Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thermal Wonderland (Rotorua, New Zealand)


Australians have always felt a close affinity with our New Zealand cousins. As a travel destination, New Zealand is one of the world’s most inviting destinations – dominated by extraordinary scenery of glorious mountain ranges, untouched forests, stellar national parks and sparkling oceans and complemented with a vibrant and deeply respected Maori culture (a lesson for the world) and an easy-going, unrushed population.

While Christchurch has started to rebuild from a devastating earthquake that caused untold damage, took over 150 lives and shredded the fundamental infrastructure of the city, travellers assumed that all of New Zealand was a disaster zone and closed down. Nothing could be further from the truth. An initiative of a group of Kiwi travel bloggers under the banner of Blog4NZ (twitter: #blog4nz) have encouraged over 100 bloggers worldwide to publish favourite stories of this vibrant country to encourage the world to visit. Tourism comprises around 10% of the New Zealand economy and so each visitor can help in a small way to help rebuild the South Island’s largest city and the impact on the country in general. Note that the Christchurch Airport continues to operate normally and is the perfect gateway to the South Island and its incredible natural beauty.

This article describes the unusual thermal region of Rotorua (visited in September, 2010) but readers can find other New Zealand stories on the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the steepest street in the world and the thunderous Huka Falls.


The odorous rotten-egg gas hits me first. Within a few miles of Rotorua, the rich sulphurous air gives a taste of a remarkable landscape. Revered by the Maoris, the highlight of the area is Te Whakarewarewa which everyone confidently and loudly calls fa-ka (wh is pronounced f in Maori).

Presented almost as a mini-New Zealand, the area’s highlights are undoubtedly the spurting geysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming springs. Just past the symbolic entrance of raised wooden poles is the Kiwi House. New Zealand’s iconic bird forages in the semi-darkness, its plump body, matted feathers and strange long beak difficult to spot in the nocturnal conditions that Kiwis prefer. Sadly, there is little chance of seeing them in the wild so this is the best way to see this endangered fellow. Mating for life, the male Kiwi incubates the egg in one of nature’s more evenly shared breeding partnerships.

From the Kiwi House, the inhospitable primeval landscape lays in front of my eyes. Geysers spurt and steam billows erratically from several spots rebelling against the chilly wintry air. Several pools of mud on permanent simmer bubble, gurgle and froth under a veil of steam, belching their foul-smelling gases into the air like the worst of house guests.

Most of the geysers spurt from a multi-coloured lunar-like area called Geyser Flat. In a kind of thermal warm-up act, the grandly named Prince of Feathers geyser spurts before launching the most impressive Pohutu Geyser. Super-heated by molten rock under increasing pressure as steam builds underground, the boiling rainwater spurts many meters into the air with an impressive blast, before commencing the cycle over again. The active landscape is a reminder that geologically, New Zealand is one of the world’s youngest countries.

Strange holes seemingly lead to Middle Earth, the grey fringes giving a sense of foreboding about whether a geyser is about to shoot. Various activities utilising warming bore water for spas in the Rotorua area resulted in some geysers in the area stopping.

As an indicator of Maori reverence for this site, a Maori cemetery overlooks the main geyser area, plain white headstones and carved wooden statues marking the buried ancestors. Homage is appropriately paid to the Maori God of Fire.

Nearby, a permanently boiling water hole was used for centuries by the Maoris as a cooking area and currently highlights the innovative cooking methods with woven baskets making ideal “pots” for dunking the eggs and vegetables.A boiled egg with such little fuss.

The remainder of the site is a Maori cultural centre. With an area of pre-European Maori housing, a more modern marae or Maori meeting house and national schools for the Maori arts of weaving and carving, the Maori culture is well enshrined ensuring that their heritage and practices are not lost in modern society.

In the Maori weaving school, small clumps of the strands of the flax plant are expertly rolled across the leg forming long strings that are dyed and woven into clothing, baskets and other goods. Feathers and skins are often added for warmth or ceremonial appeal.

Around the area, I can strongly recommend completing a Rotorua day with a visit to one of several thermal pools (lose the silver jewellery first unless you want them all tarnished) for an incredibly therapeutic and relaxing experience.

Despite the odours, New Zealand's Sulphur City is a great place to visit, with the popular Whaka offering a chance to liven all the senses with the Earth's natural power in its rawest form across a thermal wonderland of geysers, boiling mud and venting steam. And to add the Kiwi flavour, a chance to experience two of the country's most identifiable images - to peer through the murkiness to witness a Kiwi scratching amongst the undergrowth and to watch a thriving Maori culture that harnesses the thermal area so harmoniously.

19 comments:

Chishikoff said...

This is soo cool !! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for your photos! Good design!!

Barbara Weibel said...

Hi Mark: My biggest regret about my visit to New Zealand in 2007 was the fact that I did not have time to visit Rotorua. I must come back, however in the meantime, your post makes me feel like I've been there! Thanks so much.

Mark H said...

@chishikoff: Thank you.

@barbara: What a great reason to return to NZ, and there is no better time...

Red Nomad OZ said...

Hey! That mud looks just like I remember!! Thanx for playing 'Round the World' and promoting NZ!!

Bluegreen Kirk said...

New Zealand seems to be the new travel destination. I have seen a lot of posts on the place and I appear to missing out on so much. Thanks for the article and the photos.

Aleah said...

Rotorua is one of the reasons why I would like to visit NZ someday! (Visiting from Red's Blog Hop. "Puerto Galera in One Day")

Donna Hull said...

I've visited Bay of Islands as well as taken an exciting road trip down the west coast of the South Island. However, I have not been to Rotrua - all the more reason to visit New Zealand again, especially after reading your inspiring post.

Anonymous said...

Awsome article !! What blog platform do you use on your site ?

Mark H said...

@red nomad NZ: Grey and sticky...

@bluegreen kirk: It is being promoted this week. Great initiative by some NZ travel bloggers in support of their country.

@aleah: Great place to visit and lots to do around the area.

Mark H said...

@donna: I hope you get to the great southern land again (and pop into Australia on the way!!)

@anonymous: I use Blogger as a platform.

Rebecca said...

New Zealand has always been on the top of my list of places to travel to. This article makes me want to go there right now! Even though picking up and leaving now is not very realistic, this article had definitely reminded me that I need to start planning a trip to New Zealand.

Mark H said...

@rebecca: I hope that you get to NZ soon. Plenty of articles in the last few days from bloggers to whet your appetite.

Bob said...

Wow, those pictures are stunning. Now I regret not seeing more of NZ when I went there.

Mark H said...

@bob: Thank you - NZ is a stunningly beauitful country with lots of natural vistas on both islands.

New Zealand rental car said...

Many tourist comes all over the place because of its natural wonder offerings, and yes Rotorua is among on the list. It is expected that travelers will grow in numbers especially this vacation season as they find it convenient to explore the place with the help of reliable rental car services.

I would like to give credit to the owner of this blog for providing such contents. Keep it up!

Mark H said...

@nz rental car: Let's hope that many people visit NZ this year. I am planning a trip myself in Jan, 2012 doing a lap of the South Island ina rental car.

New Zealand rental car said...

@Mark : Yes, hoping that too. Oh, it's so good to hear about that. You really won't regret visiting NZ.

Anil said...

Your description of the smells reminds me of the water in Iceland. Good to drink but the smells trick your senses otherwise!

Mark H said...

@anil: It is very much the same as Iceland - the same thermal sulphurous odour. I walked a couple of thermal area in Iceland and they only had rough guides on where to walk, but unsurprisingly no-one wandered from the flagged pathway despite the lack of actual concrete paths and barriers. I guess boiling mud has that effect.

 
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