Whether seeking to experience Maori culture, geothermal earth forces, spa rejuvenation, thrills and adventure, or any of the other natural assets such as 16 lakes, some of the world's best mountain biking trails, fantastic trout fishing and myriad forest walking tracks – Rotorua delivers it all!
Rotorua and Tekapo area on the north island are similar to Queenstown on the south island, being the place to go for many activities, including, arguably, the most scenic skydiving in New Zealand and another local invention - zorbing. Besides that, there is also a lot of agricultural 'attractions' and even more Mauri 'experiences'. Still, the geothermal features of the region were the main reason I decided to make a stop there.
After orienting myself at Crash Palace hostel, I headed out to Hell's Gate, a geothermal park to the north of town all about hot springs and natural mud pools rather than flashy geysers. I joined the free tour conducted by a Maori guide, telling us stories associated with each feature of the park. Hell's Gate turned out to be one of the boiling pools named such by Bernard Shaw for the fact that there were no streams in and out feeding it. There were big and small pools of boiling water and mud everywhere, each with different acidity level and temperature. The most extreme ones had PH of 1 while other were boiling at 110 degrees C/230 degrees F.
Next, we checked out the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere where Maori guys were baptized and the warriors washed themselves off after returning from a battle. Next were even more expensive pools bubbling with white, black, and green mud, steaming cliffs, and even some sulfur-loving corals.
With all the mud and sulfur around me, I figured there was no better way to spend the rest of the time but to jump into a mud bath for 20 minutes, followed by a sulfur water pool for good half an hour.
Next day I headed out to Te Puia, 'the living village' that seemed to combine a buck of different things to check out - Maori woodcarving and weaving workshops, authentic buildings, Kiwi bird house, more mud pools and the Pohutu geyser. Being just south of the city ($2.30 on #2 bus from city center or half an hour walk), there were lots more people there and the tour (also included in admission) started out with about fifty people before they split us up. Weaving and woodcarving workshops were nice, while the reconstructed village had just a few buildings with nobody there.
The geyser did not seem to stop erupting every few seconds and there was a constant cloud of white mist around it, blending in with the overcast - the pictures would have been much nicer if there was some blue sky in the background.
The rest of the park did not impress me much. While it was bigger than Hell's Gate, the pools of mud and sulfurous water were generally smaller and separated by a lot of vegetation making them less impressive by themselves.
Still, the biggest disappointment was the building housing the Kiwi bird. It was completely dark inside with just a faint light shining behind the glass enclosure with only one Kiwi bird walking around back and forth. Because it was so dark, I could not take a picture (nor were the pictures allowed inside there).
Thursday Night Market
Flipping through one of the brochures, I saw that there is a night market at the city center every Thursday. Having South East Asia withdrawals and not wanting to cook another dinner, I decided to check it out. It turned out to be very small, spanning just one block, with about a dozen food vendors, a two-man band, and a few craft/chocolate/soap selling artisans. Interestingly, most of the businesses to either side of the street where the night market was were closed… Go figure.
I was surprised to see Pad Thai and chicken kabobs on the menu, but because the former was already gone, I went for some chicken fried noodles and a chocolate waffle, spending the rest of evening chatting to Keith who used to be an electrical engineer, got tired of it, started a few businesses after that, and at some point got bored with retirement and decided to have some fun with a waffle business. Good times!
Still, the most shocking discovery I made at the market was the trash cans available everywhere. That just did not seem to align with the night market philosophy I am used to.