After Taupo, my next destination was Rotorua, a town known for its geothermal activity, Maori history, and overall eau de sulfur. I didn’t have huge expectations, since I knew its reputation as an enormous tourist hub, and many of its natural wonders are fenced off in order to charge exorbitant entrance fees, leading some of the locals to call it Roto-Vegas.
However, I can gladly say my preconceived notions about the town were almost immediately dispelled. The sulfur smell wasn’t at all as bad as I had anticipated, and there were a great deal of things to do without paying a cent. One of the main reasons I came to Rotorua was to see Hobbiton, but that deserves a post of its own. The town itself has more than enough to cover.
On my first day, I set out to explore Kuirau Park, a (free!) geothermal park right in the center of town. Many of the others are a little ways out of town and can cost $75 for a round trip bus ticket. No thanks!
Kuirau had a seemingly endless array of bubbling mud pits and steaming sulfuric ponds, and it was easy to spend quite a bit of time there checking it all out.
I could see where some of the pools have flooded over when geothermal activity picks up, but everything was safe within the fences when I visited.
I stood in front of this bubbling mud pit for a good twenty minutes, capturing the different formations that emerged.
The sunlight streaming through the gases really made for some cool photo ops.
The biggest attraction in the park is a multi-colored lake with a boardwalk around it.
Like almost everything in New Zealand, the colors were just unbelievable.
Everything was in bloom, and the Manuka trees especially stood out. Bees feed on them and produce the delicious Manuka honey.
I also saw a lot of this bottlebrush flower around Rotorua, and it made me think of Christmas.
Next, I headed towards Ohinemutu, an historic Maori village on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Unlike some of the Maori tourist attractions you’ll see, this is an actual village where Maori people live and go about their daily lives.
The meeting house was the most impressive building, in my opinion. Everything was intricately carved, and you could just tell how much work and time went into this beautiful structure, known as Tama-te-Kapua.
The whole village was quiet and peaceful in the afternoon, and steam slowly seeped out of sidewalks throughout Ohinemutu, reminding me just how active this town is. A small cemetery behind the village’s church stood out agains a backdrop of rolling green hills and the placid lake.
I can see why the Maori chose this spot.
As I neared the water, I saw the remains of a Maori canoe, know as a “waka.”
Here’s what a new one looks like. This one is a war canoe carved and built entirely by hand, using traditional methods.
As I was taking pictures, a pukeko wandered across my path. They’re very common in New Zealand, but incredibly interesting to look at for a newcomer like me.
Now that this blog has become much longer than I anticipated, I’m going to save the rest of my shots for a second part. Part two will include my walk along Sulfur Bay and a visit to New Zealand’s own Redwoods. I’ll leave you with this undeniably Kiwi shot of the pukeko in front of a geothermal vent.