Rotorua sits in the crater of an extinct volcano. Affectionately nicknamed "Sulphur City" and "Roto-Vegas," this North Island town certainly isn't one of the most popular tourism centres in the country because of its perfume. Or maybe it is.
The volatility of the place is more intoxicating than the rotten-egg smells that wafted past our nostrils as we walked through town. Steam rises from thermal areas and volcanic mountains lie just near the centre. Residents take on the corrosive properties of the sulphur and build their houses where natural thermal pools can be dug in the ground. The Maori people have lived off the land for generations and cook food using the natural steam vents.
Thermal features can be seen for free at Kuirau Park in town but we wanted to check out some of the more famous pools, lakes, craters and mineral terraces in the area. We headed to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which is a colourful volcanic area about a twenty minute drive from the town centre. The area actually covers about 18 square kilometres and the public only has access to a very small part of the reserve.
The features at Wai-O-Tapu (which means Sacred Waters) are pretty interesting as different mineral elements display a huge palette of colours. Underground streams are heated by magma remnants from earlier eruptions. The water, which can reach temperatures over 300 degrees Celsius, absorbs the minerals out of the rocks and brings them to the surface as steam. Hydrogen sulphide provides that lovely smell visitors enjoy as they explore the park.
It took us about an hour and a half to see the 25 different features in the park and about half an hour more to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt, which happens every morning at 10.15 am with a little help to break the surface tension. Some boiling mud pools can also be seen just near the entrance of the park.
After our experience on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing we were keen to get closer to the volcanic activity in New Zealand. Rotorua is home to several different thermal parks, though we only had time to check out two of them. If you want to feel a bit closer to the earth that lies beneath our feet, this is a highly recommended experience.
Shuttles: As you may know, we saw most of New Zealand without a car. In Rotorua, shuttles can take you to the various attractions that lie beyond walking distance. We travelled to Wai-O-Tapu with Thermal Land Shuttle and had enough time to see the geyser erupt, the mud pools and the park.
Smell rating: 5/5
Does seeing volcanoes and their aftermath make you more in awe of our beautiful planet?