We left Mt Maunganui, but not before I found a photo that shows an aerial shot of the volcano, as well as the route we took back – you can see how we kind of traversed the volcano’s midsection, and you can also see the overhanging cliffs above and the straight drop down below. Just to give you an idea of what we did yesterday…..
So – today we headed south, to Rotorua. People jokingly call this Roto-Vegas, because it’s very built up and a lot of tourist-centered activities happen here. But Rotorua is also the center of a lot of geothermal activity, as well as a very vibrant Maori population (about 35% of the population in this area is Maori) – so we thought we’d head here. Besides, this is in the north center of the island, away from the coast – we finally encountered sun and warm weather! And it's SPRING in NZ, so there are gorgeous flowers all over and we smell the perfume as we go driving down the road – just lovely!
I just had to take some photos of the McDonald’s in Rotorua, because I’ve never seen a Micky-D’s that featured local art and culture. I thought it was pretty amazing that they did that, and that the carvings were really gorgeous! (We go to McD’s for the free wifi, NOT for the food!)
We stopped at a camper van repair spot, our rent-a-van company sent us there to get a new battery – apparently our “house” battery wasn’t holding a charge. So now we’re set to freedom camp – though that’ll be tomorrow night or so.
We leafed through our guidebook as well as the holiday park info book we found, and decided on a park – managed to wend our way through the rest of the tourist traffic as well as rush hour Rotorua, and found the place. Once parked, we headed down to Lake Rotorua – in this park alone, there are various geothermal features: the camping area is backed by a boiling hot stream; on the other side of that are pools of steaming hot and boiling mud; there are hot pools of mineral water to soak in right at the park; and the lakefront beach area has steam vents that heat the water and the sand.
People dig down into the sand to create spa pools that are heated by the steam vents, letting in some lake water as well as the heated water under the sand – but if you dig down too deep, you really can get scalded, because the “jets” of steam are super heated. We lay down in one of the pits and enlarged it a bit, but the back end of the pit was too hot and we eventually gave up. You can even see the steam bubbling up in the pits – and in the lake, too!
When I went down to the lake at sunset, I found that I could identify hot spots with my feet – places where the steam came up actually created nice warm sand! It’s a weird phenomenon, all this geothermal stuff – tomorrow we’ll go out geyser hunting, and look at some of the bizarre colored pools.
You can't quite see it in the photos, but there are also flocks of gorgeous black swans gracefully swimming all over the lake!
There's also a small Maori village next to our holiday park, so I may go check that out tomorrow as well. Supposed to be traditional and colorful, without the commercial exploitation that so many of the "pay and visit" places have developed.
The only problem with all the geothermal activity is that there’s a very distinct sulphurous odor through much of the town. It isn’t much here, unless you stand directly in front of the steam coming off the boiling mud – but that egg smell definitely permeates most of the town.