We arrived in Rotorura mid day and were immediately greeted with a pungent, sulphuric aroma that rivals the intoxicating smell of rotten eggs. The volcanic region is notorious for its thermal springs and outdoor extreme activities and we were very excited to see what the city had to offer.
Of course first thing on the agenda was sorting out our camping accomodations. It seemed pretty straight forward, at least when we compared to camping in Canada.
Each recommended campsite was basically like a luxurious, clean, full service hostel that happened to also allow camper vans as well. We were complaining and fully enjoyed the facilities, but it was much more expensive than we had originally planned for and was conveniently not mentioned when talking to the camper rental companies.
After setting up campsite, well at least parking and connecting the power source to the camper, we set off to do what everyone must do when visiting Rotorura; hot springs mineral bathing and thermal spa! We visited the very popular 'Polynesian Spa' right before sunset and were treated to several baths and pools with different temperatures, sizes and layout. The bright green, stinky water was very warm and soothing and we soaked it up while watching the sunset over Lake Rotorura; tough times indeed.
Our first night in the camper van was actually quite comfortable. We passed by a pawn shop on the way back to the campground and purchased some used DVD's which we intended to watch on the DVD playerr that was provided. Although it helps when the DVD player actually works. Luckily we had just purchased a mini laptop in Auckland which saved the day and provided some entertainment in the tiny living quarters.
When planning our trip to NZ we new that it was the extreme outdoor mecca of the world (or at least in stiff competition with British Columbia!) and we were very keen to embrace 'the kiwi experience'. The problem was deciding what to do! Rotorura is an outdoor enthusiasts dream come true, provided you have the time and the money. We checked off the thermal hot springs spa from the list and were left with about a dozen other options to contend with. Everything from bungy jumping, the zorb, the swoop, the shweeb, the hydro jet, downhill luge, skyrides, ATV Quad courses, dirt biking, cave exploration, river rafting, horse back riding, the free fall extreme, and the list keeps going!
We spent the morning visiting the different locations and narrowing down the options to a short list. Being budget travellers price was definitely on the mind when looking for our quick thrills. We were quite shocked to see the price lists for many of these activities. The Zorb, which was originally a must-do when visting NZ, was $44 to only go once down a hill that is about 100 meters long. For those unfamiliar, the Zorb is a big air inflated ball that you climb into and water is added so that you swish around while being rolled down a hill like a beach ball. To compare, that would be like going to a local Vancouver ski hill and paying full price to go down one run!
Ultimately we had to scratch the Zorb and the Shweeb (google "Shweeb" in Rotorura to see what it is), which was unfortunate because these were things that one can only do in NZ. Our decision probably would have been different if we were given multiple rides but it felt like all of the companies were overcharging and giving very little action time for your dollar. Disappointing but you can't do it all, right?! You almost feel like you must to do all of these "Kiwi only" activities because you'll never get another opportunity again, but it would be like visiting Whistler and doing the zip lines, mountain biking, skateboarding, river rafting, hiking, riding ATV's, sight seeing, hitting the spa, and doing a heli-tour all in 2 days!
Now with that said, we're still outdoor enthusiasts that couldn't leave Rotorura without doing something extreme that is unique to New Zealand. So we settled on a "Sky tour with downhill Luge on pavement"! Now don't let the "Sky tour" fool you, this portion was simply a gondola that took you to the top of the hill with an incredible view of Lake Rotorura and the city. Nothing thrilling or unique about that (I guess we're just spoiled living in Vancouver and using a gondola so often) but the Luge was definitley good fun.
The Luge is exactly what it sounds like. We hopped on little luges (you sit down similiar to being in a tiny go-cart, not lying down) that zipped down the side of the hill on concrete courses while hitting speeds that make your body shake. How fun is that!? The best part was that, unlike the other adventures, we were in complete control, and that includes speed! Check out the photos once they're posted because it's difficult to explain. It was a lot fun and definitely recommended to anyone visitng Rotorura.
After our downhill luge adventure we decided visit the incredible 'Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland' which is a spectacular park that showcases "New Zealand's most colourful and diverse volcanic area". The park is essentially a hiking trail that leads you through stunning geothermal pools, lakes, craters, steam vents, mineral terraces, mud pools with bubbling water, and incredible forests that have adapted to the sulphuric and volcanic climate (geez can I sound more like the broucher!). This was a great walk with sights that neither of us had ever seen or experienced before.
We left the unique thermal eco-system and drove about an hour south to Lake Taupo and set up camp alongside a riverbank that flows from the nearby Huka Falls, which is where this blog is currently being written and coincidently the end to this write up on Rotorura.