Sunday, June 2, 2013

That little update I promised

Nestled in the ultra suburban hills of Orange County, where going to work, school and the play park, and wondering what to cook for dinner have become our new every day norm, it seems hard to believe that it was only a year ago that our travel adventure was drawing to a close.

We've been in Southern California for eight months now; we've rented a house, which has slowly become a home, Mr T heads off to work in an office (or just as often jumps on a plane to one far more distant office or another), the littlest Hobo spends her mornings at pre-school, and her afternoons running through sprinklers and riding bikes with the little group of friends that she has made, and I am slowly, but surely, turning that dream of a photography business into a reality. We have a garden with orange, lemon, grapefruit, apple, fig and guava trees and plenty of space for little legs to run around. All in all, it's pretty good in this palm tree framed, hummingbird filled life.

We spend almost every day under the sun in what feels like a perpetual summer; the climate here is better than I have experienced anywhere else, we've become regulars at Disneyland, and we have a plethora of beautiful beaches to explore, right on our doorstep. California offers an interesting and diverse landscape - the stunning coastline, the sandy canyons and a constant backdrop of mountains holding it aside from the rest of the country beyond. It's much more than I had ever imagined it to be, breathtakingly picturesque.

I experienced my first earthquake a couple of months ago - sitting in my office working away when suddenly the house started shaking and I felt like I was riding a wave - the other one and a half travellers didn't feel it - just a few miles away, each respectively in their office and pre-school, better built to handle these local natural phenomena than our house clearly is. It was scary and exciting at the same time, and I find myself wanting to feel another so that I can spend less time wondering what is going on and more time committing the experience to memory, while at the same time I fear that if another comes it could be much worse than the little 5.8 Richter, 60 miles away shimmy shake.

For a long time, we were wearied by travel, and apart from the necessary (work, and back to the UK for Christmas and a certain big birthday celebration) we didn't go anywhere much. I haven't been on a plane since early January, and that feels like forever! But recently the itchy feet have reappeared, and over the last month or  so we've ventured up and down the coast to explore our new surroundings slightly further afield. We're enjoying a day or two here and there, but are also loving the feeling of having a base to return to - especially the littlest Hobo, who loves her bedroom, her 'stuff' and her routine.

Hotel chez twonahalf is back up and running, with our first friend having visited a couple of months back, our niece just left after a month here and we have a steady stream of friends and family booked in for the rest of the year - I love these opportunities to spend far more 'real' time with these people than we ever get when we dash around from one social engagement to another on a visit home.

We're as settled as you can expect to be after eight months - years of re-locating has taught me that. I'm experiencing a horrible wave of homesickness at the moment - but I know that it's normal at this stage, and besides I can't tell you where I'm homesick for anymore - South East England, Sydney, Washington DC, or our wandering existence of 2011/2012. Some places have much more visual (and meteorological) appeal than others, but ultimately it's the people, and if I could collect up all my favourites from around the world and pull them close, wherever that may be, life could be somewhere near perfect. In the meantime, I'm just keeping up the chant of 'this too shall pass' and making the most of  my surroundings.

There's a good chance that some of the tears that are falling so freely over distant friends and family at the moment might be at least partly hormone driven too - we are excited to be expecting a baby boy in November.  Who knows how that would work word-wise; two and two halves doesn't really roll off the tongue, and the littlest Hobo will no longer be the littlest, so I guess it's just as well that our current life is too boring to warrant many regular updates!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The next chapter

After a three week trip to the uk we've just landed in California; this arrival marks the beginning of a new chapter for two and a half travellers. We're not so much hanging up our travelling boots as shifting into a more cruisy travel gear - we've opted for a return to corporate life for Mr Traveller, an opportunity for me to get my photography business off the ground, and a whole new beautiful land and seascape, which had always been high on our list of places to explore, to enjoy as our back garden, and weekend playground.

We've no regrets of the year(ish) we took to see some more of the world; we gave our daughter the gift of two parents undivided attention during an extremely formative year of her life, moments with dear old friends and family who would otherwise have been at best mere faces on a webcam, and at worst complete strangers, and a flexible attitude where she just rolls with whatever our current situation is. People always ask whether she'll have any memory of the past year - I'm fairly sure that without our prompts she wouldn't remember a thing, but she will never lose the knowledge that she's gained en route, and to her the world will always be a small place.

We've been on an emotional journey, losing my gran shook the very core of our little unit, but without our year of travel, I wouldn't have been there to hold her hand. We've had time to examine ourselves and our relationships, becoming more self aware. I've chilled out and relaxed a bit, and although he'd probably hate to admit it, Mr T has become somewhat more routine!

I can honestly say that we loved everywhere we visited, we didn't find anywhere we disliked. From the unique culture of Spain's San Sebastian, to the quaint fishing villages of Cornwall, from Korean spas and hospitality, to Ireland's rolling emerald patchwork quilt to each and every tiny nook of New Zealand which we explored in intimate detail. Above all my expectations, over a painfully humid summer in DC we made the sort of friendships that usually take years to build, and huge wet tears rolled down both the littlest hobos and my own cheeks when we said goodbye - this was a valuable lesson in life for me, which will put me in good stead for building future friendships as well as reminding me just how much a three year old understands.

But we grew weary of bed hopping, and of packing and unpacking our cases (my unpack limit always used to be four days, now it's a week), and cramming our cases into small cars in an intricate and finely tuned arrangement. The littlest hobo is craving time with longer term friends, and we think she'd benefit from an environment where we have a little more guaranteed control - bring on the broccoli! As much as I will miss the perpetual summer, we're exhausted from visiting, bored of eating out, and found ourselves craving the plane ride for some down-time, so it's time to shift the pace of our exploration of this wonderful world.

We headed off with a set of challenges which perplexed us; the biggest of all being a sickly daughter, as well as a lot of dreams, and not a clue where our next pennies would come from. We've finished our trip with a thriving, healthy three year old, a new set of challenges, a renewed vigor for the life ahead of us, and a whole heap of wonderful memories.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunities we had, and excited (and maybe a little nervous, but that's a good thing) at the prospect of what lies ahead. I'm looking forward to sharing some of our coming adventures, but this real housewife in Orange County is signing off for now.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reliving a few NZ highlights in Rotorua

After three months in the country, we leave New Zealand in a couple of days. We're spending the last ten days with our dear friends in Auckland, but they need to carry on with their every day lives during the week, and as we all know, visitors, like fish, have usually gone off by the four day mark, so we decided that a little side trip was in order to avoid the risk of that being the case.

We had a think over some of our favourite places and activities in New Zealand. One of the highlights for us all, which I have still to write much about, was Queenstown - we had the most amazing time there with so many great things to do and so many stunning and beautiful places around it, I could easily have stayed for a month, if not longer. We looked into flights, but the cost was extortionate, so we had another think and decided to head back down to Rotorua. It's approximately a three hour drive from Auckland and has some of our favourite activities on offer, not to mention the geothermal heating being most welcome now that the first sight of winter is sweeping it's way across the country. It's a big tourist destination so there are a plethora of hotels, which means some great offers at this time of year too.

We kicked off our 48 hours with a return trip to Polynesian Spa - we didn't even pause to check in at our hotel before heading there. New Zealand is a veritable playground of hot bubbly pools and Polynesian is undoubtedly the top of the crop (more on that another day...). After we'd soaked ourselves sufficiently we headed to our hotel, which, like many in Rotorua also has it's own spa and geothermally heated swimming pool. With the huge playground a mere hop, skip and a jump away it would have been rude not to partake in a little swinging and climbing while we watched the sun set over the lake. The shivering temperatures that the dark brought made the final decision (and of course the most healthy decision too) not to schlep all the way across town for a third dip (ever, not in one day!) at the most delicious Holiday Inn buffet an easy one.

On Thursday morning I awoke to discover that the sore throat I had been trying to beat off the last few days had taken hold, so instead of the action packed day we had planned, I rested in the room while Mr T took the Littlest Hobo for a swim and a play in the park then I wandered into town and replaced her lost coat so that we could brave the icy temperatures and experience the other good reason for being in this particular spot this evening: The Rotorua Night Market.

Every Thursday evening a section of the street in the centre of town is closed off to traffic and a selection of stalls take over the area. I'd heard about it a couple of times and was disappointed that we'd managed to miss it by one day when we were here last time. We rugged up and headed down there just after the sun dipped beyond the horizon and enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere and live music while we feasted on a variety of yummy offerings. There's something I love about being out in the dark, with the lights twinkling, rugged up against the cold air and being warmed from the inside with tasty treats accompanied by the soundtrack of live music and general hustle and bustle. I can't help but smile.

Friday morning brought a healthier day, so before heading back up to Auckland we headed for a final dip in the Polynesian Spa then off to the Skyline Gondola and Luge. Queenstown boasts the same attraction, and when we were there, after riding the Gondola up a remarkably steep mountain and admiring the breathtaking views we'd spent about 15 minutes or so debating whether or not it was a good idea to take a two year old on the luge. In the end the inner child in each of us won, and we bit the bullet and went for it - we were not to be disappointed. The luge is the ultimate adrenalin fix for wimps like me as you can control the speed at which you travel. Mr T took the Littlest Hobo on his cart and I flew solo, surprising myself by whipping ahead, yelling with delight around each corner and emerging at the end with a grin on my face surpassed only marginally by the one that adorned my daughters face when she followed me a few seconds later. So you see, we needed to do it again! While the view from the top of the Skyline is less impressive in Rotorua (it's still lovely though), the luge is far superior, lasting much longer and the track seemed more hair raising too. My poor daughter had me squealing in her ear all the way from the top to the bottom!

Although we still have a few days left, Rotorua was the perfect choice to occupy a portion of our last week in New Zealand. There's plenty to do, while at the same time being relaxing, Rotorua offers a little bit of luxury, while at the same time being child friendly, and there's plenty of natures wonders to marvel at, from the bubbling mud and the huge geysers to serene lake against a backdrop of mountains.

Lake Rotorua, just before sunset

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beautiful souls

It’s so easy to take friends for granted when they’re just around the corner and you can see them whenever you want. Moving countries for the first time, when we moved to Washington DC a few years ago, really brought home how important my friends were. I also learnt the value of putting the effort in to make new friends in our new home. Then we repeated the exercise when we moved to Sydney, only this time I had two sets of long distance buddies to keep up with, while at the same time finding a new set of friends.
When we left Sydney for the UK last year, we were going back to old friends, slipping back into a comfortable familiarity with a warming ease. I love the way with old friends, we are always there for each other when we need to be, no matter how much time has passed since we last saw each other, or even spoke.

But then we hit the road, and it was suddenly just us. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that we have at the moment to spend so much time as a family, and all the benefits that that brings, but I miss my friends. Some days I have a hankering to go for a coffee, to roll my eyes and dramatically sigh ’Men!’ or to compare with my mummy friends the Littlest Hobos latest habit and feel reassured that it’s completely normal at that age and won’t automatically be qualifying her as a teen delinquent or something worse.

When we left the UK in January, the same friends who had left us in charge of their home while they were away on holiday six months previously, offered to sell our car for us, giving us the opportunity to use it right up until the last day. It was such a kind gesture and I was touched that they gave up their valuable weekends to do it.

A couple of weeks ago a close friend in Sydney, whose daughter is the same age as the Littlest Hobo gave birth to her second daughter. I was delighted to hear the news, but I know I would have felt the pain of distance if it hadn’t been for a constant flow of texts and emails in the couple of days following, I’m still sad that I’m missing out on those newborn snuggles, but I’m sure that being able to ‘chat’ was the next best thing to actually being there.

Over Easter, some friends came down from Auckland to meet us for a week, bringing with them a collection of thoughtfully put together toys as a refreshing change for the Littlest Hobo from the small selection that we are carrying with us. A couple of weeks later we spent two days at their house in Auckland, where we’ve stayed several times on previous visits to New Zealand, and I relished in the ‘coming home’ feeling that flooded the car as we drove up their driveway. We’re heading back there at the weekend, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It was great to catch up with old friends a few weeks ago

I got an email today from a friend who was reminded of me when she walked into somewhere we used to go together… it made me a bit misty eyed, and it also made my day. I’ve got a few friends, spread over the three continents we’ve lived on, who make sure we stay in email contact, no matter how long it goes before they get a response, and two friends in particular who, like our families, have stuck with us through the not quite as advertised internet connections that we keep coming up against to check in on skype regularly - I love these chats, there’s something about the beauty of actually being able to see each other, seeing them in familiar surroundings, that is incredibly comforting. I love the normality of pauses to stop the baby eating the computer cable, or to grab a glass of wine, and the chatter of every day life.

What’s the point of this post? I’ve asked myself that several times… I suppose I just wanted to say thank you - to so many gorgeous souls whose everyday gestures, great and small, make our lives a bit easier, or remind us that they’re all still there, and in their own way make this trip a little bit more possible. I always say travel is about the people you meet along the way, but for me, it wouldn't be possible without the people who aren't right there right then too.

I’m so glad that we‘re doing this trip now, and not several years previously; I’m not sure that I would have managed to travel for so long without the tiny modern day wonders which have become part of our every day lives and ultimately, keep us in touch.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The sun always shines on Hobbiton

Nestled amongst the rolling hills of Waikato, near the small town of Matamata, sits the pristine setting that Peter Jackson made famous when he used it as the setting for Hobbiton in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. As we were heading there last Friday, through the heaviest rain that we have experienced since arriving in New Zealand, we questioned our sanity, and had we not already made arrangements to be there, we may well have turned the car around and headed for somewhere indoors and dry. But having spent the last two and a half months coming around corners to announce ‘that is so Lord of the Rings’ and constantly humming the theme tune, we were compelled to achieve a real LOTR experience, so we pressed on, and as we came over the hill and Hobbit Movie Set and Farm Tours base camp came into view, the stair rods parted and the rumbling grey sky looked somehow less threatening.

We booked in for our tour and then headed upstairs to the Shires Rest café for a lamb burger to sate our appetite. The Shires Rest serves tasty food in a somewhat bland environment, so discovering that they are currently developing the Green Dragon Inn from an on-set façade into an all singing, all dancing pub and venue was music to my ears.

Hobbiton is set on a working farm with approximately 14000 sheep and a few hundred black angus cattle; as we waited for the bus to arrive to take us on the short journey over the hills into Hobbiton valley, we watched cows being herded and petted the four tiny lambs who were doing a good job of commanding visitors attention just by looking cute, and scoring top marks from our little hobbit.

All together now 'ahhhhhhhh'

The bus appeared, and Danny, our tour guide, started his spiel as we headed through a couple of gates and into the picture perfect valley. Looking around, it was immediately evident why Peter Jackson had chosen this site as he scoured the countryside from the air. Not only was it hidden from any sign of modern day life, but it held a magical, timeless quality which screamed of everything you would expect of ’The Shire’ of  Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Over the hill and far away - it's hard to believe that Hobbiton is just over the hill

Jumping down the steps of the bus, I noticed that each and every hobbit hole in view was bathed in a sunny glow, and only one or two fluffy white clouds adorned the bright blue above us - a far stretch from the sky that had frowned down menacingly just an hour earlier. As we walked around the set, marvelling at every tiny detail from the miniature tools to the pint sized washing lines, Danny explained the reasoning behind the wide variety of hobbit hole sizes - those which would feature in a shot with Gandalf were smaller, to make him appear bigger, whereas others were bigger, to make the Hobbits appear smaller. I was astounded by each minute detail - the lichen on the fences was man made, as was the tree that sits above Bilbo Baggins house at the top of the hill - the Littlest Hobo took great pleasure in the souvenir fake leaf that Danny handed to her as we headed back down the hill. I suspect that her miniature stature and, curly haired-ness gave her extra kudos in Hobbiton, even without furry flippers.

Mummy, is this our new holiday house?
We worked our away around the set, posing in the miniature doorways for photographs as Danny told stories from filming and explained how everything worked. We were asked not to touch the props, and most of the hobbit hole doors stayed firmly shut, but there were one or two which we were allowed to open - although there wasn’t much to see on the other side (as the inside filming took place down in Wellington), it was good fun to pose as if you were just emerging from your hobbit mansion.

Bilbo Baggins hobbit hole - a veritable mansion at the top of the hill, looking down over the rest of Hobbiton


The coming year has to be the time to visit the Hobbiton movie set - not only has it been permanently rebuilt for the recent filming of The Hobbit trilogy (they were partially deconstructed after the initial trilogy was filmed, save seventeen hobbit holes which were rescued by a big storm which came through and halted deconstruction - this time they’re here for good), but the embargo has also been lifted, so you are free to take photographs too. I’m sure the completion of the Green Dragon will just be the icing on the cake. For now, we just settled for feeding the baby lambs with bottles as we basked in the bright sunshine when we returned to base camp, which wasn’t a half bad ending to our trip to Hobbiton at all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Feeding wild stingray on the Eastern Cape

I can’t take any credit for this one - I usually do my research and work out what there is to see and do in an area, but ultimately we were in Gisborne to meet up with friends and have a few days of bach time - relaxing and enjoying good food and wine while taking advantage of the ocean on our back door step. I gave the guide book a quick once over and didn’t even google what there was to see and do in the area, so when our friends asked us if we would like to feed stingray, it sounded like an excellent idea!

We headed over to Dive Tatapouri, which is located on the edge of a shallow reef which sits immediately off the shore, on the beautiful Eastern Cape coastline. It was only a few minutes from our bach and approximately fifteen minutes from the centre of Gisborne. When we arrived, the adults and older child (age six) were kitted out with some rather fetching waders and long bamboo sticks, before being given instructions and a safety briefing. They told us about the rays we would likely see - the resident short-tail stingray and the much larger eagle rays who live further out at sea, but come in for feeding, given it is a regular occurrence. They showed us how to use our bamboo poles to create a fence to protect ourselves, should we need too (eek!). They also warned us about the kingfish, who it seemed were also rather partial to the bait we would be feeding to the rays, and rather quicker in the water.

Don't you wish your family was hot like us!

Then the kids were set astride a giant banana boat, which our guide hauled behind him on a rope while the rest of us (probably about 12 people in our group, excluding our three little ones) followed across the reef in single file. Having never worn waders before, walking through the water in them was a novel experience, with a constant sense of foreboding every time you stepped into a patch of water any deeper than the top of the welly boot bit, although I needn’t have worried as my feet stayed perfectly dry for the duration. The bamboo sticks proved an absolute necessity within seconds of being in the water- for testing the depth of the water ahead  (mainly as our supposedly single file line suddenly resembled more of a web, almost as soon as we hit the wet stuff) and secondly for keeping us upright as we waded over the slippery rocks.

Walking across the reef in a single file line, ahem....

Kids on the banana boat - they were all from our group - there were some older kids on our tour too who walked across

We stopped at the far side of the reef and stood on a rock in a couple of inches of water, while the guide stood in front of us and shook his bait pot in the water. It didn’t take long for the short-tail stingrays to appear, along with the enthusiastic kingfish. Our  children were still bobbing on their banana boat a few metres in front of us, and watching their little faces light up as they spotted and recognised the marine life appear around them was a magical moment.

Our guide handed out bait and we took it in turns to bend down and feed it to the stingrays. It was a tricky manoeuvre, bending forward while balancing on the rock, holding the bait so that the stingrays could sweep over your hand to reach the bait with their mouths below, all while avoiding a nip from the eager jaws of the waiting kingfish. I was cautious at first, especially after the boy standing next to me wasn’t so lucky and the kingfish managed to swoop in over the stingray and give him a nasty nip as it whipped the bait from his hand. The speed that kingfish moved will most likely ensure he never ends up as sashimi.

The eagle ray weren't shy with our guide!

Touching and feeding the wild stingray was a unique tactile experience - they had a slightly slimy, vaguely bumpy cartilage feel to them, and as the bait is sucked up out of your hand it could only really be likened to a run in with a low powered Dyson.

The ray's mouth is really far back - look how far it went up his arm! 

When the little kids tired of being on the boat (it took a surprisingly long time) they were brought onto the rock with us and touched the rays too. We’d been out on the water for around 90 minutes, but all too soon we were making our way back to shore and it felt like we’d been out there for just minutes.

The guide placed bait in the end of his bamboo pole to encourage the rays to come to where we could feed them

I’ve seen and touched rays in aquariums a few times, but feeding them in the wild was different - this is one of my favourite things about New Zealand - we have been presented with so many opportunities to see wildlife which we may be able to see in zoos or aquariums elsewhere, but here we can see them in their natural environment; no bars or glass between us and them, little or no stress on the creatures involved, and often we can get much closer than we would be able to in captivity.

The beautiful coastline where the reef is situated

What did we think of our stingray experience? Let the Littlest Hobo tell you….

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Whakarewarewa; Rotorua's living thermal village

When we last visited Rotorua, several years ago, we spent an evening at a cultural show and hangi, which I really enjoyed. In spite of a few Kiwi’s telling me that it’s ‘just for tourists’ and ‘once you’ve been to one, there’s no point going to another‘, I was keen to experience it again, and in particular to let the Littlest Hobo see the singing and dancing, which I knew she would love. We were a bit wary, however, about taking her to an evening performance, where she would be up late at night and potentially unwilling to sit still and behave well if she got overtired . When we booked the Rotorua mystery hotel deal on and it turned out to be the Holiday Inn, I was excited to discover that it was right in front of Whakarewarewa Village, which Lonely Planet tout as one of the main draw cards to Rotorua.

Whakarewarewa Village, or to give it it’s full name Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, is a living thermal village; living in the sense that a Maori tribe still live there today. The wharepuni - homes, sit amongst the thermal pools, swirling steam and geysers that are synonymous to Rotorua, and it’s essentially a tourist attraction by day and a Maori village once the gates shut to their paying visitors at 5pm every day.

Out visit started with a guided tour, where we were welcomed by our guide Ropetahonekihimitataupopoki iharaira piripi; Robert to you and I. He talked us through a short history of the village, explained that the tribe is all one family, and inside the complex should be thought of as their home, so once we stepped through the gates we became guests in their home. Although he now lives on a farm beyond the village boundaries, Robert grew up in the complex and his face lit up as he told us stories of a happy childhood playing amongst the hot water and mud pools, finding ways to make pocket money and running around plastered in mud, scaring tourists. He explained that many of the houses these days house the older members of their community, who had lived there all their lives, and were accustomed to living with the steam, so wouldn’t adapt well to a life with everyday mod cons like ovens and showers.

Immediately after passing through the gates, we crossed a bridge with a river and a cool water pool beneath it. Looking down from the bridge, in and around the pool were Maori children of varying ages. Robert explained that they were penny diving; many years ago, when the first tourists visited Whakarewarewa before the bridge was built, they would pay a penny to be piggybacked across the river. When the bridge was built and piggybacking no longer required, the tourists began to toss coins into the river for luck, and the villagers, not understanding why the money was being thrown in their river, would go down and fetch the money from the river and keep it. It became custom for the children to do this, and the activity has continued to this day.

Diving for pennies

Immediately upon entering the village, you can feel the warmth emanating from beneath your feet, and bending down to touch the ground, a few seconds is long enough, before your fingers start to feel the wrong side of warm.

We continued through the village and Robert showed us the oil baths - the outdoor bathing area where villagers go to wash, made up of several concrete baths which are filled via small channels running from the hot geothermal pools and derive their name from the oily texture and mineral deposits within the water that is used to fill them. The mineral rich water in Rotorua is said to have healing properties, and can be used to treat arthritis and eczema amongst other things - it's certainly very believable; Mr T suffers with eczema and found that it improved dramatically after a couple of dips in the Rotorua water.

One of the baths, with the water channel filling it from the hot pools

We were shown a couple of steam box hangi - wooden boxes built into the ground to trap steam so that it can be used to cook food. Again, these are still used today; villagers often put their dinner in the hangi at the start of the day and return to collect it, cooked, at the end of the day. In the pool next to the hangi, some corn cobs were cooking using traditional methods - wrapped in a linen cloth, tied with a long rope with a brick at the end of it, and lowered into the pool, which is just below boiling point at the surface. Robert explained that meat couldn't cook in this way as the fat would react with the water with explosive consequences!

Robert showing us the corn cobbs

One of the highlights of the tour is the view of the Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers geysers. The Pohutu (meaning big splash) is the largest geyser in New Zealand, rising at times to 40 metres, and the Prince of Wales feathers is the most active geyser. It is left completely to nature when they will erupt (some places add washing powder to make their geysers erupt at set times, as washing powder contains animal fat) and generally the longer they lie dormant the higher they will rise. On average, these two geysers erupt at least once an hour and you can get a feeling of how frequently they are to erupt by the weather - on a hot clear day they will erupt less frequently but shoot higher into the sky, whereas on an overcast or rainy day, they will erupt more frequently but to a lesser extent. For the duration of our visit they erupted constantly, and the sky was overcast. The bright blue pools directly in front of the geysers make good barometers for the villagers.

The geysers were erupting throughout our visit

After our tour, we headed to the cultural performance area for a thoroughly enjoyable 30 minute show that included dancing, singing, the haka, stick games and even a little bit of audience participation. I really love the melodious music and the short performance was just the right length to keep the Littlest Hobo’s attention so that we all had a fantastic time. Whakarewarewa had a really laid back, friendly and approachable attitude which made me feel very comfortable, particularly with a young child in tow. Although they requested that everyone remain seated, I think this was purely so that those seated at the back could still see, and they smiled down from the stage when our youngest family member got up on the grassy area to the side of the seating to copy their dancing.

I can’t recommend Whakarewarewa village highly enough if you are visiting Rotorua, and especially if you have young children with you - being in a living village made for a unique cultural experience, and the tour was incredibly interesting and educational. Robert was an excellent tour guide, peppering our visit with little tidbits of information which added to the overall experience and really left us feeling like we’d had an insight into life in the thermal village. With the show included in general entry, the visit was excellent value at $30 each for the adults and two year olds go free. Most of the other cultural performances that I looked into were topping the $100 per person mark (including dinner) and would probably have been a bit too long and late to suit our needs with a toddler in tow.