The morning was spent driving to the beautiful town of Rotorua (known to the locals as Roto-Vegas, probably due to the vast amount of activities available there). We arrived around midday at Kiwi Paka, the hostel where we stayed all week. This place was excellent. Very small and cozy, and it had a thermal pool right next to the bar, which was constantly kept at a very hot temperature, which basically made it a giant hot tub. After we had lunch, it was time for us to learn the "Haka," a traditional Maori dance that is performed often, especially at ceremonies or in celebration. The particular Haka we learned was the one that is performed before each game by the All Blacks, New Zealand's premiere rugby team (and, as we were repeatedly told but the locals, the greatest rugby team in the universe). After we learned the Haka, we stripped down to our boxers and put on pelts and war paint, and they filmed us doing the dance. I have a copy of the video, and I will ensure that it is never seen by anyone. ;-)
We traveled to Kaitiaki Adventures in the morning for a day of whitewater rafting down the Kaituna River. I have been rafting once before in West Virginia, so I was excited to go again, and not the least bit nervous. One thing that was different about this particular rafting trip was that along the way we went over 3 waterfalls, which was something I had never done before. The last waterfall we rode over was 7 Metres (approx 21 ft.) high. One thing that I thought was kind of neat was how much of the trip dealt with the culture of the Maori people. The guide said a prayer to the river gods before we set out, and all along the way he discussed different points along the river that had a special significance to the Maori people. The rapids were excellent, and there was even one that we rode without the raft! All of us hopped out of the raft, swam toward the rapid, and got sucked under the water, only to be popped out the other side. It was intense, but excellent. We also did a lot of surfing, which is where you paddle toward the rapid from the opposite side and then basically just get sprayed with massive amounts of water over and over. It was awesome. After rafting we headed back to Kiwi Paka and lounged around the pool for the remainder of the evening.
Tuesday morning a group of us headed over to the Rotorua Boys High School for our community day. We were greeted by a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony, which was very intense and fun to watch. We spent the morning helping the boys with their studies and administering reading tests to them. After lunch, we got a tour of the school, which was AMAZING. The school has so many opportunities for its students, it's no wonder they have kids come from all around to attend it. After we left the school, we had a bit of break time, and then it was time to head to Tamaki Village for a traditional Maori feast or "hangi." The entertainment was excellent, as was the food (I tried a mussel for the first time after much peer pressure. Big mistake.), and the village was absolutely gorgeous. For anyone that has seen the movie Avatar, not only did James Cameron base much of the story on the struggles and traditions of the Maori people, but the scenery of Pandora is real, and I saw it in this village. Truly a breathtaking experience.
We headed out early in the morning for Waitomo, and after getting into our wetsuits and helmets, we headed down a very tight crevice into the Waitomo caves. I have never been caving before, and am not a HUGE fan of tight spaces, but I decided to just let myself enjoy it, and what a day it was! First we traveled through a glowworm cavern with ceilings lit completely by these tiny larvae, which was beautiful. after that we crawled in completely darkness though some tiny muddy spaces, until we came out on a large lake-like cavern. Here we hopped on some inner tubes and went for a leisurely float down Aria Cavern, named so because we spent the whole time singing at the top of our lungs (it had great acoustics!). I led the expedition for most of the second half, and I had a great time talking with our guide Logan about the history of the caves and what his job entailed. All in all, it was a most excellent adventure, and I am glad that I didn't let my hesitations get the best of me, cause I really would have missed out.
We left in the morning for Auckland and arrived back in the city about midday. It was extremely humid, though I suppose I shouldn't complain, as the weather is lovely here. We got all checked into our rooms, and then a few of us headed out on the town for the remainder of the day. We caught a movie in the evening, and then headed back and went to bed.
Another day of just kind of walking around the city not doing much of anything. Orientation starts on Monday, so that should be interesting. We might head to the beach tomorrow, but for now, I am heading to bed. I love and miss you all! I hope all is well, and I'll write again soon! :-)