After nearly a month spent in SE Asia I returned to real life. While I was exhausted, my feet were still as itchy as ever. SE Asia was so much fun, but what made it better was that it was cheap. really cheap. I came home with nearly $1000 left in the bank. And personally, I put so much effort into saving for that holiday I thought it’d be pretty rude to spend that money on something else…
Around this same time, my dear sister conveniently started dating a Kiwi she met in Brisbane. Unfortunately, this boy had recently returned to his home country but we had yet to meet him. Introducing Marley and Dean. The next character in this post is the knight-in-shining-armour of Jetstar and their Friday Frenzy, where Jono and I picked up two sneaky return flights from SYD>AKL for $400 (obvi no bags, food or legroom included). We left Sydney on Thursday morning to return from Auckland on Sunday evening – burning through the last few cents of our holiday funds, with minimal use of our precious annual leave, ticking off a few more bucket-list items and using another page of the passport!
Day 1 See Auckland (by air!)
Arriving in Auckland in the morning, during early winter, the city greeted us with a clear blue sky accompanied with a crisp but calm wind. In fact, the skies we so clear that I managed to snap this picture of a mysterious mountain off in the distance from my window seat. Dean and I deduced that this is most likely Mt. Taranaki but it’s pretty unbelievable if it is, considering Mt. Taranaki is more than 5 hours from Auckland!
Our day was well planned for us to arrive early, whisk our carry-on baggage off the plane to catch the bus into the city. We would meet Marley there and go to the Sky Tower, get some lunch and then make our way to Mt Eden for an afternoon walk and hobby geology lesson from yours truly. Unfortunately for us, our flight was so severely delayed, and then delayed again, and again. So severely delayed that we did not arrive in the morning but in fact, our three-hour flight lasted so long that we arrived well into the evening. Right in time to hit peak-hour traffic between the airport and Dean’s apartment, which meant that we did not step off the bus until 7pm in the evening – and being deep into daylight savings, it was dark in Auckland. This meant that did not really get to #VisitAuckland or even really #SeeAuckland.
Luckily the most important part of our trip was meeting Dean and seeing my sweet darling sister. Dean, who after affectionately calling me Pig – rather than my actual nickname which is Peg – may here be known as Ding (is it his accent or mine?) lived in Mt Eden, which we enjoyed hanging out at before actually meeting him. When Ding finished work the four of us were pretty busted from the big day of delays so our exploration was limited to enjoying burgers and beers while traipsing around the main drag of Mt Eden to inspect a few cool little restaurants and bars dotted around. We then drove to Rotarua.
Day 2 Rotarua – Wai-O-Tapu
Rising to a very cold and frosty morning, this volcanology enthusiast’s first stop in NZ was to Wai-O-Tapu, a 20-minute drive south of Rotorua. On the way there we drove past Rainbow Mountain (Maori name is Maungakakaramea, meaning ‘mountain of coloured earth’). It was pretty, but I didn’t get my camera out… oops! The mountain has a very volcanic past but has gotten significantly cooler which has meant native geothermal-loving plants have grown, some of them quite rare. While we didn’t take the walk to the mountain – I read the information panel at the start of the two tracks. We also made a detour past Kerosene Creek, where we also jumped out of the car to have a look.
Arriving at Wai-o-tapu I was so excited. I don’t know what it is that I find so exhilarating about volcanoes. We got there just before ten and I had to ask the receptionist if I could *literally* run to see the explosion that happened at exactly 10.15am. Why didn’t I question this precise eruption I don’t know but as I was running to get there a bloke was following me and said don’t rush you will get to see it. I said thanks but thought “and how the bloody hell do you know?” Welp he’s the guy that pours the powder in the ‘volcano’ to make it erupt. This made for a mildly disappointing, anticlimatic but mostly hilarious experience of watching this dude dump some soap powder in a hole to make it spurt…..
Anyway, info on the geyser; it’s called Lady Knox and has no Maori name because it was discovered in the 20th Century by prisoners washing their clothes in the acidic pool. Neat.
Then we walked up to the mud pools and watched them for a while. I’ll tell you about them: mud pools are actually volcanoes but they are not igneous volcanoes because they don’t make lava and they have no magmatic activity, mud is constantly oozed by the earth. They are made from subterranean hot water being mixed with mineral deposits forced upwards through a fault or fissure. This is due to pressure imbalances NOT magma activity and are mostly found near subduction zones (which is when a tectonic plate is being pushed below another – this is where the pressure is coming from). Mud pools can be boiling hot, or relatively cool and the air that comes out of them is usually methane but it can sometimes be nitrogen too… (methane is the stinky one).
Wai-O-Tapu means “sacred waters” in Maori. It is technically a mud volcano too and it was actually the biggest in NZ until it eroded. The area covers 18km in total, but there are boardwalks and viewing platforms around that make it an easy walk to see everything. The day we went, the air was still icy, which meant that the volcano was super steamy and you couldn’t see a great distance around. Up close the pools were still very cool.
Champagne Pool is a big geothermal hot spring, again, not igneous because no magma. So what, you ask, is making it hot? Almost as awesome as magma… (and still sort of a result of magma) it is heat created by the decay of natural radioactive elements. Healing water anyone? It’s gases are carbon dioxide, which is the same as bubbles which bubble in my other favourite thing.. Champagne!
Champagne pool is big too, at 65m across and nearly as deep in places. Elements and minerals found in the champagne pool include gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium, antimony.
A lot of the Wai-o-tapu area’s attraction is the bright colours featured in the hot pools, especially the Artist’s pallet with all of them. The colours come from these minerals:
- Orange from antimony
- Purple from manganese oxide
- White from silica
- Yellow from sulphur (stinky!)
- Red-brown from Iron Oxide
- Black from Sulphur (and carbon which is plants)
- Green from colloidal sulphur or ferrous salts
That was the morning done! We then headed home to via a few of Ding’s favourite places, including showing us dodgy areas in Rotorua and taking us to “the warehouse” for me to get some swimmers to wear to the Polynesian Spa later.
Polynesian Spa is a total tourist magnet. Tooting its own horn as “New Zealand’s leading internationally acclaimed spa” it’s a neat little spot by Lake Rotarua. With 28 thermal pools there you choose one of the four bathing areas either Deluxe Lake Spa, Adult Pools (ft ‘historic’ Priest Spa – don’t ask me what that mean), Private Pools, or Family Spa. Anyway, we jumped in, don’t ask me which one. Unfortunately, since we spent far too much time at the warehouse I missed out on getting a ‘sumptuous spa therapy’ and also the appointments were all booked by the time we got there!
The night ended with us heading home and enjoying tea at Ding’s parent’s house where we discovered that Kiwis eat cake with yoghurt.
Day 3 Lakes and Forests
The next morning we rose and rode to Green and Blue Lake. The look out was only a few minutes out of town, Lake Rotokakhi is the green lake, it is shallow and sandy so the water reflects a deeper colour. Lake Tikitapu is the blue lake and it’s water is over a white rhyolite floor (like pumice stone). This was particularly cool because you can stand on the same hill and look at each lake and see the colour difference!
Next stop was Wahakrewarewa Forest a.k.a the Redwoods. Usually reserved for active people walking/riding/running for whatever reason the whole park was still definitely worth the trip to check out the BIG TREES!
The forest was actually made in 1901 to see what grew best where for the forestry industry and there are a bunch of neat native and exotic plants the highlight is the giant Californian Redwoods.
Before 1886 the site was similar to the rest of veg surrounding Rotorua – flax, fern, tussock and shrubs like the manuka, tutu and coprosmas. It then became a Maori settlement called Te Whakarewarewa Tanga o te Ope Taua a Wahiao – the place where the war party of Waihiao (a Te Arawa chief) lived. There’s clearly some history missing here because then it was “Forest Park” before being subject to NZ’s asset recycling program
The “Forest Park” designation was removed following the restructuring of the New Zealand Forest Service when Crown Land was sold. Fortunately, the Whakarewarewa Forest was recognised for its historical, recreational and aesthetic importance and the site avoided beauracery’s unforgiving rubber stamp – recreational access was retained.
Day 4 Hobbiton and Home
On our final day, we booked our Middle earth trip to the Hobbiton Movie Set. This was a top-tier experience – significantly enhanced by dear Jono’s nerd-ness.
The movie set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies was actually so cool. When you get there on the bus you see why Peter Jackson loved the old sheep farm because it was actually magical.
The tour takes you on the farm and drops you off just behind the hill so you get a real “Bilbo’s Home” vibe as you walk over and the guide gives you the story. Marley had never seen a LOTR movie, book or advertisement (she did know the “I’m going on an adventure” meme though) and she still really enjoyed it!
The hobbit holes are all different sizes, and the green dragon inn at the end serves a damn nice drink at the end.