A babbling brook on a hot summer’s day turns out to be a 100 degree geothermal creek. Mud bubbles up into pools with the smell of either bean and bacon soup or, more succinctly, farts — as the ladies say. These cracks in our perception of the way the earth should be are magical and meaningful. Welcome to Rotorua.
New Zealand’s Yellowstone, complete with a daily erupting geyser, they say you can smell Rotorua before you see it. We didn’t experience it quite that way, but the town sure was an oddity.
Pulling into a local park, there was kid’s playground, ball fields, restrooms — all pretty much looking like your average park, anywhere U.S.A. Except for the hot springs. Incongruously scattered around the area, in pockets no larger than basketball courts, were little fenced-off oasis where steam vented out, water bubbled into ponds and little walkways kept onlookers safe. Then it was back to another play area or soccer field.
And that was the least interesting thing about the town.
After a great talk with a Scottish dude who runs a fish and chips dive, we drove out to Kerosene Creek with a massive amount of delectable crumbling fish and french fries doing their level best to scald my thighs as a precursor to what was ahead.
After driving down a long dirt road and finding the “grass verge” on the right, we parked and walked down to that babbling brook I spoke of. We were met along the creek by a couple dozen people mostly in their 20s or 30s and one family with a tiny baby. But some senior citizens were there including an older German couple who just sat there staring at us and smoking for a few minutes before turning around and walking back.
The place felt like Tahquamenon Falls in miniature. Dipping our toes in, though, reminded us that this was no cool running brook. As hot as a hotel jacuzzi, the water rushing by felt frightening and soothing in the same flow. We took pictures of the people, the scene, Taylor atop the mini waterfall and it looked for all the world like we were just splashing around in a typical small forested river.
I was the first to leave, though, the heat and my cold got to me and I needed to get back to the car. As we got dressed and pulled back onto the dirt road, Marci told us there was bacteria in the waters that can cause meningitis. Now the warning? But we weren’t to worry, the locals say no one has ever contracted it.
Is it Kerosene Creek or Meningitis Springs?
Just a bit further down the road were some sulphery oozing mud pools, blurping and bubbling up from far below. The fumes and the sounds were extra-planetary. Don’t worry, we didn’t go swimming in that cauldron!
Since this was Marci’s day — after Taylor and I took up the lion’s share of the previous one at Hobbiton — she wanted to skip the touristy parts of Rotorua and drive toward our next destination. By dinner time, we were skimming around Tauranga town and heading to the peninsula featuring Mount Maunganui, an old lava dome.
No pizza or burgers for us quite yet; Marci wanted to walk along the shore with the rest of the joggers and campers and yoga-on-paddle-boarders. We walked to the base of The Mount, as it’s known. Still feeling motivated, we hiked around it on gorgeous paths that alternated between mild strolls and serious workout routes. It was a great way to work up an appetite and we finally ate in what was likely one of the furthest Irish pubs from Ireland.
Not finding suitable accommodations there, but with the speediest wifi we’ve had, Marci found a place an hour’s drive north and closer to our next couple of beachy wonders. We’re now ensconced in Unit 3 of a trailer park situated on a spit of land with the ocean and tsunami evacuation notices surrounding us. It’ll be lovely by day, but after having to wake up the manager and being creeped out by the people standing in their own trailers just staring at us as we pulled in, it felt like we were in the opening scenes of a horror movie. Taylor and I couldn’t stop laughing; thankfully Marci was good-natured about it.
I’m writing this now at 4:30 a.m. local time, 10:30 a.m. yesterday back in the states. If you’re reading this, we’ve negotiated our release — hopefully without having to sacrifice Taylor.
By the way, where is Old Zealand?