Catching a plane from Christchurch, we flew into Rotorua. We walked right into the airport in Christchurch, checked our bags, walked to our gate and got onto the plane without ever going through security. Alex and I kept asking the airport staff if we were in the right place and when we mentioned it to a couple from England we were eating breakfast with in Coramandel, they thought it was odd that WE thought it was odd we hadn’t gone through security on a domestic flight. Even before September 11th, you had to go through security for a flight from Raleigh to Charlotte.
Anyway, all the travel books said we’d smell Rotorua before we saw it and it was true – we smelled rotten eggs while still on the plane. The smell comes from the thermal activity found all over the city. Our Bed and Breakfast, the Ngongotaha Lodge was right on Lake Rotorua and was perfectly situated for sunbathing or other water-related activities. (It had been pretty warm until this point, but Rotorua was HOT! Summer time!) After lunch, we went to the Kuirau Park, a public, free park in the middle of the city that has thermal activity. We saw boiling mud and steam coming from the ground. Very cool!
That night we went to the Polynesian Spa and enjoyed the Lake Spa. The Lake Spa is four different pools of varying temperatures: 42, 40, 38, and 36 degrees Celsius. When we first arrived at about sunset, there were few people at the pools. Unfortunately we were soon joined by about 30 Asians, all LOUD and all, of course, taking photos. They pretty much stayed the remainder of our visit – about 2 hours. We were sometimes successful in avoiding them but they yelled back and forth between the pools and spit outside the pools constantly (the staff tried to tell them to stop, but either they didn’t understand or didn’t care).
The pools WERE hot and I can’t sit in hot water long because of my heart, but I could sit on the ledge with my legs in. In the cooler pools I got all the way in. It was pretty stinky but relaxing too – like a hot, stinky bath.
The next day we headed out-of-town a little ways to Wai O Tapu, a thermal park. Again, this area was pretty stinky too, but worth it. When we first got there, we had to hustle because it was almost time for Lady Knox Geyser to go off. They put soap in it each morning at 10:15am to set it off, although if left alone, it would go off every 24-72 hours (although an unpredictable geyser isn’t as good for the tourism business). It did initially shoot into the air about 30 feet and continued to go for a while (the guide said it would continue for an hour after).
After the geyser, we went into the rest of the park, seeing craters and bubbling ponds. We saw the famous Devil’s Bath (electric green water), the Champagne Lake (a bubbling lake with a distinctive red edge due to mineral buildup), and the largest boiling mud pool in New Zealand. It was awesome to see but the fumes were giving me a headache; the park guides swore the off gases were safe, but they smelled noxious.
That night we went to a Maori concert and Hangi. Maori are the native people of New Zealand (not necessarily indigenous, they came from other Polynesian islands) and a Hangi is the way they cook their food – in an underground pit. When we arrived, they showed us the food cooking before we walked through the brush to be greeted by Maori warriors on a Waka (war canoe). We followed them to a theater to watch a Maori concert, which included traditional songs, demonstration of fighting, and utilization of weapons. I found this all very interesting but I’m always interested in learning about other cultures, although by the end, I think most people were getting hungry as we had arrived at 6:30pm and we didn’t eat until 8:30pm (and had been smelling the delicious food cooking all the while).
The dinner was lamb, chicken, potatoes, and sweet potatoes (also offered was salads, breads, dessert, etc NOT cooked in the Hangi). After this big meal, we went out walking again, this time to see glow worms (we saw more in our little dell in Fox Glacier) and to observe this tribe’s sacred pool, which was actually a COLD spring (unique in a place of thermal activity full of HOT springs) –we could see the water bubbling in from the bottom and fish were swimming around. The water comes from the mountains and goes below the ground, only to come up at this spot. The water is so fresh, it’s the very same we water we had drank that evening at dinner.
Firsts for this leg of the trip:
- Saw black swans in the wild (apparently native to New Zealand)
- Saw thermal activity in the way of bubbling pools, boiling mud, geysers and steam coming from the ground