We started the day being picked up by the Rotorua Canopy Tour minibus. The canopy tour was a relatively new addition to the line up of things to do in Rotorua but it wasn’t hard to see why it had been so well received. After we arrived at the head office we got briefed, kitted out and introduced to each other.
The canopy tour involves exploring a section of forest near Rotorua by six zipwires and three swing bridges. Whilst that might sound fairly sedate we needed all those ropes and harnesses because the zip wires range in length from 40 metres to 220 metres at heights of up to 22 metres off the ground! Think Go Ape, but better!
The town is situated on the banks of Lake Rotorua, a volcanic caldera and although the volcano is dormant there is plenty of geothermal activity in the area. The most obvious of which was the incredibly strong smell of sulphur that hit us as we arrived.
We were staying at the Crash Palace Hostel, right in the heart of Rotorua and so we were well placed to get used to the smell (eventually). Our stay at Crash Palace didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts – we were charged for the room despite having already paid via Booking.com. At the same time we were told that because we were staying several nights we could have one night free. Brilliant we thought, everybody loves free nights. Except that we had to make it an additional night on top of our booking. So we rearranged our plans and ended up staying in Rotorua for five nights.
Most importantly however was internet access . The 2012/13 season was remarkable for our beloved football club – one trip to Wembley had already been the stuff of history and when we’d booked our trip we’d done so knowing that we might miss the playoffs. We hadn’t thought it likely, even less so after watching us lose the first leg from our hotel room in Tokyo and had been flying into Auckland when we’d overcome the deficit to book that second trip to Wembley. And so, in the middle of the New Zealand night we watched Bradford City make a winning return to Wembley and promotion to League One.
After a day of rest on Friday with rellies in Hamilton we were back on the road today. We started at a football match where Connor was goalkeeper (it finished 1-1) and then joined in with the post-game bakery run. We said goodbye to the Shands for now and headed off towards Rotorua.
But first, the little Waikato town of Matamata.
Matamata used to be a rural farming town that wouldn’t have been on anyone’s itinerary. It’s still a rural farming town but since the Lord of the Rings films it has become an integral part of any trip to New Zealand, because it’s home to the set of Hobbiton. Ben and I love the books and films, but it’s not the main reason we came to NZ. We came for the beautiful landscapes that the films showcase! There are a number of different ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed activities you can do in NZ, and this seemed to be one that we should definitely do.
Of all those activities this was the one we feared might be the most disappointing: it wasn’t cheap ($80 each) and there’s too much scope for gimmicks and merchandise. But we were delighted to find that far from having costumed hobbits or any other tacky gimmicks the whole Matamata experience was absolutely wonderful. Continue reading Matamata – here be Hobbits→
After our toilet stop in Kawakawa we drove to Paihia and left the car at the motel we’d be staying at on Sunday. We took our backpacks and packed lunch, then booked our Cape Reinga tour for Tuesday at the i-Site.
All morning the sun had been shining and it had been a glorious day. As we walked into the town the rain began to fall, and fell heavily for a number of hours. We took shelter in a covered mall to eat our lunch and then walked to the end of the pier to wait for the crew of the Rock to collect us.
As we waited we wondered if the trip might be called off – the rain was only getting heavier. But 1545 rolled around and we found ourselves waiting with a group of similarly excited yet apprehensive guests. Captain Ben and Norm arrived promptly to collect us and to our relief had brought proper fisherman-style raincoats for us to wear for the trip over to the Rock.
Our original plan for today had been to visit Waiheke Island and enjoy its beaches and wineries. There were two problems with this. First, the weather had taken a turn for the British and was absolutely chucking it down. Second, I came down with a horrid cold. So instead of braving the wind and the rain we had a nice lie in, went to the cinema, got introduced to Burgerfuel and took advantage of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
We’d spent most of today in the Higashiyama region of Kyoto and had arrived at Gion in the late afternoon. I first read Memoirs of a Geisha in 2006 after finishing my university exams and loved it straight away. The bulk of the story centres around the Gion region of Kyoto, which is the best-known Geisha district in Japan. I never thought we’d be able to get tickets to a show – they are incredibly popular, and most Japanese who go book months in advance. However, Ben used the tried and true method of showing up on a whim and asking if any were available. As luck would have it, they were.
Geisha are highly skilled artists who train for years to become expert in traditional Japanese dance and song. The Kyoto geisha (or geiko as they are more accurately called) are not prostitutes, though the history of geisha has involved different nuances of what is expected of a women whose profession is to entertain. I like to think along the lines of how the lonely planet puts it; that they are ‘living museums.’ Continue reading Geisha and Gion→
We loved Kyoto and spent quite a lot of time immersed in history with several visits to temples and shrines so these are our experiences from Friday 26th April, Monday 29th April and Tuesday 30th April.
On the Friday we visited Fushimi-Inari Taisha; a shrine complex consisting of thousands of orange-red torii arranged along pathways around Mount Inari. Having seen it as a filming location in Memoirs of a Geisha we found it stunning in real life. We walked the 4km route up through the wooded slopes of the mountain which was wonderful in the late afternoon, early evening sunshine.
Having got to Kyoto early on Friday we’d managed to fit enough in to give us the chance of a day out in Nara. This large town/small city was the first permanent capital of Japan, and contains a number of impressive sights that were well worth the trip. Another bonus is that most of the things-to-see are located within walking distance, so we spent the day following the Lonely Planet’s suggested walking tour.
After Hiroshima we headed back along the Shinkansen to Kyoto and settled into our new home for the next few days. Our first full day in Kyoto got off to a bad start when a miss set alarm clock threatened to derail a unique experience.
Through luck rather than judgment we’d managed to coincide our visit to Kyoto with the annual Miyako Odori – one of the events in the Geisha calendar – which takes place for the month of April.
What you can never appreciate from afar, no matter how good your teachers or how comprehensive a documentary is the reality of what took place at 8.15am on August 6th, 1945. ‘Little Boy’ was smaller than the bomb which would fall on Nagasaki a few days later but in a second it reduced most of Hiroshima to rubble and many of its people to ash.