Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Jackie making friends at the previous campsite

Rotorua is one of New Zealands premier tourist attractions and that usually means is a great way of spending huge sums of money! The whole area is one huge volcano and is still very much ‘alive’ and geothermally active with steam rising from vents in the ground and a smell of hydrogen sulphide hanging in the air, whilst normal life just carries on around it. The city of Rotorua, sitting on the banks of Lake Rotorua is a very wealthy town, with a mixture of modern, Victorian and Georgian grand buildings, giving an air of sophistication.

Bubbling mud pools and, behind life goes on as normal
There’s lots to see here and we’ve only just scratched the surface (and may leave it that way as most attractions are very expensive). Yesterday, on arrival we visited Kuirau Park, which is a free, well maintained park right in the centre of town, with duck ponds, extensive childrens play area and wooded areas, all beautifully kept. The only difference here is that, here and there, usually in amongst a wooded area, sections were fenced off and, in the centre would be rising steam. Over the fence would be an ugly hole in the ground with bubbling mud, or a beautifully clear water hole at boiling point. Often you could hear the glugging noise before you got there. 
It was, to say the least, bizzarre and there were not just a few of these, they were everywhere and closer inspection of the duck pond showed bubbles rising from the depths and you could see this was no shallow pond, oh no, it went straight down presumably to the bowels of the earth. The ducks and pukeko’s didn’t seem to mind though, but they drew the line at some of the nastier one’s.

Even the campsite we’re staying in has its own bubbling mud pool not 50m from where we’re sleeping and, last night we went for a walk round and passed countless bubbling pools and glugging mud. But all the while the town lives on, the houses and roads are all beautifully kept, it could be any wealthy city anywhere, except for the holes in the ground at the side of the road with steam issuing. It turns out that the hills we can see on the horizon all round form the rim of one huge volcano and we are right in the middle of it. It’s not even dormant, it’s very active and a bit of it massively erupted in 1886, very famously, destroying the pink and white terraces that are talked of so much here. 
The eruption split a mountain apart and created a brand new valley of geothermal activity. That’s about 10km south of where we are and we will probably drive out there tomorrow (but possibly not go in as the entrance fee is pretty steep).

The magnificent bathhouse museum
Asking at the campsite where we should go they recommended the museum. Doesn’t sound that exciting, but we went anyway. And what a place! We spent all day there, it’s the former bathhouse, built in 1903 as the southern hemisphere’s answer to the spa towns in UK. The building is utterly magnificent and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s somehow so British, perhaps colonial British, but in an OTT way. The gardens are beautifully laid out and well kept as croquet, bowling and tennis courts, with superb flower beds, monuments, bandstands and tea rooms. 
Anyone for bowls?
When it originally opened it was unfinished according to the original designers vision and it was wracked with plumbing problems due to the corrosive water and steam atmosphere, so the baths, walls and ceilings needed constant maintenance, but even then discolouration was unavoidable. After WW2 the golden age of spas was over and it gradually fell into disuse as it got more and more grubby. It went through a series of other uses and narrowly avoided demolition, before being completely restored and finished to the original design in 2011, costing $22,000,000. The result is one stunning building and grounds that is one of New Zealand’s treasures.
The alkaline spring source for the bathhouse, called Rachel Spring

View of the gardens from the front door

On the viewing platform
Inside it is equally superb and has been beautifully converted to a museum with some sections restored, or at least retained ‘as they were’, with a whole section devoted to Maori history. There are two small cinemas showing half hour films, one of the history of Rotorua, complete with shaking chairs that we sat in when the volcano simulation erupts and another very moving film of the Maori in the last war. Over 3000 volunteered to fight for Britain with huge death tolls and the film interviewed survivors and their families. Very emotional and well put together.

Another bit of geothermal activity in view of the house and bowling green

One of the original baths
A Pukeko (don't they have big feet!). This one likes bread and cheese!
We walked out 5 hours later into sunshine and have returned to the same campsite complete with its bubbling mud pool and thermal baths (we tried them last night, but haven’t bothered tonight).

1 comment:

  1. Back off our hols and just spent a happy half hour catching up with your blog! Glad you are enjoying the geothermal mud baths. The crashing tree was exciting too - I was expecting you to go out of the van in the morning and find tree just in front of you! How weird that you are approaching autumn now, as we limp slowly towards spring (will it ever come!?). By the way - did you not get the "Is it disco?" text? We were 'umming' and 'arring' - but had to do it!Lots of love xxxxx