One of our guidebooks mentioned that Rotorua was the “Las Vegas of New Zealand.” It made me wonder how a town in the geothermic heartland of NZ could really make that sort of claim. The guidebook was right. Of all the towns we visited, Rotorua was the most built-up in a Vegas/theme park sort of way. The town consisted almost entirely of huge hotels and commercialized natural wonders that you could view if you were willing to part with a hundred bucks. I’m almost positive that any prepackaged tour of NZ that stops in this part of the North Island, comes to Rotorua. All we saw were tour buses, large tour groups (of mostly Europeans or retirees), and families. Maybe the area outside of the city was amazing – we read about all kinds of secret hot springs, geysers, spas and thermal pools that were awesome and free – but we didn’t spend enough time here to find out. From what we experienced, unless you were on a tour, retired, or with kids, this would be a pretty annoying place to visit. For those people, guides, guidebooks, etc. who suggested this place to us: you suck.
The main reason we stopped in Rotorua was to experience the Maori Hangi, or feast. Similar to a luau, at a hangi, there’s dancing, singing, challenges, lots of fake acting, and a huge buffet of food cooked on stones from a deep hole in the ground. If you find it fun to be on a bus with a large group of Eastern Europeans, being prompted by the bus driver to pretend you are on a canoe, then you might enjoy a tour like this. Also, if you like things that involve ‘audience participation,’ introducing yourself to everyone else, eating at large buffet tables across from people you don’t know, watching cruise-ship level entertainment being performed half-heartedly, pushing through crowds to eat average, yet overly priced, buffet food, then this is perfect.
I found the entire thing to be extremely awkward – from the shuttle bus to the hangi (where the bus driver tried to get us to ‘paddle the canoe’), to the people laughing while the Maoris were sticking out their tongues (an ancient and serious tradition), to the odd sensation that the Maoris were being exploited/exploiting themselves, to the awkward silence of eating at a table of people you didn’t really know (didn’t expect that). You would need to be either extremely drunk, extremely bored, or extremely young to enjoy this. We did our best to make the most of it, and ended up befriending the cute elderly couple that sat across from us. That was the best part of the evening. The bus ride home, however, almost made me lose it. The same Eastern Euros from the ride over got drunk during dinner. The entire way home, we had to listen to them singing Polish folk songs…over…and over…and over…Shoot me.
Sly was chosen to partake in a Maori game where the last person holding the stick, won the game. Sly won.
Above: The highlights of our tour. Below…um, yeah. (B + JJ: Protection)
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A cry for help.
The verdict is still out as to if this entire tour experience was awesomely bad, or just plain bad. Probably a little of both.