Letter from EnZed: Aromatic Rotorua
7 September 2011
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We left our hotel in Wellington by coach to go to the airport where we boarded a chartered turboprop plane with the Argentinian team for the short hop north to Rotorua. The views across the harbour as we took off were stunning and the journey took us over snow-topped mountains, live volcanoes, fields and forests.
We were warned that we would know when we were approaching Rotorua and sure enough, as we started our descent to the airport, there was a strong smell of sulphur in the air. The area is high in volcanic activity where geysers and mudpools abound hence the odour which at times could be eye-watering!
Rotorua is a very small place and the airport didn’t look like it received many flights. The coach journey to the Holiday Inn hotel felt as though we had been transported back to the seventies and the hotel itself continued that theme. I found out that this area is sometimes called RotoVegas because of all the motels. However, our rooms were big and comfortable and the outdoor pool and hot-tubs provided a welcome chance to relax.
That evening the teams were invited to a formal welcoming reception by the city mayor at Ohinemutu village where we were had a traditional challenge from a warrior and the village elders. We were invited inside the meeting house where long speeches in Moari greeted us. Each of the teams had a representative to respond with the South Africans going first and they decided to sing a gospel song which of course put pressure on the other teams to sing too. However we all came through with honours, the Lions singing Jerusalem. Afterwards there was plenty of food and drink with more of the now compulsory singing!
Next day saw round two of the competition. New Zealand narrowly overcame South Africa 13-7 and the French shared a 0-0 draw with Argentina. The British & Irish Parliamentary Lions had to be supplemented with so many players that it was more like a United Nations side but they took to the field against the Rotorua Thugs. The Thugs were not short of talent with former All Black Hikka Reid at hooker and a former New Zealand Sevens player on the wing. Fortunately they played in the spirit of the game and with sympathetic refereeing the Lions managed to score in the 25-5 loss.
Hooker Hikka used to play for Thurrock in Essex, not too far from my home club of Colchester where I remember him playing a league game about 15 years ago. I caught up with him after the match and although he remembers the Colchester club well he didn’t remember me on the touchline!
The post match formalities of speeches and presentations ensued although for once there was no singing but that would be later rectified when all the teams went for an evening’s entertainment at the Tamaki Maori Village. Once again we were greeted by warriors laying down a challenge before we were invited into their village for food and drink. This was a much more commercial operation that the night before and we were given a half-hour long show of singing, dancing and hakas before sitting down to a meal cooked in the Hangi style. This involves heating up volcanic rocks in a pit until they are white, then placing meat and vegetables in baskets on them before covering them in earth and sand until it is cooked.
The wine and beer flowed and as the music started the South Africans and Argentinians got everyone on their feet to sing and dance the evening through. This was a great way to say farewell to Rotorua where our two days went by too fast. First impressions weren’t great but this Maori heartland has something special about it despite the all pervasive sulphurous smell.