Rotorua is predominantly a tourist town, predicated on its impressive thermal areas and lovely lake, which serves as a national wildlife reserve. New Zealand has so far proven more expensive than expected, but the last day or so has underlined… well, to be blunt, what we’re doing wrong.
First, lodging is an almost inescapable problem. It’s expensive. Even in hostels (called “backpackers” here, short for “Backpacker Accommodation”), it’s NZD $50-$75 minimum for two in most areas. That comes out to about USD $30-$45, which, considering our daily budget goals ($40, with a preferred day around $30 – a *sigh* stretch goal) is un-good. Second, just like at home, eating out is much more expensive than self-catering, which is a fancy-schmancy-backpacker term for buying groceries like normal people. Cheap takeaway food like fish n’ chips (delicious, btw) is still NZD $10 or so (USD $6), and for any sort of sit-down meal, even breakfast, you can count on $15-$20 (USD $9-$12) each, easy. There are a few cheap takeaway options, like “pies,” which are a local favorite – NZD $4 or less (USD $3) for any number of fillings. They’re like chicken pot pies, except they have many, many more choices – steak n’ cheese, bacon n’ eggs, mushroom n’ onion, you name it, there’s probably a pie with it. We haven’t tried one yet, but rest assured, at that price? We will.
Finally, “entertainment.” Now, we don’t just want to be in a country. We want to experience it. Granted, the expensive, touristy things are NOT always the best way to do that, granted – but turning our noses up at that stuff isn’t what we want to do all the time either. There is a REASON that Rotorua is a tourist-spot – why? Thermal areas, spas, hot pools, volcanic activities. So, we really wanted to check that out. We did, and it was beautiful – the Polynesian Spa, with sulpur-ific –smelling alkali pools. It was also NZD $44 (USD $26 – you would guess correctly if you assumed we did not hit our budget that day).
So, then, what were we doing wrong? Everything, and nothing. Lodging will continue to be tricky, but we’re in down-season for most of our NZ locales, so we are going to try our hand at a bit of haggling. Plus, when we are doing walks with huts, that will be a far, far cheaper option (Great Walks huts are NZD $20 (USD $12) for both of us, backcountry huts are NZD$10 (USD $6) for a night), and will help bring our averages down a bit. Self-catering, which we cottoned onto pretty quickly, is THE way to go. Instead of averaging USD $7 per person, per meal, we can average less than USD $2. Not to say we shouldn’t, and won’t, still eat out every once in a while, but likely not often.
Entertainment in NZ is still possible on the cheap, which is good, because we hardly want to sit in a hostel lounge the whole day and night. Walking is very cheap, cheap as free, and beyond walking in each town or city, there are many walkways and day walks near virtually any town. When we get to National Parks, we can spend days at a time on these walks, cutting our lodging costs too (when huts are available – it’s getting too cold here to tent).
Here in Rotorua, we lucked into a few other cheap-as-free entertainment options. There are two restaurants in town, Capers (a café) and Pig & Whistle (a tavern) that offer free drink coupons. We stocked up, because we could use one per person, per day. Woo! This meant we could get a coffee, tea, moccachino, whatever at Capers, and then a beer, wine, or Coke at P&W. The Capers staff was very friendly, even though we weren’t buying anything (it was EXPENSIVE), and one of them noticed us taking turns biting a little minty marshmallow that came with Rhys’ moccachino. It was strange, different, but good. The manager, who Rhys had conversed with the previous day (her name was Caroline), came over and brought us two dessert slices “on the house,” that both featured kiwi marshmallows – she chuckled and said one of the girls had noticed our interest in the strange-tasting confection. One of the desserts was called a “lolly” slice and was god-awful. Seriously. It would kill a diabetic simply on sight. It was some sort of pink coconut-infused mush? Cake? Cooled plasma? No clue. There were various colored marshmallows littered through the mess, and it was covered with frosting that was the sickly-sweetest white abomination that has ever existed. If you ever see a “lolly” slice, run. The other confection was called “Rocky Road,” and Rhys thought it quite good (it had coconut on the bottom, so I didn’t try all of it). It was a chocolate flatcake or something on top, with almond pieces, then marshmallows in a gooey cake substance, then coconut crust. Anyway, the breakfast tea (with cream and raw sugar) was the best I’ve ever tasted (and free!). Rhys says the same about his “Long Black” (coffee, I think) and Moccachino, though to be honest, it’s his first Moccachino.
While enjoying our free drinks at the Pig & Whistle, we noticed that Sky (the national sports network) was televising something that looked like basketball, sort of, and it was happening at the Rotorua Energy Events Center – right down the road. I recommended we go check it out. Rhys dragged his feet – another tip we’d tried to follow hadn’t worked out. I dragged him along, although he argued that he’d be shocked (“Shocked!”) if we weren’t charged to get in. I told him to shush and that I owned this (he owns getting us a low-cost lodging option tomorrow in Taupo). We walked through the rain to the Events Center, about eight blocks away. Tons of people were inside, and I approached the gruff-looking guy standing guard at the entrance to the stadium seating area. “Hi!” I said. He acknowledged me with a nod. “We were watching this at the Pig & Whistle on Sky, down the street. What is this? Basketball?” He smiled.
“Netball,” he said. I shrugged at him. He grinned wider and stepped back, motioning for us to go on in.
I led Rhys up to the family seating (we think), courtside. There were several open seats (none were evident in the bleacher seats on any of the sides), and I asked if anyone was sitting there. The people nearby said no, and stood up for us to pass and sit down. I stuck my tongue out at Rhys, as he did not look sufficiently Shocked! that I had succeeded. We asked a very nice lady after the game’s finish what it was all about. Netball, according to her, is a mainly girls’ sport (it was two girls’ teams) and is the female equivalent of rugby in NZ popularity. This had been a regional championship (Mystics vs. Magic), and the home team (Waikato Magic) won. It’s weirdly analogous to basketball – there is a net on a pole, but no backboard. Team members pass the ball like basketball, but don’t appear to be able to move while dribbling – once they have the ball, they have to stand, pivot, and pass or shoot. Rhys got some good pictures, I think. Regardless, it was a fun time with a bunch of local people, enjoying a local sport – for free (well, for us). So – lessons learned; we look for local people doing local things, and get out of the hostel without spending money whenever possible. Get IN to the hostel spending as little money as possible. And eat on the cheap.
Tomorrow – to Taupo! On our way to hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit, weather permitting. I’d post a link, but am not currently connected to the internet. Internet is NOT common here, at least, not free wi-fi – not even in libraries or cafes. 🙂 I am tracking all of our expenses, so if anyone happens across this blog while planning your worldly travels, feel free to email me at indigowarrior @ gmail.com, and I’ll be happy to share what I have. 🙂