We head north for a few hours and drive into Rotorua, which claims to be the heartland of Maori culture. We visit Whakarewarewa, "the living thermal village". It’s an actual thriving Maori community, but a tourist destination by day, as it is an active geothermal site (think steaming, bubbling pools of water and mud). We take a guided tour and see how they use the earth’s natural heating systems for cooking and bathing (community members congregate at the local natural pools early in the morning and then again after the tourists go home to soak).
No one, not even community residents, are allowed into this fenced area, where the earth's crust is very thin and brittle.
Our guide says community residents use these containers, which cover a natural steam vent, to cook their food.
This is the communal bathing area. Hot water runs down the grooves in the pavement from a natural spring into several deep tubs.
It is a great tour, but it’s pouring rain and we finally take refuge in a small cabin where see a demonstration of how generations of this community have used local reeds to make baskets and other materials. We’re then treated to traditional song and dance by a troupe of eight village residents.
Our guide shows us a traditional skirt made from twisting, drying, and dying the long green leaves of a local plant.
After the tour, we get back into the car and drive northwest for almost five hours more, the last hour in rush hour traffic on the highway into Auckland.
We check into the Rendezvous, a beautiful modern hotel in the heart of the city. The rooms and bathrooms are large; we see several flight crews so assume that this is where a lot of airlines put their staff up during Auckland layovers. We quickly clean up and change clothes before heading to Satya, a restaurant specializing in Southern India cuisine. Delicious and perfect after a long day in the car. We cross the street to a local pub for a final beer before heading back to the hotel to sleep.
On Friday morning, we’re up by 8:00 am. I head a few streets over for a cup of Starbucks and to peruse some local shops, while Peter and Mark walk a few blocks to the Sky Tower, the tallest man-made structure (1,076 feet) in all of New Zealand for some birds-eye views of Auckland.
At 11:00 am, we all rendezvous at The Rendezvous, pack up the car,and head to the airport.