February 23, 2016
We are heading south near the east coast of the North Island. The coastal drive was winding until Tauranga where we ran into another toll highway. At least this one was more than a few kilometers in length. There are no toll booths. I managed to figure out the online payment system and pay the bill. That means I can come back to NZ without fear of arrest unlike other family members who wait for Interpol to knock on their door. Anyway, back to the drive.
We knew we were getting close to Rotorua as the smell of sulfur quaffed through the car. The circular lake that lies next to the city is an old crater that is still simmering. We decided to explore a while and headed for the Government Gardens in the center of town. Besides clouds of smelly steam all over the place, the most readily recognizable sight were the Lawn Bowlers. There were dozens intently and with great concentration rolling their balls on manicured greens. Almost all were dressed in traditional whites. The Pétanque court was empty. It is probably too French to gain much attention in this bastion of Anglican custom. I even tried to kibitz but ignored. That was probably because I suggested that they might Improve with a glass of wine in one hand like in Bocce Ball.
The ponds of volcanically heated water are everywhere. The Rachel Pool is not Biblical. It got its name from some cosmetologist who promoted the use of the smelly silica water as a skin treatment. They still charge extra at some of the local spas to immerse yourself in the elixir. We wandered over to old bath house that is now a museum. The building is a remarkable Tudor statement. We indulged in a nice Flat White coffee (I stuck with boring coffee Americano). Our waitress thinks Donald Trump needs a haircut. Peggy and Bobbie took flower pictures while I retrieved the car.
Next visit was the old Anglican Church on the edge of the lake and next to the old Maori meeting house. The founding Vicar and his wife were both Americans and “patiently” toiled for 60 years with his flock of Maoris. He was successful and the church is still going a top one of the strangest places to ever build anything. For starters, everywhere you look and there are ponds of boiling water. You could easily stumble into one if you lacked alertness. I can almost guess how the Vicar addressed the need for sobriety.
The pavement is actually hot to touch and you don’t linger anywhere for long. The graveyard contains above ground tombs for obvious reasons. The pews all have heating vents to keep the parishioners warm. Actually, the entire church is covered with Maori artwork. I was not successful in seeing much in the way of Christian symbolism except for the glass window with a Maori looking Jesus walking across Rotorua lake.
We marveled at the houses built almost on top of these odiferous cauldrons. I really don’t know how they raise kids that live through childhood without par boiling. I also don’t know how they can sleep at night without thinking about the next eruption. I guess their faith is strong. This almost totally Maori neighborhood is about as close to the real thing as we are likely to get.
After securing our room for the night, we changed and returned to Blue Baths for our own soak in the hot springs. There are two major spas downtown. The Polynesian Spa is a renovated tourist place. The Blue Baths are more historical (and much cheaper) so we headed there. These baths were the first to allow male and female mixed swimming and soaking. We used our modern outfits. Turn of the 19th Century garb was not needed. They had a couple of soaking areas. One was so hot that you would quickly become a cooked lobster. The other was hot but doable. The pool was a good recovery point. We were mostly alone except for a few families. So much for spas although our room has a private hot tub jacuzzi type thing.
Tomorrow we venture further into volcano country in search of Mt. Doom.