10.02.2015: Rotorua, New Zealand:
On our way back from Waitomo after spending hours in the depths of sub-zero glowworm caves, we were yearning for warmth and a relaxing way to wind down from the day’s insane adventures. Just as we were alighting from the bus, the driver passed us a small flyer that stated that, for having gone for the black water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co., we were entitled to a greatly subsidised ‘Rotorua Sunset Tour’ which begins in 30 minutes. It would include all of the places we were intending to visit in Rotorua but were hesitant about because these locations were so widely spread and we didn’t have a car at our disposal for convenient commuting, so this tour really couldn’t have been more perfect!
Kanohi Kikorangi, that was our guide’s name. (It took a while for us to get that right.) He told us that his name, translated into English, means ‘blue eyes’. How beautiful it was that he had the bluest of eyes to match such a special name. He brought us to vantage points and points of interest around Rotorua, and, as he did, introduced us to Rotorua’s rich culture, history and unique landscape.
Our first stop was Klamath Falls Rose Garden, which was named after Rotorua’s sister city in Oregon, USA. There were roses all around us and the garden seemed almost endless. I definitely was in my element here. I loved being here, so so much. It was at this part of the tour that a fellow Chinese-American tourist (Peter he was, I believe…) introduced himself to Niki and I and offered to take a couple pictures for us. What started out as friendly, became slightly intimidating and almost frightening as he began pestering us for our contact details and secretly taking pictures of us with his camera! We kept our distance from him for the rest of the tour.
Rotorua is home to a number of geothermal sites featuring geysers, bubbling mud pools, lakes of vibrantly coloured lichens and moss, and crystal blue lakes. As we pulled into Lake Rotorua (ahh the black swans!!), our guide told us that Rotorua’s main geothermal areas include Whakarewarewa, Tikitere (Hell’s Gate), Waimangu and Waiotapu. On this day, we also visited Whangapipiro (Rachel Pool), a historic alkaline hot spring, in Government Gardens. Whangapipiro was renamed Rachel Pool after Madam Rachel, a notorious English cosmetician who promised youthful complexions after a bath in the pool because of the softening effect of silica-water on the skin.
The unique smell of sulfur throughout the city is caused by natural hydrogen sulfide emissions. Despite what many people consider to be an unpleasant smell, I actually found it quite comforting. (Haha?) Sulfur is widely considered to be a safe, non-toxic remedy for skin irritations, acne, arthritis, and bodily aches and pains. People from all over the world come here for treatments. There are many places in Rotorua – including the famous blue baths and naturally occurring springs – where people can enjoy a swim in the geothermal hot springs. Rotorua is thus known as a spa town and major tourist resort — the city’s geothermal activity is clearly the heart of much of its tourist appeal.
Haere mai ki te Wao Tapu nui ä Tane, Nau mai haere mai.
(Welcome to the sacred forest of Tane.)
I was most excited for our second last stop, which was The Redwoods in Whakarewarewa Forest. The history and culture surrounding the Whakarewarewa Forest, the variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, diverse range of exotic tree species, and mix of native undergrowth, panoramic views have made The Redwoods & Whakarewarewa Forest one of Rotorua’s most spectacular natural assets and one of the city’s greatest treasures — literally greatest: the forest amounts to over 5600 hectares!
‘The forest is most well known for the network of superb mountain biking and walking tracks and for the magnificent stand of Californian Coast Redwoods. These towering trees, along with numerous other species and the fresh forest air, combine to create an invigorating atmosphere and a truly unique and special environment.’
The Redwoods are scientifically known as Sequoia sempervirens, which is the sole living species of the genus Sequoia in the cypress family Cupressaceae. (Wiki helped me out here.) It is an evergreen, long-lived, monoecious tree which can live up to 1,200–1,800 years or more. This species includes the tallest living trees on Earth, reaching up to 115.5 m in height (without the roots) and up to 8.9 m in diameter at breast height! These trees are also among the oldest living things on Earth. Ever since commercial logging and clearing began in the 1850s, an estimated 70% or more of ancient old-growth redwood trees have been displaced by environmental changes or cut down. It’s now considered endangered. 😦
We weren’t allowed too much time here so we didn’t get any hiking done, but Niki and I still managed to have fun, taking pictures with the massive trees and being amused at how tiny we were beside them!
To end off the tour, Kanohi brought us to the sacred Te Hokowhitu a Tū, which marks the departure of the Maori Contingent. The Maori Contingent, which left New Zealand 100 years ago, was the first organised effort by Māori to represent themselves in an overseas theatre of war, in WWI. Read more here.
Te Hokowhitu a Tū was located beside the Whakarewarewa Thermal village, and do You see that long word I was ‘holding up’ (above)? Give it a go, try saying it! Niki and I ended up in fits of giggles but Kanohi could do it so effortlessly, he’s part Maori You see. 🙂
It was such a cheery tour and Niki and I loved every moment of it, especially when we had such a fatherly figure as a tour guide. He kissed us both goodbye! :’) (The video below taken by Niki wasn’t planned, Niki had pressed the record button by accident, but I’m so glad she did because watching it back gives me such warm and fuzze feels. Watch in HD!)
Did You see our guide’s name tag? It read “Blue”!
We had dinner at GoRaw again that evening — it was too good to give a miss!
New Zealand is seen as clean, green and 100% pure, and staying true to that, Rotorua has been voted New Zealand’s most beautiful city six times in the 11-year history of the Keep New Zealand Beautiful competition. With stunning floral displays, perfectly manicured gardens and litter-free streets, I could tell why. Rotorua, You’re a beauty.