I returned to New Zealand in 2014, this time to the north island. I’d been looking at photos of Rotorua’s thermal wonderland for years. This was my chance to see it for myself. Rotorua is a nice town, set around Lake Rotorua.
It’s quite the place if you’ve got a bit of spare cash. You can take a lake cruise on a Mississippi Riverboat, complete with gourmet food, a ‘Duck’ tour, half on land, half on water in a WW ll amphibious vehicle, hover in a helicopter above White Island, New Zealand’s only permanently-active volcano, or watch the sunset from a luxury catamaran, sipping something from the bar.
I wandered along the edge of the lake to the Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum.
The museum was originally a spa, offering therapeutic treatments using water piped through from thermal springs. It’s a magnificent building, half-timbered, with elegant gables, mullioned windows and gothic towers.
Laid out in front are croquet lawns, complete with a pagoda-roofed pavilion, and park benches for audiences to enjoy the, I’m sure, vicious competition. It’s so unbelievably English, I was reminded that even as late as the 1900s, people were still trying to recreate England in the South Pacific.
It was my first thermal spring, named after Madame Rachel, a notorious cosmetician, who promised youthful complexions from the softening effect of silica water on the skin.
Next to that was a pinkish, art-deco building called, strangely, The Blue Baths. Opened in 1933, it daringly offered mixed sex bathing for the first time in New Zealand. That must have caused a few waves, so to speak.
The man at the motel recommended I visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley, so first thing the next morning I headed out.
In June, 1886, Mt. Tarawera erupted. The flat land collapsed into a series of craters and Lake Rotomahana exploded to 20 times its original size, filling fifteen of the craters and creating an entirely new eco-system.
I wandered along a track to where the forest opened out, and there before me was a large lake, steam drifting and wafting from its surface. This is Echo Crater and Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot spring in the world.
Creating a backdrop to the lake are Cathedral Rocks, great stacks of lava, not new to the system, but around 60,000 years old. Steam wafted from gaps in the cliff face, and it was one of the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. It only needed a dinosaur to trot past and the picture would have been complete.
Past a little stream, joyously popping and bubbling, was a set of steep stone steps, leading away out of sight. I was puffing as I reached the top, to be greeted with a spring of a colour between aquamarine and turquoise.
Inferno Crater is fascinating for its mysterious rhythm. Regularly rising and falling up to 12 metres, its a window into the earth’s molten core, and is used for monitoring New Zealand’s volcanic activity.
I stood for a while gazing at the silica deposits of the Marble Terraces.
Not the best photo to show these. Stripes of white, a rich gold, brown and emerald green reminded me of a modernist painting, one of those in which you can’t work out what the artist is telling you but you like it for its colours.
A great thing about visiting the valley is that a bus does a continuous loop. When you feel you can’t walk another step, you just sit at a bus stop and wait to be picked up and taken back to your car.
I loved this place and will be back for another look, next time taking the cruise around Lake Rotomahana. I feel I seriously missed out there.
Next time, we’ll visit Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village and will learn how to cook a lobster in 2 minutes flat.