21 Jan

IMG_5584Orestes and I spent Christmas in a lovely town called Rotorua. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the town; the area is known for its geothermal activity, and the guidebook called it “Sulfur City”. When I read reviews on the place, one reviewer complained about it being a strip mall, and another called it “RotoVegas”. On the flip side, it was in a great location on our southward path, and many reviews said it was a must-see, so to Rotorua we went. I don’t know what issue all those naysayers had, but we both loved it. The main portion of town is all shops, restaurants, bars, and park benches. There is a lovely cobblestoned pedestrian street, which had a Christmas Eve street market set up on our first night there. A few minutes walk from the city center lies the gorgeous Lake Rotorua. Beside the lake sprawls Kuirau Park, filled with walking paths and geothermal fun. Yes, there was a slight sulfuric odor at times, but with all the hot springs and mud pools about, that can’t be helped.IMG_5552

We spent Christmas Day wandering, enjoying the amazing weather and seeing the sights. Kuirau Park is bursting with pools, mud pits, and thermal vents. The larger pools are surrounded by fences; the smallest vents simply have a rock or two piled on top. We saw loudly bubbling mud, boiling water rising up from earth, and hot steam escaping through cracks in the rocks. The water and stream are so hot that the surrounding dirt appears cracked and dried out. The sulfur has coated the nearby trees, turning them various colors and sometimes killing the leaves. Walking through the park, I had the feeling that at any point a new mud hole could open beneath our feet. Orestes summarized the park as “interesting, dangerous and slightly smelly”.

(I finally learned how to embed videos!! Snazzy, huh?)

On the far side of the park lies Ohinemutu, a Maori village next to Lake Rotorua. The geothermal bubblings extend into the village; small vents with their little rock cairns are strewn throughout people’s yards and along the roadside. The highlight of the village is St.Faith’s Anglican Church, which is the perfect blend of Western and Maori. It has the usual shape and organization of a church, but the wood used to build the structure is covered in traditional Maori carvings. The carvings are intricate, and the wood has been stained a deep red color. The overall effect is quite vibrant. Ohinemutu is perched on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, so a village stroll also includes some beautiful lake views. We spent most of the morning enjoying the scenery.

Other highlights of Rotorua include:

  • Spa time! No visit to Rotorua is complete without some time spent lounging in a spa. There are several in the area that take advantage of the geothermal waters. We visited the Polynesian Spa with its many pools of various temperatures and left feeling supremely relaxed.
  • Dining ~ I would never have expected New Zealand to be a culinary hotbed, but we had some great meals during our travels. Rotorua offered up some tasty Indian, and the best lamb kebab ever (Orestes is still talking about it).
  • Whakarewarewa Forest ~ On our way out of the town the following morning, we stopped at Whakarewarewa. Back in 1899 tons of California redwoods were planted as an experiment. Today, the vast trees have created a beautiful forest with tracks for walking, biking, and horseback riding. I would have loved to take a trail ride, but settled for a delightful walk. Redwoods can be huge!
  • Santa Clause came! The proprietor of our awesome hostel left an individual Christmas gift for each guest under the living room Christmas tree ~ I got playing cards with a kiwi bird on them. 🙂

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