On the backpacker trail – Rotorua

Hopping onto the backpacker trail between Auckland and Wellington, I decided to not make any firm plans while in Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo.

I wanted YHA staff to help me decide what activities to do. After all, wouldn’t they know best? One of the draws for visitors to Rotorua is the area’s geothermal activity. Steam rises from cracks in the pavement and there’s a lingering sulphur smell in the air. Erupting hot water, steaming fumaroles, mud pools and hot geothermal springs are the norm in Rotorua.

I couldn’t wait to start exploring the geothermal hotspot, but first I stopped at YHA Rotorua and let the staff help me plan my two days.


Skyline Rotorua Gondola

Taking a tranquil Gondola ride up the side of Mt Ngongotaha and then speeding down the hill on the luge track amidst a redwood forest was a great start to a Rotorua day. The Skyline Rotorua complex is only a few minutes from Central Rotorua and has walking tracks, mountain biking trails, cultural experiences, adventure activities and a restaurant all with scenic views of Rotorua’s geothermal wonderland.

Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park

A stone’s throw from the Gondola I met some of Rotorua’s locals at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park—kiwi birds.  Set amidst twenty-two acres of native trees and streams, Rainbow Springs is home to a huge variety of New Zealand’s most precious inhabitants.

I visited the kiwi hatchery where Kiwi eggs are gathered from the wild, incubated and hatched. The young chicks are eventually released back into the wild. Rainbow Springs is New Zealand’s largest and most successful kiwi conservation centre. YHA Rotorua staff have even volunteered at Rainbow Springs, deep cleaning the brooder room in the Kiwi Encounter in preparation for the newest baby Kiwi chick.

Polynesian Spa

In the evening I soaked in the hot mineral pools with views of Lake Rotorua. I met a gentleman who saw my future though he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I wasn’t too worried because I was quite happy in the present moment soaking in the alkaline pool and mineral pools late into the evening (the spa closes at 11pm!). What was once hand dug pools has become a world class spa facility on the shores of Lake Rotorua.

Local Maori bathed for centuries in the acidic pool, “Te Pupunitanga,” now called Priest’s Bath. It’s renowned for its healing properties. I’m not sure any of my ailments were healed in the waters, but I did enjoy Rotorua’s unique geothermal activity as it rained—the coolness a welcome relief while soaking in 40⁰C hot pools!

Hell’s gate

The next day I visited Hell’s Gate, about a ten minute drive from central Rotorua. Hell’s Gate is not only hot pools but is also a geothermal park set on fifty acres. Before delving into the hot pools, I followed the path past the pools to explore the park. Steaming fumaroles, hot pools of boiling mud, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall and a boiling hot pool where Maori used to cook whole pigs were a few of the features in the park. Suffice it to say, there were many signs around the park warning of danger!

Bubbling, sizzling and frying sounds, running water and birdsong accompanied me on my walk after which I soaked in a private mud bath. I allowed the special qualities of the mud to settle over my skin. It made me think that this was a grown-up way of playing in the mud. Fun!

Tamaki Maori Village

In the evening, the Tamaki Maori Village shuttle picked me and a group of others up at YHA Rotorua and whisked us to their authentic Maori village nestled in Rotorua forest. On the way we were taught the protocol for entering the village and we were encouraged to say, “Kia ora,” a Maori greeting that means “be well/healthy” and is often used as a hello. Throughout all of the activities over the evening we were encouraged to greet each other with “Kia ora.”

The evening began with a greeting by the Maori warriors in traditional dress before we were allowed into the village. We wandered through the village, looking at Maori art forms, ancient rituals and traditions, experiencing song and dance and finally sharing a three course meal with our Maori hosts. It was a glimpse into a past way of life for the Maori and an interesting cultural introduction for travellers curious about New Zealand’s indigenous people.

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