31st March- 3rd April
On the way to Rotorua, we headed down highway 2 and stopped in Te Puke at Kiwi360, an organic farm where you could go on tours of the orchard. We didn't go on a tour but took a picture with the famous huge Kiwi and bought some kiwi products from the shop.
Rotorua wasn't far at all so we were there with loads of the day left. We parked in the town centre and went to the iSite centre to find out about trips. We decided that it would be cheaper for us to drive the hour to Hobbiton and then drive to Waitomo after for the caves as the trips from Rotorua would be much more expensive than petrol. Rotorua seemed like a nice looking town, right on the edge of the huge Rotorua lake. There were also volcanic thermal pools and vents around the town which was strange! The first time we had ever seen anything like that! Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring if Fire and is therefore a geothermal area, so there are many hot springs, shooting geysers and other geothermal sights and activities. Nath got his hair cut in town and then we went and hooked up at a paid site not too far from town. There was only one free site in the area and it was still a little too far out from everything we wanted to do.
We opted for Rotorua Family Holiday Park which was a nice quiet site right round the corner from the west side of Rotorua lake in Ngongotaha, costing $60 for 2 nights with electric hook up. There was a swimming pool, which was like a garden swimming pool you get from B&Q, showers, laundry and everything we needed! We had a walk to the lake which is massive, though on the map it's about a fifth of the size of Lake Tapou, maybe smaller!
On the 1st we went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, but we only see a small portion of it. It is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera (depression) within the active Taupo Volcanic Zone. The area was covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. In the morning we watched the daily forced eruption of Lady Knox, a geyser at the park, which was really good and something we had never seen before! The hot bubbling water blasted up out of the geyser into the air for a minute or so. We then followed the three different walking tracks that took us around the whole thermal park, which was fantastic! It has been rated as one of the top 20 most surreal places to visit in the world, and I can understand why. The different craters, hot pools, mud pools, caves, hot vents and colours of the waters and lakes were unreal! It was crazy to be walking around an active thermal area too and one part of the track had warning signs as the most active area. The rotten egg smell (associated with hydrogen sulphide) was pretty awful at the park- we thought Routora town smelt bad! Nath played an April fools prank on me and touched some water flowing into one of the craters (which he still shouldn't have as they can be acidic) and then started saying that his finger was burning! I thought his skin was going to start bubbling or something!
After the thermal park we drove to see the blue (lake tikitapu) and green (lake rotokakahi) lakes and then went to Whakarewarewa forest (the redwoods), known for its enormous Californian coastal redwoods, and did an hours walk around one of the routes there which was nice.
On the 2nd we had planned to go to Skyline Rotorua to luge down the mountain but it was raining pretty bad all morning and it was so misty and miserable. We decided we would stay in Rotorua another night and go tomorrow and went shopping and to the cinema to see Fast and Furious 7 instead. After the cinema the night market was on so we had a walk around the stalls there. It was pretty tiny compared to Asia's food markets but we bought some lovely paella to take away for dinner later and Nath tried his first mussel. As we were staying an extra night that we hadn't expected, we went to stay at the free campsite that was around half an hour out of town. It was in TECT All Terrain Park in the middle of the forest, which was lovely but a little eerie. It was definitely the darkest place we have stayed so far as there was no light from the town or any surrounding villages as we were in the middle of nowhere! There was only us and one more camper that came later on in the big parking area.
On the 3rd the weather was great as predicted so we spent the day at Skyline Rotorua which started with taking the gondola (cable car) up the side of Mount Ngongotaha, 487 metres above sea level. We paid for 7 luge rides, a three wheeled toboggan like cart that had handle bars that you steered, accelerated and braked with. We spent the day at the park and had lunch there looking out over Rotorua and the lake at the amazing views from the top. There were three different luge tracks; scenic, intermediate and advanced. At the bottom of the tracks you had to get a two person chairlift to the top again, which had the luges attached to them to bring them back up too. It was pretty high up on the chairlift too as we had come a good way down near the bottom on the luges! On the intermediate and advanced you could pick up some right speeds! It was pretty scary! We did well racing all day and I even won twice, until on the last ride I nearly crashed so automatically stuck my leg out to stop myself, which you really shouldn't do!! I thought I'd broke my leg it twisted that far back, but luckily it was just a scrape! Whoops! It was such a brilliant day!! Nath had his first cable car and chairlift ride experience and we both had a crazy experience with the luges, with the great added bonus of fantastic views over Rotorua through the full day!
After the park we headed the hour trip to Matamata for Hobbiton in the morning!