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At eight o’clock, we met up with the group of folks we’d had drinks with the night before to start our private tour. There were eleven of us in total—nine Yanks and just us two Canucks. Our driver was Les, a guy who I thought bore a strong resemblance to (and this is the only time I’ll make this claim) Paul Hogan. Some years ago, he was an advanced care paramedic from Auckland, and he was lured to Tauranga because there were no paramedics here with advanced care training (psst… Colleen. Overseas job opportunity.) Since retiring (ha ha), Les currently splits his time between teaching, working as a private event paramedic, organizing fundraising campaigns for Variety children’s charities in NZ, and running tours.

There’s really not much in Tauranga proper, so the tour took place about an hour away in Rotorua. In retrospect, it was a damn full itinerary. We started at Kiwi 360, an orchard that grows—that’s right—kiwis. Kiwifruit are grown on the vine, and the vines are trained to form a canopy, so Les had us crouch underneath while he pointed out the finer points of kiwi growth. In addition to the kiwifruit, just to show how shit-hot their climate is for growing things, Kiwi 360 has a lemon tree, beside an apple tree, beside an avocado tree, beside a macadamia tree, and so on, and so forth. There’s nothing they can’t grow, apparently. The gift shop was filled with seven million kiwi themed/flavoured items, and we tried an overly strong kiwi juice but left otherwise empty handed.

Following this, we traveled to Te Puia, which is a Maori cultural site located alongside geothermal hot springs. The Maori (pronounced Maury, as in Povitch) are New Zealand’s indigenous people who discovered and populated the land well before the Brits came a calling. It’s inspiring how well integrated the Maori are into the population, and I don’t say this in an anglo let’s civilize them there natives kind of way. The Maori aren’t marginalized like our First Nations are. They’re everywhere and their history and traditions are really celebrated. (There are still tensions, though—don’t get me wrong.) The main event in Te Puia is a show that demonstrates Maori songs, traditional greetings, speeches, and best of all, the Haka. The Haka is a highly intimidating chant and dance where the participants bulge their eyes and stick out their tongues to freak out the enemy. Sounds a bit silly, but when done right it’s pretty damn effective. New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, perform this prior to each game. After the show, we walked the grounds a little. There’s a very active hot spring geyser, and a pool of scalding, bubbling mud. There’s also a place to view a couple of kiwi (the animal). The birds are nocturnal, so the exhibit is held with very low light levels. I didn’t really get to see them—basically I saw kiwi butt, and it might has well have been a quivering coconut.

Next, we stopped at Skyline Skyrides for the luge portion of the trip. (Not real luge, but I’ll get to it in a minute). We took a gondola up to the top of Mount Ngongotaha, which offers up a nice view of Lake Rotorua. Not knowing what to expect, Sarah opted out of the luge, so I went to it with a few folks from our tour, Jack and Stephanie. The luge is basically a small cart you sit on, with handlebars to guide it and a break for some of the uglier turns. I started on the Intermediate course and it was a hoot; I was laughing the whole way down. The course is steep, the turns are sharp, and if you’re fairly dumb, you could drive right over a ledge and bust yourself up tumbling down the mountain. Jack (from Georgia) was amazed and kept saying, “There’s no way you could have this in the States.” We did the Advanced course next, which was doubly fast but only equally treacherous. So much fun.

We ended the day at the Polynesian Spa. The tour arranged for us all to couple up in private pools, in spring-heated water. Pretty sleep-inducing after the long day, and a bit too hot, but still enjoyable. Not quite sure what happened after that because I was in a low grade coma for the rest of the day.


Anonymous said…
"private event paramedic" sounds like someone who would work for Jackass.
Beth said…
It's pronounced "Maury"? I always thought it was something like "Ma-your-ee." You learn something new every day!
Kelly said…
Dave... not really getting the picture of what the Haka looks like. Could you post a video of you performing the Haka?

Dave said…
Kelly - link now up for the Haka. Check it!

Beth - That's what I thought. I'm still trying to relearn how to say it.
Anonymous said…
That sure was a fun day! There's a lot to be said for the smaller group rather than the big groups on the ship's tours. (And I am STILL pronouncing everything wrong!)lol

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