New Zealand Road Trip: Rotorua, Geothermal Wonderland
This post in part of our New Zealand North Island 9-Day Road Trip series.
We spent two nights in Rotorua. There are many activities available in this lakeside town, ranging from zorbing (rolling down a hill in an inflatable ball) to sheep shearing. Prepare yourself for some serious sulfur smells though – there are odoriferous thermal pools throughout the entire area.
First Up: Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park with the optional kiwi nursery tour (which is definitely worth the extra $, by the way). We paired our tickets with an Agrodome sheep show.
We like small zoos that specialize in local species and Rainbow Springs was exactly that; the Alaska Zoo is another great example of a wildlife park that has a focus on regional animals – especially those that are injured or orphaned.
New Zealand is known for their kiwi birds, but also a ground-dwelling parrot called a Kea.
They also have an exhibit of the crazy-looking pre-historic tuarara. From the RS website: Tuatara are possibly one of the world’s most misunderstood creatures. Tuatara are neither dinosaurs or lizards, they are in fact the only remaining species of an otherwise extinct order of reptiles called rhynocephalids. Because all other species of the once plentiful rhynocephalids went extinct at about the same time as dinosaurs, tuatara are often incorrectly classed as living dinosaurs.
Randomly, the park also has an amusement ride, which Chris got to ride by himself (‘pregnancy’ was one of the banned medical conditions):
Next up: Our kiwi tour. The zoo is the site of the National Kiwi Trust, a non-profit dedicated to introducing young kiwis back into their native habitat.
Here is your kiwi tidbit for the day (from wiki):
Kiwi are flightless birds endemic to NZ, in the genus Apteryx and family Apterygidae. At around the size of a domestic chicken, kiwi are by far the smallest living ratites and lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any species of bird in the world. There are five recognised species, two of which are currently vulnerable, one of which is endangered, and one of which is critically endangered. All species have been negatively affected by historic deforestation but currently large areas of their forest habitat are well protected in reserves and national parks. At present, the greatest threat to their survival is predation by invasive mammalian predators.
The kiwi is a national symbol of New Zealand, and the association is so strong that the term Kiwi is used in some parts of the world as the colloquial demonym for New Zealanders.
Due to predation from introduced predators (possums, stoats, dogs, etc) and habitat destruction, only 5% of kiwis survive their first year of life. The Trust collects eggs from the wild and then rears the chicks at the center before releasing them back into their natural habitat as yearling birds, better able to defend themselves against predators and such.
This was definitely a must-do part of the park. [side note: Can you tell that I cheated on the kiwi photos? No photography was allowed in the nursery so these are the stuffed versions that were on display in the museum].
Next up: The Agrodome!
The Agrodom is a slick, highly commercialized sheep show. We typically avoid these types of productions but this one was a hoot. You can’t go to New Zealand and not see sheep, so we felt obligated to learn a bit about the national wool industry. The show included a primer on each breed, a shearing demonstration, and some crazy sheep herding skills exhibited by the resident dogs. Kids will love it.
And they had lambs. Cute and tasty!
Downtown Rotorua is worth a walking tour, especially the park that is situated around the museum, as it comes complete with rose gardens, ponds, and natural hot springs.
Our favorite activity was the Wai O Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, about 25 minutes south of Rotorua. If you get there right at opening, you’ll likely have time to walk the entire loop before heading back to catch the daily eruption of Lady Knox Geyser, located near the visitor’s center.
The colors of the water were amazing. I was partly convinced that a whole lot of food coloring was being secretly added to the lakes. 🙂
Don’t forget Lake Ngakoro (#18)(shown above and below). It’s off the beaten path but definitely worth the five extra minutes of walking.
The Oyster Pool.
And stinky, boiling cauldrons of mud (my explanation, not theirs):
Another perk of getting there at opening: the famous Champagne pool will be deserted:
Walking through clouds of foul-smelling steam.
My very favorite: Devil’s Pool. Looks a bit like anti-freeze, yes?
Click here for a complete map of the park.
Last but not least we headed back to the car for a brief drive to the Lady Knox Geyser. First discovered by loggers wanting to wash their clothes in the hot water, she erupted as they rinsed their soapy garments in the basin.
Evidently the surfactants break the surface water tension, allowing the built-up pressure to be released in the form of a 30-ft geyser. Or something along those lines. Regardless, the rangers come along everyday at 10:15 and pour a bunch of soap down the spout, causing the geyser to erupt. I’m of two minds about this practice, but it was definitely an interesting little show.
And that, my Dears, was our jaunt into Rotorua.
Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park (look for coupons in the tourist mags or combine with Agrodome for discount)
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (coupons available)
Stroll through the Government Gardens (Free)
Things We Considered:
Zorbing! (I wanted to but didn’t think it was really an appropriate pregnant-lady activity)
Rotorua Museum and the Government Gardens
Maori Village and hangi (feast)
Visit a natural geothermal spa
Hobbiton – For those Lord of the Rings Fans out there. (outside of Rotorua)
Part 7: Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks
All New Zealand Posts:
Part 1: New Zealand Travel Route: The North Island in 9 Days
Part 2: Auckland: the cosmopolitan heart of the North Island
Part 3: Waipoua Forest: giant trees and pretty views
Part 4: Bay of Islands: Swimming with Dolphins
Part 5: Karangahake Gorge: an abandoned gold mine in a stunningly beautiful valley
Part 6: Rotorua: The Yellowstone of New Zealand
Part 7: Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks
Part 8: Waitomo: Glow Worms Galore!
Part 9: Planning Your New Zealand Driving Tour