We arrived in New Zealand on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016. It is still crazy to me that we lost an entire day to the universe somewhere. I will never know what might have happened on March 2nd 2016.
The first 30 minutes of being in a foreign land was extremely hectic. After picking up our rental car we had to take a few pictures with the car because the steering wheel was on the right side of the car instead of the left. Before we could get over the novelty of that situation we had to quickly figure out how to drive on the left side of the road. We made a few laps around the parking lot and then decided to give it a go. The roads leading out of the airport were busy and crazy and Matthew was a little tense while first trying to turn into the left lane while sitting on the right side of the car. Within a few (meters) we ran into our first roundabout. I thought Matthew handled it quite well but he said he was a little freaked out.
We then spent the next fifteen minutes driving circles around inner-city Auckland before we finally figured out how to get out of the city and onto the highway towards Rotorua. A few minutes down the highway and the left hand side of the road was already feeling comfortable.
The foreignness of the land set in when we hit up our first quick stop of the journey. We walked in and there were rows and rows of pastries I’d never heard of. What really caught my attention was all of the beef pies. We quickly noticed that New Zealand loves their meat pies. We found them at every quick stop after that one. I opted for a pizza looking dish. When I went to pay with my credit card the clerk shook her head and I had to pay with my New Zealand cash I had pre-purchased at BancFirst. After Matthew paid we set down to eat and looked around for the first time and noticed everyone was extremely tall and in extremely short shorts–especially the men.
The pizza thing turned out to be a pizza-like crust topped with some kind of noodle, a tomato sauce, some kind of meat and some kind of fruit or vegetable, I’m not really sure which one. Though it was an odd concoction, it was actually quite tasty.
Somewhere in between Auckland and Rotorua we realized we were in a foreign country with absolutely no phone service. This was fine until we realized that meant no GPS, no google, no phone calls…nothing. Then we realized that even if we did have phone service we didn’t have anyone that we could call if something were to happen. This was mildly frightening, so we had to laugh about it.
An hour or so of driving and we were at our first destination, Rotorua. Of course our first stop was McDonald’s for free wi-fi. What’s was interesting was that the menu was way better than American mickey-D’s menu. They had loaded french fries with salsa and guacamole, a hokey-pokey shake, a burger with guacamole, chips and lots of vegetables on it and even scones! I decided to try a Fanta lime shake concoction. Surprisingly it was only $1 New Zealand Dollar. That’s about sixty cents in USD!
After connecting to the wifi we realized all that did was give us a chance to Facebook message some friends back home, so we did what all good tourists do and we picked up a handful of pamphlets for the area. Bungy jumping, ATV tours, geothermal walks and more! After discussing our options and comparing our budgets we decided to start off with a Maori walking tour. Thankfully the pamphlet had both a discount and directions to where we were going.
When we pulled up to the walking tour place we noticed a stiff smell of Sulphur. As we walked closer to the front desk the smell worsened. The lady greeted us and said the tour began in 3 minutes, so we walked across the street and joined a huge group of people who were already listening to a cute little tour guide. The tour guide was of the Maori culture, though he did not live in the village we were touring. He began the tour by pointing to a word with more syllables than Mary Poppin’s most famous song. He said that was the actual name of their village but they had shortened it to make it easier for us to remember. The shortened version was about seven syllables long. He taught us how to pronounce it and then let us over a bridge to a pool full of steam.
The pool was a natural pond and the steam was natural. I learned that a geothermal pool is a small natural pool that is heated by the earth’s magma. Most of the north island of New Zealand is full of dormant volcanos. This particular village was built around the craters of the volcanic holes. These holes were filled with warm water that would come out in steam or geysers. Some of the pools were over 50 feet deep and were so hot that they burned the thermometers that the scientists used to measure the heat and distance of the pool. Other pools were made from water that had trickled slowly from a bigger pond, these were about the size of a bath tub and the Maori people did in fact take their every day baths there when the tourists were gone. Even these baths had to be cooled down before the people could use them.
The back of the village was where the geysers lived. They shot off around the clock and got so high as eight feet into the air. After the tour we got to enjoy a traditional Maori show which included a love song and also a war dance. The Maori are known for sticking out their tongues and making crazy eye faces to scare off their opponents. They also shook their hands throughout the dance so as to bring “life” to their choreography.
After the show we went for a hike behind the village with a German couple we met. They were spending four weeks in New Zealand and had had a 30 hour flight from Germany. Apparently Europe is the farthest point on the map from Australia. At that moment I thanked God for our 12 hour flight.
After the hike we got to enjoy some traditional Maori corn which was cooked in a hot box. The hot boxes used for cooking were literally holes in the ground that had been boxed in with wood. The village people would wrap their food up in these pouches and then either through them in the box or throw them in the boiling hot pool for a few minutes, cooking the food entirely without boiling it. The corn was fabulous and the process was very intriguing.
Overall I learned quite a bit about the Maori people. I guess you could say the Maori are to New Zealand as the Native Americans are to America. They were the first to inhabit the land and so their tradition and culture is scene throughout the country. Everywhere we went following this tour we connecting the Maori history with the present day surroundings. The names of towns and streets were all Maori words. The opening ceremony for the Ironman race was a traditional Maori dance. Even the tattoos we saw were Maori inspired.
I learned a lot but I still have many questions to ask about the Maori heritage.
We loaded up from Rotorua and drive the remaining hour to Taupo where we would be spending the next three nights. After realizing we had an address with no means of finding it, we stopped for directions and were happily pointed to the street we needed. Of course, then we found the street and couldn’t figure out if it was the front house or the back house. We then realized we had the phone number for our host couple but we had no phone service to call them. I thought about using AirBnB messenger to contact them, but realized I had no wifi. So back in the car we went until we found a public library with free wifi. After connecting to the internet we realized that Maaike, our host, had already messaged us and told us where to find the key to the house. Finally, we made it back to the house and unloaded our things. The house was beautiful. The kitchen was lime green, the bathroom was bright purple and the shower room was bright orange. The front porch was full of beautiful green grass and shrubs and the back porch was a beautiful deck that looked out onto the mountains surrounding the area.
Maaike and Johnny walked in just a few minutes after us and greeted us warmly. They were a kind, adventurous couple who had dated for six years but just married in January of 2016. It quickly felt like they were close friends. They pointed us to the store behind the house that had the best fish and chips I’d ever ate, then they told us to make ourselves at home. Our first real meal in New Zealand consisted of corner store fish and chips paired with a bottle of New Zealand chardonnay. We ate our picnic dinner on the beautiful deck and were fully satisfied.
Day 1 was slightly stressful at first but considering it was my very first day abroad, I think it was very successful and not scary at all!