Trying To Be A Tourist In Rotten Rotorua

Through the awesome website www.couchsurfing.com I have found a host who will put me up for free for my three nights in Rotorua. Just the same, for this is tourist-land and they sure know how to cash in on the holiday makers, eager to tick of yet another must-see destination from their list. I very rarely find myself doing that sort of thing, but this time is different; I have decided to be a genuine tourist and “do” Rotorua. At least, that is my plan…

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Rotorua is much more than just a hole in the ground, and yet holes like this one is what attracts thousands of tourists to the town every year. Judging from the smell this could be a special kind of hole…

Richard – my generous host – tells me over the phone that he unfortunately won’t be home before much later that night, but that I should just let myself into his house and “get stuck in”. I find the keys in a hidden spot and enter his dream of a house. Richard is a doctor and his solid income is nicely reflected in his dwelling: Luscious rooms full of tasteful record and book collections; marvellous kitchen with a monstrous marble slab for a table-top; class A touring bikes in one corner and a pantry full of organic foods and homebrewed beer. Getting “stuck in” has never been easier and before you can say weary traveller, I have already lit the fire, made myself a hearty omelette and slipped into Richard’s comfortable couch.

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Who needs hotels when you can stay in a house like this? For free!

Around 10 pm the incredibly trusting Richard turns up and I find myself in the odd position of being able to welcome home in his own house. We hit it off immediately and it is only the advancing night that breaks off our flow of words – Richard has work in the morning. I decide to get up early too and ride with Richard into town as he lives a good 15 minutes drive out in the hills. I wake up to yet another rainy day but determined to be a good tourist, I drag myself out of the soft guest bed to go exploring in Rotorua.

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If this isn’t a classic tourist picture then I simply will have to give up trying to be a tourist. To underscore how genuine a tourist I was here, I didn’t even go into the museum, only photographed it!

This lakeside village which once was the backdrop for bloody skirmishes between the native Maori tribes and expansionist European settlers, became a “hot-spot” for tourism when Rotorua was connected by road and rail to Auckland in the North in at the very end of the 19th century. Since then, any tourist in New Zealand with respect for him/herself has come here to dip their bodies in the hot water of the thermal springs. For my part I do go for a quick walk (in between showers) in the English garden but I end up ditching the museum in favour of some quality time with a newspaper and a pot of tea at the library cafe.

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Did you know that in New Zealand cucumbers grow on trees and reach an average length of 12 meters?

I’ve agreed to meet Richard at the famous Polynesian Spa at 3 o’clock, at least a bit of rain can’t ruin the pleasure of sitting in a hot spa overlooking an old volcanic lake. Lo and behold if the rain doesn’t stop at exactly 3 pm, but at this point I couldn’t care less as I slowly sink into the hot (and fart-stinking) water with the therapeutic properties. Richard joins me a little later and the whole thing just gets better and better when we end up chatting to 2 brazilian girls on a holiday away from busy Rio de Janeiro. No, dear reader, we didn’t end up on a date with them…

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Sometimes being a tourist is quite alright…

It is Richard’s dad’s 74th birthday that evening and we drop by his house with some tasty fish and chips (or “feush and cheups” as the Kiwi’s pronounce it) and a 6-pack of quality beer. Being quite a news-hound, the old man starts pumping me for information about the recent election in Australia and the general state of affairs “across the ditch”. I tell him everything I know and when the topic of Australia is done we move on to Cambodia and India, two other countries that I have lived in. He is very grateful to have first-hand news and I feel somewhat confirmed in my worldliness to have such a keen listener. Meanwhile, Richard is texting away and making jokes on his dad’s behalf. Fathers and sons, decades of life lived won’t change that dynamic much it seems.

On my last full day in Rotorua I am facing yet another day of rain, although frequently interspersed with a sunnier patch. Knowing that I have given it my best shot I decide to call the whole tourist idea off and I stay at Richard’s small farm for the day. I am very happy I did so, for the day is leasurely spent reading some top-notch Kiwi literature, feeding Richard’s 11 cows, cleaning the gutters of his house while enjoying a breath-taking view over the Rotorua lake, and cooking up a delightful dinner.

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The view from Richard’s place. According to the tour operators, Mokoia Island in the middle of the lake is a sacred place. Maybe that’s why they charge $110 to take you there…

After dinner we drive into town for some locally brewed beers and a quick look at the night life. I say quick because there really isn’t much happening; it is a choice between paying 5 dollars to have our eardrums busted by a third-rate cover band or observing the “V8 beauty pageant” hosted by Mr. Sleaze asking the contestants what part of a V8 car is their favourite. When we hear the first girl say “the mirrors” we hastily withdraw and spend the rest of the evening chatting in Richard’s living room, listening to great music, baking bread and drinking tea. Oh, the joys of slowly becoming old farts…

There is a saying that goes; “it is the people that makes a place”.,More often that not this has proven true for me. There can be however many beautiful sights and events going on at any one place, but if I don’t make some good connections with people there or share the experience with someone, I am prone to forgetting the whole thing very rapidly. In the case of Rotorua I sure did enjoy the spa and a few walks around the area, but at the end of the day it will be the incredibly interesting, genuinely good-natured and generous Richard who will come to mind whenever I think about this place.

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Richard & Moto on the front step of his amazing house

Rarely have I met someone so open-minded and easy-going as him. His versatile skills amaze and inspire me: Beyond his full-time job as a doctor, Richard runs a small cattle farm, goes mountain and road-biking, builds up his own boat-engine, brews his own beer, goes for runs in the forest with his quirky dog Moto (I love that dog), reads great literature, travels the world, grows his own vegetables, hosts couch surfing travellers like me and the list goes on and on and on.

Richard, if you are reading this I want to say a deep-felt thank you for your generosity and the great conversations we had. Staying with you felt like getting a new older brother and gaining another great friend. I wish you all the best and I really truly hope our paths will cross again, hopefully then I will be able to host you in the same capacity and make sure you get the best that I can give you. Give Moto a pat for me and keep up that inspiring lifestyle of yours – the world is a better place for it!

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