Postcard from Rotorua – Volcanic Thrills in Red Hot New Zealand
Text Anne Coombes
My tired bones are currently stewing in a warm mud pool at the Wai Ora Spa, perched beside Rotorua’s hissing, steaming whirlpools. My nostrils are assailed by the faintly repugnant odour of rotten eggs, courtesy of the sulphur belching out of this volcanic rift – but I can’t complain. I’m enveloped in warmth and feeling more relaxed than I have in quite some time. The mineral-enriched, miracle-working mud acts like an entire body mask and the staff urges me to smear it generously over my face and hair - only my beady eyes are left twinkling out of the gooey stuff. Looking at my fellow mud revellers, hippo imagery comes to mind, but I quickly put that aside. Instead, I lie back and daydream about how radiant my skin will look when I get out. Apparently, the mud promotes skin cell regeneration and detoxifies the body. Considering the amount of lovely New Zealand wine I’ve been drinking for the past 3 weeks, this is no bad thing. It’s even said to eliminate acne. What’s not to like?
A quick shower later, I’m back to being lily white and ready to head to the spa’s giant sulphuric pool. It overlooks the geothermal reserve and the soft waters are fabulous, not to mention, extremely hot. My pores open up, sigh with relief and thank me for taking them to such a divine spot. No wonder people have been coming here for centuries to soothe their aches, pains and skin diseases. Maori warriors used to bathe their wounds in these magical pools after battle. I eventually emerge silky smooth and with such a feeling of light headed contentment that I positively float down the road towards Hell’s Gate - the bubbling, steaming volcanic casserole that draws so many thousands of visitors each week.
Here the mud spews and seethes far more menacingly. With its heat source just one kilometer below the surface, it’s not surprising that Rotorua is so fiercely active. I totter along the edge of the boiling lakes, where there’s little between myself and ‘The Devil’s Bath’ but a flimsy restraining rope. They may smell foul, but the jewel-coloured waters are certainly beautiful; they almost invite you to dip a toe in but not advisable unless you plan to become a human lobster. I peer down unfathomable caverns, from which sulphur clouds rise chokingly. This is one spot where you could let rip your most vile fart and nobody would ever notice. One thing you do notice is that there aren’t many animals, birds or insects around. Clearly, they don’t like the smells and heat either.
The following day, having had my fill of demonic craters, I drive up the road to see the Lady Knox Geyser. It erupts promptly at 10.15 a.m. each morning, following a dose of detergent thrown into the water. (Apparently, prisoners discovered that soap triggers the scalding fountain while washing their clothes in its gently simmering pool – poor them!) Right on time, the plume of spray shoots up, the crowd gasps and gapes and several hundred camera shutters click around me. It’s a stark reminder of ‘what lies beneath.’ More thrills await me at the Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. I brave the swirling clouds of steam and stand in awe, with thousands of gallons of steaming water rushing past me every few minutes.
Whether you’re admiring the dazzling splendor of the aptly named Champagne Pool or luxuriating in mud, you can’t help loving Rotorua. If you can stand the smell, then Hell’s Gate may be your very own slice of heaven.