“WHAT is that smell?”, asked my boyfriend as we drove into town. “That is the smell of Rotorua”, I answered. Thanks to the abundant geothermal activity in this part of New Zealand, the whole town of Rotorua smells of rotten eggs. There’s no escaping and don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Just don’t hang your just washed clothes outside to dry, because then you’ll carry Rotorua with you a lot longer than you’d like.
Although we just established that Rotorua smells bad, but it’s still a must see on the North Island of New Zealand. Not because of the town, but because of its surroundings. Rotorua is smack bang in the middle of a geothermal area, full of volcanoes, erupting geysers, sputtering mud pools and colorful hot springs. It’s exactly the kind of landscape I love: rough and wild, but strangely beautiful at the same time. We decided to visit two national parks on one day: one that showed us the colorful side of geothermal activity and one that was dark and a little bit scary.
Morning: colorful Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
This is the thermal park everybody visits. Photos of Lady Knox Geyser and the Champagne Pool pop up in every guidebook about New Zealand, and with good reason. It’s just plain fun to watch Lady Knox erupt (at exactly 10.15 every morning), and the bright green/orange Champagne Pool is a perfect example of how colourful geothermal activity can be. Besides these famous sights, Wai-O-Tapu has much more to offer, from poisonous looking green lakes to smoking sulphur caves. The paths in the park are clearly marked (of course, it’s New Zealand) and you can choose between three walks, of 30, 40 and 75 minutes.
Afternoon: dark Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park
Geothermal activity is not all colors and happily spurting geysers. It’s also about boiling mud pools, burning sulphur and heat. No park showcases that more impressively than Hell’s Gate. This park is way less visited than Wai-O-Tapu. We were the only visitors, which made it even more eerie to walk past black lakes, aggressively bubbling mud pools, hot waterfalls and steaming fumaroles. They don’t call this park ‘the beast of all geothermal parks’ for nothing! The paths are lined with warning signs, but trust me: you won’t feel the desire to wander off the path. Hell’s Gate is the only thermal park that’s owned by Maori and the Ngati Rangiteaorere tribe has lived here for more than seven hundred years. The park is therefore full of legends and stories and that makes it even more interesting to visit.
Evening: relaxing in the Polynesian spa
Tired after a long day of sightseeing? Then put on your bathing suit and relax in the Polynesian spa in Rotorua. The spa has seven hot mineral pools, varying in temperature from 38 to 42 degrees Celsius. Perfect to enjoy thermal activity in a whole different way.