After too many weekends in the city, we eagerly piled into walter white on Saturday and drove six hours north to Rotorua. The main attraction here was mountain biking and geothermal activity – two things that compliment each other nicely it turns out. With temperatures cooling and autumn leaves ablaze, we had no choice but to crank the Neil Young and roll over a thousand green hills into the heart of the north island.
You smell Rotorua before you get there. Thermal activity – which draws tourists by the busload – gives the town a sulphuric odor, and with geysers, mud pools and steam vents on every street, the whole town feels like a volcano waiting to explode.
First one to smell Rotorua’s a rotten egg!
We arrived at sundown and freedom camped at the Blue Lake lookout (happily ignoring the $40 a night holiday park 1KM away). Headlamps burning, we set off around the lake in search of the NZ’s famous glowworms. And guess what: we found them! This picture is shit but it shows the electric blue light these guys put off. They dotted the rocky embankment along the trail, and though they are technically “maggots of a fungus gnat” we were psyched about our first glowworm sighting.
In the morning we drove to Whakarewarewa Forest (AKA the redwoods) for a day of mountain biking. With two rented hardtails, lunch and a map, we rolled into the forest determined to work off the previous night’s pizza.
The trails were stunning. Giant California Redwoods (up to 230 feet) towered over the mountainside. Sun rays pierced the jungle canopy and danced upon clear mineral rivers while steam billowed from the underworld. We gained our confidence on the easy trails. After an hour, we moved up to intermediate, where gentle tracks grew steeper and more narrow. Roots, boulders and bridges came into play. We hung tough together until late afternoon when I broke off for the advanced trails while Jess counted her bruises and her lucky stars.
After six hours of intense biking, we returned to the campervan for a celebratory drink before setting off to the polynesian spa.
Six months into my marriage I’m learning that adventures go down better with a spoonful of pampering. We rented a private pool with lake views and enjoyed a long hot soak in the mineral water to soothe our aching muscles. It was a little bit of alright. I’ll admit that.
Monday was a public holiday – the Queen’s Birthday – which gave us an extra day to explore. After skipping the overly commercial natural attractions … Te Puia Geyser ($48.50), Waimangu Volcanic Valley ($34.50), Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland ($32.50) … we stumbled into the equally magnificent and refreshingly free Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve. All the wonder. None of the crowds or price gouging. We scrambled off trail and got up close and personal with middle earth.
Another $100 in gas later and we were back in Wellington. As a tourism mecca, “Roto-vegas” lives up to its name. The town could use a faceliftt, but its natural assets are worth the trip. Between the A+ mountain biking, remote lakes and intensely cool and omnipresent volcanic activity, Rotorua won us over.