Day 3: Rotorua

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 3: Rotorua

I kind of feel like I’ve become acclimatised to the aromatic tones of sulphur now. I don’t notice it very much now, unless I take a really big breath. I miss taking big breaths. Rotorua is pretty dazzling in daylight, and we’ve had a perfect day of sunshine and mild weather. Last night’s dip in the mineral pool was pretty relaxing, but you know it’s time to leave the pool when your skin starts to itch and turn red. When dipping in one of these baths, I’d highly recommend sitting near an air vent just so the wafts of air, that kind of smell like that egg sandwich you left in your bag a bit too long, don’t get too overpowering. I forgot to post a photo of the feijoas yesterday, so here they are in all their delicious glory!

Today started with coffee at the Artisan café in Rotorua. Friendly staff and a fairly strong coffee blend, more on the robusta side, I’d say, for those playing along. Our first activity for the day was the Rail Cruiser and this is, without a doubt, a must-do when you’re in town. It’s about a twenty-minute drive back towards the north to Mamaku, where the station sits. The little rail cars are purpose-built and seat four passengers. One of them even gets to be the driver, which is essentially turning the hand brake on and off at each end of the trip. The cars run along a ten-kilometre stretch of the old Rotoura branch line which the operators took a thirty-year lease on after it fell into disrepair since closing in 2001. They cleared the growth, replaced stolen sleepers and designed their own prototypes for the little buggies that run on hybrid engines through some pretty special scenery to Tarukenga station where a guide turns your car around for the return trip.

Winding our way through the Nongotahā Valley the air became pretty crisp, so we were glad to have worn something warm They’ve got blankets on board just in case, as well as ear plugs, which might have been better to learn about a bit earlier. The clickety clack of the track underneath is fun, but pretty loud if you’ve got sensitive hearing. The line passes through old cuttings, now covered in moss and small ferns in some sections, and no shortage of greenery as the old forest meets the edge of the track along the way. Tall, wiry trunk with downward pointing leaves stretch towards the sky amongst larger ferns other native greenery, some of which includes thousand-year-old trees that tower well above the canopy. Little patches of sunlight warmed us up as the scene opened up into farmland. Paddocks with happy cows, two of them nuzzling in the paddock amongst their friends while another one walked with intent to a vertical patch of dirt and nuzzled the embankment.

Ducks floating lazily in a small pond were around the next bend before the car slowed down for us to take in the vista of Mokoia Island, which sits in the middle of Lake Rotorua in front of a backdrop of picture-perfect mountain ranges. The recorded commentary gives an interesting history of the rail line and region, as well as some interesting tid bits, for the train nerds amongst us, about what certain markers mean and the purpose of various artefects along the rail line itself. If you’re craving nature, but the thought of a bush walk puffs you out, you’ll drink in plenty of green along the way between the native vegetation and working dairy farms.

Our next stop was a park opposite Rotorua hospital called Kuirau Park. It’s unique features are a dead giveaway when you drive past and notice huge banks of steam rising from the ground. It’s a free public park and a really cool way to see the geothermal activity Rotorua is famous for. Lakes bubbling away at 100°C with their tiny sulphurous bubbles resting on the surface. Yellow and white algae lines the muddy shores of the lakes and ponds, and it’s hard to image how any plant life could thrive here. The sights and smells are one thing, but you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the sound of the earth boiling from beneath a small pile of rocks in front of you. the boop-bloop-plop of boiling mud is another rarity of geothermal activity as are the special public baths right in the middle of the park. You can take your shoes off and soak your weary legs or even immerse yourself, but don’t put your head under if you decide to go for the dunk – there’s a risk of getting amoebic meningitis if you immerse your head. It’s otherwise completely safe. Remember the tell-tale signs for exit from earlier though: red and itchy skin means you’re long enough within. Get out.

There are lots of little places around town where you can marvel at geothermal wonders, and apart from those, there’s plenty of nature and wildlife to enjoy here as well. Redwoods Treewalk run a night walk through the canopy of the redwood forest, which is another exceptional experience.

On the edge of town is a redwood forest. The trees were planted in 1901, and the North American West Coast is the only other place these trees thrive. We’re going back for a look in the day time, but the night time canopy walk is really something to see. Platforms have been built maybe ten metres up the trunks with swinging bridges connecting them. Light projections bring the scene to life a mass of green lights buzzing through one section like fireflies amongst the dark forest floor. Coloured lights shine from below into the foliage, shifting through the spectrum of blues and greens to pinks and reds. Then there’s the wooden shades attached slightly higher up, their projected designs inspired by owl plumage, adding to the natural beauty of the forest deck. We’re glad we chose to do the canopy walk at night. We might not have been so confident if we’d been able to see how far up we actually were, so we’re looking forward to viewing the forest again soon as nature intended: looking up.

Tomorrow: Te Puia Geothermal Park

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