Some people told us not to bother going to Rotorua, nothing much there but the stench of sulfur, they said, oh and a few hot springs and stuff. We’d need face masks just to be able to breathe, they said.
Yet so many told us of the wondrous and mystical spectacles of other-worldly landscapes and endless pools of boiling mud and spewing hot water. A must-go-to North Island destination.
Sure, there was a strange sulfur odour in the air, but it really was not so bad, and we knew where the smells came from so we had no problem with it at all. Rather endearing actually, and no worse than city living (in fact so much better than city living).
Driving in to the town we were amazed to see clouds of steam wafting out of the ground in paddocks, back yards and even from street drains. Bizarre! Exciting! A whole lot of firsts for me! Dave had been to Rotorua many years ago, in a former life, and he was just as eager as I was to get about exploring this intriguing place. There were many things he didn’t see before, and mostly it was all a dim memory for him.
First stop was to check in to our hotel, which was the Novotel because we were offered 1 night’s free accommodation with our Accor Advantage membership. Plus we get 50% off all meals, which is a lovely bonus though hotel style food is never that fantastic, this place being no exception. We were upgraded to a suite which gave us stacks of room to spread our stuff around and be really comfy for the few days. Our room was only on the first floor so not the greatest views over the lake, but happy enough with that. The best part was having the hot spa tubs and heated pool to while away a few lazy hours in between sight-seeing. It really is something else to soak in pure hot mineral water, feeling that it must somehow be therapeutic. Could have stayed wallowing there for ages.
Off we then ventured to look for steamy mud. Heading not far out of town we arrived at Tikitere, also known as Hell’s Gate, so named by George Bernard Shaw in the early 1900s because he really believed he had arrived at the gateway to hell. Looking around the place it is not surprising he felt that way.
The entire site covers around 50 acres of boiling hot pools and erupting springs, hot water lakes and sulfur crystal deposits as well as the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot water waterfall. Even a real life bubbling mud volcano – a couple of meters high.
For an extra $75 each we could have enjoyed the thermal mud bath and spa and I think it would have been great – but $150 for the 2 of us wasn’t an amount we were willing for fork out. The walk around the site was incredible, took just over an hour and the $35 each was very well worth it. Such a glorious day, though I read that the geothermal activity is much more interesting in light rain. Figures.
Another great visit was Te Puia, a geothermal park where we would see the famous Pohutu geyser. Again, guided tours are offered, but our timing didn’t fit so we muddled our way through on our own. We knew that the geyser would erupt around once every hour or so, and we wanted to see it, so we hung around for the main event.
There is a tiered seated viewing platform where the hordes of Chinese tourists gathered and then there was a timbered walkway that seemed to us the better spot to see the geyser close up. And we were grandly rewarded for our foresight. We spoke with a woman who had waited there for over an hour for the eruption. So we were lucky to only have to wait around 15 minutes.
And then this, which lasted for around half an hour. How does this even happen? And what if it just started coming up from under our feet?
This must be magic, and so must the entire place really. I did read that years ago the thermal activity dropped off and that was because a lot of householders were tapping in to the underground springs to have their own private hot tubs. The government banned that, and since then the geysers have been spouting away as nature intended.
Lots of winding pathways off the regular tourist track and plenty of opportunities to just stand, watch and contemplate this extraordinary phenomena.
Maori culture is so strongly attached to these places and we spent time reading through the history and legends from the original inhabitants of these lands.
These sites require a lot of maintenance and staffing to keep them going. Very happy to pay for experiences that are worthwhile and this certainly was, despite the hefty $57 each. We found out later that had we bought the tickets online we could have saved $10 each.
All around Rotorua we found so many places to experience the wonders of this incredible activity. Plenty to see around beautifully landscaped public parks so there isn’t always that issue of having to pay to enter organised places. And you don’t have to drive too far to walk around sites but it does help to be armed with a few tourist brochures and a GPS.
We will return to Rotorua, there are so many parts of this wonderful place we weren’t able to fully explore. There are lakes, mountains and even more hot springs and mud pools that we read about after we left. And I just learned of a winery there as well. It truly is a magical place with something for everyone.