We arrived in Rotorua and it hit us. The smell of hydrogen sulphide or ‘rotten eggs’ emanating from nearby suphur deposits and geothermal pools. So strong you actually are not sure how anyone can live here full time. Yet, despite the smell, there is a thriving city on the southern edge of a lake of the same name. The main attraction – spas with bubbling mud pools and sulphur baths – great for the skin and relaxing – I had to check it out.
Again, mother nature got the best of us with a wet and windy day. We persevered and explored the geothermal reserve poetically described as ‘Hells Gate.’ With boiling pools at over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall, sulphur crystal formations and New Zealand’s largest active mud volcano, the reserve was absolutely surreal. After taking the tour we settled into a mud bath and had a little mud fight to get properly covered. This was followed by a rinse off and then into a sulphur spa. When I finally emerged from the spa my skin felt amazing.
The next day it was time to go and visit Hobbiton – a local sheep farm (what else) which has been converted permanently to the home of the Hobbits for the movie adaptations of Tolkien’s classic books. We arrived at the office and cafe and take a bus through the farm down to the town – the drive out was quite spectacular through the hilly pastures, green as far as the eye could see and filled with Spring lambs.
Hobbiton is rendered in exquisite detail. Built around the edge of a large pond, on one side Hobbit Holes are carved into the hillside, on the water a mill and a stone bridge leads to the Green Dragon Inn. The minutiae of daily life from clothes lines, herb gardens, wheel barrows full of vegetables, lanterns to fire wood has been created to make it feel as if a thriving community lived here and have only just stepped out.
You can even grab a unique beer and a bite at the Green Dragon Inn, and play dress up with some of the Hobbit costumes! The bar is carved with the head of a dragon looking out ominously. The decoration is so authentic to the rest of the setting. We sat and enjoyed the ambiance for a little while before heading back to Rotorua.
While in New Zealand we wanted to learn more about the Maori culture so we decided to go to a cultural performance held just outside Rotorua. The Maori warriors made quite an entrance – paddling downstream in a waka (war canoe), the flickering firelight highlighting the intense face tattoos. The warriors then told us legends through song and dance, provided a weapons display and finished off the night with the iconic Haka.
Finally it was time to escape the smell of Rotorua, and continue our way south, or at least that was the plan.
Next Stop: Waimangu Volcanic Valley, The middle of nowhere and Napier