It is the unmistakable smell of rotten eggs.
“Ughhhhhhhhh!” I think, eyeing my fellow passengers wondering which one of them is the backpacker with tummy trouble.
Hoping to catch a breath of fresh air I pop my nose out of the window only to find the smell becoming worse. Nagesh, fellow-wanderer for some years now, grins, “We are there!”
We have arrived at Rotorua – the smelly, smoky hot-spot on every
tourism itinerary. It sits on the most volatile section of the Taupo Volcanic
Zone and on good (or should that be -- bad) days can give off a curious
sulphuric-rotten-egg smell. Geo-thermal activity is everywhere. Pits steam,
holes smoke and water boils wherever you look – inside hotels, behind bushes
even in people’s backyards!
There just beside the humdrum road is a pit belching out inky smoke. I have only heard of the Earth’s molten, fiery center. I stare, mesmerized, at the evidence.
After checking into our hotel room (sadly, no steaming flushes), we walk towards the lakefront. The most accessible spots in hell for a newly-arrived soul are around the
Government Gardens near .
Stunning roses nod and evil-looking pits burp up smoke on seeing us. In and
around the gardens is the interesting Lake Rotorua of Art and History and for those
feeling like a ‘mineral-water’ soak, there are the thermally-heated Blue Baths and the Polynesian Spa. Some distance away, Kuirau Park offers more flower-beds and some shallow thermal pools
that do to your feet what no pedicure can hope to. Rotorua Museum
After soaking in the sights and smells (literally) we go for ‘hangi’, the traditional meal of the Maoris, a large number of whom Rotorua is home to. In fact, the Whakarewarewa Maori reserve is right next to our hotel and we can see that most houses have their personal smoking pits.
Our Maori hosts greet us by rubbing noses! And then they perform, among other things, the ‘Haka,’ a fierce war dance interspersed with much chest thumping and murderous gestures. Meanwhile our food has been cooking slowly in earthen ovens over (what else) steaming holes in the ground. When the food is laid, I am in heaven. There’s slow-cooked chicken, meat, kumara (sweet potatoes), crab, shrimp, vegetables…I do not make it to dessert.
The next day, we head for Waiotapu which, depending on how many sights you wander off to, is about half an hour to a whole day away from the city. Soon we see the earth’s fiery interior, her chemicals and her minerals come together in a histrionic display of colour and fire-water-works. A Hollywood set that
Hollywood could never have imagined unfolds
The aptly named Devil’s Ink Pots is a spectacular sea of mud – where steaming whirls and whorls plop, hiss and spit eternally. Even more enchanting is the Champagne Pool. Gold-rimmed and bubbling seductively, it looks inviting until you realize it has more chemicals than your car battery. Having admired all the wicked looking craters blowing smoke rings around the pool, we walk across it on a narrow path (fall and you will be boiled!) on our way to more sights.
The electric blue of one pool is sure to haunt me forever; or at least every time I order a Blue Curacao. But for the tell-tale steam rising around the edges, the pool looks as icy cool as the cocktail. Before we reach a jade green pool, we come across a wonderful green stream flecked with yellow. Like a good tourist, I can’t resist dipping my hand in it – “Owwwww!” It is hot! Even the rock-face on the side of the path is hot. Far in the distance is a hillside with magnificent plumes of smoke, too many to count. I note that if I get lost here, sending smoke signals will just not work.
In all this we also keep our 10.15 a.m. date with Lady Knox Geyser (pronounced guy-zer never gee-zer in
It erupts every day at that precise time to ooohhs, aaaahs and the flash of
cameras. This is achieved by pouring detergent into its vent! The surface
tension reduces, the boiling water bubbles, spurts and finally gushes up in a tall,
sizzling fountain. That it is man-made takes nothing away from the spectacle.
Waiotapu, we realize later is a weird, wonderful sampler of the fantasy landscaping all around the area. Near the Blue and
you can picnic or live in your trailer-camper home. And though the Green Lakes Green Lake is
far too dangerous, you can even go for a swim in the .
At Hell’s Gate mud pools boil all day long. This thermal area has the sensational
Blue Lake , said to be the largest hot
waterfall in the Southern hemisphere. Kaikahi Falls
And yes, there are volcanoes. Even in the nineteenth century,
’s hillsides had much-visited, mineral-laden baths that contributed
to Rotorua’s fashionable reputation as a spa. In 1886, when Tarawera erupted,
the sound was heard as far away as Mount Tarawera Auckland.
The baths along with Te Wairoa, meaning ‘ ’
(now excavated and a tourist spot), were buried under lava and ash. The
eruption carved out Waimangu, the valley that lies before me, brilliant green,
full of vegetation and home to the magnificent boiling Inferno Crater. Buried Village
I look at
, now a lush
green, peaceful looking fixture on the landscape with new respect. And suddenly
fun thermal activity acquires a mean edge. Mount
That evening, we discover a buzzing pub fashioned out of an old police station. Some of the food is typical – a mountain of wonderfully-done spare ribs – and some of it is
New Zealand style seafood, the like
of which I have never had before – green-lipped mussel, walnut encrusted
By the time we are through, it’s six ‘o clock and the shops are all closed! The bright sunshiny day will continue for a long time though. I window-shop and peer at the jade jewellery displays. Rotorua is also one of the centres for jade, the stone prized by the Maoris as ‘pounamu’. I mentally tick the shops I will visit tomorrow as we head towards the lake.
As we sit volcanoes, geysers and boiling mud seem not at all unusual. As for bad smells, they seem barely noticeable and pretty usual too.