Head south from Auckland and almost immediately the scenery shifts from urban to suburban, although generally less so than driving up north. The truth is that there just isn’t much outside of Auckland. The drive is pretty though. Most towns are indistinguishable from one another. Each city has a similar structure to it and you can pass easily in and out of them as you casually lose your navigational sense of location. That is, until you get to Rotorua. Not that it looks a whole lot different but when you get there, you’ll be greeted with one unmistakable trait: the smell of sulphur.
Rotorua is an area with a great amount of geothermic activity. In truth, all of New Zealand is rather volatile. The two main islands that now make up New Zealand used to be attached to the much larger country-continent of Australia. While it is no longer connected to Australia by land, it is situated on two very fast moving tectonic plates. This is the reason for all of the volcanoes and other cool physical features of New Zealand. In Rotorua, it manifests itself in a large collection of geysers, hot bubbling mud pools, and hot thermal springs. Oh and the stench of sulphur so bad in some areas that it’ll make you sick.
I took a weekend trip down to Rotorua with a couple of friends. We arrived late Friday night and luckily were able to find a hostel that would put us up at that time. One of my biggest complaints about New Zealand (although to be honest, I don’t have many) is that everything closes super early especially outside of Auckland. However, we called ahead and the hostel staff agreed to wait up for us. Apparently the dude running reception plays playstation all day anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal for him.
The next morning, I had some free time while the girls went to church. I had needed to get my haircut for some time and I couldn’t fit it into my schedule while in Auckland. I was working until 7p.m. every night and by that time, every hair stylist around me was closed. So I took this opportunity to drop into a barber and get a quick buzz. Apparently the guy next to me getting his hair did was a famous Kiwi actor who had a role in a Star Wars movie. Of course, I wasn’t informed of this until after he left the shop. I can’t remember who they had said he was, but a quick search looks like it was probably Temuera Morrison. I was never into Stars Wars, but it’s interesting that I ran across someone in the film industry while in a small, sleepy town in New Zealand.
After that, I took a walk around the city and the gardens around the Rotorua Art and History Museum. It’s hard to find an ugly part of New Zealand. The country is just riddled with beauty and Kiwis take care of their cities quite well.
Later on in the day, we went out to Rainbow Springs. Rainbow Springs is basically a big wildlife zoo/interaction forest area. The biggest attraction is the Kiwibird exhibit. The kiwi is a flightless bird that evolved because of the lack of predators on the islands of New Zealand. When the first Europeans came over with cats and other unnatural predators, the kiwi population quickly became endangered. Now the country is going to great efforts in order to save the species. Kiwis are night creatures. In order to see them during the day, a dark room has been setup to display them. And you can’t take pictures because it might scare them. All in all, it’s a pretty strange-looking creature.
A walk through the forest and other animal exhibits of Rainbow Springs is filled with another great New Zealand treasure: The Kauri tree. Kauri are among the world’s mightiest trees, growing to more than 50 metres tall, with trunk girths of up to 16 metres and living for more than 2000 years. The Maori people used the Kauri trees for many things because of the rigidity of the wood. They built boats and houses among other structures. The site of the Kauri, although not as big as a redwood, is still pretty humbling.
That night, we chose to go on a Maori cultural experience. The evening started out with a traditional Maori welcoming between the chiefs of different tribes, then on to a few exhibits about the ways of the Maori and how they spent their everyday lives. After that, you get to watch a traditional Maori performance with stories, songs, and of course, the Haka. Finally, it ended in a traditional Maori meal, the Hangi feast. They slow-cook meat and vegetables in an underground hole for a delectable, hearty meal. On the bus ride back, the driver made everyone sing songs from their home countries. An extremely entertaining and informative evening that I recommend to everyone.
The next day, we headed for Hell’s Gate. It is the largest area of geothermal activity in the Rotorua area. You’ll find many mud pools, bubbling springs, and geysers here, some of which get hotter than 100ºC. Plus, you can opt for the mud bath at the end of your walk around the hot pools. You get to sit in a bath full of mud that is good for your skin and then take a dip in the sulphur hot pools. Be warned: your swimsuit will wreak of sulphur and you may never be able to rid it of the stench. I ended up throwing mine away because it smelled so bad.
Next, we made our way over to Taupo Lake, the largest lake in New Zealand. Immediately, I wished we had headed to Taupo sooner. Rotorua is an interesting place, but I felt a much stronger attraction to Taupo. The lake is massive and there is an abundance of restaurants around the lake. A perfect place to sit and enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We only had a few hours to spend in Taupo, unfortunately, but we made the best of them.
Lake Taupo (click to enlarge)
Yet another place visited and another sunset I have had the opportunity to view. Life is short and unpredictable. Make the best of it while you can.
Next time on This Is My Travel Blog – New Zealand: Windy Wellington: Opposite to Auckland in Almost Every Way