Rotorua 4: Mudpools, geysers and delicious sulphur smells
Rotorua is geothermal central, a fact immediately apparent when you arrive in the city. There’s no missing that un-subtle (but not unpleasant, in my opinion) sulphur aroma in the air. A must-do on our visit was go to the source of this smell and take in a bit of geyser and mud pool action.
We chose a place I had vague memories of from visits in 1980 with my family and 1990 with my Canadian penfriend. Back then I knew it as Whakarewarewa; the place we were going to is called Te Puia. The admission is somewhat eye-watering but I saw online that a New Zealand resident price is available (on request!) and that made a big difference.
The crown jewel here is the geyser Pohutu which ‘goes off’ 20 or so times a day to a height of around 30 metres. We caught it twice during our visit, though the second time was hard-earned (learning: a watched geyser never boils). We’re about 45 years too late to see this place in its full glory, back before geothermal energy began to be harvested and a number of geysers became dormant.
(Hover over photos in the galleries for captions.)
Pohutu is around half the size of the world’s biggest geysers: Geysir in Iceland (from which ‘geyser’ was derived) can send water 70m high; and Grand Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, USA, is around 60m high.
Near the Blue Pool we saw an old cemetery which sparked my interest until I saw it was on the other side of a locked gate. Turns out the Whakarewarewa I remember was a much bigger site and included the Whakarewarewa Village below as well as the geysers and arts and crafts centre up around where we were. Disagreements between various governing bodies eventually led to the valley being divided and two separate entities created. In 1997 the walkway was closed (the bolted gate we saw) and in 2005 the ‘top half’ was rebranded Te Puia.
Thanks to the pulling power of Pohutu, we observed bus loads of tourists tread a well-worn path between the visitor centre and the geyser. They came, they watched, they left. In between Pohutu eruptions we followed a walkway which would take us the long way back. During this half hour or so we didn’t see anyone else. If some of the old geysers cranked back into life I’m sure it would be a different story.
Whakarewarewa is a snappier version of ‘Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao’ (‘the gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao’), and has been home to the Te Arawa people since the 1300s or so. The Te Puia fortress, for which this ‘top half’ tourism site is named, was located here, protected by the geothermal landscape which helped keep it out of the hands of war parties.
We made it back to the model village which was the cue for Pohutu (good timing old chap) so we hustled back over there one final time.
We were about ready to start gnawing our own limbs so some lunch and a browse of the craft workshop and gift shop rounded out the visit. A good place to see but the division between the top and bottom of the valley is such a shame.