A lot of backpackers have Rotorua on their list of places to pass through. It’s unique geothermal activity, erupting in a variety of ways all across the region, reminds it’s visitors of the volcanic activity situated all across New Zealand; however in Rotorua you are able to get up close and personal with all things geothermal by bathing in hot pools and mud, cooking on steam from the ground and basking in the smell of sulfur.
On our north island road trip we decided to spend two days in this eggy city, and although the weather was a bit naff we were kept warm by the heat coming out of the ground. The city itself is okay. It’s not overly pretty, there are no mountains or crystal clear lakes (there is a lake, but it looks very average) or any viewpoints that take your breathe away. But there is a lot of nice shops, restaurants and cafes, so unlike most of New Zealand you still feel a part of functioning society. The only obvious, and more intriguing, difference between Rotorua and any other normal city is the constant smell of eggy Sulfur everywhere you go, but you get used to this and by the end of the weekend I kinda found it endearing.
We started off our two day trip early on a Saturday morning by visiting some mud pools, located beside the well known Wai-o-Tapu (they’re free mud pools that are found on the same ‘loop’ road, just a two minute drive away). The pools are fenced off, with viewing platforms all around so that there’s plenty of room to watch the fascinating natural display unfold. The mud made lots of noises that if I try to recreate sound like: ‘blerrrp’, ‘urrrgn’, ‘flup’, and there was a really strange smell here – not eggy, but sort’ve like a cross between gravy and rot. Not pleasant. BUT these pools were so so so cool, and, if I haven’t said it already, free. I found the whole show really intriguing, learning about the how’s and why’s as to what makes the mud act in this bizarre manner. It turns out the water below the surface is boiling, approx. 60-80 degrees, and is forced to the surface through little chutes, breaking through the mud in tiny little ‘explosions’. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area as we both Dave and I were hypnotized by the little bubbles and noises. Unfortunately pictures really don’t do it justice!!
Next up we headed over to Kerosene creek for some free hot pools, located just off one of the main roads through Rotorua. We toyed with the idea of going to Hell’s Gate, a really expensive but probably incredible hot/mud pools spa style place, but we really didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of money when we knew there were lots of places to go to for free.
We parked up and walked for about 10 minutes along a narrow path beside the creek, with a few other people headed in the same direction. It wasn’t overly busy, but busy enough for us to find where the pool was. We ducked underneath tree branches, stepped our way around muddy puddles and clambered over a couple of tree roots before eventually finding the main ‘pool’, which looked very… interesting. They actually looked just like any boggy river in the UK, BUT, in it’s defense, it was warm, soothing, sulfur-y. In fact it would have been just like any posh spa, but with more mud…and bugs and stones and brown water. There was a beautiful waterfall that some of the younger folk were leaping off of whilst we sat and watched. The ground was very stony – not in a painful way – so after sitting there for a while we ended up finding lots of little stones in our swimwear, and the water was quite shallow (we were sat cross legged and the water just about reached our shoulders) which meant that we got a little bit chilly quite quickly. I kept waiting for that ‘I’m so relaxed’ feeling to wash over me and just as I think we were reaching that moment we started to get a bit nippy, so we left. But it was FREE, so hellllooooo Kerosene Creek. Warning for the ladies: take off your jewellery before going in, as my silver ring turned an oily, rusty colour that’s not really gone away since.
We had a quick bite to eat before driving over to our next stop, and as we sat munching on our Tuna sandwiches the heavens began to open.
Arriving at the forest the car park was quickly beginning to empty. The rain had arrived, as we had been expecting, and we sat in our car and sighed. This would be our only opportunity to explore the forest – a forest that we had heard great things about from so many people – and we weren’t about to let the weather stop us.
Rain coats on we ran over to the I SITE to check out the different walk options, which ranged from 30 minutes to an entire day. We headed off, opting for the 30 minute option because of the weather, and instantly we were mesmerized. What a vibrant yet peaceful wonderland! There were thousands upon thousands of red-barked trees, all standing super tall and unbelievably wide. I’m so glad we didn’t allow the rain to stop us and the whole forest was so beautiful. This little adventure left us tree hugging in our rain coats, meandering off the beaten track and exploring our ‘outdoorsy’ routes.
Stunning, and well worth the visit. Oh, and also free. Yuuup.
Drying off we decided to spend the rest of the day indoors. What better way to truly grasp an area’s culture than to visit their cinema…
The next morning we headed out and about quite early. We had a tour booked for 11am, so we wanted to explore some more of Rotorua before then so we headed over to Kuirau Park. A typical, British park would feature some swings, a slide and some variation of a climbing frame; however this park in Rotorua has nothing of the sort (well it does, but it also has some much more fascinating sights). Bubbling pools of mud, sulfuric pools releasing chutes of steam, heat emanating behind fenced off ponds, and the best bit – naturally heated foot baths. We spent ages just walking around, peering into the ponds and relaxing, and whilst the sun hadn’t quite come out we were relieved to see that the rain had given us a bit of a break.
This is a great place to visit if you’re wanting to experience Rotorua on a budget because it allows you to see, smell and feel the geothermal activity without having to pay a cent.(Spot the theme here – we were experiencing Rotorua on a budget…)
The Living Maori Village
The ONE thing we did pay for in Rotorua was for a tour around the Living Maori Village. Living in NZ you do learn a few things about the Maori culture, but we were curious to learn more about how Maori’s in Rotorua use their land to their benefit. With such an unstable environment, how were they able to work and live around the geothermal activity?
The village is called Whakarewarewa. It’s name is actually longer, and impossible for westerner’s to pronounce, so they often use the abbreviated version. Our tour guide explained that there are 50 Maori’s living in the village, herself included, and that their will come a time when they will have to move their village because the ground is slowly swallowing up their homes. Rotorua is situated on a volcano, and long overdue an eruption, yet many of the villagers fear the idea of moving their village elsewhere as they view their land as sacred.
Our tour guide was amazing. She explained the history of their village, politics with other Maori tribes, and how they use geothermal activity in everyday life, for example: cooking, bathing and previously the burial of their dead. We bought some $2.50 sweetcorn each that had been cooked in the water, and it tasted amazing! Although Dave was tempted to spend an extra $30 and get a Hangi. The tour was finished off with a cultural performance, as some of the villagers sang songs and performed a Haka for us all – which was incredible! The most interesting thing that I learned was the different meanings behind the tattoos, and how women, priests and warriors would have their facial tattoo’s in different places to represent their status.
All in all we were at the village for around 2 hours, but we could have easily stayed longer and explored their souvenir shops, churches and cafes.
We booked this tour through Bookme.co.nz, for $30 (I think it’s $35 anyway, and you can also have some add on’s for an additional cost)
(Above is a cooking stove, that uses the earth’s steam to cook their food. Temperature is approx 120 degrees)
We had a great two days in Rotorua. It wasn’t the prettiest place we’ve visited but there is so much to learn and see that it made for a great weekend away.