Rotorua - geysers, zorbs, good smelling sulfur?
Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
21Trip End Jun 03, 2009
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Where I stayed
Astray Motel & Backpackers
I arrived in Rotorua without a reservation for accommodations, thinking it was time to test my tolerance for being flexible. I was fine until I realized it was Saturday and my quick search on line showed no availability! Fortunately, every town in New Zealand is tourist-friendly, especially Rotorua. I was able to use their Tourism desk in the middle of town to book not only my stay, but all of the activities I wanted to do as well. I planned to stay from Saturday evening through Monday morning, and with everything I wanted to see and do, I knew I would be busy!
I started off at the Rotorua Museum, which was originally built in the late 1890's when tourism first started becoming popular in the area and the building was a therapeutic bath house. They didn't realize that the high mineral continent of the water pumped through the building would immediately erode all of the pipes, so the building has gone through several renovations over the years until it became the museum today. There are lots of parks, gardens and lawns surrounding the museum and throughout the town, and often there will be an active opening where the geothermal steam comes out. The area smells a bit like sulfur, but given the beautiful surroundings, ancient culture and the benefits of area's mineral waters - it really doesn't smell that bad.
After walking the through the museum, I was picked up at my backpackers motel (not quite a hostel, but I'm getting there) for the evening's tour: Maori cultural performance, traditional dinner called a hangi and nighttime geyser show, if Mother Nature cooperated. The tour started with a performance similar to the one I saw at the Auckland Museum, but much more authentic in an outdoor setting and away from the city. The men and women who performed are all of Maori decent and even though it is a demonstration for tourists, it seemed like they were very proud to represent their traditions and cultures. They performed a pre-battle ritual called a hakka, which is really moving. The New Zealand All Black rugby team does this before a game - I would love to see it in person!
Following the performance, we had a great buffet dinner which included their traditional style of steamed cooking, called hangi. The buffet also included ice cream, pasta salad and wine, which I doubt was around the traditional Maori hut, but it was all good food. The final touch of the evening was a guided tour after dinner to one of the area geysers, which erupts both during the day and night. We were able to see the evening eruption enhanced by the park's lighting, it was beautiful.
The next morning my itinerary started off with another pick up from my motel, destined for several of the other natural wonders of the area. First stop was the bubbling mud pools. The sun had not burned off all of the morning fog, so all I could think of during this leg was that it looked like Yoda's forest from Star Wars, but that was kind of cool, too. The water below is several hundred degrees, and bubbles up through the mud - not something you see every day.
Next stop was Lady Knox geyser and Wai-Te-Pua geothermal park. It was an amazing area of geysers, volcanic pools, lakes and waterfalls. We were free to walk the park for about an hour and half to take in the sights. A lot of the pooled water changes colors due to the high mineral content of the water and current temperatures - green, pink, yellow. It really does look and feel like you are on a different planet.
After the parks I was driven back to town, where I changed and grabbed the public bus for my next excursion - zorbing! A giant inflated ball filled with you and water, rolled down a hillside. It was invented in the area so of course I had to do it. Thanks, Kiwis, for another way to hurl yourself down a mountain for a thrill ride, I loved it!
I then zipped back to my room and had some time before my next event. It was a beautiful afternoon, so I jogged a trail which hugged Lake Rotorua. It was great way to see and enjoy another part of the area. I got back to my room, cleaned up a bit, and was picked up again for my last (whew!) excursion of the day - Hell's Gate thermal park and spa. Several spas in the area tap in to the nutrient rich and warm waters and mud. I picked the one that also had a bush walk (a trailed terrain park) to see where all of this great mud came from. I walked Hell's Gate park, got some great photo ops, and then relaxed in the mud path and hot spring pools. My skin felt great! When I got back to my hotel, however, I felt like I needed another shower, since the therapeutic mud had a lot of sulfur. Soft, sulfur-smelling skin, not so good. I also felt like I needed to wash my clothes - fortunately my place had a laundry room.
I crashed that night after an action packed day. I planned to leave the next afternoon on the Intercity Bus for the East Coast to relax on the beach and enjoy wine country, but had one more thing on my Rotorua itinerary. I woke up, grabbed brekky and the city bus to check the last thing on my Rotorua list -gondola to the top of the mountain and luge ride down. It gave me a fantastic view of the area and one more moment of exhilaration before I left. I had a blast in Rotorua, but am now looking forward to Napier on Hawke's Bay to do NOTHING for a day or so, but enjoy the beach and maybe a wine tour (or two).