Rotorua is one of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand. With geothermal activity, Maori culture in abundance, plus beautiful scenery, it should definitely be at the top of the list when visiting the land of the long white cloud. We headed down for the weekend to see what all the fuss was about.
We happened to hit the town on a weekend that they are hosting the Crankworx Mountain Biking competition. It was pretty busy but a great atmosphere and heading up Rotorua Skyline gondola we could see a few of the bikers in action and some fairly gnarly jumps. We weren’t here for that though, other than the amazing views down to town and over Rotorua Lake, the top of the hill has a very cool attraction up its sleeve…Luge! This is sort of like a sledge with wheels that is controlled by a stick that you angle to turn and pull toward you to brake. After a quick safety run through we were off! There are three tracks of varying difficulty to choose from and these concrete snakes wind their way down the hill and round hairpins and over bumps! It was brilliant fun. You have to lean around the corners too to counter balance as you get up a surprising amount of speed! Guy and I raced down and as long as I kept him behind me I was ok but as soon as he overtook on the straights he was off and flying! To get back up you just hopped on the chairlift and enjoyed the views before doing it all again, and again, and again, seven runs in fact, and it does not get old.
After the luge we headed off to find our campsite which is just outside of town on one of the surrounding lakes, Lake Okareka, and it was a stunner.
Little known on the tourist trail it is a beautifully peaceful place to stay and we pitched the roof tent in the DOC campsite there. In Maori Lake Okareka means ‘Lake of sweet food’ owing to the growth of kumara in the area (a sort of sweet potato), none here anymore but we did have a great BBQ instead. To look at, Lake Okareka wouldn’t look out of place in the European Alps, tranquil waters surrounded by hills and covered with thick forest on almost all shores. It looked pretty big to us but in fact it is one of four small lakes in the area between Lake Rotorua and Lake Tarawera. We walked around to a headland that sticks out into the lake for a better view and sat on the shore with a beer and a good book, enjoying the peace and quiet. This was later broken by the most amazing party boat drifting into shore, with a barbeque on board plus inflatables, a whole bunch of friends (plus dogs) were out drifting the lake for a birthday.
We couldn’t think of a better way to spend a sunny day with the family, and when sun set lighting up the hills opposite us, all that could be seen of the party boat was the string of fairy lights around its canopy. We also called it a night ready for the next day’s adventures.
Leaving our lovely misty campsite in the morning we headed back towards Rotorua to the Wai-O-Tapu thermal park. This is a huge site showcasing the geothermal activity that is so prevalent in the area, there are many to choose from but we decided to check the biggest out first. Taking centre stage was the Lady Knox Geyser which they set off every day to release the pressure building up. To set off a geyser they use surfactant to break the tension between the two different temperature chambers and this creates a reaction and eruption. Starting off as a frothy bubbling the pressure built into a 10m fountain of water, rather than a brief eruption this continues for up to an hour.
The park is vast, set in beautiful forest, a mix of craters with steaming floors, sulphur crystallised caves and vast alkali terraces. In the centre of the park is an expanse of flattish land covered with a thin layer of steaming water and a multitude of colours created by the chemicals released from the ground.
Purple, green, orange, red, yellow and blue as well as bright white all swirl in together giving this feature the name, the Artists Palette. Next to the palette is the Champagne pool stretching 65m across and almost the same in depth the bubbling pool, bright blue and steaming with a lucid orange shelf around the edge, is the highlight of the park.
The geothermal water enters the pool at a piping hot 260C keeping the deep pool at 75C and creating plenty of pungent smelling steam to engulf the tourists.
The landscapes, as you wind around the paths of the park, are almost alien in places culminating in the Devil’s Bath a huge almost fluorescent lime green pool with yellow cracked earth surrounding it. The colour comes from the mix of sulphur and ferrous causing this unnatural but pretty amazing feature.
To finish our visit we stopped on the way out of the park at the mud pools, thermal of course. The bubbling, boiling, thick mud made some therapeutic bubbles, popping and plopping back into the mud, all strangely hypnotic because of how viscous it was. The muddy splash back had made the surrounding vegetation look frosty with the pale splatters. The Wai-O-Tapu park had lived up to all expectations and more and we would definitely recommend you add it to your list of places to visit.
Heading back to Mellons Bay we stopped in Rotorua at Brew Bar, home of delicious beer and pizza, before getting on our way after a very cool weekend away.