New Zealand: Spontaneous Trips to Rotorua

Ummm… hi there. Remember me? It’s been a while. I’ve been having so much fun in New Zealand, I almost forgot to write about it! That, and it’s mostly just been me going to work and chillin’ with my pals, which doesn’t exactly make for quality writing material.

Since the last time I posted I’ve acquired a boyfriend; life comes atcha fast. He’s super cool and down for adventures so we’ve been visiting different areas around Auckland on the weekends, which has kept me busy. Last night though, we decided we’d change it up a bit and make the 3 hour drive down to Rotorua. Today.

So here I am, hungover af in bed, being woken up at 7:30 to get on the road. I’m filled with regret but I know it’ll be worth it later, so I drag myself out of the comfort and warmth. We pack our bags in a hurry – there isn’t much we need anyway, but I’m sure to bring my bathing suit (or, “togs” as they’re called here) in case we stumble upon any hot springs. This is Rotorua after all, and hot springs are part of the reason we chose this destination.

I’ve been before and I always try to prioritize new places instead, but it’s the middle of winter and the best thing about Rotorua is all the weird geothermal stuff. It seems silly to drive out to the Coromandel and visit the beaches in the cold, wind, rain, or worse, all three. It’s best to save that for summer.

We’ve really lucked out though, because the weather holds up to a sunny 15. Winter here sounds just awful eh? I’d rub it in more but I’ve heard y’all in the Northern Hemisphere are having a heatwave and I’m sure you don’t want to hear it.

Without a plan or a place to stay, we drive through Mata Mata (home of Hobbiton) and into Rotorua where the air is filled with the smell of sulfur and white steam can be seen blowing out from street corners, parks, and even people’s backyards.

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 8.46.42 PM

It’s too early to check-in anywhere but we decide to try and sort out our accommodation anyway. It’s the low season so I’m convinced we’ll have no trouble.

I’m not used to travelling as a couple. I know this is hardly “travelling”, it’s just a weekend away, but I’m still weirded out by the idea of booking a nice hotel. I insist we remember that we’re poor and book a hostel instead. Old habits. The hostel I stayed in last time was adorable and served its purpose for just $20/night for a bunk, so we roll up to see how much they charge for a double room. It’s more expensive at $65/night, but I suppooooose it’s a little less romantic of a weekend away if we share a room with a bunch of smelly backpackers. (Sorry smelly backpackers. I’m still one of you, I swear.)

We immediately head out to try and take advantage of this nice weather, which I’m certain will not last. We drive 25 minutes to Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal park. I have no idea what to expect but it sounds cool so we’ll see what’s up. At the ticket counter I’m asked where I’m from and stupidly say Canada. Hey wait though… I’m a local now! Is there a local price? Nah? Okay, then yeah, fine, Canada.
Tickets are $32.50 each which seems a little pricey to enter a park but we’re here now, whatevs. We’re given a map and follow the path which winds around a bunch of random, naturally occurring geothermal stuff in what seems like the middle of nowhere. Like hey, there’s a forest right there, on the other side of the fence, but in front of me? BOOM. Bubbling mud puddles. Large cavernous holes. Sulfur gas spewing out of rocks and staining everything around it bright yellow. Any surviving greenery to close to the steam has been turned white, brittle, and is ultimately dying. All right in the middle of this otherwise forested area. Crazy.

That mud is bubblin’
But how?!

The park is pretty big and there are different options for paths to follow, but we choose the longest so we can see everything. It’s an easy stroll and there’s no shortage of curious things to check out! We walk over the bridge across a lake where the water is cool enough to touch, but further along the pathway, the same body of water is fenced off by signs with warnings for 100 degree temperatures. We are now walking through clouds of sulfur (ie. it reeks). Thick white steam is rolling off the surface of the turquoise water, and at its edges, the rocks are coated with some sediment tinted a rusty orange colour. My mind is blown.

Water right here? Cold. Water over there? Hot.
Walking through sulfur clouds
What? How? Why? When? Who?

We continue walking and finding strange geo-anomalies, but I think the strangest one is at the very end of the loop. We come across a lake that is, with no exaggeration, NEON green. It looks like a pool of radioactive sludge, and just like everything else, it’s surrounded by some casual trees. It’s. Just. So. Weird! I honestly think this is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been, and even cooler that I had no idea what we’d find when we set off this morning.

A less exotic but still beautiful view along the trail
“Devil’s Pool”
View from a high point within the park

The walk took us about 2 hours and we’ve skipped lunch so we’re feeling lazy and hungry. Instead of trying to action pack our day with more activities we decide to head back to the town, drop our bags, and get some food. We walk down to “eat streat” which is a cool little strip of bars and restaurants (as you may have gathered from the name). It’s dead, and at first I’m confused because I’m like, it’s Saturday, people! But then I remember it’s 5pm and we’re eating dinner like an old retired couple. Right.

We choose a restaurant that does stone grill and has a good selection of craft pints (my boyfriend works in craft beer so I’m a snob now by the way). We ball out and both get surf and turf and while I can’t finish everything, I regret nothing.

Our cute little hostel has a geothermal spa in the back which is free to use (obv why I chose it last time) so we go for a relaxing dip. It’s now started to rain but the cool drops are refreshing in contrast to the steaming tub.

There’s a group of young European interns who all live in Auckland and are here for the weekend just as we are. We sit, soaking in the hot pool and chatting until we’re pruney, and decide to walk down to Pig and Whistle, which I believe is the only happening bar in all of Rotorua, even on a Saturday night. We pass an Irish pub on the way and it’s disturbingly empty. When was the last time you saw an empty Irish bar?!

It turns out our European friends aren’t as cool as we are. They’re supposed to be young and fun! It’s the weekend! There’s live music at the bar and no one wants to dance?!
Well, we do.
The band is playing a ton of old songs, catering to the crowd who’s average age is definitely a couple decades above ours, but they’re lively, and it’s music, so I’m happy. The others start slowly dropping off and heading for bed until we’re the last two from the hostel. Tomorrow we’ll sleep in and maybe see some more cool rock stuff, or find hot springs, or go for a hike. There’s no shortage of options!

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