Everyone along the way has warned us: "You will smell Rotorua long before you see it", and this was certainly true. It smells like rotten eggs that have been uncovered from damp earth after a few weeks (I'm almost certain that this may be some sort of bizarre culinary delicacy in China).
Nevertheless, the drive from Taupo to Rotorua is beautifully scenic. We stopped at a spot called "Craters of the Moon". It is an other-worldly experience to see gases and steam rising from the earth and to hear water bubbling inside the ground. The walk takes over an hour in an amazing landscape which only shows itself through the misty vapours at the mercy of the changing winds.
Just off the road to Rotorua, I took a turn to see the mud pools and we came across an unposted/unmarked natural thermal spring which we later found out is known to the locals as "Hot & Cold". Luckily, as the car carried all our worldly possessions, we were able to change into our swimsuits and take a dip! There is a convergence of 2 streams - as the name suggests: one hot and the other cold, so part of the fun is trying to position yourself in a spot where you can find the right medium between the two. We met some German girls who showed us where to collect some of the mud from the banks which we used as face packs. I think it used to be a secret location but now the secret is definitely out - it got busier and busier as the light started to fade.
Not wanting to drive again in the dark, we left after an hour, passing by the mud pools on our way to Rotorua. These look like something out of a science fiction movie from another planet - especially in the fading daylight which filters the landscape through a blueish haze.
Bad weather seems to have caught up with us and it rained that evening. After one night in Rotorua, we went to Wai-O-Tapu to witness the spectacle of the geothermal activity that this area is famous for all over the world. It did not disappoint and, yes, we could smell I before we saw it!
Wai-O-Tapu is a national park with a high concentration of geothermal activity. These natural phenomena have been given creatively descriptive names like: Champagne Pools, Devil's Ink Pots, the Artist's Pallet and Oyster Pool. The different colours of the water, soil and mud is caused by the different concentrations of chemicals present in the area - some of which include sulphur and arsenic (amongst others). There is a veritable kaleidoscope of colours ranging from charcoal to ochre to azure to a toxic 80's luminous green which I have never before seen in nature.
After 2 hours of walking in and amongst steaming vents, rivers of sulphur and bubbling earth cauldrons we took our leave of Rotorua and headed towards our next destination: the Coromandel Peninsula.