Rotorua – Geothermal hot springs and the unending smell of rotten eggs
The first thing you notice about Rotorua is the smell. Stinky waves of sulphur pierce the nostrils and all around steam rises up from the ground. This is the geothermal hotbed of New Zealand, boasting various thermal parks and springs. We stay at the YHCA hostel across from Kuirau Park, a free public park with loads of mud and sulphur pools at various temperatures. Leave at least 2-3 hours to wander this huge park. The best part after walking around is soaking our feet in the hot hot foot bath…ahhh. This is definitely a major tourist town, so it’s hard to find reasonable prices, especially for food. After spying a $14 muffin (yes, you heard us right, $14) at some nondescript cafe, we pretty much ate exclusively at Goldilock’s – a small bakery with cheap meat pies, sweets, and sandwiches.
Keen on experiencing the “free” natural wonders of Rotorua, we hitch a lift out to Kerosene Creek – a hot river about 30km south of the city. At the turnoff, we see 3 people soaking in a murky emerald green lake. “Kerosene Creek’s too hot,” says one guy. This is much better.” Indeed, the lake is inviting, like bathwater, but we continue down the road because we like to be mildly scalded. At Kerosene creek we find a number of people in various degrees of submergence, either sighing or wincing. We slowly ease in, an undertaking both enjoyable and painful, at the eddy of a small waterfall. In typical New Zealand fashion there are several Maori people jumping from the waterfall into the hot pool below. Ouch! This is no place to dunk your face.
In this geothermal haven, there are a number of parks charging admission fees to see their selection of geothermal activity and/or cultural Maori performances. We opt to visit Wai-O-Tapu, one of the more popular and most photographed parks. At10:45am we watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt and learn the secret to the timeliness of its eruptions. We then begin the heavily trodden tourist loop through various lakes and mud pools, from neon green to orange. Our favorite was the boiling 74 C champagne pool, a clear turquoise pool rimmed in bright orange.
At night we head to the Skyline luge, a favorite among families and tourists. We take the gondola up the mountain and do several luge runs, speeding down in the semi-dark. Fun, but the lines were long.
After catching a ride from Mark, a Rotorua local and fellow world traveler, we sync up with him later to tour more natural wonders of his town. Our first stop is the Okere River (Kaituna), a popular whitewater rafting run where Mark was once a guide. The churning water is a brilliant blue, and at this one junction, Tutee Falls is a 7m class V drop, where Mark likes to scare everyone by flipping the raft. We crawl into a cave around the waterfall, once used by Maori tribes for hiding women and children, and later the burial ground of Chief Tutea.
Next we head to Hamurana springs, icy blue deepwater springs emanating from the Mamaku Plateau. The crystal clear water travels 70 years through underground aquifers, before reaching Hamurana, where it pushes up through volcanic rock. The rainbow trout here are enormous, and the cold water looks so clear and inviting, but these springs are considered sacred so we’re only allowed to look.
Eager for another hot soak, Mark brings us to what the locals have long called “Hot/Cold”, a hot spring that merges with a cool river, so you can easily find the temperature you like! No longer a “secret spot” anymore, it was somewhat crowded with both locals and tourists. Still, not a bad place to soak and forget about the world’s troubles. With 3 full days in Rotorua, we were ready to continue onward….to Waitomo, the land of caves.