I was lucky to go on several excellent road trips in New Zealand. After the Coromandel, I met up with a woman I met via a rideshare posting in Couchsurfing, and luckily for us, we hit it off right away. We would only end up traveling together for about nine days, but we packed a lot of fun and adventure into those nine days.
Liz is a 21-year-old from the Canadian side of Sault Ste Marie, and she had a few weeks of travel time before starting a job running outdoor education treks near Christchurch. She’d rented a car, and I joined her on the North Island before Christmas, and on the South Island afterward. I joined her in Rotorua, and right away we headed for the sights.
New Zealand is one of the newer land forms on Earth, and as such it’s still growing–earthquakes cracking up the land, thermal energy pulsing underneath the ground, the mud bubbling up and steam breathing through vents. The towns of Rotorua and Taupo are in the center of all the thermal action, and Rotorua in particular is a popular place for spa getaways in hot pools, and also for viewing an Old Faithful-esque geyser erupt every morning.
Of course, most of those places charge fees, but I’d heard from friends about a free place a little outside of town. We got directions from a local and pointed our car toward Kerosine Creek (I would’ve thought you’d spell it “Kerosene” but the sign said otherwise). Off the main road, we took an unsealed road (gravel roads are all over New Zealand) to a makeshift parking lot with about six other cars in it. We didn’t find signs pointing out the way, and the path was hard to find, but it turned out to be a short walk to the creek, which tripped along as merrily as any other creek, but when we dipped our toes in, that water was almost hot. We lounged in the water for awhile and then headed off to set up camp.
Lake Okareka has a very basic campground–so basic that there aren’t any spots as such. There’s a long driveway you can turn around in, and a sheltered picnic table, and non-flush toilets. Then some grass, a tiny strip of sand, and then this:
That sunset almost made up for the fact that I did not sleep at all that night. I swear I used to be a pretty good camper–we used to go most summers when I was growing up–but I’ve lost the ability to get comfortable on the hard ground, and I never was good with tiny two-person tents. Ah well, I dozed a bit in the morning while Liz productively ate breakfast and journaled, and after we returned the sleeping bag I’d bought the day before, we were back on the tourist track.
We totally touristed it up that second day in Rotorua. First, Liz went zorbing, which involves climbing into a giant plastic ball and getting pushed down a hill. Variations include a zig-zag path and a ball full of water to splash around in. I thought zorbing sounded like a lot of fun, but since I was walking around with a concussion, I thought maybe I’d better just watch.
After a short picnic lunch, we drove a bit down the road to the Agrodome, which bills itself as the place for “famous farm fun!” I couldn’t not go to a place like that. First, we went into the baby petting zoo section of the building, and just about passed out from all the cuteness. Baby sheep, baby pigs, baby ducklings, baby rabbits… We recovered ourselves and had a little chat with the sheep patiently waiting for their star turns on stage during the show.
The room was filled with long benches that reminded me of pews–The Church of Agriculture–and soon those benches were filled with tourists, most of whom carried headsets that they plugged into the little boxes dotting the benches. They could tune in and hear translations in seven different languages! I think they do the translating based on who’s in the crowd, because I only saw two translators in the back; either that or the guides of the tour groups serve as translators themselves, not sure.
The show featured an absurdly well-toned Kiwi, who led us through the paces at a good clip, with plenty of groan-worthy jokes that we all dutifully chuckled at. His assistant led the sheep up on stage, and hooked their leads to the feed trays so the sheep would stay on display. He brought some kids up on stage and let them feed some lambs from bottles. A sheepdog came out and attempted to herd some geese, although these flapped off the stage and ran around the audience for a bit, and based on the shepherd’s increasingly agitated calls to the dog, this wasn’t part of the show.
But my favorite part of the show was the sheep shearing. A sheep trotted on to stage, and the shepherd held her by her head and front legs, told us facts about who holds records for fastest shearing with motorized clippers and manual ones, and shaved all the wool off the sheep in three minutes. Sheep shearing! It’s even fun to say.
That night, we stayed with some friends of Liz, sleeping on a dairy farm and briefly waking at 4am as they got up to do the first round of milking for the day, then going back to sleep til a more civilized hour to start another day.