Travel Tales #10: Thermal baths and wonderlands

 I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.


Rotorua Government Gardens

The following day, after a walk to the peaceful Lake Rotorua, I made my way to Rotorua Government Gardens, which felt like stepping into another world.  Away from bubbling mud pools, geysers and the stench of rotten eggs (sulphur), was a little oasis of perfect green bowling and croquet greens.  The old bath house in the grounds used to be visited by soldiers returning from war to benefit from the healing power of the thermal waters, and it now houses a museum. I joined a fascinating guided tour, which took me into the bowels of the building, and I was able to imagine what it was like when it was in use.


Bubbling mud pool

Whilst I was there, a Maori woman told me about the viewing platform on top of the bath house that had been under construction and was open to the public for the first time for 75 years that day, so I took the opportunity to go up.  From the platform, I could see right across the town, and looking out to the mountains in the distance I slowly turned in a circle and appreciated that the mountain line didn’t stop, since Rotorua is built in the huge crater of a volcano.

There are trips from Rotorua to Matamata to visit Hobbiton, a large sheep farm that was converted into the hobbit village for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I am not a LOTR fanatic, so I didn’t do the trip, but one of my room mates at the hostel did, and she highly recommended it for lovers of the story.

I left Rotorua on a Sunday morning and boarded the Magic Bus bound to Taupo.  Our first stop on the way was at the Lady Knox Geyser that erupted at 10.15am every day.  The eruption was elicited by a guide who bunged a few bars of soap into it, which I figured was cheating!  However, it was very impressive seeing the huge plume of water and gas shoot up about 30 metres in the air.



Lady Knox Geyser before and after

Our next stop was Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, which was quite a sight to behold…we walked around craters containing thermal pools in various beautiful colours; a vibrant ode to Mother Nature.  In places the ground felt ominously hollow, which served as a reminder that volcanic activity was happening just underneath the surface.  I found this slightly unnerving!  As I was walking past the huge Champagne Pool (so called due to the gas that creates millions of small bubbles breaking on the surface) the wind was blowing all the hot, smelly steam from it across the path way and it was like walking through very thick fog.  I couldn’t see a thing, which felt rather precarious as I was imagining it would be all too easy to walk off the track and into a crater or a boiling thermal or mud pool…luckily I survived to tell the tale! 

Our final stop was at Huka Falls, a point at which the Waikato River comes to a narrow ravine for a few hundred metres creating dangerous looking rapids.  The thundering water was so loud, it sounded like a plane taking off.  We stood and admired, and took a few photos, before returning to our seats for the remainder of our journey.  On arrival in Taupo, the weather was grey and miserable; Kiwi summer appeared to be coming to an end.  I stayed in the Action Down Under YHA, where all the rooms were well heated, there was a comfortable lounge, and a large shared kitchen with a terrace attached.  I decided to spend a few days relaxing there before heading off on an exciting trip of the East Cape (more about that in my next post).  By this point, I was starting to realise that I enjoyed my own company.  Some days it was nice to meet and spend time with people I met, but it was good to have the choice about whether to.  I was also getting used to having rather short-lived friendships.  Frequently, I would meet someone I got on with, but either they or you was moving on in the next day or two, usually in the opposite direction to each other.  There was always someone to connect with at the next stop, hostel, or trip, so I was never alone for long (unless I wanted to be!).

Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers