Spending a few days in Auckland provided a great introduction to New Zealand, and we were ready to see more. Leaving New Zealand’s biggest city, we journeyed southward in our rental car (a Rav 4) towards Rotorua, our second stop in the “Land of the Long White Cloud”.
After European settlement of New Zealand, the vast majority of native forests were cleared for timber and to make way for farming. Fast growing non-native tree species (including the California Redwood) were replanted in favor of the slower growing native species.
One patch of Redwoods planted at the turn of the 19th century was preserved and today the Redwoods Treewalk makes it possible to get up close to some of these amazing trees.
The treewalk consists of 28 bridges suspended between the towering trees. To reach the first bridge we made our way up a spiral walkway.
At the end of each bridge there were platforms that had display panels where we learned more about about the Redwoods and some of the native plant and animal species.
We made one circuit of the treewalk, then went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. After the sun set, we returned to the treewalk to experience it in a whole different way. Intricate lanterns were suspended in the air, some of which reminded us of spaceships.
Below, the forest floor was illuminated with different colors of light. As shades of blue an purple fell on large ferns it almost felt like we were in an undersea world.
The Redwoods Treewalk offers day, night, or combo tickets.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Area
Our first morning in Rotorua brought some cool, rainy weather. We didn’t have room in our schedule to take a rain day at our AirBnb so we donned rain jackets and made the short drive to Wai-O-Tapu.
Making the 30 minute drive from Rotorua, we arrived just in time to see the eruption of the Lady Knox geyser.
A park ranger gave a short talk on the history of the area. At the turn of the 20th century a prison was set up in the area and the inmates used the waters of the local hot springs to do their laundry. On one occasion the convicts dropped soap into the geyser and discovered that this caused the geyser to erupt.
This method is still used today, which is why the geyser erupts reliably at 10:15am.
Lady Knox Geyser mid-eruption.
Next we made our way to the main part of the park, where pathways connect the various thermal features.
Within the park are lakes and pools of varying temperatures and colors.
The Champagne Pool is one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand, showing up frequently on tourism websites and pamphlets.
Given the gray conditions during our visit, the colors were not as vibrant as they are under blue skies, but the rising steam provided a rather mysterious ambiance.
The kids were amused by this pool that looked like a big bowl of pea soup.
On the way back into town from Wai-O-Tapu we stopped by Kerosene Creek, a stream heated by geothermal energy. Turning off the main road, we made a short drive down a potholed dirt road to the parking area and walked down to the creek where there were a few others enjoying the water.
We entered the water and it was the temperature of a nice warm bath. We leaned into the waterfalls and enjoyed the free massage.
The stream was named “Kerosene Creek” due to the odor of the water, which took a little getting used to.
We highly recommend a visit to Kerosene Creek because it is such a unique experience and it is FREE! Be sure to follow the posted advisories to not leave anything valuable in the car, and keep your head above water (very rarely, people have contracted amoebic meningitis from submersing themselves in hot springs).
On our final day in Rotorua we went to Te Puia, which is located close to the middle of town. Our guided walk began with a visit to the Kiwi house. Next, we saw some of geothermal features including this bubbling mud pool.
The Pōhutu geyser is supposedly the most active geyser in the southern hemisphere, typically erupting a couple of times an hour. Unlike the Lady Knox geyser, Pōhutu is not induced to erupt.
We lingered by Pōhutu for a while waiting for an eruption but it was feeling shy.
Te Puia is also a center of Maori culture, and the onsite arts and crafts institute is dedicated to preserving traditional arts including stone and wood carving and weaving.
Maori students from all over New Zealand come to the school to learn the various crafts so that they can return to their communities and pass on their knowledge. Proceeds from ticket sales at Te Puia help cover their tuition.
It was amazing to see all of the clothing and practical items that could be created from the native flax.
The local Maori use the heat from the earth to cook many of their meals. Some foods are submersed in the hot waters, and others are buried in earth ovens. We were treated to a feast cooked in the (somewhat) traditional Hangi oven.
Before dinner we took part in a cultural performance that began with a pōwhiri (welcome ceremony). Inside the meeting house, we were treated to traditional songs and dances. We were even invited on stage to learn the Haka!
After dinner we went back to Pōhutu where we sat on the heated rocks and drank hot cocoa in hopes that we’d be able to see an eruption before it was time to go.
Pōhutu did not let us down! The steam plumes were beautifully illuminated in the dark sky.
Te Puia was a wonderfully educational experience and we appreciated that a portion of our entrance fee would be used to preserve Maori arts and culture. In our opinion, this is a must-visit for anyone in the area.
We loved our time in Rotorua; there is so much to do and see that we wished we could have spent a week or more there.
Next time, we continue south to the capital of New Zealand!