Why couchsurfing is so great!
One reason why we are having so much fun on our trip are the people we're staying with. In Thames/Coromandel we were spoiled by Patrick and Christiane in every possible way. And in Rotorua it's Gabriel and his friends who make life so much easier and better. Initially we only wanted to stay in Rotorua for one night, then decided to extend that for one more night to have a bit more time exploring the area and have less driving.
Last night Gabe was throwing a pizza party. He had invited 20 friends or more from allover the world (there was only one true Kiwi around - a journalist I instantly started talking to) and we all made our own pizzas, had a bit of wine and lots of music. It was such a nice atmosphere, we so enjoyed ourselves. And we met Heiko, a German who has immigrated to New Zealand about 15 years ago. Talking to him and checking the weather report (more rain, cyclone coming) we decided to stay yet another night in Rotorua as I didn't want to drive all day in the rain and there were probably more things to do in the rain in Rotorua than in Whakatane where we initially wanted to go to next. But whale-watching probably wasn't possible in the rain anyway.
Well, when we woke up today the sun was shining, it was hot and humid and no sign of any cyclone at all. Did we regret our decision of staying? NOT AT ALL!!! Because Heiko took us out to Lake Tarawera with his little boat - built in 1935 and completely restored by him. The lake is about 30mins away from Rotorua but soooo worth a visit. Crystal-blue water, stunning scenery around with a few extinct (?) volcanoes and beautiful houses of the upper class. We went for a swim and tried fishing, unfortunately without success.
Later in the afternoon we drove to Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty to have some seafood. You can climb Mount Moao (that's the Maori name of the mountain in Mt. Maunganui) which we didn't do because - believe it or not - our legs are STILL HURTING!!! Will it ever completely go away???
Anyway... We went for a little walk and enjoyed the scenery, stopped at the beach - awesome waves and perfect for surfers - and took some pictures. Then we drove to the neighboring town of Tauranga - heaps of little shops and bars and restaurants along the waterfront. A typical tourist town, could have been in Greece or Spain or anywhere near the Mediterranean Sea. But ut was nice. We had dinner at "The Crown and Badger" and the fresh snapper was relly worth its $20.
Driving back in the sunset we were happy to have spent yet another great day in New Zealand. Tomorrow it's off to Napier via Taupo and whatever else catches our eye on the way there...