Rotorua, geothermal paradise

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After two days in the Coromandel, I take the bus early (too early) in the morning for one last ride with Ritchie, who brings me back to Hamilton. From there I get another Nakedbus, which brings me in about two hours in Rotorua, my destination for the next three days.

Rotorua is a city situated almost in the middle of the North Island. This area is located at the junction of two tectonic plates forming the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Rotorua is built on the shores of a large lake located in the caldera of an ancient volcano which last erupted 240,000 years. Geothermal activity is important in the region and there are many hot springs, geysers and mud pools. The town and lake bath in the warm water vapor and the smell of sulfur. It brings back memories of my visit of Unzen in Japan (the smell of sulfur was stronger there).

Necessarily all that make of Rotorua a major tourist attraction. Maori were also settled in the area long before the arrival of settlers, and used the hot springs for bathing, cure or heat. The first Pakeha (European settlers. Today the term is also used to refer to any non-Maori person), arrived in 1850 and settled along Lake Rotomahana (a few km from the current Rotorua). Here was The Roses and White Terraces on the slopes of the Tarawera volcano. Hot springs in the open water which contained large quantities of calcium bicarbonate, they quickly made the reputation of the region and were considered the eighth wonder of the world. Alas June 10, 1886, the Tarawera volcano erupted engulfing Terraces and villages. Despite the disaster, that did not stop the settlers to continue to settle in the region and, Rotorua spa town, was founded in 1883.

In addition to the activities related to the hot springs, there are now a lot of activities to do in Rotorua. Parks, Maori shows (the place being one of the cradles of Maori culture), visiting Hobbiton (I’ll talk to you about agin in my next article) and many hiking and sports activities for the enjoyment of visitors.

I arrived at my hostel early in the afternoon. I put my bag and I met Lydie, from Luxembourg and Pauline, French, all two very friendly. And go sightseeing.

I go see the Kuirau geothermal park, located in the center of the city. Hot springs and small lakes boiling everywhere in a smell of sulfur. Friendly, but as I’ve seen it in Unzen, that does not surprise me much. I continue to Maori village, Ohinemutu, today integrated into Rotorua. I find Lydie on the way and it’s a few minutes before sunset that we arrive in the area. Some Maori style houses are still standing with a lovely Wharenui (town house) but it’s the Tamatekapua Marae and the Anglican Church St. Faith that attract  my attention. With their red roof and the warm light of the evening, the place is beautiful.

Marae Tamatekapua - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldWhile discussing our respective journeys, we continue to walk along the lake, admiring the sunset and black swans on the water. We returned to the hostel at full night and I fall asleep, especially happy with my first day in Rotorua.

With all the activities that offers the region difficult to choose without feeling of missing something. These are the main tours / trips that I made during my three days in Rotorua.

Rotorua lake

The lake of Rotorua absolutely worth a visit. Wide area of 10km in diameter, it was discovered by the tribal chief Ihenga who baptized it Rotorua. In Maori language “Roto” means “lake” and “rua” means “two”. So it would be the second largest lake discovered by Ihenga. The lake is home in the center of Mokoia Island, magma dome and is also a sanctuary for wildlife and flora of the North Island. This is one of the breeding grounds of the Red-billed Gulls, gulls Buller and brown gulls. Because of geothermal activity, the southeastern part of the lake is called Sulphur Bay and has troubled waters because of sulfur. The water is low in oxygen and very acidic. Birds greatly appreciate the warm temperature but the acidity damage the webs of their feet. The low oxygen content of the water also forced them to regularly leave the area to find food.

The shores of the lake were also the scene of many Maori wars. Mokoia Island was particularly coveted by the tribes in the region and was the scene of bloody battles. But it is also the place of one of the most famous love stories of New Zealand. Tutanekai, living on the island and Hinemoa, a young woman of noble birth living on Owhata lands were in love. But their love was forbidden. Hinemoa then, crossed the lake swimming, guided by the melodies that Tutanekai played with his flute carved into the bone, to meet her lover.

When the weather is nice, the view of the lake and the hills bordering the caldera is gorgeous.

View of the Lake from the Sulphur Bay - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldThe museum

The Rotorua Museum is the most beautiful building in the city. It is located in the Bath House, former spa that offered therapeutic treatments.

In 1878, a Catholic priest, Father Mahoney, crippled by arthritis was transported to Rotorua to bathe in a hot spring. He then recovered the use of his legs and the place was baptized “The Baths of the Priest”. In 1882, the Bath Pavilion, was built on the site of the Baths of the Priest. But the structure collapsed two years later because of maintenance problems (acidity of the water gnawing piping and wood). In 1885 a sanatorium was opened, followed by the Baths Hall in 1887. The Bath House built in 1908 is the only building that remains from the whole complex. Mud baths and treatment with various types of water were then offered to treat diseases, rheumatism, skin problems. Alas, the acidity of the water made maintenance difficult. To this was added a fall in the popularity of medicinal waters, which led to the closure of the Spa in 1940.

Inspired by an architectural style Elizabethan, the building has plenty of small towers and a large central staircase. It is located in the Government Gardens or Paepaekumanu Motutara, former place of Maori tribal wars. The Ngati Whakaue tribe gave it to settlers as a gift in 1882.

The Museum - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldThe museum has two main exhibitions. One tracing the history of the place and the spas. Very interesting, especially since we can walk among the old facilities and in the basement which hosted the mud baths. The second exhibition is devoted to the history of the region. The various Maori tribes, the arrival of the settlers, the destruction of Roses and White Terraces, Rotorua today, etc in one of the best exhibition I’ve seen. The scenography is gorgeous and the use of typography and comics makes the whole very playful. I am particularly sensitive to the design of an exhibition and it is a gift for the eyes!

Rainbow Springs, nature park

Rainbow Springs is a natural park of 9 hectares at the end of Rotorua. It is home to many species of native fauna and flora including Kiwis! An extra fee to the park entrance (already expensive given my opinion), it is even possible to observe small kiwis through the National Kiwi Trust Conservation Centre located in the park. Determined to see for myself these little treasures, I go to the park ready to pay the price. Big disappointment! To see small ones you have to come in summer! Well, I still pay the park entrance to visit adult kiwis in their enclosure.

Rainbow Springs whose name comes from the flowing stream in the park where 300-400 wild rainbow trouts lounge, is a nature park, a zoo and an amusement park with activities and birds performances. However, during my visit, there were not many activities. But it was raining a little bit and it was almost night. I go to the Kiwis enclosure, a space immersed in darkness continuously (kiwis are nocturnal) and sheltering 3-4 kiwis behind dirty glass windows. I saw one foraging in the ground with its long beak and who sneeze / sniff every 10 seconds. Oulala, it must be sick! I observe the animals for several minutes but as nothing special happens, I go out a little disappointed.

I linger on the very interesting explanations where I learn many things about the Kiwis. These nocturnal animals are unique to New Zealand, can’t fly and are now endangered. Before the arrival of Maori and settlers, kiwis were not threatened by any predator. But with the arrival of men came the cats, dogs, rats, weasels, possums. Who attacked the flightless bird. Today, only 5% of chicks survive in the wild. In an attempt to save the species, many conservation programs are in place including the National Kiwi Trust Conservation Centre that retrieve eggs from nature to raise up to 6 months the babies, and then release in the nature the little Kiwi, being able to defend themselves against predators. There are five types of Kiwis in New Zealand but one specie is completely extinguished. I also learned that the female lays one of the bigger egg in the world relative to its weight. The egg is so big that it fills the entirety of its stomach and three days before laying, the female  stop eating, having no place in its womb! I also learn the answer to my question from earlier. No the Kiwi that I have seen is not sick! As the animal has very sensitive nostrils at the end of his nose, it is constantly forced to remove the dirt of his holes and therefore constantly sneezes. This is also the only way to spot it at night in the wild.

A stuffed Kiwi - Rainbow Springs Nature Park - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldI continue my walk in the park through the aviary of exotic animals. They have superb parrots and parakeets that greets me in a chorus of screams. The more I see, the more I like to observe bird behavior, it’s fascinating!

Red-breasted parakeet - Rainbow Springs Nature Park - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

The night falls I go see the reptiles and the Tuatara. This is a unique cold-blooded reptile in New Zealand and older than the dinosaurs! They are beasts of very long cycle: They reach their adult height of 600mm after 35 years, breathe only one times per hour and can live to be at least 100 years old! Alas it is winter and cold and the adults seems to be buried in the ground. I arrived to distinguish two juveniles behind the dirty windows of the cage. So I content myself with the Eastern Bearded Dragon.

Eastern Bearded Dragon - Rainbow Springs Nature Park - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldI continue through the forest park made of Kauris (very large trees up to 4000 years old), Manukas and Rimus in the dark to see the New Zealand birds.  Glimpse at the Morepork (owl) which carries very well its Maori name “ruru” which means “big eyes”, stop outside the enclosure of Weka (curious and thief bird which can’t fly), discuss with Jenny, the Kea (alpine parrot endangered), with whom I exchange squeaks and I finished with a walk in the paddock of Kakas. These are large parrot with red tail feathers, that behave much like monkeys. They use their large sharp beak to climb or swing from branch to branch! Fascinating. While I’m in the enclosure, one Kaka very curious approaches a few centimeters from me! I do not know if it mistake me to be the keeper or the guy who feeds him but he shakes his long beak a little too close to my leg, for my taste. I try to roll back waving the brochure in front of his nose but the bird catches it with its beak and gets even closer to my leg! I do not know if he is just curious, but if he gives me a peck in the leg, I’ll be in trouble. A bit panicked I rush to the exit door, the parrot behind me. Phew! It was close. Laughing at the adventure, I get out of the park, after all happy of my visit.


My last visit of Rotorua is the geothermal park Wai-o-Tapu, whose Maori name means “sacred waters”. About 18 km2 of collapsed craters, boiling mud pools, lakes with magnificent colors, steam, smoke and smell of sulfur.

A small half-hour in a special shuttle (only access to the park if you don’t have a car), where I met Julie, a French girl in vacation for a month in Aotearoa (New Zealand). The shuttle dropped us, first at Lady Knox geyser, which is activated every day at 10:15! A park staff walks near the geyser and tells us with a well pronounced kiwi accent that a century ago, this place was used as a prison. One of the convicts was washing his clothes and accidentally drops his soap in the waters of a hot spring. This had the effect of triggering a jet from a height of 20m. The trick is now used to trigger Lady Knox but beware, the soap used today is designed to not degrade nature! The employee pours the soap into, bubbles begin to form and the jet finally rises, although less powerful than what I had imagined. Nice, but a tourist attraction …

The shuttle gets us and deposited us 5 minutes later in front of the park entrance. Several trails wander through the park, passing by all the “attractions”. Julie and I take the longest path, marveling at the sight of colors and structures. Some lakes (including the Devil’s Bath) are a green apple color indicating the presence of arsenic! The main attraction is the Champagne Pool, large pool of 65m diameter, whose name comes from the gas bubbles rising to the surface. The center of the lake is 75 ° C and its edges are all oranges, antimony deposits. Alas, the sun is hidden by clouds which minimizes a little the beauty of the place. But the ride is none the less enjoyable. I let you enjoy the pictures that will be more meaningful.

Frying Pan Flat - Wai-o-Tapu - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldFrying Pan Flat - Wai-o-Tapu - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldThe lake Ngakoro Waterfall - Wai-o-Tapu - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldThe Champagne Pool - Wai-o-Tapu - Rotorua - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldSo much for my discovery of Rotorua. And also a lot of visits and discussions with Lydie, Julie and Pauline.

No Maori theme park or Maori meeting/shows for me during this stay in Rotorua. The prices are way too expensive, it is very touristy and I find it a bit strange to transform the Maori culture into shows for tourists. However Lydie and Pauline attended and they told me that they liked it very much. The ideal for me would be to see it in reality, but like most Maori live today in the same way that the New Zealanders, this in unlikely to happen. According the returns, war dances, traditional costumes and Haka are really good. And the meal cooked in Hangi (food cooked in an oven built into the ground where the food simmers for hours with hot rocks and steam) is worth its weight in gold. So maybe I will try to attend another time

Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you not to use them without permission.