After wwoofing, it’s always nice to have a bit of time to yourself to do whatever you want. Fortunately for me, my plans ceased to exist after The Family Farm so I was a free agent. And what better way to spend a rainy week of New Zealand “winter” (Vermonters would scoff at what passes for winter here) than to go to a place famous for its natural hot pools?
So off I went to Rotorua, dubbed “NZ’s coolest hot spot.” Because of all the geothermal activity, there are bubbling mud pits and natural hot springs everywhere, not to mention the unmistakable foul smell of sulphur. Locals say you get used to the smell over time, but clearly my week-long visit wasn’t long enough because I found “Rotovegas” (another nickname, not to be confused with Vermont’s “Rutvegas”–what is it with these “R” towns?) just as stinky on my last day as I did on my first.
I stayed in a backpackers, aka hostel, right in the center of town, and spent a few evenings watching episodes of Two Broke Girls and looking out over the city at night, trying to rid myself of the feeling that I was back in a college dorm again. Excessive noise and gross kitchen aside, it was located conveniently close to the Polynesian Spas. It was probably dumb to pay for hot pools since natural ones are so abundant in the area, but I did it anyway. I spent quite a bit of time soaking in the Priest Pools outside overlooking the lake. These pools apparently have healing powers and people used to travel from all over the world to soak up cures for their ailments. During one visit I was greeted by an employee, a guy from Asia, who immediately rattled off Vermont’s capital and a few random facts about Calvin Coolidge, and it was pretty clear that he could pull information like this out of his hat for every state. He said he did it for his job, but I think he did it for fun, too.
I did eventually try out some of the natural hot pools. Kerosene Creek, to be exact. Although the shallow, lukewarm water I was in plus the DANGER signs warning you to not put your head under for fear of contracting fatal amoebic meningitis put me off a bit. You’d think these signs would be in a prominent location, but they were half hidden in the overgrown bush. Anyway, let the record show that I’m still kickin’ post-swim.
Another day was spent hiking the Tarawera Trail to Hot Water Beach, where I tried to dig myself a hot pool but couldn’t get the temperature right. I did, however, burn my feet and swear a lot. On my water taxi ride back, the boat driver pointed out where the Pink and White Terraces used to be before a volcanic eruption caused them to disappear. These terraces were once considered the eighth wonder of the world and I could see why, just from a faded, blurry old photo.
While in Rotorua I also went mountain biking in the Redwoods (and quickly discovered that I should stick to road biking), visited Wai-O-Tapu thermal “wonderland,” as they call it, and saw bright lime green water, ate amazing Thai food and Oppie’s award-winning fish and chips, tried acupuncture for the first time, and spent hours poring over the fascinating exhibits at the Rotorua Museum. Not bad for a smelly, rainy week.