After the long, glorious day of Tongariro and glow worms, we slept in until the luxurious hour of 8 AM before making breakfast and preparing for the drive to Rotorua . A short distance separates it from Waitomo, so we decided to lengthen the trip by heading first to Lake Taupo for lunch and a couple hours exploring the town. A cloudy day, we didn't get the incredible views of the lake that many do, but we enjoyed the town and someday we'd like to give it a proper visit.
We moved on to Rotorua and met our second wonderful CouchSurfing host and her delightful kid. We spent the afternoon hanging out with them and getting to know each other better - including hysterical stories about some of her past CS guests - before we made dinner and called it a night. The next day, we struggled to make a decision on what we wanted to do. At this point, we already knew we were going to be woefully over budget for New Zealand, so we were really grilling ourselves about what we really wanted to see. After careful consideration, soul-searching, and number a crunching, we made a visit to Whakarewarewa.
An active Māori village located on the thermal vents that make Rotorua famous, our visit to Whakarewarewa (pronounced fa-ka-ray-wa-ray-wa) included a free traditional Māori performance that was just starting. It included various dances, including the haka and the poi dance that includes the swinging and hitting of small balls named poi. After that, we went back to the main entrance for our tour around the village. Herding along 20 people, our very personable guide showed us the various parts of village life, from the village baths with thermal water smooth as silk to the thermal ovens called hangi. We were told about the history of the village and the people living there as we walked amongst the various pools with their many uses. At the end of the tour, we enjoyed a lunch of a hangi meat pie and salad before we explored the grounds on our own for a little bit.
That afternoon after the village, we drove to The Redwoods - Whakarewarewa Forest and walked amongst the giants, passing afternoon exercisers, monks, and teens searching for private spots. The park has many trails for hiking, biking, or walking, and we wish we'd had a full day to devote to it. The two hours we spent there were very relaxing and it's a place worth visiting.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to our great CS host and began the drive to Whitianga. This was to be our home base for the next 1.5 days while we visited one of the places I was most excited for - Cathedral Cove. Actually located near the town of Hahei, we stayed 30 minutes away as we couldn't find a good budget accommodation option ahead of time and Turtle Cove was a great substitute. We spent a rainy afternoon working inside, playing darts, and relaxing a bit before our day at Cathedral Cove.
We awoke the next morning to rain. We had expected it, so we enjoyed the free breakfast spread and had a leisurely morning and made lunch. Then, the sun peeked out and we started the drive over to Hahei. There are plenty of signs along the road directing you to the cove, so we followed them and they led us to the parking lot at the top of a hill near the trail to the cove. Arriving in the afternoon, all the spots were taken at the top, but a couple of Kiwis offered their spot just down the hill if we took them to their car. We said yes and, after parking, they drove us back to the top of the hill - a great deal!
We were late to the game and all the spots were taken at the top, but a pair of Kiwis offered to drive us back to the top if we drove them to their car a little down the hill. So we did!
The path to the cove is pretty easy - what the DOC signs say should take 45 minutes took us 20. Plenty of people made the walk in sandals, so don't be worried about it when you go. The only part to take note of is the last few minutes before reaching the beach as the path is fairly steep and turns into stairs to make it down the final part. But once you get there, the views are amazing.
We walked along the beach, passing through the archway that leads to an even larger beach. Plenty of visitors were there, but that thankfully didn't detract from the experience as it can at times. We put our stuff down and took pictures, made sand drawings with our feet, and I braved the strong waves for a little bit before getting knocked around more than I cared for. We spent a couple hours relaxing and enjoying the serene surroundings and it was one of my favorite stops on our NZ tour.
We left the cove and drove a little further south to Hot Water Beach. At low tide, the popular thing to do is take a shovel, dig a hole in a certain area, and let it fill with hot/warm water from an underground source that empties into the nearby ocean. Admittedly, we came with no tools, but that didn't cause a problem. You see, when we showed up, neither of us could believe our eyes. I can't put into words just how strange the spectacle was to both of us. Have a look for yourself:
Everyone was building small pools and trying to protect them from the oft-encroaching ocean waves, mostly to no avail. Multiple waves hit while we were people-watching that doused loungers in cold water, eliciting shrieks all around as people frantically rebuilt their demolished sea-walls. We didn't build or sit in a proper pool ourselves, but I think we enjoyed it as much as we could have.
We CouchSurfed in Rotorua and had a great stay. Thanks Chrystal! In Whitianga, we stayed at Turtle Cove Accommodation. They provide free breakfast, off-street parking, a good-sized kitchen, free WiFi, and comfortable beds. We stayed in a spacious dorm room in the main building, but they also have private rooms, including some set in individual buildings in the backyard area. The showers in the shared bathrooms were cramped, though. A recommended place to stay if you find yourself in or near Whitianga.
On our way to Whitianga, we stopped at Colenso Cafe and had a good lunch with good coffee. Worth a stop if you're in the vicinity at mealtime.