You can smell Rotorua, a lovely town tucked into the northwest corner of New Zealand’s North Island, long before you can see it. Rotorua is best-known for two things: its crown as the adventure sports capital of New Zealand and its extensive network of hot springs… hence the looming, sulfur stench.
Day #10,288: Mr. M & I had our frosty morning sights set on the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. I debated whether or not to be super-excited about a place deemed ‘wonderland’ or super-scared that ‘wonderland’ secretly meant ‘tourist-ravaged.’ Because it was the dead of winter, we ended up with the whole of the Hot Springs to ourselves.
Wai-O-Tapu, the self-proclaimed Wonderland, consists of a geothermal area accessed by a network of trails, NZ’s largest bubbling mud pool (it gives me peculiar pleasure that someone has done the stats on this), and the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts every day at precisely 10:15am. We decided to do the full 3km walk around the hot springs for a bit of an overview.
The landscape was otherworldly… barren and raw, but encircled by the dense New Zealand greenery. Different deposits in the landscape create crazy colored hot spring waters that only add to that sense of the ethereal.
Mr. M & I especially enjoyed the fact that many of these steaming, snarling springs are named ‘Devil’s’ this or that. Every picture that I took of Mr. M at Wai-O-Tapu has him hissing and making devil horns. This never got old because we’re both 13-yr old boys at heart.
We took a small detour to the famed mud pool, which looked and sounded exactly like The Bog of Eternal Stench from the movie “Labyrinth.” Please someone tell me that I’m not the only one who loved this creepy Jim Henson movie as a child. David Bowie prancing around in a rockstar mullet with his posse of muppet goblins seriously made me contemplate becoming David Bowie when I grew up. (For the record, this option is still on the table.)
Getting to hike the trails of Wai-O-Tapu all by our lonesome was like exploring a beautiful fairytale land… except for the fact that the steamy, dreamy landscape caused my ugly-stepsister hair to frizz up to three times its normal size.
We made it to the Lady Knox Geyser with a few minutes to spare. Truth be told, Lady Knox has a little help reaching lift-off precisely at 10:15am every morning.
The staff empties a packet of soap into the geyser chamber, which acts as a surfactant to allow mixing for of hot and cold water and ba-daaa (cue the trumpet fanfare)… Geyser Viagra.
Lady Knox was quite impressive, but she couldn’t compete with the rest of the Wonderland- which, we decided, more than earned its name. Seeing as how we’d investigated Rotorua’s title as geothermal capital, we thought it only fair to explore its equally well-known adventure sports.
We decided to hit up the Skyline Rotorua Luge, a winding downhill go-kart that the locals take Very Seriously. Waiting for our first ride down, Mr. M & I were honest-to-God in line behind a Kiwi who’d just knocked a tooth out five minutes earlier after being bumper-luged by his own mother and who subsequently flipped out of his cart and rolled halfway down the hill.
Despite being a big proponent of going ‘balls-out’ in life, mama ain’t losin’ a tooth in the name of Luge. I never even made it past the beginner’s course! It was such a bumpy-crazy ride that I could barely hold onto the brake lever and almost ran myself off the course.
At the end of our second ride down, Mr. M made a bummer of a discovery: the video camera he’d had stuffed in his jacket pocket had bounced out unnoticed somewhere along the course. We searched everywhere for it (including tramping through all the landscaping), but I think an opportunist ran off with all our unbacked-up memories from the past two weeks spent in Australia. Blarg.
We stopped for hot cocoa to cheer ourselves up because everyone knows there are some bad moods only cocoa can cure. Then, on our way back to the motel, we saw this:
We didn’t end up zorbing that day (a tummy full of cocoa + rolling down a hill head-over-heel sounds like a recipe for very bad things), but I did get around to it a few months later and can report It Was Awesome. And most importantly, Mr. M & I resolved to end the day on a happy note.
Just before sunset, we headed over to Polynesian Spa, natural hot springs overlooking the Rotorua Lake.
For $20, you can sit & relax in one of the many naturally heated pools and watch the lakeside lights flicker on in the distance. It’s a slice of enchantment.
Rotorua is something of a wonderland, shrouded in its perpetual layer of volcanic steam. Even the cobwebs feel a little magical.
Yeah, we lost all our vacay videos- but every wonderland has a troll or two.
In the end, the day was all about living happily ever after.
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: We loooved the Silver Fern Motel in Rotorua. The staff is friendly, the wifi is free, and every room has a mini-kitchen and in-room Jacuzzi tub that somehow manages to feel luxurious and not icky-honeymoon-suite-in-Reno, if you know what I mean.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Showing up early seems to be the way to go! Several busloads of schoolkids and tourists showed up around 10am to watch the geyser and then tour the springs, but luckily- we were already done! Like most naturally gorgeous places, Wai-O-Tapu might lose some of its magic when experienced with hoards of other people.
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Thanks, readers!! See you in New York!**