back to our hotel, we were watching Ground Zero on TV much of the night, and at least for the next few nights. As I said, it felt like we were hovering on the brink, and I suspect many would agree, that life has never really quite gone back to how it was before 9/11.
From memory, we stayed in Auckland for three nights and then drove South-East to Rotorua. I’ve always wanted to experience the geothermal activity down there. Indeed, as I saw all that mud gurgling and splatting away, I was reminded of a song we sang back at primary school: The Hippopotamus Song (Mud! Mud gloroius mud)
Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a geothermal field extending from White Island off the Bay of Plenty Coast to Mt Ruapehu far to the south. Rotorua’s array of geothermal features includes volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles and colourful sinter terraces. You probably need a geological dictionary to make sense of all of that, but it was spectacular. I also found a strange parallel between at desolate scenes of Rotorua and the dust and destruction at ground Zero.
However, in addition to Rotorua’s incredible geothermal activity, Rotorua also allowed us to experience Maori history and culture at the Whakarewarewa Village , which is the legacy and home of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people. I particularly appreciated this opportunity to immerse myself in Maori history and culture, because for me getting out of your own backyard and walking in someone else’s shoes is what travel’s all about. I don’t go away to experience a duplicate of home, even if that can be personally challenging and confronting. With Australia and New Zealand being neighbours, the Maori people and to some extent their culture, were familiar to me back in Australia. However, it was quite another thing to be on their home turf and to have the full-immersion experience and I’d really like to head back there with the kids. After all, experiencing cultural diversity should make us more open-minded and appreciative of all kinds of difference.
When I was going through my photos, I also spotted a rather architecturally striking building, which turned out to be Bath House which was opened in 1908.
The Fleet at Auckland. The Rotorua Excursion. (Per United Press Association).
ROTORUA, August 13.
The visiting American naval officer spent a pleasant day at Rotorua. The principal thermal wonders in the immediate vicinity were visited. An elaborate Maori welcome, with well executed songs and dances was given in the Sanatorium grounds. The Maoris gave many valuable presents to the guests. The new bath house was then formally opened by the Premier. In the afternoon the visitors proceeded in strength to Whakarewarewa when the native Meeting house was opened by the leading chiefs with ancient formalities. Maggie, Bella, and other guides conducted the visitors around the pools, fumaroles, boiling springs and other thermal wonders. The Wairoa geyser was soaped and responded magnificently. Maori entertainments were given in the evening. WANGANUI HERALD, VOLUME XXXXIII, ISSUE 12541, 14 AUGUST 1908.
As a whole, Rotorua is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been. You can now see so much online, that you get the feeling that you might not need to be there in person. However, Rotorua contradicts all of that and nothing compares to being there in person. We highly recommend you visit and allow at least a couple of days.
Have you ever been to Rotorua or New Zealand? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.