Rotorua: The Sulfur City

Since I spent too much time on the South Island, I figured I need to take a flight to make up for lost time. I only allotted a little less than a month in New Zealand and I still had a lot of area to cover. The original plan was to travel by land the entire time and just take a ferry from the South to the North Island. But that would take at least 2 more days from where I was. If I took a flight, it would only take an hour or two. It was kind of a shame since I skipped a lot of beautiful places. But it was something that had to be done if I wanted to visit the places I wanted to see in the North Island.

So I headed back to Christchurch where the nearest airport was. The plan was to fly to Rotorua which was one of the places that i intended to visit. The airport felt different. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then it hit me. There’s no security at all! There were no full body scanners, no full body metal detectors, no security personnel. And when I checked in one of my bags, it was all done via computer. There was no one around to check if I chose the right weight among the options when I laid my bag on the baggage carousel. It felt weird having an honesty system at an airport. After that I proceeded straight to the gate. There was no one checking identification, no one checking carry on luggage. From the entrance of the airport up to the boarding gate I didn’t encounter any security. It was so surreal. I knew Kiwis were really trusting based on how it was easy to hitch hike, but this definitely settles any argument against that notion. Quite possibly they are the most trusting people in the world. I did feel a bit scared though. They surely are good people, but you never know. Any psychopath itching to wreck havoc can do a lot of damage. I would have felt better, not just for me but for everyone else at the airport if I saw some security measures being done in the domestic terminal.

From the airport, it’s easy to get to the center of Rotorua via public transport. Just wait for bus No.10 at the bus stop, it only costs NZD 2.70 for a one way fare. However, these buses only pass by the airport until 5:50 PM from Mondays to Saturdays, and until 4:50 PM on Sundays and holidays. I’ve already purchased my flight tickets before I found out about this so i was out of luck. Good thing there are shuttles waiting outside the airport until the last arriving flight. They charge NZD 20 and they will take you straight to your hotel or hostel. It’s kinda pricey for a backpacker but there’s no cheaper option if you arrive at night.

I stayed at Crash Palace mainly because they offered the cheapest dorm beds. I highly recommend staying here. For one thing it’s centrally located. The hostel has a kitchen so you can cook your own meals. Pak’nSave is nearby so it’s easy to get cheap food. They also offer unlimited high speed WiFi! I even got to update all apps on my phone when I was there lol. If there’s something to complain about, it would be the discrepancy between the rates listed on booking sites and the rate you have to pay upon arrival. They say something like booking sites take a cut, and you basically have to pay whatever amount they give to those booking sites. I did complain about it but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of 2 bucks. Just take note of that and you won’t regret staying here if you’re a backpacker on a tight budget.

kuirau
Kuirau Park

The very minute you get out of the airport, you’d notice this light but pervasive smell of rotten eggs. Rotorua is known for that and it’s due to sulfur emissions. In fact, some people refer to Rotorua as Sulfur City. It’s not too strong though so you get used to it after a while. So why was Rotorua on my list of must visit places in New Zealand? It’s because there are a number of unique attractions in Rotorua and nearby areas. What I had to find first was the source of the smell, or at least one of the sources. lol. If you’re staying at the city center, Kuirau Park is within walking distance. It’s not spectacular, but it’s a good introduction to the geothermal activity in the area. There are steam pools, mud pools, and hot springs. And the best part? Going to this park is absolutely free! To be really impressed though, you have to check out Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Now this attraction isn’t free– it costs NZD 32.50 to get in. It’s totally worth the price of admission though. A lot of people book tours from Rotorua, but it’s easy to get there via public transport. I took an Intercity bus for only NZD 10 and it took about 30 minutes to reach the side road by the highway. The entrance to the park  is still quite far from the highway, it took me about 20 minutes to get there. Several travelers driving cars passed by and they asked if i needed a ride. I just said no thanks, i wasn’t in any rush anyway. It started raining before I got to the park entrance though, and that made me wish i rode with them. I though the rain would dampen the experience, but I’m glad to be proven wrong. It may be better during sunny weather, but the rain certainly didn’t make the thermal park less awesome. It certainly was mind blowing. I took my time looking at the different thermal pools. It took me about two hours to see everything. I missed the Lady Knox Geyser though which was located in a different part of the park separated from the trail. It erupts at around 10:15 AM, and since I arrived later than that, there won’t be much to see in that area. I was done by 1 PM and the next Intercity bus back to Rotorua would pass by at 4:30 PM. There’s nothing else to do in the area and i didn’t want to hang out at the restaurant by the highway. Good thing hitch hiking was easy. Just walk to the highway and wait. All vehicles heading to the direction of Rotorua would definitely  be passing by the city.

Another reason why I wanted to go to Rotorua was to experience a bit of local culture. Rotorua is known to be the heart of Maori culture and tradition, so i figured it’s the best place to experience it. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. There are several Maori villages in Rotorua, and it would be terribly expensive to visit all of them so I had to choose one. I asked around, though the answers I got may be incredibly subjective I decided to visit the Whakarewarewa— the so called living Maori village. Based on what I’ve been told, the other villages were very touristy. Whakarewarewa is different because the Maoris in that village really live there, and that should make it more authentic. It’s easy to get here via local bus, and since it’s within the city a one way fare only costs NZD 2.70. Just hop on a number 11 bus on Fenton Street and get off at Mckee Avenue. You can easily walk to the village from there. At NZD 40 it’s not exactly cheap, but you have to shell out a bit to experience a bit of culture, right? heh. This includes a guided tour plus a cultural performance that the Maoris do twice a day. You’ll see them perform native dances, they’ll sing native songs, and the men do the renowned haka. You can roam around the village on your own and do a bit of hiking on the nature trails past the village. There are hot springs and mud pools within the village, and the view can rival those in Wai-o-Tapu at times. Walk farther from the center of activity and you’ll see where the Maoris really live. They actually live in modern houses and they drive modern vehicles lol. But hey, they really do live in the village. For added authenticity, you can pay NZD 58 at the entrance instead of NZD 40 and that gives you everything included in the basic entrance ticket plus a hangi pie— a traditional Maori delicacy made of meat and veggies. Paying NZD 70 includes a geothermal hangi meal, wherein the Maoris cook your meal on the geothermal pools. i admit that’s quite an experience, but since I was traveling on a budget I was content just watching those people who paid for those meals heh.

One more reason why travelers go to Rotorua is to visit one of those glow worm caves. The most accessible one is the Waitomo Caves. The sight of those glow worms in the darkness is amazing. I couldn’t take pics because it wasn’t allowed, but take my word for it. It’s a must do activity in New Zealand. From Rotorua, most people just book tours and they cost at least NZD 250. yeah that’s pretty expensive, so I tried to find a way to make it cheaper. My first instinct was to look at prices on the Intercity bus website. So from Rotorua to the Waitomo Caves, it costs about NZD 80. Then I have to shell out another NZD 80 on the way back. Entrance to the caves costs at least NZD 89. So basically it’s almost the same as joining a tour group lol. I was about to book a tour when i heard two guys at the hostel who were planning on going to the caves. I just joined them the next day so I ended up paying only NZD 89 to see the glow worms. I did try to chip in for gas, but they declined. It’s amazing how you get to meet so many nice people while traveling.

Waitomo_Glowworm_Caves_tour
Image taken from backpackerguide.nz website 

The most popular reason for staying in Rotorua though is its close proximity to Matamata where Hobbiton is located. This post is already long enough as it is, so I’ll just talk about that day trip to Hobbiton on my next entry. 🙂

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