- Rotorua is bubbling with geothermic activity
- Due to the geothermic activity, it smells highly of sulfur
- 35% of the population is Maori, making one of the best places to learn about Maori history and culture
We arrived in Matamata in the afternoon and walked around the city’s Central Business District (CBD), it was pretty small, but their I-Site (information site, most of the big tourist cities have these and they’re incredibly helpful, a wonderful resource if you don’t know what to do) was rebuilt in a Hobbit style and there is a cute “Welcome to Hobbiton” sign when you enter the city. Matamata is a short distance from Rotorua so I thought I’d throw it in here.
The next day we walked to a public park that had a ton of geothermal pools and took a short stroll along the lakeside. The public park was incredible, it was huge with geothermal pools everywhere, just bubbling and boiling away. The lakeside was very wet and windy so unfortunately no photos of that.
For our last day in Rotorua we toured a living Maori village where we saw geysers, more geothermal pools, and enjoyed a traditional Maori cultural show (this included a Haka and some other traditional singing and dancing). There are three options for checking out geysers (maybe more?), Whakarewarewa Village, Te Puia, and Wai-O Tapu Thermal Wonderland (this one is a little outside of Rotorua). Two of those options you’re actually looking at the same geysers (Prince of Wales and Pohutu), but from opposite sides. The two reserves have viewing platforms for the same two geysers, each in their own respective area. One is a living Maori village, Whakarewarewa Village, where local Maori reside today (this is the one we chose to visit), and the other, Te Puia, is a little more touristy looking. Our guide informed us that the two parks were once connected, but due to reasons unexplained to us, they split into two different reserves. The two geysers are right next to each other and one usually goes off right before the other. Due to the weather, it was actually a little difficult to see the geysers. It was pretty cold and rainy and all the heat from the geothermal areas created a lot of steam, clouding the geysers. Within this Maori village there are several other geothermal pools, each one with it’s own name and some with practical uses. Some of the pools are used for cooking traditional Maori cuisine (hangi, the steam produced from the geothermic site is used to cook the food) or for bathing (many of the natural minerals are supposed to be very therapeutic). Along with the guided tour through the village, there are various other walks behind the village that you can go on your own that will lead you to a few other fantastic pools.
In the evening we stopped by the Whakarewarewa Forest Redwood grove and got to experience the Redwoods Nightlights. The park partnered with an artist to install beautiful lanterns and multi-colored lights among the trees. The lanterns’ shapes are meant to resemble native New Zealand birds.
So you might be wondering, what is a CA Redwood grove doing in NZ? Well history lesson time!
In 1898, the NZ Government set up a tree nursery, planting over 100 different species of trees to see which one would thrive in NZ for commercial timber harvesting. The winner of that is the Monterey Pine. But Redwoods also did really well in the area, flash forward, eventually the Grove was declared a memorial for forest service crew who died in WWI and WWII. And here we are today! Along with the boardwalk there’s also tons of hiking and mountain biking in the park. We enjoyed a few of the walks during the day. It was nice to be among the beautiful Redwoods, a sweet reminder of home.