We spent a full day in and around Rotorua, the heart of geothermal activity in New Zealand. Think hot springs, geysers, bubbling mud, and the smell of sulfur in the air, and you’ll get the idea. The Maori considered this place sacred, and it’s easy to see why.
We started out with a walk to Te Waihou, the Blue Spring. This hike (or “track,” as they’re called here) was not in our guidebook, which we find inexplicable, because it is beautiful. That said, I’m starting to understand that if you put every single beautiful thing in New Zealand in a guidebook, it would become too heavy to carry.
The shorter of the two routes to Te Waihou starts here, in a place that we’ve decided epitomizes the word pastoral.
It leads into a forest that looks in some ways Colorado, but with the addition of things that look like palm trees.
The trail soon leads to a stream filled with undulating plants and clear blue water.
With just the songs of birds in the background, it is wonderfully peaceful.
The Blue Spring itself is located just about here:
Here is Prescott standing at the spring overlook:
We learned that this spring is the source of over 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water. They do treat the water — while our holiday park host told us that we could put our empty water bottle in and drink straight from the spring, it’s also right downstream from a cow pasture. So we chose not to try a taste.
We found several families of pukeko at the stream, one of which had chicks! These birds walk on the plants on top of the stream, which is pretty amazing to watch.
We loved watching the river change with its different twists and turns of color.
This was a fantastic walk. If you find yourself in the Putaruru area (about 45 minutes outside of Rotorua), we would highly recommend it.
Our next stop was a soak in the spring-fed tubs at the Polynesian Spa. This spa — which has been rebuilt and renamed more times than I can count — became famous in the late 1870s, when a priest went to the waters and claimed that they had cured his arthritis. The spa has a series of shared adult pools (it also has private tubs), some acidic (fed by Priest Spring) and some alkaline (fed by Rachel spring). Many of them overlook a wildlife preserve section of Lake Rotorua.
The pools are lovely…
… and they’re quite a change from the low tiled pools (without a view) from the 1930s, which have been preserved as a national historic site:
We had a great hour in the spa waters — we both came out feeling even more relaxed than if we had had a massage.
You can never get too much of warm water, so after lunch in town we headed to Kerosene Creek — a spring-fed stream with water that’s naturally at about 86 degrees. Wow! And whereas you pay a pretty penny for the pools at Polynesian Spa, the waters of Kerosene Creek are entirely free.
The quick walk down to the water is easy and pretty, and if you can stand the crowds, this is well worth a trip.
Up at the parking lot, the broom was in bloom!
Our final adventure of the day was to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, an oddly but aptly named collection of geothermal elements. I’m not sure why this isn’t a national park (instead, it’s fee-based and appears to be privately owned), because it really is remarkable. You get steam coming up out of the earth …
… and boiling mud …
… and an incredible palette of colors:
There are thermal pools in a range of turquoise, blue, and green…
…and fields of white that look almost like snow…
…though when you look up close, the white fields turn into amazing structures:
Boardwalks protect the fragile earth in many places:
There is a great walk through some New Zealand bush and a forest near the end of the trail, which takes you to a huge, spectacular lake:
I loved this sign — I’m not sure I’ll see one like it anywhere else:
We loved our visit to Wai-O-Tapu. It’s awe-inspiring to see what the earth can do: