Something Smells Rotten in Rotorua

8th April, Rotorua, New Zealand

Ian writes:

We woke up early in the morning at Cactus Jacks, not through choice but because of the the lack of heating and the sudden drop in temperature that New Zealand has had. This is the point where everyone in the UK who has said or thought: "Ahhh, they're finding the hot nights in Australia uncomfortable, my heart bleeds," while suffering a cold miserable winter say: "Ha!" ... and then laugh. Yes, we are now in need of winter clothes. I only have one long-sleeved top - a hooded top - as that's all I thought I'd need, and for a long time that was true. Now, a trip to the shops may be in order.

So, this morning I stepped out of our room to the cold outdoors (the room faced the crazy Mexican-themed courtyard) and watched my breath escaping in a puff of smoke. It seemed appropriate, in Rotorua, given the number of locations where a similar effect can be seen with the smoking fumeroles that pump out sulphurous gasses night and day. I then had the most uncomfortable shower I've had in a long time (if not ever). I was cold by the time I'd made the short walk in the open air to the shower unit, and so wasted no time in switching it on to full temperature and hopping under. It started as luke warm but was icy cold within a minute - within the time it took me to apply shampoo. I was then left with the choice of leaving without washing the shampoo off or doing so and risking hyperthermia. I chose the latter, and vowed not to stay another night at Cactus Jack's. Or at least not without a portable heater for the room. Anyway, I'll pass you on to Manda now ...

Manda writes:

Sitting in a car, travelling down the street this morning felt like a surreal experience. Not because of Ian's driving (for a change!) but every now and then, we'd see jets of steam coming out from somewhere. We were half expecting to see fire accompanying them but no, just steam.

Rotorua is a volcanic area and we got to see our first close-up at Te Whakarewarewa thermal valley (accessed through the New Zealand Maori Arts and Craft Institute). We joined the tour guide who took us around the grounds, giving us a running commentary about the site and pointing out particular things of interest.

Mud pools bubbling away in Rotorua.

We saw Maori crafts and arts and the natural sites such as active mud pools, bubbling hot springs and geysers. This site is home to the spectacular Pohutu geyser that spurts out hot water into the air (as high up as 30m). It is amazing. Walking around this thermal reserve felt like walking through warm fog! The ever-present sulphuric smell in the air is like acrid rotten eggs. It is strange and not the kind of smell you'd get used to in a hurry - although the locals seem to have become immune to it.

Pohutu geyser - boiling water was being forced out of the ground, turning to steam and landing back on the ground as if it were cold, soft rain.

Included in the price of admission was a Maori concert. It was entertaining and very similar to the one we watched at the Auckland Museum.

Would you mess with this man?

We took a scenic drive to the Blue Lake before going for a gondala (cable car) ride at Skyline. From the top at Mount Ngongotaha, we enjoyed panoramic views of the town and could see all the way to Mount Tarawera. We had arrived just in time to see an adrenalin-seeker take a ride on the Skyswing. What this encompasses is best described using an analogy - picture a stone and a catapult. Well, the passenger is secured in a seat (i.e. the stone) which has cables binding it to a three-armed frame (i.e. the catapult). The passenger is then propelled outwards toward the town from a height. A great view of the town but not one for the faint-hearted!

Ian took a ride down a winding track along the hillside on a luge. A luge is like a three-wheeled go-cart which can, apparently, go rather fast especially down the steeper stretches. The wind had an icy feel to it and I decided to look after our belongings in the warmth of the restaurant with a mug of hot coffee. Ten minutes later, Ian came in looking happy but feeling icy cold. He was soon put in defrost mode with a cuppa.

We took a trip to Kuirau Park next. This park is an area of volcanic activity and you can wander around for free. It has pools of boiling mud, small mineral baths and a fairly large crater lake bubbling away. Steam can be seen coming out of each of these natural volcanic features. In particular, from the crater lake where my face was treated to a steam bath - just as well as I am due for a facial!

Steam rises from a sulphurus crater lake in Kuirau Park, Rotorua.