Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter is Like a Box of Chocolates

Easter in New Zealand is celebrated by giving everyone in the country both Friday and Monday off, which means there are a lot of people that escape for the long weekend. Although I have nothing to escape from, I went along with a group out of Auckland to Rotorua. Having previously been to Rotorua when I was here in December, this wasn’t a new location for me but I still didn't know what to expect... 

I was there with a group of 11 adults and 4 children. Rotorua is on the Western side of the North island of New Zealand (Southwest of Auckland). It’s a geothermal area so very similar to Yellowstone in the United States. The options were endless and we took advantage of a lot of them. Here’s the way the weekend played out:

Thursday: Head out on the town in Auckland for a few drinks. The bars and everything else were required to close at midnight on Thursday in order to observe the national holiday on Friday.

Friday: Drive to Rotorua. Traffic was horrendous so we got there late in the afternoon. We spent the day hanging out at the hotel at the hot sulphur pool, and sitting around the picnic tables. The rest of the evening was spent hanging out, drinking, and playing games in the room.

Saturday: Head to The Buried Village for a tour and to check out the Green and Blue lakes. Our tour guide took us around the Maori village that was buried when a volcano erupted in the late 1800s burying the village and everything around it in ash. It destroyed the pink and white silica terraces that were one of the biggest draws to New Zealand at the time. Many visitors (mostly British) would travel for months just to reach them.

After our tour, we took a short walk to a waterfall nearby and then rushed back to the hotel for a quick lunch. That afternoon we met up with some of the others from the group for mountain biking. This was by far one of my favourite experiences while I was there. Seven of us rented bikes and went on some fantastic trails through the forest. After biking we relaxed in the warm pool at the hotel and headed into town to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. That night we played Catch Phrase (a big hit with the kiwi crowd – even with the odd American phrases), and other games while we hung out in the room.

Sunday: Wake up and realize I just gained an hour and I can sleep a bit longer. (Unlike in the US, it’s “Fall Back” here – which means I’ve had two Daylight Savings in a row that I’ve gained an hour – awesome!) Enjoy some luging which is similar to the alpine sleds in Colorado except you aren’t on a track like a luge, it’s closer to paved roads down the mountain. It involves sitting on a small cart and shooting down the hill on a twisty road with a few hills that you can actually get some air on if you are moving quick enough. The best part is racing people down the hill.

After luging, a few of the guys wanted to do some more racing. Drift cars here we come! Apparently there are very few drift car tracks in the world, one of the fastest is in Rotorua. Basically, they are go karts that have completely bald tires and they run on a slippery concrete course so when you go around a corner you are actually drifting sideways to get around it. If you accelerate too quickly while turning, the car can do a complete 360.

Sunday night we had a great discussion about politics and the world’s problems. It’s still amazing to me how much people know about the United States outside of our country and how little we know about others. In the meantime, if any of the world leaders need advice, now you know who to contact.

Monday: We spent the morning walking by Lake Rotorua, hitting balls at the driving range and batting cages, spending some more time at the drift car track – this was all before 11am. After lunch we drove back to the city, making it back in record time with very little traffic. That evening I was treated to an awesome home made dinner of fish, salad, and potatoes, followed by ice cream and chocolate cake for dessert. The Easter bunny even brought me a chocolate egg. So overall, it was just an average Easter holiday in New Zealand. I loved every minute of it.

Things to be thankful for:
- Visiting a black sand beach, mountain biking, drinking games, and seeing a kiwi band play at a pub – all of which have now been crossed off my list
- The American dollar which slightly further in New Zealand, making these things feel a bit more affordable
- Kiwis who are amazing at coming up with fun things to do anywhere, any time

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