Rotorua might very well be the most visited attraction in New Zealand. And I can see why: there is a lot to do, both in terms of nature and maori culture, and it’s very conveniently developed. But because of that, it’s also lacking the charm of the rest of the country. We got to Rotorua after an enjoyable 2 hour drive from Waitomo Caves, most of it through endless green pastures that, for no good reason, had us screaming “burgers” every time we saw healthy-looking cows.
We headed straight to Te Puia, one of the many thermal reserves in the area. Right as we got in, Pohutu, its most famous geyser was erupting, so we sprinted to its base and caught the last minutes of the natural show. We then walked around the multiple short trails for about an hour, checking out hotpools, bubbling mudpools, lakes and maori totems. We made it back to Pohutu right when its neighbor, the Price of Wales’ Feathers geyser, was starting to erupt. Apparently this always precedes Pohutu, and sure enough, it went off immediately after, this time creating a pretty rainbow.
We drove into town and found a cheap last-minute room at a fantastic hotel near the Government Gardens, which was a perfect area for an evening stroll. For dinner, we walked over to Eat Street, the covered part of Tutanekai Street that is packed with restaurants, bars and cafes. Among all the places that looked like tourist traps, we were able to find a little gem called Atticus Finch.
The next morning, we set to explore another place around Rotorua, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Our first stop there, the Lady Knox geyser, was disappointing. The park operators force the eruption every day at 10:15am by pouring chemicals into it, and hordes of people congregate for it. The rest of the morning, though, was fantastic, despite the intermittent rain we had to put up with. We hiked the three park trails clockwise, quickly passing small craters and mudpools, and reaching the spectacular artist’s palette area and the absolute highlight: the Champagne Pool.
We continued further, through more sulphurous soils and colorful pools, eventually making it to the end, the deep emerald Lake Ngakoro. On the way back, we saw a few more craters, and the last surprised, the seemingly radioactive Devil’s Bath.
Back in the car, it was time to drive south 1.5 hours to Turangi, where we would spend the night to hike the Tongariro Crossing the next day. On the way, we made a quick stop at Huka Falls, and it was amazing. The turquoise color of the water was out of this world, and the power of the flow gave me chills. And the spot had all the natural authenticity that Rotorua was lacking. After a pit stop in the quaint town of Taupo to buy groceries and gas, we arrived at the village of Turangi, where a friend had been so kind to lend us his family’s cottage. We cooked dinner and lit up the fireplace (it was quite cold for a summer night), and slept like babies after a very intense three days in NZ.