After the wedding, we had a few days at our disposal before catching our exit flight to Singapore. We chose to spend it touring the geothermal wonders of Rotorua.  When we explained our plans to Her’s English family members, several of whom had visited Rotorua en route to Auckland, they bristled at the mention of the place and remarked how we would “smell the smells.” According to a recent TripAdvisor review, the town’s pervasive sulphur smell had caused a recent visitor to experience a terrible allergic reaction, rendering her into a weekend-long state of misery. Would we be the next people to succumb to the insufferable sulfur stench?


A geothermal pool outside the Rotorua Bath House

As it turns out, the infamous smell really wasn’t that bad.  It’s caused by very hot materials from the planet’s core working their way toward the surface. The heat and minerals escape through acidic pools of boiling hot water, creating an active geothermal region. The escaping sulfur gases are responsible for the odor.  Regardless of what you read online, the whole town does not smell like rotten eggs.  In fact, the bad smells are limited to well-marked active sites in a handful of town parks. Many visitors describe the stench as akin to rotten eggs, but to me, it resembled the steam from water used to boil eggs. Not pleasant, per se, but certainly tolerable. It even managed to make Her hungry during our tour of Wai-o-Tapu.

Our hostel, the Rotorua YHA, was situated just across the street from Kuirau Park where there are several active hot pools and an area called the geothermal foot baths.  I envisioned a series of spa-like foot baths where relaxing tourists soaked their sore feet while attendants pampered them with back rubs and fresh fruit.  We never did find anything like that in the park, but maybe we didn’t search long enough. We did, however, find plenty of pools with water hot enough to kill you.

It seems the closest thing to natural hot baths can be found at the Polynesian Spa on the opposite end of town.  Here you can swim in a geothermally heated pool (clothing required) or pay up to have your own personal hot pool (clothing optional).  I’m not sure about the back rubs and fresh fruit as we never made it inside.  Her wanted to go at first, but when I said I wasn’t interested she seemed to lose interest as well.

Kerosene Creek

A quick foot soak at Kerosene Creek outside Rotorua.

For those with their own transportation, there is a freely accessible natural hot spring located south of town along Route 5 between Rotorua and Wai-o-Tapu.  Watch for signs to “Kerosene Creek” along the east side of the road and follow the dirt road several kilometers to find a small car park.  A five-minute hike from the car park takes you to a small creek that is quite warm (90+ degrees Fahrenheit) and culminates in a waterfall pouring into a small pool.  Be sure to keep your head above water here.  It is possible to get amoebic meningitis from fresh water — especially heated fresh water — and the disease is almost uniformly fatal.  The path of infection is through the nose, so keeping your head above water is essential.  We opted for dipping just our feet in.  Also, the area is pretty far off the road, and there have been several thefts reported in the area.  Don’t go after dark and keep all your valuables locked up and out of sight when you leave your vehicle.

For me, the best part of Rotorua was the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland.  This geothermal park, located about 30 kilometers south of Rotorua, boasts several amazing geothermal features including the Lady Knox Geyser that purports to shoot water up to 30 meters high for almost an hour (though it lasted all of about a minute and a half on our visit — apparently the dry season geyser shows don’t last as long).  The main attraction inside the park is the Champagne Pool, a large, bubbling pool full of near-boiling, acidic water rimmed by colorful sulfur, manganese and gold mineral deposits. It took us several hours to traverse the entire park on foot and, although slightly on the expensive side at NZ$35 per person, the unusual scenery is well-worth the money.


A Tamaki warrior

For an introduction to Maori culture, try an evening with the Tamaki tribe.  For most people, the experience will consist of a pleasant four-hour-long evening of tribal shows, dancing, music and a large buffet-style hangi, a meal cooked in an earthen oven.  For me, however, it was four hours from hell that included pressing noses with other men, dancing a tribal dance, tiptoeing around a bamboo grid and singing in front a crowd of about 100 people.  On the bus ride in, after our guide very impressively greeted us in 96 languages, he requested that our bus nominate a “chief” for the evening to mimic the cultural etiquette performed when a foreign tribe meets the Tamaki.  These rituals required a visiting “chief” to meet with the Tamaki chief and decide whether to make war or peace with the Tamaki people.  Her, thinking it would be a chance to get me out of my comfort zone, volunteered me for the job.  I tried my best to maneuver out of it, but with no other volunteers on the bus, I was stuck.  Her had the time of her life taking video of me in extremely strange and compromising situations.  Hopefully most of it will not end up on YouTube, but I sincerely doubt it.  The cultural experience with dinner was a little on the pricey side NZ$88 (with a NZ$12 discount because we were staying with YHA), but if you don’t end up as a chief for the evening, it would probably be worth the money.  If your travel partner does end up as chief for the evening, it would definitely be worth the money for you.