julia dimon/for metro toronto
Rotorua, the adventure capital of New Zealand’s North Island, is an adrenaline junkie’s dream.
Here, adventurous backpackers can do it all: Bungee jumping, skydiving, luging, abseiling, mountain biking, jet boating and Shweebing along a human-powered mono-rail racetrack.
If that isn’t enough for your body or your wallet, you can also try caving with glow worms, rafting the highest commercial waterfall or Zorbing downhill in a giant plastic hamster ball.
Though Rotorua tends to draw those who like adrenaline-soaked activities, the town that shuts down before 10 p.m. certainly has a slower-paced, cultural side.
Te Puia is one of many places where visitors can learn about the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people. Maoris comprise 14 per cent of the country’s population, so their traditions, practices, art and dance play a big role in contemporary Kiwi society.
I pay the admission price and pass through a circle of wood carvings before I get to one of Te Puia’s many ceremonial houses. There I learn a bit about the Kapa Haka, a dance traditionally performed by Maori men before entering battle.
Eyes bulge, face muscles contort and pink tongues extend in this cultural act of manhood. It’s part throat exam, part ferocious dance of war. (The All Blacks, New Zealand’s rugby team, perform it for devout sports fans before every match.)
Though Maori women in this part of New Zealand aren’t allowed to perform the Kapa Haka, they do have their own form of dance. It’s called Poi and it’s a performance where balls on a string are tossed rhythmically around like Yo-yos.
As I discover, Poi isn’t as easy as it looks. Though I try to master the traditional Maori dance, I struggle with my hand-eye co-ordination. While Maori ladies twirl the Poi balls with the ease and enthusiasm of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the strings of my own Poi get tangled like a set of cheap earphone cords. Apparently I need a lot of practice. I clumsily follow along as my instructor sings a classic Maori tune, which, to my ears, sounds remarkably like The Temptations track My Girl.
Not far from the Maori performance, Mother Nature holds her own theatrical event. Like clockwork, the famous Pohutu Geyser explodes:?Water spits and steam swirls like a bubbling witches cauldron. A hot bed of geothermal activity, this area has active geysers, mud pools and boiling waters dating back to some 40,000 years ago.
The scenery is breathtaking but so is the stench. The air is thick with a smell like rotten eggs, and I struggle to breathe through the rank sulphur. It’s no wonder Rotorua is nicknamed “Rotten-rua.”
Though these natural Jacuzzis may look like nice places for a dip, I’m reminded that many of these pools are over 100 degrees in temperature, hot enough to coddle an egg — or poach a human.
Premiere: Word Travels, a new reality travel show co-hosted by Metro columnist Julia Dimon, will premiere on OLN on Jan. 30.
Air New Zealand has recently introduced its first direct, non-stop flight from Vancouver to Auckland. Visit www.airnewzealand.comfor more information.