Days 6 & 7 of our North Island holiday (April 5th & 6th, 2012)
I was very sad the next day to leave our cottage. I only regretted that it rained both days we were there as I had been looking forward to using the kayak they had to paddle down the inlet. I could have stayed there a month; it gave me ideas of having a home like that one day, in the country and just a romantic little cottage. It also made me dream of being like my parents one day, and maybe Josh and I running our own B & B. The price we paid to stay there did not include breakfast, that was extra, which we did not pay for, but maybe the next B & B we stay in we will have breakfast served to us on a tray. We had met the owner Adrian the day before, who was really nice and he was willing to help us with any planning, but we unfortunately didn’t ever get to meet Sharon, as they had had a family emergency and had to leave early.
Before Josh and I left the town of Kerikeri, we stopped by their historic landmark, the Stone Store, and into the gift shop. It is the oldest stone building in all of New Zealand, built 1832-36. I loved going inside there, it had stone floors and walls, and just smelled ancient and rustic. It felt like we had really stepped back in time and I imagined living back then; days when our home would have a wood burning stove, I would be sweeping with a wooden broom, baking biscuits in an iron skillet pan and cooking a pot of beef stew over the open fire. Later that evening, I would listen to my husband Josh tell of his day working in the fields as I knitted next to the candlelight. Haha. We could have taken a tour of the upstairs and the historical, old house next door, but we didn’t want to pay and it was time to go on our journey; we had a long ways to go. Josh did buy a hessian, or burlap, sack as a souvenir, which I found that to be amusing.
Originally, we had planned to stay one or two days in Paihia and visit Russell in the Bay of Islands, but due to the weather, we knew we had to carry on. So we were heading to Rotorua. We had looked it up and been encouraged by our Lonely Planet guidebook to give this place a visit. It was a long day of driving, but once we got closer to Auckland the clouds parted and the sun came out which was a sight for sore eyes. I am a sucker for sunny weather. We arrived in Rotorua at night, and were greeted by the smell of rotten eggs. Bleh. That was something to get used to; the sulfur smell of the thermal springs; Rotorua is known as the thermal village. We were looking forward to taking a dip in a hot pool and learning more about the traditions of the Maori people. Rotorua is also known as RotoVegas, as the main drag was lined with cheap motels with blinking lights. At last we found a very cheap motel that had the funniest smell inside, but it had a big Jacuzzi tub which is always a selling point for me. We were glad to be away from the rain and relieved to see a sunny forecast for the next day. Off to bed and on to new adventures the next morning!
Friday, April 6th, we checked out of our hotel and drove around to see the city in the daylight. We wanted to go on one of the tours to see the geysers, so we got tickets to Whakarewarewa: The Living Thermal Village. It was incredible to see the steam rising all around us and the bubbling hot pools as an older Maori woman gave us and several other tourists a narrative and history of her people. It was very cool to see the geyser in the distance spout water out of its mouth high up into the air. The day was chilly and sunny, but in the village we felt the warmth rising up from the earth. The coolest part was that we were able to watch a performance of the Maori; singing and dancing. They kind of scare me when they make their eyes get really big and bug-eyed and stick their tongues out and make funny noises. Josh was like, “What if one of them came up and did that to you? You’d be so scared!” and we laughed. It was awesome to partake in cultural education and see people proud to share their traditions with others.
There was so much to do in Rotorua; so much to choose from, which we unfortunately couldn’t do everything because of time and money, but we got to pick what stood out to us more. We had heard from our friends about this thing called The Zorb, and Josh was like a little kid wanting to go on a roller coaster. So, we drove a few miles outside of town and laughed when we saw these big, see-through plastic balls rolling down the green hill; with people inside of it! I thought Josh was going to jump out the window; he was so enthusiastic about rolling down a hill in a ball. It was quite an expensive ride, and I wasn’t chomping at the bits to ride it, so I stayed behind as Josh got into the back of a jeep with a bunch of strangers, looking as if he was about to get taken to prison. I watched and had the video camera and saw him wave from way at the top of the hill and waited for his turn. I saw him jump through the air into the ball and laughed and continued to do so the entire time I watched the plastic Zorb slowly roll down; with my husband inside of it! What a weird and random thing someone made up! Haha. It was hilarious, though, and entertaining and I was glad Josh got to do something he really wanted to do.
After that, we then drove down a peaceful, country road out to Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park. We love animals, and were convinced to go when we saw that you could “pat” a lion cub. That was the best zoo experience I’ve ever had and was worth every penny. I didn’t think they would really let us, because I’ve never seen that before, but we went into the enclosed cage area and gasped when we saw Benji and Bella, that had been little newborn cubs in the pictures, but now they almost looked as big as Mufasa! They must grow up fast! The two trainers were inside the cage with them, petting and soothing them as people reached in to give the cubs a pat. They weren’t so little baby cubs anymore, but were now 7 months old. I couldn’t believe I was this close to one! When I was a little girl, I used to dream of going to Africa and living among the lions, cheetahs, and leopards; I would be an animal whisperer and they would know me and we would be friends. We’d run through the tall grass together and they wouldn’t eat me or any other animal; I would just feed them a bunch of cat food and they’d be happy. Now, as I stood so close to these young lions, I felt fearful of this great beast and its innate nature to kill. I was so afraid as I reached my hand in through the holes in the wire, and, for the first time in my life, I touched a lion! The lion tamer said to be sure and pat the lion hard and firm, not softly as it would get jumpy and find it to be an annoying itch it had to scratch and take care of. I was surprised when I touched the lion’s fur; I was expecting it to be soft like my pet cats I’ve always had, but instead, it was extremely rough and course. I wondered if he felt the goodness in me through my touch; if Benji knew that I was an animal lover and have loved every species related to the cat family from the day I was born. The very first word I ever learned to write was “Cat.” I still remember that day when I was in the backyard playing in the dirt, drawing in the sand, and I was amazed at myself when I saw the letters I formed, jumped up and down, and ran inside to tell my Mommy. This lion was not interested in me and could not read my thoughts, unfortunately, but was distracted by something else. His and Bella’s eyes were wide and glued to something moving in the bushes in the distance, and darting their heads from side to side; one of them even got up and started pacing around in the small cage. We were like “what’s going on?” along with the couple other people in the enclosed area, and the lion handlers said they spotted little kids playing, which sparked their curiosity immensely. I don’t know if they said this, or were getting at the fact that the lions thought the kids were prey to them and they wanted to go chase and eat them; I hope not. Or maybe they meant they saw them playing and wanted to get out of the cage and go play with them, too. They probably didn’t mean the latter part, though, and this gave me a little more fear towards these predatory creatures. Those same kids eventually ran into the caged in area with us, and the handlers called out to them to please stop running and to calm down a bit as them playing had really excited the lions. We stayed there for several minutes and watched as some people didn’t grasp the concept of petting the lions firmly, and a couple times Benji and Bella got kind of mad and turned their heads fast like they were about to bite their hands off and the handlers got strong with them and kind of had to like hold them down. One of the handlers didn’t look that much bigger than me, so I was pretty amazed; I wished I had her job.
Josh and I had such a fun time together in the wildlife park. He and I have both grown up being surrounded by animals. We meandered down the pathways and looked at all the wildlife and trees and exotic plant life we had never encountered at any zoo in Texas. We saw the lion feeding and once again I felt in awe of the king of the jungle; these mighty fierce and strong animals that God created. There were a few lionesses and one lion and we watched as they leaped in the air to grab the meat the zookeeper threw over the fence. How crazy that those lion cubs grow up to be that; I definitely didn’t see any handler in there giving those lions a pat!
We hurried back to the enclosed lion area because they had mentioned that later in the afternoon we would be able to see the newly born lion cubs. Yay! I had wanted to see some newborn cubs, and they had them after all! We had to wait in line a long time, but when we finally got inside my heart just melted when I saw the handlers holding the two, tiny, 6 week old cubs like babies in their arms. Josh and I got to pet each cub, and they were soft, just like I would have imagined. Oh my goodness, they were so cute! They looked like Simba when he was newly born . . . I just almost couldn’t handle it and thought Josh was going to have to pull me away! On the outside of the cage was a clipboard where you could write down ideas you had for what they could name the cubs; we wrote down, “Rusty” and “Lucy” for our former beloved pets.
Our wildlife experience was complete when we got to hand feed the farm animals over the fence. It was hilarious and I just could not stop laughing as the Billy goats were going crazy and standing on the fence and reaching up for the food in our hands. They were not shy at all! Their dotted eyes looked so funny and cute; they were really hungry and just comical! And there was an obnoxiously loud goose trying to get the food too and was reaching his head through the holes and I was screaming as I was trying to feed him from my hand; I kept chickening out and would just throw it on the ground because I didn’t want him to bite me; geese have always scared me. And then there was this little miniature horse that I fed, and then I got frightened when it grabbed my shirt and started pulling me towards him! I screamed again, but then started laughing. It was the hardest I had laughed in a long time. I think one day you will hear Josh and I say, “We bought a zoo!”
Eventually we left and went back into town. We got worried as we were driving down the strip and were seeing No Vacancy on every motel. We hadn’t been too sure of our plans earlier in the day and couldn’t have checked in anyways, but now we wished we had booked another night at the motel we stayed in the night before, as even that had no rooms available. Of all those motels, and no vacancy! It was Easter weekend, so we should have been more prepared, didn’t plan that it would be that crowded here. Originally, we were going to go to the Coromandel Peninsula as well, which is where we were going to do our camping, but the rainy weather had deterred us from that plan, so now we were thinking maybe we would have to pitch our borrowed tent at a holiday park here. Those looked crowded and we didn’t like the holiday parks that much, and so we kept searching for a motel. It was stressful as Josh was going into every single one, and they were all booked. We didn’t know what we were going to do, unless drive to Lake Taupo which wasn’t too far away but I knew that popular holiday destination definitely would have been booked. It was getting late in the day, too. At last, we amazingly got the last room at Kingsgate Hotel Rotorua (thankfully better than the one in Auckland) for a very reasonable rate, and I was glad to be in a hotel with four stories as opposed to a motel. I really wanted to go the popular Polynesian Spa and soak in the natural thermal springs, but we had limited time and money, and we were going somewhere the next day that I was completely psyched out of my mind about. We did get to swim in the outdoor heated pool of our hotel, which was nice, but just freezing getting out into the cold air! Brrr!! It had been an eventful time in Rotorua and we got a taste of culture, history, animals, geothermal wonders, and, for Josh, the adventure of rolling down a hill in a ball in New Zealand.