Before I entertain you with my day’s activities, I’ve got some NZ knowledge to impart on you. Before the English came to the islands and imparted their Commonwealth ways on the land, Maori tribespeople dominated this isolated piece of paradise. Maori populate the North Island much more than that of the South Island and seem to have a prominent stamp on the Rotorua area with a few active villages surrounding the city. If you so choose, you can attend a performance and dinner as a guest of honor. Since I already booked a tour to see Hobbiton, I did not want to spend my money on that. I heard from travelers that I had met, that the meals were incredible with every kind of meat imaginable slow-roasted over a fire and the Haka dance was quite special (check out a video especially one performed by the All Blacks rugby national team; they get into it as if they are about to step into battle with threatening gestures and wagging tongues). Furthermore, most towns have Maori names, many of which sound nothing like they look. The presence of the language still abounds in many areas including the common Kia Ora. Kia Ora is a friendly greeting that means to be well/healthy or as an informal hi or hello.
Now back to the all-important me. I woke up early in hopes of snagging a seat on a car that would be leaving to go see Wai-O-Tapu, one of the premier geothermal sites in the area. Luckily it worked out but it was a crunched effort of four people sitting in the back seat. Before we could walk along the many mud pools, craters, and thermal pools nearby, I got to witness a true geyser. The Lady Knox geyser is a white cone-shaped rock with a hole cut through the top that released a small steady stream of silver smoke. To stoke its eruption one of the park attendants needed to sprinkle a soap mixture into the hole. Apparently in the late 1800s when they had prisoners staying here to begin forestation for the area they would wash their clothes in the springs; surprising to them, a chemical reaction created a burst of water rising upwards of 15 meters in the air. Originally the geyser foamed like a rabid dog at the mouth before the pressure became too powerful that a jet of water sprung from its surface rising high above and held steadily for quite awhile. Interestingly, we were told that geysers only exist in the U.S., Iceland, and New Zealand. As I have traveled deeper and further along in the country, I have come to realize just how truly unique NZ is. We changed course to the thermal and mud pools of the park. Honestly so much of the park reminded me off a wicked Color Run through nature. So many trippy colors you couldn’t find even in a Crayola jumbo pack are dusted onto the colors and swirled into the boiling waters of the pools. At times I was staring at lemon and lime dusted rocks that quickly dropped into steep craters which housed water and steam reaching temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Celsius. The mud pools were thick and murky brown clumps of loose mud clenched together before bursting their pressured bubbles. Along the way I saw Shrek green pools and lakes that seemed too far fetched from a Dr. Seuss book to be real. On acid or not, I could have stared at that water for a little while longer. The main attraction in my opinion was the acre sized thermal pool full of all kinds of bright fluorescent colors emitting from the tender rocky crust. Sunset yellow and yellowish greens dominated the pool but the molten reddish orange crust that encircled the main pool was surreal. The colors come from the mixture of various minerals as well as some native moss on the rocks that look like the Color Run powder I tried to describe. All the while steam and smoke rose from the pools spinning tightly like tornados and drifting away as more appeared in their place. The smell from the pools was at times too much to handle as if I had rotten eggs shoved up my nostrils. For such hot and intolerable conditions I found it quite odd that many birds occupied the area. The reason behind their presence is quite fascinating. The birds leave their eggs near the thermal pools so that they don’t have to sit on the eggs to incubate them, the heat from the pools does all the work; those are some lazy and clever birds. We reached our hostel which I had to check out of and then dispersed. After settling into one of the nicer hostels I have ever been in, I went for a walk through the park and along the lakefront. In the park, I got to see more thermal pools but not nearly as colorful as those found in Wai-o-tapu. On my continued walk to the lakefront I ran across a foot pool. A small pool deep enough to reach your knees had visually murky water but was actually water pooled from the thermal pools. It felt like bath water but due to all the minerals circulating the mixture my legs felt so refreshed; I can only imagine what a full body bath could accomplish. Spas in the area are making big business off of this natural resource. On the lakefront I passed smaller thermal pools including points in which the steam cut through the cracks of the concrete path and floated in front of me. Also, I got to see parts of a Maori village. Back at the hostel I talked to an English woman in her late thirties about traveling, including my upcoming trip to SE Asia. She had traveled through there on multiple trips and gave me a lot of advice on what to see and do. Meeting all these fellow travelers makes me realize that I am not crazy and in fact quite normal for wanting to venture into a place seemingly so raw and at times untapped by westernization. Keep the good vibes going. Tomorrow Hobbiton!