Rotorua. Famed for incredible geothermal activity, geysers, and smelling like eggy farts.
Aren’t my descriptions evocative?
Though the intense sulphuric odour was more than a little off-putting, it signified more than a bad smell and a tourist attraction. Apparently some local people use the underground steam to heat their water or even cook their food, as those whose houses are located in the thermal park are licensed to bore into the ground and make use of their environment. I’m not sure, personally, that this would make up for the whiff, but even so it’s pretty cool.
We arrived to Rotorua (via our favourite place, Hamilton), in the afternoon. As ever we had very limited time in which to squeeze things in, so no sooner had we arrived than we were rushing round to drop our stuff at the hostel and figure out a plan for the evening. After a lovely and informative chat with a Rotorua local on the bus, we had been persuaded that the expensive Thermal Reserve was just a tourist trap, so at least that was off the cards.
Instead, we decided to head for a wander around the Redwood Forest.
So we hopped on a bus to nearby Te Puia, and strolled along with no particular direction in mind. On arriving at the redwoods, we made several false starts along paths which were Mountain Bikers Only (with ominous red crosses through the little picture of a walker).
Eventually we found one that we were allowed on, and off we went.
Caitlin and Rhys’s incessant competitiveness made them both determined to ‘win’ the walk before we had to catch the last bus back to town (oh the joys of relying on public transport). I, however, like to plod, so I let them scamper off ahead.
Then I heard Caitlin call out, “Oh my god, come and look at this!”
At which point I stop plodding, and start running.
And there at the lookout, on a walk we didn’t even mean to go on, we had a full and spectacular view of all the geysers and natural steam that we could want: a panoramic view of the town, steam drifting up from the mud pools, framed by the volcano looming large in the northwest, and the lake dropping towards the horizon. It was bloody marvellous. And made all the sweeter by the fact that we saved fifty bucks by choosing not to get up close and personal with the stinky stinky fumes.
We savoured our unintentional victory for many minutes, before freaking out that we would miss the bus and making a swift exit. Sadly we never saw the big geyser do its thing, but I’m sure there will be other geysers.
We made the bus, thank God (didn’t fancy the hour-plus walk back to town), and spent far too long shopping for dinner in our new favourite supermarket, Pak ‘n’ Save (mum you would love it).
The next day was a big one. Time to embrace our inner geek and visit the set of Lord of the Rings, in real-life Hobbiton. Sadly, Caitlin and I had to leave Rhys behind, because he doesn’t know what fun is (or he doesn’t like fantasy films or something). Luckily he did not waste the morning, and spent it enjoyably luging down the mountain in a tiny car, outstripping twelve year olds to his heart’s content. Each to their own I suppose.
Pretty much every Kiwi we have spoken to thus far met us with raised eyebrows when we told them we were going to Hobbiton. It has been more than apparent that their predominant thought is, ‘Why would you bother?’
Usually I am all for trusting the locals, as they are the ones with insider knowledge. However, I can honestly say that our morning in Hobbiton was one of my favourite activities of the trip so far. Not only because it was super cool to visit the set of an iconic film series, but because the place itself was actually beautiful. Peter Jackson was not wrong when he decided that Matamata matched Tolkien’s description of rolling hills and lush green pastures.
Visiting Hobbiton was completely surreal, like visiting a toy town: you couldn’t tell what was fake and what was real (and in fact it is a mixture). The overall effect was totally beautiful. I guarantee that not one person has left after their tour without thinking that they really wouldn’t mind living in a hobbit hole.
From a filming point of view, the attention to detail was fantastic. The houses themselves are built out of real materials – bricks and stone and wood – and each house has every detail thought of. From curtains and flowers in the windows, to miniature tables and chairs; washing hanging out on washing lines, fake bread for the baker’s house and fake fish for the fishmonger’s. It was honestly magical to walk round.
Despite failing at the first hurdle in the tour guide’s fan test – neither I nor Caitlin had seen all of the films – we were still beside ourselves with excitement the whole way round. I can only imagine how much a real LOTR geek would have loved it.
One of the highlights, naturally, was heading to the Green Dragon (the pub, of course), for a well-deserved pint (OK not quite a pint) of their home-brewed ale. Unfortunately, what with it being a tour, we didn’t have as much time to sit outside sipping our drinks and soaking in the atmosphere as we would have liked. All too soon we were chivvied back onto the tour bus and shepherded home to Rotorua.
Once we arrived back in town, we had only a few more hours to kill before we had to board yet another bus, this time onwards to Taupo. We decided to go for a swift wander around the free thermal park downtown – more sludgy bubbling mud and stinky sulphurous steam, what joys.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I really really did not deal well with the smell.
Rotorua has a lot going on but I could not deal with the constant whiff if I lived there. Every time the wind changes you’re hit with it again. It’s grim.
But that definitely won’t be my lasting impression of the place. We had a great couple of days there, though we were pushed for time. It would have been even better had we had more time to explore the redwoods, on bike and on foot, and to check out some of the more niche entertainment on offer (zorbing, anyone?).
Even so. Thank goodness for sheer blind luck and chatting with people on buses.
Life lessons learnt, again.