Although Mt. Tarawera is a place of extraordinary beauty and history and the tour is great I list this in the tourist trap section because this company has succeeded to keep all visitors off the volcano who do not book with them. Either you accept their price or you do not see anything. Until a few years ago you could still walk up to the crater rim and into the crater.
The explanation sounds very honourable: Mt. Tarawera is a sacred place for Maori and as it is multiply-owned Maori land and administered by a trust, Maori must safeguard the natural domains. Mt. Tarawera is also considered sacred because of the devastation which occurred after the eruption on 10 June 1886, killing 153 people.
I do not see anything honourable to tour a sacred volcano in a 4WD or pace it down on a mountainbike. I think a peaceful tramping tour on an assigned track would be more in the spirit of the deceased and the Maori safeguardianship.
As there is no competition you pay NZ$ 299 (Jan. 2007) for getting to the mountain by 4WD, walking down the famous scree slide and then race 10kms down the mountain on a mountainbike. Getting to the summit by helicopter and ride down on the bike costs you NZ$ 610. The cheapest option is the Volcano Adventure which includes the drive to the base of the volcano, a 4WD ride up to the crater rim and a short crater walk, and you are free to tramp to the summit. This costs NZ$ 121 - which is still more expensive than a guided half day tour on the glaciers on the South Island.
It is not this money itself. It is just the rip-off nature of the whole experience that annoys me. 121 dollars for a tramping tour that you could do for free on your own until some time ago. I cannot imagine that trampers have done a lot of damage to the sacred mountain. At least not more than the tour company with their 4WDs.
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy the tour! It is great!
Fun Alternatives: No alternative. Either you pay or you cannot get to the crater of Mt. Tarawera, and it really is spectacular.
Polynesian Spa is claimed to be among the top 10 spas in the world - in Austria you find spas spread all over the country which are way more luxurious and better and offer way more
service to bathing guests.
Since the pools are sulphuric and smell, it is not advisable to stay longer than 20 min in the hot water - still there are no reclining seats or reading areas and you are forced to stay outside. Also, there are no lockers for clothes in certain areas.
Morning finally came and not a moment too soon, it was a cold, cloudy morning (33° [1°C] at 7.30), although you could see steam rising from hot quagmires. This was the one morning I didn't shower due to lack of of hot water together with the cold temperatures and lack of heat inside. I didn't want to spend the rest of the trip suffering from a cold. I was chomping at the bit to leave Orakei Korako, the name of this settlement- for want of a better word- where the cabin is. We went to breakfast which consisted of only scrambled eggs, bacon, cereal, orange juice, and coffee. Because I sympathised so with that group of ladies from Pennsylvania who didn't eat much the previous night due to their allergy to lamb and I don't like scrambled eggs, I gave them my portion to supplement theirs. I ate right much bacon, bread, and dry cereal. With no further ado, I packed my bags and put them in front to be stowed in the hold of the coach. I was never that desirous to leave some place as I was that day. I cite the following complaints about the Orakei Korako Lodge. First, there was no real heat in the rooms. Second, in such an isolated place, we would have been doomed in case of emergency. There were 3 or 4 members of groups on our coach who weren't exactly spring chickens- some from Pennsylvania and Grandma. Third, there was no alternative food for those allergic to lamb. For those who might find my view on this ironic given my views on peanut allergies, the difference here is that there are plenty of alternatives to peanuts to eat, whereas there was no alternative to lamb. We left Orakei Korako and most of the coach sensed such a relief that we broke into spontaneous applause.
Fun Alternatives: see first tip
The sun was fixing to set as we were arriving at our so-called hotel. It was a real log cabin in the middle of nowhere. There were 5 rooms for a group of 50 (one for single men, one for single ladies, and 3 rooms for married couples (for my parents, for the Bucklers of Westminster, and for the Hopkins of Canyon). Even the private rooms had nothing but cots with very little cover. There was also the dining room which had pool tables and pinball machines, and outdoor geothermal spas. Despite the warmth of the water, it was crazy to get in them outside (30-35° [-2 to 2°C] at 7.00).
Unique Suggestions: If you are corralled to Orakei Korako in the winter, bring long pajamas.
Fun Alternatives: Committing the head of the travel agency or tour group that sends you there to the nearest mental health facility.
I was real hungry on arriving and the wait until supper seemed like an eternity. By that point, I could have even eaten G.M.U. dining hall food! They served (wouldn't you know it) lamb, cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, and rolls. For once, I was almost in agreement when Brian Baker asked, "Where is the nearest McDonald's?" All of the sudden, I had the biggest craving for Chicken McNuggets! I ate the lamb in spite of being thoroughly tired of eating this meat, but I covered it up with a lot of gravy. The rolls were really the highlight of the meal. I declined to take cooked carrots and mashed potatoes. The real bad thing was that there were one or two in the group allergic to lamb and there was nothing for them until breakfast the following day. I took a Coca-Cola because I already sampled the water (which smelled like sulfur because it came from a geothermal spring) and I didn't want anything made with that water. Supper was the highlight of the evening because we were so far from any semblance of a town (this place made Virgilina, VA look like L.A.). There was no telly (the reception would have been poor in the valley). This reminded me of a church retreat when I was 12 years old at Camp Hanover. Gina and Tiffany of Westminster got in the natural spa outside in spite of the cold. Unfortunately, I didn't bring anything to read because I did not anticipate such a situation. I went to the gentleman's quarters, which looks like a barracks. There was no heat except for a small space heater which, on plugging in, you had to wait for the electric coils to heat up. Even with the space heater in full swing, it was so cold, I didn't change into my normal sleeping attire. Younger ones like my brother, and some in the Westminster group kept flapping their gums and not letting Mr. Rath and me sleep. I couldn't really sleep well anyhow because it was so cold the California raisins were volunteering for rum cake duty.
Unique Suggestions: see above
Fun Alternatives: see above