The luge and sheep

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Everybody has heard of Rotorua, land of bubbling mud and steaming geysers. But I didn’t know there was a Lake Rotorua. It formed in the caldera of a volcano that erupted about two hundred thousand years ago. The town of Rotorua is on the shores of the lake and we arrived there from Hobbiton in the late afternoon.

The Regent hotel where we stayed is one of two hotels on our tour without a lift. We’d pulled the short straw at Paihia – so of course we got the short straw again. These stairs might have been used by Edmund Hillary to practise climbing but I guess we needed the exercise. The meal that night was excellent. The Regent has an award-winning restaurant. But the following morning we would be taken out for breakfast using a cable car to get up to Skyline Rotorua where we could eat a buffet breakfast and admire sweeping views over the town and the lake. Always assuming the cloud hanging around the mountain tops didn’t go down any lower.

It didn’t. Not right just then, anyhow.

From up there visitors have a clear view of Mokoia Island in the middle of the lake. It’s the setting for probably the best known Māori song in the world. This rendition brought a tear to my eye.

The story itself is like Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending. Beautiful Hinemoa, daughter of a chief, lived on the eastern shores of the lake. She fell in love with Tutanekai, a lowly warrior who hailed from Mokoia Island but the match could never happen. Each night lovelorn Tutanekai sat on the island’s shores and played his flute. Hinemoa heard the music night after night until she couldn’t stand it anymore and swam across the lake to her love. They got married and lived happily ever after.

Lake Rotorua’s website will give you a more detailed rendition of the story.

Up at Skyline quite a few of our group were preparing to go on the luge. I had visions of idiots athletes lying flat on their backs on a sled thing hurtling down an icy track in the Winter Olympics. And then I wondered, should I survive, whether I’d be able to stand up again. You guessed it, Peter and I declined.

Setting off. Lugers could select the level of difficulty they wanted to try, see above.
The track and the ski lift to get back up

It turned out to be not so death-defying. Some of our number enjoyed it so much they went back up on the ski lift to have another go. I’ll admit to a certain amount of regret. For more information check the website.

We’d made our visit just in time. We descended into the mist. Compare this photo with the one at the top of the article – taken from the same spot.

That afternoon we were to visit a place called the Agrodome. We’d seen advertisements for it and expected a talk and some slides (or something) about farming practices in New Zealand.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

It was a drizzly day and we arrived a little early so we could watch the outdoor section at the end of the previous show where the presenter worked three sheep with his dog. I always love watching working dogs.

Then we were herded into the arena to take a seat for the main show.

Ben and the boys

This is an educational show. Up there behind our host (whose name I’ve forgotten – let’s call him Ben) are rams from each of the nineteen (19!) breeds of sheep farmed in NZ. They come up onto the podium one at a time attracted by some sort of irresistible feed in those little cups. If they can, they try to steal some from somebody else’s cup as they go past. Ben explained what each breed was used for – merino for fine wool, another for coarse, carpet wool, another for meat etc etc. The regal merino is, of course, at the pinnacle of the pile.

There are three groups of rams who ‘perform’ in the show. Even a star needs a break and besides, they need to be shorn. They wouldn’t look the same in all their fleeceless nakedness.

Of course Ben demonstrated the gentle art of shearing. He used a ewe who appeared to be quite used to the whole thing.

It’s a funny show, the best sort of education where the audience laughs and is involved. One lady came up to milk a cow. You’d be surprised how many people think milk comes from cartons.

There are two types of working farm dogs in NZ, the eye dogs which we saw in the paddock earlier, and the huntaway, which herds by barking. Ben brought out his huntaway dogs to show them working. You can see the rams are not in the least intimidated by the dogs.

Teaching small children about farm animals is fantastic, especially if they come from countries where ‘the country’ is a foreign concept. Ben got a few children on stage for an experience they’ll never forget – feeding lambs.

Look at those little tails go.

It was a great show, particularly since it was so unexpected. We learned a few things and laughed a lot, a perfect event for a grey day. Learn more at the Agrodome website.

That evening we’d be going out for dinner and a show, after we’d seen kiwis and a geyser.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

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