New Zealand Part 5: The Steamy, Sulfuric, Strange Land of Rotorua

giant roadside attractions, New Zealand

Only two more posts about New Zealand, and then we’ll return to Australia. You’re not missing much by my not writing about life in Sydney. At the moment, I’m in a bit of a lull – a happy lull, but a dramatically uninteresting one (as lulls tend to be). Also, lately it rains almost everyday, and no one wants to hear me complain about that.

So, back to a more exciting time, our New Zealand cruise. Heading towards the northern end of the North Island, our stop after Napier was Tauranga. We dashed right off the ship and picked up a rental car to take a day trip to Rotorua, an area of New Zealand described by the tour dude on the ship as “a little Yellowstone.” Apparently, the locals call it “Rot-orua” due to the week-old egg smell of sulfur. Both descriptions are apt due to all the fascinating and rather smelly geothermal activity – geysers, mudpots, steamers, and the like.

Though it was raining, we really enjoyed the lovely 90 minute drive out. I particularly got a kick out of the roadside signs suggesting drivers be careful in various situations. First, the warnings were delivered by kiwi fruit…

…and then by kiwi birds…
Also, adding to my giant roadside attraction collection – a giant kiwi.
Once in Rotorua, we did not have a clear plan as to where we were going. In the parking lot of a holiday park whose yard was steaming, Partner-in-Crime and had a long debate about the merits/dismerits of our options. Did we spend the day communing with nature, or did we shell out for the exy cultural center? Finally, deciding that we have previously spent considerable time in the real Yellowstone, we decided that we should take the opportunity to learn a bit about Maori culture, rather than focus on geysers. Te Puia cultural center did have plenty of geothermal wonder, but also featured Maori culture, so we dug out our wallets, and gave it a go.
There were hourly tours, and we had some time to kill before the next one started, so we took a walk to Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley (I totally copied and pasted that from Google). It was raining, which our guide later suggested was better for seeing the geysers because more water means that they generate more steam. I tried to get all artsy with my camera.

We also stopped off to see the resident kiwi birds. Because they are nocturnal, they keep them in a darkened house at night, and presumably give them light during the day. A couple of those poor flightless, weirdly-shapen birds were out scratching around and being oddly adorable. We couldn’t snap any photos, but if we had, it would have looked like this.
We then joined the tour, led by a stern-faced and very knowledgeable Maori tour guide. We began in a museum, and he talked to us about theories on where the Maori people had originally migrated from … Polynesia? South America? Asia? He didn’t seem to have a strong opinion, and declared that whatever we chose to believe had some truth in it, as the original migration was probably not a straight line.
My favorite part of the tour was the visit to Te Puia’s resident weaving and carving schools, where they keep the traditional arts alive by passing them down to the next generation. We were welcomed to take a look at the work they were doing.

The whole tour lasted about an hour, and our guide was so well versed. At the end, I felt it was well worth the admission. 
With a few hour left, we drove further out to take full advantage of all that steaming hot water. We spent the rest of our day at the Waikite Thermal Valley pools. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, as they were quite deep into the countryside, and there were hardly any other visitors present. There were about six different pools of varying degrees of hot/hotter/hottest, and we sunk into deep relaxation, as we moved from one to another.
On the property, they also have a nature walk, which winds up for about 10 minutes to the source of the boiling water. It was stunning scenery, a perfectly steamy, pore-opening, almost alien way to end our day. It’s a very spiritual place, and I do think that when we next have the chance to return to New Zealand, we’ll be in a hurry to spend more time in Rotorua.

The next and final installment in the New Zealand saga – an Auckland adventure.