Rotorua Fun with Adventure
It was day six in New Zealand and after our breakfast at one of the waterfront cafes, we left Mount Maunganui on our way to Rotorua – the birthplace of Tourism in New Zealand. It was way back in the 1840s that the first visitors were attracted to the Pink and White Terraces in Rotorua and later in 1901 Rotorua had the distinction of being the first place in the world to have a national tourist department. Rotorua is New Zealand’s best known tourist destination not only for its geo thermal activity with the bubbling mud pools, hot springs and geysers but also it is the heartland of Maori culture and the ideal place to enjoy a Maori concert followed by a traditional maori meal or the Hangi. The city is today one of the world’s renowned spa destinations and also an adventure playground and we got to experience all of this during our two nights stay in the region. As a travel consultant, I would ideally advise you to stay atleast 3 days in Rotorua as the region has lots to offer.
To start with, we arrived in less than 3 hours from Tauranga to the heartland of the Maori culture and we were fortunate to get some fine weather. Rotorua is known to have year round pleasant climate and around December it was a pleasant 220C with clear skies an ideal time for us to head to Rotorua Airport for the ultimate adventure experience – the first for many of us. We were greeted at the airport by the warm and hospitable NZONE team who briefed us to experience the Ultimate Jump from a plane at an altitude of 12000 feet. Skydiving which was once an extreme sport is now mainstream and there are several people from across the world who fly down to New Zealand to skydive – the safest place in the world, be it for tandem or solo skydiving.
NZONE is the most experienced and longest operating Skydive operator in New Zealand and is a recipient of several prestigious NZ Tourism Awards and offers facility to Skydive in Rotorua as well as Queenstown in South Island. Hence, if you plan a trip to New Zealand and include North and South Island you could book your skydive here in Mumbai with Compact Travels and experience the Ultimate Jump – an experience of a life time. The amazing part of the whole experience is that you can even freeze the incredible moment of adventure in the form of a DVD movie from the time you are in your jumpsuit, your jump from the plane and your landing on ground as your entire experience is captured by a photographer who jumps out of the plane with the still and video camera hooked on to the helmet to capture the adventure from start to finish. The DVD and photos are worth the investment to take back home and share your images with your friends and family.
We were about 10 of us and we were all pre-booked for a jump from 12000 feet and our group comprised of people in age groups of the early 20s to the late 50s. We were greeted by the Nzone team and then we were shown a video to take us through the entire exercise from boarding the aircraft, the take off, the jump and the landing with all safety procedures explained very elaborately. What we were to do in the next 15 odd minutes was tandem skydiving and there were a couple of brave volunteers who stood up and after getting into their jumpsuits made out of space age materials, very strong and at the same time light in weight, they boarded the aircraft after which they were harnessed to a jump master and after seeing them safely landing with their parachute and a glee on their face, even the reluctant ones were keen to go for the ultimate jump. Soon it was my turn and after putting on the gear, we boarded the plane.
The entire experience including the escalation of the aircraft to the altitude of 12000 feet was being recorded by the professional photographer. And then the door was flung open, the first volunteer harnassed to his jump master jumped off the plane, then the photographer who was capturing each moment from take off till the opening of the door of the aircraft jumped off and finally, it was my turn and the greatest challenge for me was to fight the fear within me of daring to jump off the plane. I was asking myself as to what was the crazy thought that compelled me to jump off from such an altitude when I could have very well taken a scenic helicopter flight or flown in a micro light plane rather than challenging my mind and body to try out something which was nothing short of being crazy. I could feel the sensory overload of my mind, body and soul which created a resistance of asking the lady pilot to turn the aircraft and get back to ground. However, then I recalled the gleeful faces of the first two volunteers who jumped off and landed safely, I told myself it’s now or never and finally took the ultimate jump of my life.
And lo, experiencing a free fall at the speed of 200 kph, my face puffed with the cool breeze touching it and at that accelerating speed I suddenly felt someone holding my hand for a split second it was the photographer who asked me to smile to capture my image and soon the parachute opened at around 5000 feet and then it was a very smooth ride including the landing. I knew I made it. Even before reaching the ground I felt on top of the world literally, a feeling which I haven’t had ever before in my life – mission impossible achieved and I admired the scenic view from around 5000 feet slowly descending along with the jumpmaster and the fluorescent coloured parachute. I was all excited to share my ultimate experience not only with my colleagues who were waiting out there but even calling up my family back in India to let them know of the extreme adventure that I had just gone thru. I admired the scenic view of the Rotorua with the lake at a distance and it was as if I was making a landing literally out of space.
The smooth descent and the very comfortable landing reiterated the fact that New Zealand is undoubtedly the safest country in the world to sky dive as their safety standards are second to none and Nzone is one of the most experienced companies who handle the entire experience with a very high degree of professionalism. My jump master Eric patted my back on landing, although for him it was probably the fifth jump of the day and unlike the feeling I had before jumping out of the plane, now I truly admired the way Eric and his colleagues who carry out the task of being a tandem jumpmaster day in and day out with such high level of safety. The experience I went thru, not only was I keen to share with my family but I was looking forward to bringing them back to New Zealand in the near future and making them experience skydive the way I did and definitely go for another jump from a plane myself whenever I get the next opportunity. I did share with one of my friends, that skydiving in New Zealand is probably safer than crossing a street of Mumbai, it’s indeed a very safe flight with a safer landing. I could feel the adrenaline rush even a couple of hours after the jump and the overload of confidence thereafter was so high that I was looking forward to giving a shot at bungee jumping the following day at Agrodome – the place to be for a series of adventure activities.
After a hi-flying morning, we checked in at the Royal Lakeside Novotel Hotel which is located on the picturesque Lake Rotorua and overlooking the lake as well as at a walking distance from the city centre. After a quick lunch at Freo’s Licensed Café which was merely a block away, we headed to lake Rotorua with our swimming gear on to take the Kawarau Jet trip across the Lake through the Ohau Channel and en route we had a few 360 degree spins on our jet boat before reaching the Manupirua Natural Hot Springs located on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. The big yellow high speed boats takes you back and forth from the Manupirua Natural Hot Springs in less than 2 ½ hours and is a good outing for a family or even those on a honeymoon and if you are with your family and if the kids are under 5 years of age, then they travel for free. In fact the Hot Springs are only accessible by boat and it is one of the best ways to spend your afternoon in Rotorua, by soaking in the pools for 30 to 40 minutes. It is an amazingly peaceful place where you are sure to avoid large groups of people as you can only access the place by boats. So hiring a boat or a kayak or even going on a Kjet and spending your afternoon is the best way to unwind the day especially if you have returned from a Skydive or an Agrodome after having experienced some fast paced activities.
Later that evening after returning to the hotel, we visited the Tamaki Maori Village for a cultural evening experience followed by the Hangi – the traditional Maori meal. Located around 15 kilometres to the south of Rotorua, the Tamaki Village takes you to a journey of the ultimate Maori Cultural experience filled with high energy, passion and challenge highlighting the pre-European village life of the Maori people as well as sharing their traditional – skills the sound of ancient Maori instruments, the various traditions, performance, songs and dance and the entire experience lasts for around 3 hrs 30 minutes which terminates with fine traditional cuisine with plenty of vegetarian options.
You are familiarized with the Maori terms from the time you board the bus from your hotel. The coach trip is known as the Waka and the guide on the coach familiarizes you with the background of the Maori people before you arrive at the Marae or the meeting grounds where a Powhiri or a welcome dance is performed welcoming the guests to Tamaki Village. The entire welcoming process is known as the Te Wero or Challenge which includes the Karanga or the call of welcome followed by the welcome dance after which you enter the village complex where you can see demonstrations of weaponry displays, hand games, reciting chants and a wide array of activities of the bygone era.
Thereafter you are welcomed in the meeting house known as the Wharenui where a welcome speech is made by the Maori chief followed by song and dance. You are served the Hangi in the Wharekai or the Food House and the evening comes to an end with a Poroporoaki or a Closing Ceremony. After a long and eventful day from skydiving to 360 degree spins in the jet boat on Lake Rotorua, a relaxing session at the mud pool followed by a traditional Maori evening, we headed back to our hotel. The following morning, there was more of adventure in store for us and although Queenstown in South Island is known as the Adventure Capital of the World for its range of activities, I would put Rotorua as the adventure capital of North Island for the range of activities that it has to offer and we were to experience these on our second day in Rotorua.
The day started at Agrodome where adventure seekers can easily spend a major part of the day as it has over a dozen activities lined up all in one place. Located a mere 9.5 kilometres from Rotorua, the Agrodome can be accessed from Auckland as well as it is a 2 ½ hour drive from the City of Sails. There is lots that one can do here and the activities are for all age groups – there is the Agrodome Sheep Show which is extremely popular and lasts for about an hour comprising of edutainment, ideal for the young kids. You have activities such as cow milking, sheep dogs working, lamb feeding and the major part of the show has active participation of the audience to highlight the sheep farming and shearing demonstration which is one of the prime agricultural activities in New Zealand.
You can do a 45 minutes Agrodome Farm Tour to see the farm animals and fruits grown in New Zealand and this interactive tour gives you the real down-on-the-farm experience comprising of visits to the kiwifruit orchard, tasting of kiwifruit wine and fruit harvesting in the season besides getting a very close view and experience of hand feeding sheep as well as an insight into working of farm animals such as cattle, deer, ostrich and emus.
For us, we had altogether different items on the agenda at the Agrodome and our day began with Swoop and Bungy – the hi-flying swinging activities. We started with the swoop which can be done solo, tandem or triple – subject to weight. The interesting concept of swoop is that you are securely harnessed inside a modified hang gliding harness and raised to a height of around 40 metres (131 feet) and you are raised from ground level in the harness and then the jump master who is stationed at the top of the tower pulls the rip cord and you swoop or swing towards the earth at a speed of 130 kph and you feel as if you are flying to and fro till the harness comes to a complete halt. It was truly a mind and body moving experience which put us in true perspective to try the next adventure activity – the bungy jump.
Although the first commercial bungy jump site in the world is located in Queenstown at A.J.Hackett which I was to visit later in my trip, it was at Rotorua that I had the first opportunity to do a bungy and after having skydived the previous day from 12000 feet, a jump from 43 metres or 142 feet didn’t seem much of a challenge.
Like, skydiving, New Zealand is also one of the best places to do a bungy as the jumpmaster calls out “3, 2, 1 and bungy” you have to take that leap towards earth attached to a bungy cord and the most interesting aspect was that I was told that some of these cords are in fact assembled in Kochi, India. So off I volunteered to be the first one to try the bungy and in no time I was on top of the tower and this was the second time in 2 days that I was trying to do something crazy- the only difference was here I was all alone and not harnessed to any jump master and as I heard the call of bungy, I took the plunge head down and as I went down at a speed of over a 100kph I could see the Ngongotaha River below only praying that the cord could hold my weight till it came to a complete halt after around eight to ten vertical swings and I was couple of feet above the ground. Yet another great achievement! I finally did it and later I was amused to read the certificate given to me which stated that being of sound mind and body, jumped from 43 meters and that eventually put me into the Bungy Hall of Fame. More importantly, I was glad that I maintained the impeccable safety record of bungy jumpers at Agrodome.
And as the saying goes – make hay while the sun shines and so far I had a 100% success record of the adventure activities and I headed next to get on the Agrojet, a 13 foot 450 hp race boat which reaches a speed of 100 kph in 4.5 seconds- one of New Zealand’s fastest jet-boating experiences and the excitement of it all was the tight turns and thrills experienced in a space of 900 metres of narrow water passages between artificial land masses producing g-forces comparable to the Formula 1 race cars.
At the Agrodome, there is also the Xtreme Freefall which is a skydive simulator where you experience the sensation of flying unattached as an aircraft propeller lifts you upto 3 meters in the air – the only freefall skydive simulator currently in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the closest you can experience to jumping out of a plane although there is no experience comparable to the real thing – the actual jump at 12000 or 15000 feet. So I decided to give this a skip and preferred to roll down the mountain in a Wet Zorb. Like bungy, skydiving, blokarting, zorbing too is a Kiwi invention where you experience going downhill in a rolling ball for 200 metres and you roll inside the Zorb having a 3.2 metres dimension. A few buckets of water is filled into the large plastic ball and one, two or more people get into the ball and the ball is pushed down the steep hill. You can be as imaginative in the ball as you want, either go with the flow and roll 360 degrees or alternatively try a summersault or keep pace with the ball going downhill by running in the same direction as the ball rolls down. It’s a bizarre experience and the best thing to do is scream your lungs out as you roll down the hill. Like bungy and skydiving, zorbing too has spread to various corners of the globe.
However, I would definitely endorse New Zealand if you wish to try out most of these high adventure activities as New Zealand is where most of these activities were invented.After swinging, flying of a bridge, rolling down the mountain and a high speed jet boat ride, our next stop was at Off Road New Zealand yet another place for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers where you can drive a 4WD off the road for a bush safari experience and challenge your driving skills to its optimum or try out a monster 4 x 4 thrill ride down a vertical slope or even record your fastest lap in a sprint car on a race track.