We started with a stop at Kiwifruit Country. Simon, one of the owners, took us around the farm on a quirky electric buggy. Early October was not the best time to visit as the branches were pretty bare, but Simon held our interest with his ... Read More
We started with a stop at Kiwifruit Country. Simon, one of the owners, took us around the farm on a quirky electric buggy. Early October was not the best time to visit as the branches were pretty bare, but Simon held our interest with his explanations of the growing, pollination, harvesting and marketing processes. He is obviously passionate about what he does. After the tour (normally costs AUD$20), you can sample green and gold kiwi fruit. A small shop also sells some interesting and innovative kiwi based products, such as ice cream and relish made.
The highlight was a visit to Te Puia. This is a large site with lots to see (working craft college, Maori culture show, bubbling mudpools, geysers and, if you are lucky, the elusive kiwi). We loved our 1.5 hour guided tour. Our guide was really friendly, knowledgeable and passionate. She started by providing a quick outline of the tour and a brief insight into the Maori culture and heritage. It was really interesting to learn about the traditional arts and crafts (carvings, jewellery and weaving), including seeing the students at work. With this tour you don’t need to clock watch the geysers - based on their experience the guides know when the eruptions will be at their peak and ensure that you arrive at the optimum time. There are several viewing platforms but, as others have said, it is difficult get a good view with a natural background. The Pohutu geyser can reach up to 30m and having some people in the foreground of your photos adds a sense of scale. Check out the naturally heated steps. The mud pools are nothing special if you have seen something similar before. We didn’t get to see the elusive kiwi (not surprising as the building was partly lit up by people’s mobiles and i-pads). The cultural show started outside the Meeting House, with a tribal welcome (including the famous haka) performed in traditional costume. The lively and interactive show continued inside with local legends, singing and dancing. Photos are allowed but, as is often the case, some folks were more courteous and considerate than others in respecting the performers and other visitors. This detracted from the show and made it feel more touristy. There was a nice gift shop but it is a shame that it didn’t stock more locally produced carvings.
The Polynesian Lake Spa Retreat is supposed to be one of the Top 10 Spas in the world. There are four main areas, with different price points and offerings – the main Deluxe Lake Spa (included in our tour), plus family, adult only and private pool sections. Our excursion was advertised as having a maximum of 8 people, but they take up to 30 and, on the day, there were actually 17 of us in two mini-buses. Big mistake, as there were only four or five changing cubicles. This area felt very tired - definitely not ‘deluxe’. There were five ‘natural’ hot pools, with different temperatures, some covered and others with infinity views. You are supposed to go from one pool to another, building up to the 40 degree one, then take a dip in the cold water before snoozing on the relaxer chairs. You do need to take care getting in and out of the pools as some of the stones underfoot were slippery. You are not allowed to eat or drink in the lounge; you have to use the café, which to be fair is reasonably priced. Read Less