Day 11: Driving to Tongariro NP

Today, we woke up to the slight sulphurous odour which seems to be ever present in Rotorua.

Because this smell has a reason for which the tourists come to this place, us included, we said our goodbyes to the host John and drove out of town towards our next destination: Tongariro National Park.
After a short drive though we decided to stop at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, as it is the biggest and most visited thermal site in the region.
And no, the site is not as cheesy as the name seems to point at. 😀

Unfortunately for us the weather is completely overcast with clouds, and is a completely different story from what it used to be the last couple of days. The temperature also plummeted about 7 degrees, down to about 18 from a very cosy 25 to 27.
With colours in the park like they are at Wai-O-Tapu it is a shame they don’t come out that good with this dimmed light. Oh well…

The site itself is actually really nice to be! It hosts mud polls, a semi man made geyser (every 24 hour they disturb it to blow, otherwise it would be on an irregular 24 to 36 hour schedule), several collapsed craters, fumaroles, huge sinter fields, hot and cold pools, several blast craters where the hydrothermal blasts took place and much more.

Best of it all is the very accessible walkway with the self guided tour of the site. The worst part is that you are not alone in the park, it is quite the tourist attraction where also the big buses go.

Around 2 we finished the tour of the park and decided it would be best to drive the rest of the distance to Tongariro NP as we didn’t want to be too tired tomorrow: we plan on walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

The weather right now in Tongariro is quite miserable, and might not get much better tomorrow. We have made the right arrangements and will see first thing tomorrow when we wake up.

Day 10: Rotovegas smells

Oh Rotorua. You and your stinky, sulphury odours from the depths of hell. How wonderful the sights are, and how revolting the smells.

Today, we went a short distance out of the town of Rotorua to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which is the site of a hydrothermal blast back in 1886. It is still really active in the sense that there’s quite a few hot springs and hot water lakes, but there has never been magma on the surface. Everything is down in the Rift, which is about 16kms long.

The 1886 event tore the entire site up and opened up the earth over a length of 16 km leaving in its wake a total of 5 pools and lakes which are accessible to the public.

The park is easily accessible and has a week kept walkway with clear signs to show the visitors the right way. There even is a free bus service to take you to or from one of the the stops.
We walked all the way down to stop 3 and rode the bus back to the information centre. What grandeur is there to be seen, the colours and sights are awesome.
Imagining the sheer power that is below the surface to shape everything you see is mind boggling.

Afterwards we went out on a tip from our host John to go and see the first of giant redwood trees. We have encountered a forest with such trees in the USA, but this forest is different. There simply are no other trees in the forest! It consists of just redwood, and nothing else. We felt dwarfed by the giants, much more than the previous times.
Even though these trees are smaller in girth and height.

Tomorrow a drive to Tongariro, and Christmas Eve. We don’t particularly feel like it’s Christmas, but 24 is 24. 🙂

Day 9: Heading for Bag End

We woke up this morning to the tune of singing birds, nut looking out throughout the window didn’t yield the nice view we were hoping for. Grey overcast skies with a chance of rain were to be the weather for this day.

Whangamata was destined to receive a few drops of rain over the next few days, which meant that us leaving was going to be a good idea. We don’t like rain during our holiday! 🙂
The destination for today is Rotorua, or Rotovegas, as the locals affectionately call it.

But first, another stop has to be made. Back home, we made reservations for a tour starting in Matamata. This trip tours the movie set for all Hobbit movies, and also was the location for all hobbit related shots in the three movies of Lord of the Rings.
The set is left full intact, just the way it used to be when shooting the Hobbit movies.
It now has more tourists. 😉

The movie set is strangely fascinating, in ways we never though it would. The site is very scenic in itself, and adding the movie set just creates a fascinatingly weird sense of oddity. We tourists don’t belong there, it is home to the Hobbits!
While you know everything is fake and just an outer shell, the attention to detail while creating the scenes is staggering. It includes beaten paths to laundry (by real people, over time), Hobbit holes in various sizes and scales (60%, 90%), a completely fake tree (built, painted and repainted after a year) and a field in a location which used to be a swamp.
It also is really expensive, but totally worth the visit. Trust me!

After this trip down to Tolkien’s imagination, a short drive took us via very curvy roads to New Zealand’s most visited town: Rotorua.
Famous for its geothermal activity the town is dotted with small geysers, mud pools and boiling pits of water. It also is really touristic, hence the local nickname of Rotovegas. The people even have erected a similar sign right at the start of the town!
We ended the walk through the local park with the geysers, mud pools and pits of boiling, smelly, water. Also, we dined at a place called Fat Dog before retiring to the Robertsons House B&B. built back in the 1880’s it again is a colonial style wooden house lovingly maintained by its current owner. Hat tip to John for giving us inspiration for the walk this afternoon!

Tomorrow, more smelly water, geysers and walks, we are off to see the region’s most famous places: the thermal parks!