*Lonnnnnggggg post alert*
Where: Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
What: Glow worms, Maori performances and eau de sulphur…
When: April 2017
Everyone says it, and it’s true: the first thing that hits you when you arrive in Rotorua is the smell. The eau de sulphur (think rotten eggs) is thanks to Rotorua residing on a bed of geothermal sulphur activity (or something like that, I’m no scientist). The smell isn’t constant but when it’s there you really know about it.
However, you definitely shouldn’t let this put you off visiting Rotorua. This is one town where there’s so much to do, it’s certainly worth renting your own car if you’re otherwise relying on public transport. I missed out on a few activities that I really wanted to try (the redwood treewalk is one) – so I guess I’ll just have to visit again!
But there’s no point talking about what I didn’t do, when there’s so much I did do. My first day in Rotorua started out just like all my other first days: I wandered around trying to find my feet in this new city. My first stop was the tourist information (the i-site website can be found here). I had four priority activities I wanted to do in Rotorua: visit the Waitomo Glow worm caves; go to Hobbiton; enjoy a Maori experience; do the Redwood Treewalk.
Other than picking up a few leaflets, I received zero help in the i-site. With a fair chunk of planning to do I headed back to the hostel I was staying in. Asking around here didn’t prove to be too fruitful either, as the two main interests of everyone else in the hostel was beer and the pool. Which I guess is fair enough. I wasn’t really into nights out – coming from Manchester there’s so much opportunity to do that at home, it seemed a waste of time and money for me when there’s so much else to discover.
Having explored the centre of Rotorua and with a plan finally prepared my first stop was the Waitomo Glow worm caves. Waitomo was a few hours on the bus away from Rotorua, but again with Intercity (yep, the driver gave population stats – they are obsessed…) this was a super-easy journey. Once off the bus and in the queue I started chatting with a fellow traveller, Marie, and somehow we were both shepherded to the front of a large queue and were the first to enter the caves from our group. Which was pretty fab.
Like a lot of the touristy things in New Zealand you’re guided around as a part of a group, with a super-fun and knowledgeable guide. Luckily for Marie and me we were right at the front of the group so got a front-row view of the stalagmites and stalactites. It really is fascinating when you’re faced with something deep inside a cave that can be aged at thousands of years old. Which is great for perspective (and making you feel small).
By the time we’d worked our way through the cave to the pools at the bottom (you have to board a boat to see the glow worms) we’d ended up at the back of the group, which totally worked in our favour as we got into a quieter boat and weren’t so squashed as we travelled through the water. This is where we got to see more of the glow worms (there are small groups in the lower part of the caves), as you travel into glow worm central it becomes an incredible sight. The glow worms hang from the top of the cave lighting up like an electric blue night sky – it really is an incredible sight.
I have to admit that in my rush to get something booked, I misunderstood the bus times and didn’t realise that I could have booked a coach straight back to Rotorua. Instead I’d booked a return coach at 4pm, giving me precisely 4 hours and 30 minutes to enjoy the middle of nowhere. Luckily, I had decided to look up a few local walks I could do to pass the time, so as Maria headed off to the coach, I went to get started on a walk.
Now, as much as I love our Kiwi kin I have to complain, as I’ve previously alluded to, they aren’t really into signs. My 10k walk started reasonably well, signposted from the Waitomo caves along a narrow stone path I set out excited to see what I would find. Said excitement soon dwindled as I reached the end of the short path and there were no more signs – just a main road that would be almost a death wish to take. So I headed back down the path, assuming I’d missed something, but I hadn’t and I chose to investigate the path again and nope, nothing.
Just 4 hours and 15 minutes left to wait in the middle of nowhere. Cool.
After passing sometime eating ice cream at the Waitomo Caves shop I walked down into the town centre (which is so unbelievably tiny that calling it a town centre is pretty much a lie lol lol). Here I enjoyed the scenery, took a wander around the museum and store and asked for advice on how I could possibly pass the next few hours (I was tempted to go back to the caves, but anything free and out in the sun was preferable). I was advised of two more walks I could do, and off I went on my merry way.
Finding the path, even with directions, was a bit of an effort because the descriptions were mostly of trees and I had no idea and neither did my advisor as one of the key instructions was to turn at the big green tree. Which narrowed it down not at all in country that’s mostly forest. Secondly, there were no signs, until about halfway along the path (obviously) when I’d eventually found my way. Turns out that both of these walks were short, and I did them each more than once in the time I had.
Once of the paths led to a lookout that looked straight out of LOTR (it wasn’t) which happened to be a rather attractive sun spot, and a good place to enjoy the views and pass the time. I’m not sure how long I was here for, but when an enormous spider was crawling over my legs I decided it was time to go. (I only screamed a bit.) However cows blocked my path, “no bother” I thought, as cows are big but peaceful creatures. But then one cow moved towards me in what I deemed to be a menacing way and I ran back to the lookout, trapped.
I was here for quite a while, pondering my escape, and suddenly conscious that there wasn’t a lot of time before my bus back when a group approached towards the lookout and I was hopeful that they would move the cows out of the way. Which they did! It just happened that leading the group were a group of children under 10 years who absolutely schooled me in moving cows out of the way. (For future reference: make noise).
The next day I took a trip to Hobbiton, which I’ve blogged about separately (here), during the day before heading to the Tamaki Maori Village for the evening cultural performance. It was important for me to learn about the Maori culture at all opportunities, and the North Island provides a wealth of opportunity to do so, particularly around Rotorua.
It was an immersive experience – as a part of a group you watch traditional performances, learn about life in a traditional Maori village and how – 1000 years ago – the first Maori discovered New Zealand and settled in the land they called Aeoteroa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. The night ends with a buffet meal, cooked in the traditional way, and Maori song, whilst the guys get the chance to share the Haka skills they’ve learned through the evening.