City Travels - Rotorua
From Taupo, I headed to Rotorua.
I was there from June 13th to June 16th.
All prices are given in New Zealand dollars.
I booked a bus with Intercity for just a dollar! While I was backtracking a bit from Taupo, with a ticket price like that, it was no problem. My bus was the last bus of the evening, and was half-an-hour late. While I wasn't in a rush to get anywhere, it's a bit intimidating when the bus is that late, you're alone at the bus stop at night, and the i-site is closed so you cannot contact the bus company. Luckily, the bus happens to switch drivers in Taupo, so the new driver arrived a few minutes before the actual bus and explained what was going on. He was very friendly.
A Place to Stay
I stayed at the Rock Solid Backpackers. The hostel is extremely centrally located, and located in the city center. This is the most interesting hostel I've ever stayed in. Rather than having windows in the common areas that look outside, the windows look onto a giant indoor rock climbing course. It's very entertaining to watch the people climbing high up onto the walls.
The hostel is also unique in that there was only a small set of stairs from the second to third floor. The rest of the hostel is all ramps. This makes everything very spread out, which is good for room privacy, but can be a hassle getting to bathroom at night.
There is one female bathroom and one male bathroom for the whole hostel. The female bathroom is on the first floor, and the male restroom is in the middle of the hostel on the second floor. This makes it a bit of trek to the female bathroom if you're staying on the third floor, like I was. It's not terrible, but in an ideal world both bathrooms would be in the middle of the building on the second floor.
The bathrooms are kept clean and there is plenty of space. There are four showers and four toilets, all kept in similar looking stalls in a row. There are labels on the outside of each stall door labeling the stall as either a toilet or a shower. The showers are large enough to have a changing area, but there is no divider between the shower and the changing area. The shower does not drain that quickly and the shower floor can get quite flooded; I wouldn't set my stuff directly on the ground unless you know it can handle the water. The shower water does not reach the toilets though as there is tiling up to the bottom of the stall between the last toilet and the first shower, which was excellent planning. There are also six (or so) sinks with lots of counter space between them. There is an outlet in the mirror that is clearly set up to handel hair dryers, if you brought one.
The kitchen of the hostel was clean and decently stocked. There were two small microwaves, and many stovetops/hot plates, but no oven or even a toaster oven. It was very clean. The kitchen is closed late at night, but also from 11-12:30 for cleaning, which is a bit close to lunchtime for my liking.
I stayed in an 8-bed mixed dorm. The bed was comfortable and they have awesome sheets. They're extra soft and I believe they may be heat-trapping sheets. The duvet was also warm. For storage, each person has a tall, deep half of a closet, that is lockable. I fit a suitcase, and a normal, school-sized backpack into the bottom half of the locker. There was then ample room on a shelf to keep several items. I kept my fairly tall bathroom-supply basket, and tomorrow's clothes on the shelf, and still had extra room. Best storage ever. Dorm doors automatically lock when fully closed, and require a key to be opened.
The security of the building is quite advanced, with a couple of locks. I'll explain the security of the building with the layout of the hostel. The front, automatic doors lock after 10, but there is a key. There is a lounge as you enter the building for chatty groups to use after 10. Then you can either take the ramp up to the hostel reception, or down to the rock climbing center. The hostel reception is open from 8-10, and has a lovely view of the rock climbing center, a ping pong table, a pool table, several DVDs and video games for the Xbox360, and a small library.
To get into the actual hostel, you have to leave the reception area, walk up another ramp past the laundry, and enter a security code to a door. Right after the coded door, you must use another key to open a locked door and then you're in the hostel. If you don't want to leave the hostel, you can hang out in the kitchen, or in a much smaller lounge on the second floor. It might be nice if there were more outlets in the dining area or the lounges, but otherwise the areas are clean and colorful.
Wi-fi is available throughout the hostel with a cap of 2GB per night you are staying. That is phrased specifically; it is not a cap specifically of 2GB a day. You are given a passcode per day that you are staying at the hostel. These can be used at any time. I horded mine until the last night so I could upload my photography, and do a git push with several blog posts. It turns out the data caps don't count upstream data. So...keep that in mind. Also, I believe wi-fi is available in most rooms, but the connection in my room was very weak as it was pretty much as far away from the hotspot as you could get. The wi-fi is blazing fast elsewhere though, it was just an issue of location.
I enjoyed my time at Rock Solid and would certainly stay here again without question.
I started my Rotorua jouney by being there right at the daily opening of the Pak 'N Save. There was an interesting crew there waiting in anticipation with me; we made faces at the window washer. This was obviously a massive highlight of my trip, and everyone should try to be at a grocery store morning opening once in their lifetime.
After I gathered food, I made a beeline through the center of town and went straight to the lake, walking through the center of town. I caught the end of sunrise and got some excellent pictures. I thought there would be a full train around the perimeter of the lake, but it turns out I started at the end of the trail by going straight to the lake. There's a nice little playground there and some shops, but there are better views of the lake elsewhere.
I then made my wat to Kuirau Park. This public park is filled with interesting geothermal sites right in the middle of town. There is a very interesting path at the top end of the park where you can walk on a wooden bridge through a huge pile of steam. It was like being lost in a cloud; it was amazing. Cover your mouth though; it does smell like sulfur.
On the opposite end of town is the Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum. While I did not go into the museum, I did explore the free gardens outside of it. There are several historical sites, such as old bathhouses, in the gardens as well as several sculptures and green lawns. There is a small rose garden closer to the museum, near access to the lakeside walkway.
The lakeside walkway follows the lake through several interesting geothermal sites, with numerous plaques explaining either historical or geologic information. The trail is clearly marked, even as you wander through sulfur flats and near steaming holes in the Earth. The trail can either conclude in the city center, or you can continue to follow it to the highway that runs near town. This second half of the trail also is a way to the Redwood trees near town.
The Redwoods park is about an hour-walk away from the city center. Years ago, a man donated California Redwoods to the area as a memorial. If you cannot make it to California to see the redwoods, this is your other opportunity. There are many, many hiking trails in the park. Most of the trails are advanced and lengthy. I didn't even end up walking far on the easy trails, as I found they were poorly marked. There were signposts saying the trail was straight ahead, but the trail itself was covered with leaves and the arrow simply looked like it was telling you to wander through an endless grove of similar looking trees. That was a bit too risky for a solo hiker, so I decided to only peak my head in a little. I looked at other trail entrances, and the trail didn't look any clearer. I'd visit here with that in mind.
I also paid for two expensive tours from Rotorua. First, I went to the Mitai Maori Village for a hangi and presentation of Maori culture. Mitai is run by a family of Maori who want to keep their traditions alive. They will send a shuttle to pick you up and bring you to the center. When you arrive, start off finding a seat at your assigned table, where you also have the opportunity to purchase alcohol. Once everyone is settled, you'll move from your table to watch a traditional Maori was canoe be driven, and after that, you'll be taken to a theater where a team of performers will show off Maori songs, dances, toys and weapons. This also includes a performance of a haka.
After the performance, then it's time to eat the hangi. A hangi is a ground-cooked feast. Dinner consisted of lamb, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, bread, and seafood chowder. Dessert had a selection of a slice of chocolate log, pavlova, or custard and steamed pudding. I also had purchased Tutu Cider, which is bottled by Maori people in Nelson. It was all delicious and I left extremely full.
After dinner, you go through a flashlight-lit walk through the woods around the center. There, they'll explain various plant life, you'll see some glow worms, and also see a natural water spring, which is where the water served with dinner came from. This tour cost me $88 as booked through my hostel, which was the cheapest hangi I could find, and I think it was worth it.
The morning after the hangi, I went on another tour to Hobbiton. Hobbiton is the set from various Lord of the Rings movies, and is probably the thing people will ask you the most about when you get back from your trip. Tours of Hobbiton do not have to be done from Rotorua, but it is cheaper to do it from Rotorua than Auckland. The tour cost me $114, and was over $200 from Auckland. That is the price of transportation to the site; the tour itself cost a (still rather steep) $79 if you can get yourself to the small town of Matamata.
The tour is worth the price however. My guide was very friendly, and the tour itself moves at a slow pace so there is plenty of time for everyone to take pictures. There is more explanation on the tour of how filming took place rather than LOTR mythology, making the tour accessible to those who are not familiar with the series. In fact, I was surprised by how little was mentioned of the movie's characters and what not, but this wasn't a problem. I actually preferred it that way, not being a huge LOTR fan. I also took advantage of sending a few postcards directly from Hobbiton, especially to my roommate who had mentioned you could do this before I even left.
At the end of your tour, you'll be provided either a beer, cider or ginger beer at the Green Dragon Inn. There is also a small selection of snacks to choose from. I had a scone, which attracted a hungry cat named Pickles. Pickles is semi-famous: the lone survivor of a litter of abandoned kittens left on the site. At one point, someone was going to write a children’s book about him and his life in Hobbiton.
Pickles jumped into the chair next to me at my table and occasionally pawed at my hand, begging me to share some of my scone. He was very cute, and I'm glad he decided to be my breakfast buddy. At the end, he tried to lick the butter off my knife though. Naughty, but cute.
I walked everywhere without any problems. My hostel was very centrally located to the point it wouldn't have made sense to drive most of the time. The other times, a tour bus was provided included to where I was doing I was doing. There is a city bus system that seems to run quite frequently, but I never investigated it.
I totally bought pre-made hotdogs at the grocery store. They cost $2.99, which is less than a bottle of ketchup... and it came with ketchup! So, that happened. Overall, I spend $17 dollars at the grocery store for my brief time in town. It was hard to buy bulk supplies because I wasn't in town long, so the easy-make meals added up quickly, although it was still cheaper than fast food.
I bought a cider at the hangi that cost $7.50. But the bottle was quite large, so I consider the price decent. The hangi, of course, was extremely filling, granted expensive.
The scone at Hobbiton cost $3.50, which is well worth it for breakfast with a kitty (but kitty not included). Hobbiton is also probably the only place where it is acceptable to have alcoholic cider with a scone for breakfast at 11:30AM.
I could have easily spent more time in Rotorua; there is a lot to do here. But a lot of the tourist attractions are also expensive, so I don't know if I could have afforded to do a lot more of the things here. A short stay kept me on budget.