New Zealand / Travel

Sulphur City: A Trip to Geothermal (Stinky) Rotorua

After our camping weekend in the Bay of Plenty we drove south to the geothermal hot spot of Rotorua. There are two things we’ll remember about Rotorua, the really pungent odour of the thermal pools around the city (it smelt a lot like fart most of the time), and a bunch of great people we met there (Melanie, Owen, Rob and Dan, all from America) who we spent time exploring Rotorua, playing cards and drinking beer with. There’s plenty to do around Rotorua, and we only explored a fraction of the things the area has to offer (to do them all would’ve bankrupted us all!), but we still managed to cram in quite a lot.

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The first day we explored Rotorua itself, to discover it looked a lot like many other kiwi cities, modern, low rise, beige and a little bit lacking in character. Then again, you don’t come to New Zealand for historical buildings and interesting architecture; it’s all about the natural wonders. So far, however, the natural wonders of Rotorua weren’t having much impact, except on our noses. There was an exception to the generic low rise buildings with the Rotorua Museum which sits in the beautifully manicured Government Gardens, which had a distinct old fashioned English feel with its rose garden and meticulously manicured lawns (oh, and a few palm trees). After the government gardens we took a walk along the edge of Rotorua lake, the largest in the region.

The one other place we explored in Rotorua itself was Kuirau Park, an affordable way to see some geothermal activity, without having to pay through the nose. Pools of boiling smelly mud are dotted all over the park, which sounds disgusting, but you just can’t visit Rotorua without checking them out. Ignoring the stench, the sudden puffs of steam are pretty impressive. The day we were in the park they also had a weekly food market, so there were some interesting lunch options on offer too.

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The next day we arranged a little road trip with Melanie and Owen to explore the surrounding areas. Our first stop was the Redwoods Whakarewarewa forest, 3km southeast of the town. A variety of species of tree were planted on this site from 1899 in order to see which would grow well enough to be used for timber. The Californian Redwoods were the trees that grew most successfully, reaching magnetically towards the sky. We spent a good hour or so walking around the forest, I’ve never seen trees so big in my life! From the edge of the forest we drove down the road a few minutes to the coloured lakes of Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi. Tikitapu is named Blue Lake, and it is indeed blue, but so is Rotokakahi, which is supposedly Green Lake. They weren’t as coloured as we had hoped, maybe we’d misunderstood how literal the names were meant to be!

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We then hopped back in the car and drove to the most northern tip of Lake Rotorua to Hamurana Springs, where we walked through some woodland and stopped for lunch in a shady spot. We followed the shady path through the woods until we found the large springs and gushing water. Further downstream Owen felt the overwhelming urge to jump in, so with much encouragement from the rest of us, he stripped down to his underpants and jumped in. Grace and I were very tempted to do the same, but with no towel and a shady walk we decided against it (and because we’re just too boring). Later in the walk Owen got out his GoPro camera (which was very cool and I now really want one), attached it to a stick and proceeded to film wild trout and some strange geothermal activity under the swampy water’s surface. After a pretty busy day we got back in the car and drove the other side of the lake back into Rotorua. It was a great day with great company and great scenery.

The final activity of Rotorua was perhaps the most bizarre. Melanie had told us that the local ZORB company was offering $2 zorbing (which is getting into a giant rubber ball and being rolled down a hill, which is usually about $40, believe it or not). The only catch was that you had to do it completely naked. The proceeds all went to local mental health charities in the region, so not only did it sound quite fun, it was for a good cause. The huge inflatable ball is filled with a little warm water, then you dive in through a small hole, get zipped in and get rolled down a steep hill. It was very strange (especially the bit at the end where we had to climb out of the warm slippery ball into the arms of a woman with a towel, which was strangely like being born again), but good fun. Good recommendation Melanie!

Rotorua as a town is probably somewhere I wouldn’t return, but the surrounding areas, especially the Redwood Forest, were beautiful. People say you get used to the smell after five days, but on our fifth day we left Rotorua, so we never got the chance to see if that rang true; it was still very stinky when we left.

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