Oh, Rotorua. You stink. I mean, in a good way, but still. The entire town smells like sulphur. It's not its fault. It's a stinky series of hot springs, similar to Yellowstone National Park. But in the U.S., you couldn't find a river nearby and go for a swim, or a soak, really. There would be signs up everywhere warning you away, or to enter at your own risk. Here they just let the chips fall where they may. I so love Darwinist countries.
Prior to the English invasion, all of northern New Zealand was Maori country. Rotorua has its own origin story, of Maori people coming here from Hawaiiki and settling at the foot of a volcano. You can imagine what happened when the volcano erupted. It's a long and complicated tale, told through many rooms in the charmingly quaint museum in the main part of the city. Next door the museum is one of the many spas that now form one of the main tourist attractions for the city, the geysers being the other. Once upon a time, the English used Rotorua as a spa town for healing and medicinal purposes. That's basically how it's used today, except with fewer mystical properties assigned to the healing mud and waters. And it's less quaint and more dilapidated in parts, with loads of empty storefronts waiting for new shops to hawk their wares.
My hotel in Rotorua would not have been noteworthy if it wasn't for the extremely chatty and kind man behind the front desk. He talked my ear off about things to do in town, and when he heard I was going to Coromandel the next day, he talked my other ear off about things to do up there. I enjoyed his enthusiasm and openness, especially as it stood in contrast to the other kiwis I've encountered.
Perhaps the best thing about our chat is that his advice was completely spot on for where to go, what to see, etc. I was particularly happy with his advice to go visit Green Lake and the hot springs down the road from there.
As you can see, they weren't kidding when they said it was green. There was no plaque, so I don't know why it's this color. It was an amazing emerald color, with a thin layer of steam whisking across it, and in the distance the surface sparkled like it was covered with diamonds. I felt a little bit like Dorothy seeing the Emerald City. I snapped quite a few photos of the lake, but this one above showcases the color the best.
Down a gravely, bumpy, pitted road from the green lake is a river with two waterfalls. The river is like a bathtub that never gets cold. It's amazing. I ducked behind some bushes, put on my bathing suit, and walked in. I chatted with some British tourists rounding out their four month holiday here in New Zealand. We remarked on the faces people make when they first walk into the pool. It's combination of sheer elation and surprise. Every time. The setting just doesn't seem possible to have a river this warm, but there it is, with dozens of tourists lounging around in the slightly sulphury medicinal waters. I must have soaked for at least 30 minutes. My fingers got pruney and I was getting hot by the time I left. I got there at exactly the right time, too. When I first entered the pool it was nearly empty. But the time I left, the car park was full and people were streaming in. As they say around here, good on ya.
I didn't take any pictures of the pools. I half regret it, and half don't. Sometimes these things are best left to the memory, and for you, to the imagination. For anyone forming a bucket list, I'd say that the pools qualify. Especially when coupled with a peek at Green Lake.