Rambling ‘Round Rotorua

Rotorua, aka Sulphur City, is in the crater of a huge volcano alongside the crater lake, Lake Rotorua. It gets its noxious nickname from the noticeable presence of hydrogen sulphide in the air, which smells like rotten eggs. The existence of hydrothermal activity in the region is obviously noticeable, with geysers, hot pools and bubbling mud to be found even in your own backyard!! Sorry, I get really excited over all this geology stuff.

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Like Sulphur Bay! (pictured above) Super cool! And super smelly! It was just a few blocks away from my hostel. The milky color of the water is caused by suspended sulphur particles.

If you’re looking for free hydrothermal attractions, just head down to Kuirau Park. It’s pretty much your average city park, lots of green space and children’s birthday parties and picnic tables, but there are actually hundreds of fenced-off areas with bubbling mud pools, hot pools and steam vents. Because nothing is more relaxing on a stroll through the park than the conspicuous reminder that there’s a gigantic magma chamber beneath your feet.

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Without renting a car or hitchhiking I found it hard to get out outside of the city to see the really cool hydrothermal features. I did use the Geyser Link Shuttle service ($115NZ for the transportation and park entrance fees—not sure it was worth it but I didn’t have much of a choice) to explore the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley.

First stop was Waiotapu, meaning “sacred water.” On the way into the park we took a brief stop at the Waiotapu Mud Pool. I guess the proper geologic term for this feature would be “hydrothermal clays.” To be honest, it’s just bubbling mud.

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Here’s where I learned that these pools can be formed in two ways: 1) Fed by geothermal fluids ascending to the earth’s surface, or 2) by the steam or gas from boiling geothermal fluid way, way underground. In this one bubbling mud pit area we could distinguish both of these features.

Next we drove to the Lady Knox Geyser… along with hundreds of other tourists. The park ranger threw some soapy stuff in to make it go off, otherwise it’s schedule is unpredictable.

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Then it was on to the main attraction, a self-guided walk that included about thirty different acid sulphate and hydrothermal clay features. You can see behind me a pool discolored to this insane bright yellow-green by sulphur and ferrous salts. It looks totally unreal!! Water should not be this color!!!

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The Champagne Pool, pictured below, is actually over 60 meters deep! The water enters the pool from a channel deep underground, where the water is about 446˚F (230˚C)!! The acidic water then cools within the pool to only 166˚F (74˚C). The orange color is caused by arsenic and antimony sulphur compounds. 

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The pool drains out into a colorful area known as the “Artist’s Palate,” where there are even more colors present.

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Around lunchtime I hopped back on the shuttle to get down the road to Waimangu (“black water”) Volcanic Valley. This was the area that used to be home to the pink and white terraces, one of the world’s wonders until Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886 and blew it all to smithereens. Smaller marble terraces along the walking path can be seen.

Ye olde terraces — Image from the NZ International Art Centre (http://www.internationalartcentre.co.nz/)

Also, here is Frying Pan Lake—the largest hot pool in the world!

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Later that evening I did more fun, touristy stuff! I visited the Tamaki Maori Village for a “hangi” meal—which is a traditional Maori feast. We were first greeted in traditional fashion by the warriors of the tribe and the chief. Then we got to explore the village and learn about poi twirling, tattooing, weaving, and the haka.

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The haka is a traditional war challenge of the Maori people that was performed before a battle in order to intimidate any opposers. You’ll notice there is a lot of eye-bulging and sticking out of the tongues which signifies to the enemy, “I’m going to eat you.” It also involves chanted verses and powerful movements such as the stamping of feet and slapping the hands on the body.

A haka is performed by many New Zealand sports teams prior to game start, but most famously by the national rugby team, the “All Blacks.”

I mean even their national ice hockey team the Ice Blacks does it. And their national men’s softball team. Women don’t generally perform the haka as it is a “men’s battle thing” blah blah. But wait, yes, THEY HAVE A MEN’S NATIONAL FASTPITCH SOFTBALL TEAM. THIS IS A THING?! Whew, sorry, got a bit carried away.

Anyway… after a few more haka performances and some more traditional song and dance, it was finally time to eat! Our meal had been cooked in a pit underground; traditionally the Maori in this region used the geothermal heat to prepare their food.  We had carrots, potatoes, chicken, fish, stuffing, salad and potato bread. A special dessert cake had even been baked in the pit as well. Everything was delicious, as expected, and we all returned home one hundred percent satisfied. And I made new friends!

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And there you have an itinerary for a full day in Rotorua! Enjoy!

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