A haze of clouds clings to New Zealand's Rotorua; a legacy of the steam and sulfur that swirl amid the mud pools and the geysers dotting the city. After centuries of geo-thermal activity, Rotorua is a reflection of the 234 kilometer volcanic belt it resides on, from its towering Tarawera Mountains in the East to its former valleys and craters, now jewel-like lakes.
But more than a showcase of a land's evolution, Rotorua peers at the development of its people: the Maori who arrived six centuries ago. The New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute celebrates their existence with a museum, concerts and shops selling traditional Maori wares, including carved wooden tikis, woven mats and jade jewelry.
Following cobblestoned trails, visitors may enter the adjoining Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and watch mud poolswhose constant bubbles resemble jumping mud frogsview the colorful silica formations that paint the landscape or visit the world famous geyser Pohutu.
Reserve at least one evening for a hangia traditional Maori feast followed by a concert usually performed by local cultural groups. Imitating age-old Maori techniques, hangi chefs cook the food on rocks, which are heated in nearby hot pools. The traditional Maori, Polynesian and New Zealand foods, including fish, lamb and kumara, along with the rocks, are placed in a shallow hole in the ground, covered with leaves, flax woven mats or soil and left alone until serving time. The hangi concert at the Quality Resort (011-64-07-347-1234) features the traditional poi dance, hanka and farewell songs performed under a glass-domed pool.
Wellington About 415 miles south of Auckland, sits the seaside city of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. A compact yet cosmopolitan city known for its celebrated zoo, its hills and cable carsprovides a home to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet Co., the Wellington City Opera and many professional theatres.
Wellington also hosts the 11th anniversary of the biennial New Zealand International Festival of the Arts from March 1-24, 1996 (011 64-04-473-0149). This three-week celebration offers opera, theatre, music, dance, puppetry, street performance and visual artsand includes the premiere of choreographer Gray Veredon's 1001 Nights (an adaptation of the classic fairy tale set to Rimsky Korsakov's music) and new works by New Zealand writers and directors like Maori playwright, Hone Kouka's Waiora.
New Zealand Adventure United Vacations offers three-night Auckland/two-night Rotorua package from April 1, 1996, through March 31, 1997, for $1,746. Trip includes round-trip airfare from New York to Auckland, round-trip motorcoach transportation to Rotorua, accommodations, all air and hotel taxes and service charges and sightseeing tours to the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, Waitomo Caves and other excursionsand a traditional hangi. Call 1-800-328-6877. -- By Sandra Mardenfeld