The Rotorua region greets you with the unmistakable, sulphur-y smell of rotten eggs, the kind of smell which makes you turn to your co-pilot with raised eyebrows and a scrunched up nose, until you realise no human is capable of producing such an odour (and swiftly apologise for the accusation). Rotorua is an extremely interesting place, full of geothermal sights and sounds (and smells), where the city parks seem like they wouldn’t be out of place in a zombie/dinosaur/other type of fantasy film in which the ground cracks, bubbles, and steams beneath you and you feel like maybe, just maybe, this is where the real mouth of hell is to be found (I’ll be sure to inform Buffy Summers next time we speak).
We arrived late Friday night and found a free campsite beside some beautiful river rapids, and thankfully did not catch hypothermia during the night- spring must be almost here by now, surely?
First stop on the tour of the region was Wai-O-Tapu: a self-proclaimed “geothermal wonderland” which did not disappoint. We have visited a couple of these types of sites a little further south (notably Orakei Korako near Taupo), and they are so surreal and different to anything we’d seen before that they really remind you of just how unique New Zealand really is. It’s a tourist-heavy experience where selfie sticks abound, and I imagine in the height of summer it could become quite challenging to try and capture the iconic and photogenic Champagne Pool sans photobombers, but the park is magical and inimitable, so it’s neither surprising nor avoidable. An interesting feature of the park is that, unlike at the smaller and quieter Orakei Korako where witnessing a geyser eruption is a matter of pure and rare luck, at 10.15 every morning Wai-O-Tapu’s Lady Knox Geyser is artificially set off by an employee pouring an environmentally-friendly soap alternative into the spout, at which point we and our 100 fellow spectators obediently oo-ed, aa-ed, and wow-ed as the geyser spat jets of boiling, soapy froth several metres into the air. Despite the forced nature of this spectacle, it was interesting and comically presented, and added to the distinctive experience of the park which I would sum up as an extraordinary journey for the senses, with a surprise round every corner.
Steam blowing up through the cracks in the stone
The colour-changing effects of sulphur on trees
Lady Knox Geyser, the effects of a little soap in the water
The Champagne Pool in all its tricolour glory
Hot water streams
“The Devil’s Bath” – feel like taking a dip?
It’s still pretty wintery here, and the rain began to come down pretty fast after a couple of hours spent in awe of these natural wonders. We drove to some lakes nearby to find a good picnic spot, undeterred by the rain, and had wine, cheese, and Adrien’s home-made baguettes on a jetty beside Lake Tarawera. We had fancied doing a strenuous, tiring walk in the afternoon and then rewarding ourselves with a relaxing trip to the Polynesian Spa – natural hot pools overlooking lake Rotorua – but after our slightly wet picnic (our spirits however were dampened only by the wine- so the good kind of dampening!) we decided the best thing to do was to cut out the middle man, and head straight for the hot pools, where we spent the next 2 and a half hours luxuriating in 7 different pools/cauldrons and in water temperatures ranging from 38 to 41 degrees (the latter making us feel like we were definitely being prepared for some kind of demon’s dinner). When the rain came down heavily again it only enhanced the experience, and was a very effective way of cooling down between dips!
The favourite (and coolest) pool- a mild 38 degrees, and a view of the lake
On Sunday we slowly began the drive home, stopping to do 2 different walks in the morning. The first involved a leisurely stroll through a forest of Redwood trees to a natural spring and the clearest, bluest river water I have ever seen, and the second was a hike through clouds and rain to a peak with apparently 360 degree views. We’ll have to take their word for it on that one unfortunately, merci la meteo!
Hamurana Springs Walk
Tall trees, small person
These bad boys are a mere 50 metres high- that’s half the size of their Californian brothers and sisters!
The final stop was Tauranga, a small town on the coast of the Bay of Plenty, which attracts coffee drinkers and surfers alike to its laidback, cool-kid vibe. We stopped here for a picnic on the rocks while surf-spotting, before returning to Auckland ready for the week ahead.
A little seal friend taking a nap- these surfers are exhausting to just look at!
Tauranga: home to Mount Maunganui
That’s it for this weekend! It was a relaxing couple of days out of Auckland, and a great slice of the stunning and unusual nature that the North Island has to offer. The best bit was Wai-O-Tapu and its rich array of sights and smells, followed closely by the spa for its relaxing and endorphin-inducing powers!
Thanks for reading chums!