The princess and the frog. Or any similar fairy tale that you can think of applies to this place. Driving into the Rotorua area you’re met with a sulfur smell (right, rotten eggs) that comes from nowhere. You see something like fog in patches along the road. Upon investigating more, the volcanic nature of the area becomes apparent and you are rewarded with great beauty. As with the transformation fairy tales, Rotorua’s beauty commingles with the sulfur smell. The amazing colors mix up with the steam hovering everywhere. Unbelievable scenery features boiling pools of water, giving you the feeling a dragon could jump out any minute.
Honestly, there is no beast. The area is beautiful and all these are part of its charm. This is a place nobody should miss. We got here right after visiting Hobbiton, so my mind was still full of hobbits and wizards. It made it even easier to imagine middle earth stories.
We spent our first day there visiting the geothermal Wai-o-Tapu area. It’s about a 30 minutes drive from Rotorua, through some amazing landscape.
The Lady Knox geyser goes off once a day around 10AM. We wondered how come it always happens at that hour, why only once a day, what makes it go off etc. Well, the geyser would not go off at all, but the park puts on a show so people could enjoy it. After everybody is seated in an amphitheater, you get to hear some history of the geyser, how it was discovered and used hundreds of years ago (people were boiling their kumara – a type of sweet potato that Polynesians brought it when they first came to this land – and doing their laundry in the hot water). Then a special substance gets to be thrown down the geyser. About five minutes later the geyser starts foaming, then boiling, then shooting water up the shaft. Apparently the special substance disrupts the surface tension of the cold water allowing the hot water and steam to shoot through. Very interesting!
Next is the volcanic area walk. You can spend as much time as you want here, it took us about two hours to walk everywhere you are allowed to and take pictures of everything. I will let these picture to speak for the place, there are no words to describe its beauty (and the beast).
Last stop was to the mud pool. It reminded me of Vulcanii Noroiosi in Romania, just that the NZ ones are hot. It also reminded me of mamaliga, boiling porridge, and any other hot concoction I ever ran into.
We closed the day with a well deserved hot pool experience at the Polynesian Spa. We chose the adult pools instead of the private ones just because we wanted to try more than just one pool and to be able to stargaze. We got there at about 9 PM thinking that 2 hours till the place would close should be enough. We fled after an hour or so, looking like boiled lobsters and dead tired, but with soft skin and a good warm feeling in our muscles. Do not forget to swing by Yamato, a quaint sushi restaurant with a very good selection of fish and sake. I am not saying this just because I was missing a good sushi dinner since we left San Francisco. I say it because it was really good
The following day we visited the Rotorua Museum, a former geothermal bath, where people were coming from all over the world for mud and hot water treatments. The museum has a whole wing dedicated to Maori culture, a history of the Arawa iwi (tribe), the original inhabitants of the area from origins far across the Pacific Ocean to their lives in Rotorua today. You can also visit the labyrinth of pipes under the hot baths, as well as some preserved treatment rooms, with full explanations and pictures of how they were used. The Rotorua Stories movie experience is the cherry on the cake, you even get to experience a simulation of the Tarawera volcanic eruption and earthquake that destroyed the famous White and Pink Terraces. Just hold on to your chairs, you might want to jump a couple of times.