Friday, January 6, 2012


On arrival in Rotorua we paused briefly at the lake, where a couple of boys were first feeding and then getting chased by a dozen black swans and a sizeable flock of seagulls, before checking in at the Union Victoria Motel. Our room was large with a full kitchen and the motel had its own mineral spa and hot pools as well as a warm swimming pool. Recommended.

Let me start by saying that although the sulphur smell in Rotorua is unpleasant at times, it’s not nearly as bad as I remember.

After checking in we went for a drive to see the redwoods and a couple of lakes just southeast of town. The redwoods are on a reserve with a ridiculous number of walking, biking and horse tracks marked out. The visitor centre has maps and of course souvenirs. We decided to do the shortest course, the Redwood Grove Memorial Track, which took us somewhat longer than the suggested thirty minutes (because we stopped so often for photos, I assume). The trees were beautiful: thick (2m), tall (up to 70m!) and quite red. The bark on the larger trees was thick and deeply grooved (like, I could bury my hands in the grooves).

The park was evidently a popular place for local joggers and families as well as tourists.

Blue Lake and Green Lake are just a bit further away along the same road. Their Maori names are much more creative, referring to stories about the lakes. Blue Lake (Tikitapu, named as the place where the daughter of a high-born chief lost her sacred greenstone neck ornament) had many boaters, waterskiiers and swimmers. Green Lake (Rotokakahi, named “lake of the shellfish”) is a Maori sacred site and boating, swimming and fishing is prohibited.

We returned to the unit and cooked our own dinner. Plenty left for tomorrow too - good!

In the morning Laetitia tried the motel’s hot mineral spa (too hot and too smelly!) and then the warm pool outside (much better). Then we headed to Te Puia, a thermal area at the southern end of town, where we spent the rest of the day.

Te Puia is built around the traditional village site for the Maori tribe who run the place. Our entry fee included a “cultural experience” which consisted of a traditional tribal greeting (weapons, fanfare, singing and an offered fern leaf) followed by an invitation into their hall (after we removed our shoes). Inside they gave a show with more traditional greetings followed by some singing and dancing, including inviting audience participation.

We then went on the guided tour. I was pleasantly surprised by how knowledgeable our guide was and all the interesting things he told us about. We visited the weaving and carving schools which they have been running there for about forty-five years. Women and some men spend a year in the weaving school, while only men take three years to learn carving. We saw the kiwis in the kiwi house (although this of course was not our first experience in such a place, since we visited the Bird Wildlife Park in Queenstown). And we saw erupting geysers and boiling mud pools.

After the tour we lunched on our sandwiches (they have a cafĂ© but don’t mind if you bring your own food; you can also go out to your car - or even drive into town - and re-enter later the same day with your ticket). 
Then we walked around the park on our own, taking our time and seeing the other cultural displays. There are several old geysers there, many of which still steam although extinct, and one which although dormant for many years has been showing increasing signs of activity.

The boiling mud pools were just as weird as I remembered.

When we arrived at the active geyser area there were two geysers going. To our surprise, they did not stop while we stood and watched - and walked around and watched - and sat and watched - and walked around some more. They just kept going and going and going! Far from the promised “erupts twice an hour” it seemed to be one continuous eruption for at least half an hour. I’ve never seen one going off like that before. Finally, just as we lost patience with waiting and started walking away, it began to peter out.

Much more exciting than Old Faithful at Yellowstone.

And then we drove away towards the coast to the north.

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