After our Hobbiton journey, Flo and I are heading towards Rotorua, which is a town full of surprises. The kind of surprises that smells like rotten eggs, makes some “blop” sounds and makes you wet.
Rotorua is actually located in a zone of heavy geothermal activity, being built at the junction of two tectonic plaques. This peculiar situation makes it the perfect place to enjoy geysers, boiling lakes, fluorescent lakes, and get yourself a relaxing bath in hot pools and mud pools.
Rotorua is also well known for its Maori culture. It’s well represented here with some traditional villages and (authentic?) performances. Those ones are rather expensive and, as I have already witnessed a cultural show at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, I focus on the smoky and smelly stuff.
WAI-O-TAPU, A GEOTHERMAL WONDERLAND
Our first stop is Wai-O-Tapu which means sacred waters in the Maori language. It’s an 18km² park well known for its geothermal curiosities. The zone is protected as a scenic reserve, even though most part of this area is a tourist attraction run by a Maori family for more than 30 years.
One of its major attraction is the Lady Knox geyser. Every morning, at 10.30, there’s a guy coming to the geyser’s hole and put some soap in it to make it react: Pschiiiiiiit. It feels a bit like a circus show, who’s a good girl? Yes, Lady Knox is such a good girl! Joke aside, it’s still very impressive, mostly because it’s the first time in my life that I see a geyser.
The rest of Wai-O-Tapu is incredible though! It’s raining and Flo and I are soaked, but we’re almost forgetting the dreadful weather discovering the peculiar beauties of the place. Those are landscapes we’ve NEVER seen before. Lakes are boiling, some have unusual colours, and it smells sulphur literally everywhere. We even come across strange craters called Devil’s Home or Devil’s Ink Pot which are up to 20 meters deep and some sulphur-yellow caves … What an unusual place.
The other famous and outstanding attraction of the park is the Champagne Pools, that you can see pictures in every tourist guide about New Zealand. This lake, thanks to some specific chemical combination -that I can’t bother to explain here in details since I’m not good at understanding chemistry- possess a surreal gradation of colours. Because of the rain, and surely because it’s boiling hot, it smokes. A lot. We try our best to take some decent pictures in this fog, and we’re complaining a bit like the stupid French we are, but we’re having the time of our lives here.
We’re in awe, slack-jawed by the marvels of this park. Especially in front of the green lakes, and this particular fluorescent green pool called The Devil’s Bath. It feels like we’ve been knocked out by Mother Nature. On our way out, we stop beside the Mud Pools, a lake with gigantic mud bubbles. It stinks and it’s “blopping”, bringing back the terrible kids in us who want to jump headfirst into the mud (but you shouldn’t, though, as it’s boiling hot!)
As the sun is finally piercing through the clouds, Flo is taking me to Rotorua’s Kuirau Park which also has its share of little boiling mud pools (BLOP!) and there’s even a hot pool where one can soak its feet. And Hell knows how I enjoy dipping my toes in the water. And it’s even better with that kind of view over the park. We even randomly meet Flo’s former volunteering host, Julie, such a lovely woman. New Zealand always feels like a big village: you always end up meeting someone you know.
Around the museum of Rotorua (which looks like a traditional house in Alsace, I swear), in the Governments Gardens, we find some other fuming lakes and mud pools. We take a stroll on the path around Rotorua’s Lake, looking for some geocaches, and, as Flo is being chased by a Pukeko bird (a strange blue bird which has long red legs) because he got too close to a nest, I find Der Pirat that I take in my backpack for further Geocaching adventures. The place is bucolic, Rotorua is enchanting me.
Back to our hostel, the Funky Green Voyageur, we have the meal of our life with instant noodles cooked in my own specific way. It’s funny how Flo is enjoying it so much! Not that I’ve been known to be a great cook… The hostel is charming and very welcoming (the staff even put some chocolates on our pillows!), we spend our evening writing our travel blogposts next to the fireplace, joking with each other. We even met a lovely German girl, Claire, speaking perfectly fluent French, with whom we talked for hours.
After that day, I nicknamed Florent “Pukeko” because of this famous encounter in Rotorua… I’m still calling him that way more than 5 years later! Cheers bro!
HELL’S GATE & ENCHANTED FOREST
Thanks to my extra hours at the nursery in Kerikeri, I get to spend a whole morning at the Hell’s Gate for free. Hell’s Gate is another geothermal park which combines two experiences: an exploration of the geothermal reserve AND a relaxing moment in a sulphur spa and a private mud pool.
In the reserve, there’s a mud volcano and other fuming, boiling and coloured lakes. After the visit, I’m invited to try out my carving skills, Maori style. I’m quite proud of my kiwi carved in a piece of wood! Afterwards comes the private mud bath experience, where I can finally let out the terrible kid in me and jump into the mud! I end up in the stinky sulphur pool. The whole experience is very relaxing, and Rotorua’s mud is reputed to be very healthy for the skin. Clearly, my skin is now soft and silky… and a bit smelly.
Then, with Flo, we take our beloved rental car to go strolling into the Redwoods (also called Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest) which is a Sequoia Forest. This forest is huge, and the place is so pretty! There are many strolling paths around, and we randomly choose the green one, the Quarry Lookout Track, a 1h30 loop which leads us deeper into the forest. After a while, the Sequoias are replaced by Ferns and Kauri Trees. New Zealand’s forests are just the best forests ever.
And we want some more. Let’s go hiking around the Blue Lake (also called Tikitapu Lake) then! It feels good to be this active and to have a partner with whom going hiking.
OHINEMUTU, A MAORI VILLAGE
The next day is our last day in Rotorua. Before raising our thumbs to get to Taupo, we stroll around one last time with our micro car until Ohinemutu, a small traditional Maori village. There are paths painted on the ground as to not get too close to boiling or dangerous places. The Maori have a unique way of cooking, called hangi, where they dig a hole in the ground to get their food steamed. Now that we can see smokes coming out of the sewers, we get a better understanding of this tradition.
Ohinemutu used to be the city centre of the Rotorua region back in the early 1870s. The traditional meeting house, (marae in the Mauri language), called Tamatekapua, is carved with Paua Shells and exquisite drawings. The marae are traditional Maori buildings in which they gather for social meetings and activities, it’s forbidden to enter here without an invitation.
Rotorua, you’re weird and peculiar with your smoky and stinky stuff everywhere.
Rotorua, I think I’ve fallen in love with you. You stink, but you’re so pretty. I get a small heartache when I’m leaving you. I would have loved to spend some more time discovering you.
Next step: hitchhiking to Taupo Lake!
LET’S GO THERE:
Wai-O-Tapu, 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, RD 3, Rotorua
Hell’s Gate, 351 State Highway 30, Tikitere, Rotorua
Redwoods, Long Mile Road, Rotorua
Blue Lake, Tarawera Road, Rotorua
Funky Green Voyageur Backpackers, 4 Union Street, Rotorua
Kuirau Park, Pukuatua Street & Ranolf Street, Rotorua
Ohinemutu, Mataiawhea St, Ohinemutu, Rotorua
BONUS: In Rotorua, Florent taught me how to cook Spaghettis on toast, New-Zealand style! Well, it wasn’t as bad as it looks, to be honest!