I can’t remember if it was because I first saw it on telly when I was a kid, or because my mum told me about it (she lived in New Zealand when she was a teenager), but Rotorua was one of the first places in the world I remember wanting to visit when I was a child.
After all that waiting, arriving in the town was a bit of a disappointment. The guidebook had assured me that the whole town stank of sulphur from the surrounding geothermal areas, but in fact where th bus dropped me off, there was not a trace (maybe it was something to do with the weather or the direction of the wind), and the town itself was absolutely dead. Things didn’t pick up much when I checked into my hostel, which had to be the worst hostel I have ever stayed in (the Base Hot Rocks, in case you’re interested – avoid like the plague. Dirty rooms, a bathroom where the door didn’t lock, the world’s thinnest duvet, no curtains on the window, slow expensive internet, bored staff, a tiny TV that only seemed to have one channel, and all the atmosphere of a morgue).
But it wasn’t the town itself I’d come to see. So I hopped on a bus and headed out into the suburbs to Te Puia, one of the many geothermal areas in and around the city. And it didn’t disappoint. The paths weave their way though a bizarre volcanic landscape, with pools of bubbling, boiling mud all over the place, continuously spouting geysers, and finally, that stink of sulphur all around.
Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy it for too long, as I soon got stuck in a torrential downpour, forcing me inside to wait til it ended (although at least I was able to use the time to see a kiwi – they really are incredibly cute. Although I doubt they’d be very good as a pet, being nocturnal and all).
The town’s other highlight is the government gardens, with the huge, mock tudor, former thermal baths (now the Rotorua museum) sitting in front of manicured bowling greens – a nice, typically English colonial touch, taking a bizarre alien landscape and turning it into a little bit of home, even if that does mean that you get clouds of steam wafting from some nearby volcanic vents wafting across the greens as they play.
You can see all of my photos from Rotorua here.