21.1 mi / 10.9 mph / 1372 ft. climbing
Home: Robyn-Ann’s AirBNB
Now a week into our stay in Rotorua, we got our first fully rain-free day. So we did a bit larger of an expedition during the daylight hours, riding ten miles out (and up a big hill) to The Buried Village. In 1886, nearby Mount Tarawera erupted, (partially) burying the small village of Te Wairoa in ash and mud. Since then, archeological excavations have been done of some of the structures, and while I never saw “Pompeii” mentioned in any of their literature, that’s at least where my mind went.
But Pompeii it is not. Not only is 1886 too recent to produce any surprising “time capsule” artifacts, but none of the buildings were even “buried”. Yes, some had layers of mud and ash flow halfway up their walls, and some had their roofs caved in by the weight of the same on top (which on its own is a pretty crazy thing to happen!), and people did die, but I found it really to be the story of a “ghost town” instead. Even before the eruption, the Christian-missionary-founded town was on the downswing, and it seems the eruption was just the mountaintop that broke the camel’s back. In a more-thriving community, it doesn’t seem like it would have been too difficult for the villagers to dig out, repair their roofs, and carry on, but instead they all abandoned ship.
Which is an interesting story! Just not the one I thought I was going to get. Also, the site works well as a hook into the Tarawera eruption, which was genuinely cataclysmic for other spots in the area. The “Pink and White Terraces”, a volcanic thermal feature and New Zealand’s most-popular tourist attraction (similar to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone) were destroyed and drowned. Other nearby lakes underwent dramatic changes. And some Maori villages closer to the epicenter were left without survivors.
And then there is the meta-story: when a family decides that their multi-generational family-run business is going to be bringing tourists to pay money to visit their property, what story are they going to tell to get them there? That meta-story is interesting to me in the same way that some of the “Anne of Green Gables” sites were on Prince Edward Island.
We completed our walking tour with a trip down a steep set of stairs to view an impressive 90-foot waterfall. Reading between the lines, it seemed like this natural feature is what actually drew the Smith brothers to develop the land, and later generations shifted to the volcano narrative. It seems I didn’t take any photos of the village artifacts, but I took plenty of the natural features, so you can tell what the draw was for me!
We got home (after picking up some chain lube from a guy running a bike shop out of his garage), cleaned up, had some dinner, and then it was time for the evening’s entertainment! A third trip to Whakarewarewa Forest, and our second specifically to the Redwood Forest, but this time, in the dark! A section of the forest has had a Redwoods Treewalk built into it, where you climb up to a set of platforms 20-30 feet high encircling redwood trunks, and then connect between them via suspension bridges. It’s a combination of an Ewok and an Elven village, and you can do it at any time of day, but at night they turn on a variety of elegant lights hanging from the trees!
It’s a popular thing, frequently with long waits in line, so we debated for a while about when precisely we should go. Closer to 11pm closing we’d minimize the wait, and children, but that would be way past our bedtime. We decided to just “risk it” and get there near 8:30pm sunset. Partly because some of the (few) negative reviews complained about being able to only see the lights, and not the trees. Unlike those suckers, we had gotten a pretty good fill of the trees themselves with our ground-level walk a couple days before, but we thought it would still be nice to see a bit of what we were suspended from.
We timed it just about right, and could absorb the otherworldly atmosphere of lights amidst the trees during our 30-minute wait in line, sure that Galadriel and Celeborn were up there somewhere sitting down to a late dinner.
We took Ubers both ways, and admission was ~US$25/person, so it was a pricey evening for us, but totally worth it given our love of the big trees, art installed in nature, and unique atmospheres. Some of the Google reviews complained how expensive it was for a “20-minute walk”, but we managed to stretch it to nearly an hour of magic.