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Wednesday 5 Feb 2014
Rotorua, New Zealand

Retail therapy and relaxation

When I came to Rotorua last year, I was still travelling with the Kiwi Experience bus.  I thought I had timed it to get a day in Rotorua to see the geysers and volcanic parks, before travelling on to Wellington the next day.  However, it didn’t quite work out like that as we went to Hobbiton on the way into Rotorua and then to a Maori village in the evening.  The Kiwi bus stopped at the thermal parks on the way out of town the next day, not on the way in, so I missed my chance.  That said, going to Hobbiton was a great alternative.

This time, I was determined to see everything I’d missed.  The problem with that is there isn’t just one thermal park, there are several and I couldn’t work out which ones were best.  I also wanted to visit one of the spas to try out the thermal pools and perhaps have the massage that Ailsa had given me for my birthday (to be redeemed at an appropriate place on my travels). 

I started off with a bit of shopping to replace a few items that had become well-worn favourites through my travels.  Icebreaker clothes are made from New Zealand Merino wool, which makes them great for travelling – lightweight, quick drying and brightly coloured, they have the added bonus of not getting smelly after long, hot journeys.  Things that can be hand washed in the shower or sink and dry again by the next morning are ideal.  But Icebreaker gear doesn’t come cheaply, so I scouted around all the sales and outlet shops to find what I wanted.  I found the Macpac shop in Rotorua and was very pleased to find they still stocked the shorts I’d bought in Queenstown last year, so I added two more of those to my collection.

I went to an Irish pub near the hostel for my dinner.  I hadn’t made any attempt to dress up or wear make-up, I still had my glasses on, and I was just planning to sit in a corner and read more of my book.  I was quite surprised when the girl on the door asked me for ID, and even more surprised when she was so astounded that I was 35.  She kept saying how young I looked – I thought I was looking pretty awful, certainly not under 18, but there you go.  She kept giggling and apologising as she showed me in to find a table.  I didn’t mind at all.  I’ve been ID’d several times on this trip, usually in Australia and New Zealand, so I still don’t find it that unusual and take it as a compliment.  But she did make me laugh when she asked if she could tell her friend on the bar how old I was – she was bursting to tell someone – so I grinned and said: ‘Please do tell her, I’m hoping she’ll serve me a beer!’

I had a couple of lamb shanks (only $2 extra for the second shank, so it covered dinner for tomorrow, too) and a nice pint and made myself comfortable for a couple of hours.  Having got through lots of audiobooks in Central America, I have got back on a reading binge and find myself blitzing through a book every few days.  There are times when I crave sociability and want to share everything I am doing with other people, but at other times it is nice to travel solo so you can be as antisocial as you like without offending anyone.

I decided to finally treat myself to the massage Ailsa bought me for my birthday.  There are lots of spas and thermal baths around Rotorua, but the one that stands out is the Polynesian Spa, a luxurious place on the edge of the lake.  They have a range of outdoor thermal pools overlooking the lake, including private ones, and offer pamper treatments using local volcanic mud.  I booked a 45-minute sampler session - a volcanic mud treatment, a wrap and a massage on my legs, back and shoulders.  I had about 20 minute before the treatment, so I had a quick dip in the four thermal pools outside.  These were reserved for spa customers, so weren’t as busy as the public ones.  The pools started at 36°, which felt lovely.  The next pool was 38°, then 40°, which was getting toasty.  The final pool was 42° - very hot, but I was determined to try them all.  I only had time for five minutes in each, but I was still nicely relaxed before going in for my treatments.  The masseuse did her best to sell me on the benefits of regular volcanic mud treatments, and I did enjoy my session, but I don’t think a kilo of mud is the most practical addition to my backpack at this point. 

After the massage, I went back out to the pools and soaked for another hour.  This time, the hottest pool was too hot and I only stood ankle deep in it before deciding I’d had enough.  I had a peek in the gift shop as the treatment included a discount voucher.  I used it to buy some of the gorgeous cucumber and mint shower gel they’d had in the changing rooms instead.  A little bit of luxury to take with me on my travels…

I got chatting to an English couple in the hostel later on, Louise and Jamie.  We found some free drink vouchers in one of the tourist magazines so went to the Pig & Whistle.  Jamie was a real look-a-like for Bradley Cooper, and I liked Louise a lot, so it turned out to be a fun evening.  They were headed up to South East Asia, and we spent the evening swapping travel stories while drinking our free beers.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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