March 25th, after a day of sailing, we docked in Tauranga and spent the day in Rotorua (New Zealand).

My wife has invited me to cruise around New Zealand in the Crystal Symphony. After embarking in Auckland we spent the first day at sea, in which my wife hosted a cocktail party at the Palm Court, I caught up with work emails and some reading (the ship receives current magazines like Wired, The Economist, etc), we attended a musical performance by Neil Lockwood (former singer of The Allan Parsons Project), and we dined at award-winning Japanese restaurant Nobu at Sea (now called Umi Uma), before we arrived at our first port of call: Tauranga.

Tauranga is a nice little town, with the largest seaport in New Zealand. As you exit the port, you see Mount Maunganui, an extinct volcanic cone at the tip of the peninsula, which has very nice trekking trails and beaches on both sides. As a matter of fact, just the day before one of the Surfing World Championship competitions were held in those beaches.

As you walk around town everything seems like an active-lifestyle outdoor-sports commercial: young tanned thin white people, with hats and sunglasses, wearing spandex shorts and UV protection t-shirts, and carrying surf boards, rugby balls, or running with their dogs. Everywhere. All over.

But we were not there to people watch, we were there to learn more about the local culture and history, and to enjoy ourselves. So we met our tour guide and drove to Rotorua, some 45 minutes away.

Half way to Rotorua we stopped at a kiwi orchard, where a farmer and his daughter told us many interesting facts about growing kiwis, and were very happy to sell us one of the many kiwi-related products they offered for sale in their sweet little rustic store. I know, “tourist trap”. But as tourist traps go, this one was very interesting and adorable. We decided to buy some green and golden kiwi jam.

After the orchard visit, we drove to Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao (try entering that on a GPS, or writing it on a blog post), a super interesting Maori village where several Maori families have been living for generations, that use geothermal energy to cook, heat and bathe. It was extremely fascinating and educative. The landscape was out of this world, including geysers; and the Waka performance, while a little cheesy, was quite genuine.

Once we were done with the tour of the village, we headed to the Polynesian Spa, considered one of the World’s Top 10.

The spa was interesting, but what made it special was the amazing views of the rim of the volcano, the abundant bird life, and the very heavily and naturally mineralized spring water (“cooled down” to 41ºC or 106ºF). With several pools to chose from, and several mineral combinations (and therefore therapeutic effects) to choose from, the time we spent there flew by. Local Maori had been bathing in the acidic pool they called Te Pupunitanga (now known as Priest’s Bath) for centuries. We definitely left feeling much more relaxed. Let’s hope it helps my wife heal her heel after the surgery!

Once we went back to Tauranga, we decided to take a stroll around town before boarding back onto the ship and sailing away.