16 January 2015

Adventures in Rotorua: stinky mud pools, dwarfed by the Redwood forest and a whole lotta luge riding

As Rotorua is only a hop, skip and an hour or so from Hamilton, we decided to use some Christmas money we'd received to have a fun family day out on the 23rd December.

Despite thinking we had all the timings sussed, we ended up cutting it pretty fine to see the Lady Knox Geyser go off at 10.15 am. Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is another 25 or so minutes south of Rotorua and we didn't anticipate the crowds of others with the same idea - having to make a mad dash inside the main entrance for tickets and then hightail it in the car a few minutes up the road to another carpark.

I'd been to see the geyser before when I was fourteen on a school trip, and I clearly remember the bunch of us standing up fairly close to the geyser listening to the guide explain and set it off. Fast forward some twenty-odd years, and we're talking hundreds of cars in not just the main carpark but also in an overflowing overflow carpark and at least 500 people crammed into an amphitheatre to see it. Having to crane over and through other people made it somewhat less of an enjoyable experience - that being said it was still an impressive sight shooting up metres into the sky when it got going - but we did then make a mad dash back to the carpark so that we could beat most of the other cars out of there back to the main thermal area.

If you haven't had the pleasure of visiting Rotorua before, the smell can rather overwhelm you. I remember taking Mark on a day trip when we first arrived back in NZ some twelve years ago, and taking the mickey out of him at difficult he found it to cope with the smell. This time he was fine, but Noah struggled big time - so much so that he had to sit down and take a breather so as not to be sick at one point! Mylo on the other hand was absolutely fine - go figure!

In order to make the most of the $80 entry fee, we walked all the different loops of the area - my favourite memory that I wanted to capture again was the incredible orange and green colours of the Champagne Pool - although it is hard to take a photo that does it justice amongst the constant stream of steam rising and blowing every which way. Mylo and I also went off on our own to see Lake Ngakoro which I hadn't seen on other visits - it's an incredibly beautiful mid-green and reflected the puffy clouds above so beautifully on this day.

We'd originally thought we might go to Kerosene Creek and have a dip in the natural hot springs of the river but with lunchtime upon us and after Noah's reaction to the smell we thought lunch was probably a much more sensible idea. Yet again Trip Advisor came up trumps suggesting that we visit the Ciabatta Bakery. It's a little off the beaten track in an industrial park on the eastern side of town on the way out to the airport - but what a find!

It's a family run place - and I think we saw no less than Mum, Dad, a teenage son, two youngers boys and grandparents either serving us or doing the baking. They were all so friendly and the food was so good - they even had a GF tortilla option for me!

After filling our tummies we headed just up the road to explore the awesome Redwood Forest area - it's famous for its mountain biking tracks and after an hour spent walking there, I think Mark was wishing he had his mountain bike with him!

The boys took the opportunity to play hide-n-seek as we walked the path, some occasions more successful than others depending on whether they found a tree wide enough to fully hide them!

Looking up into the canopy gave one an sense of being infinitely small in the universe. Whilst walking along, we also saw a very large branch drop off a tree and fall to the ground with a massive thud - literally seconds after a runner had been under the very same spot. We all kept our wits about us after that!

This picture below gives just a small sense of the scale of the forest when you see how small Noah is!

We were reluctant to leave such a beautiful spot but we still had one more adventure up our sleeves for the day, a ride on the gondola and luge. We'd ridden the Queenstown gondola and luge back in April and had great memories of this, but had no concept of how much longer the Rotorua luge was in comparison until we rode it - 2km compared to 800m - that's nearly three times as long!

It was actually quite a tough ride down too, the concrete track was much more rough and ready in places, and by the time we bumped and wound our way to the bottom of the first ride we were almost all done in - and of course we'd gone and purchased a 10-trip to use - ha ha! Noah had found it pretty hard going holding onto the handles that long, as did I especially with my ongoing troublesome right shoulder! We were also a bit concerned how Mylo would get on going up the chairlift after he'd point blank refused to go on the Queenstown one, and - like the luge, this chairlift was three times as long! But somewhere in the past eight months he seems to have conquered his fears of heights and there were no complaints and he seemed to even enjoy the experience! Which was a good thing as we had to do it four times in the end!


After two rides each (Mark with Mylo in front, me and Noah riding separately) we stopped for a very scenic ice-cream while debating how we would use up our last four rides as Noah wasn't keen to have any more goes on his own.

Luckily we found out he was fine to ride in the front of my luge so for the last 2 rides we squeezed ourselves into one luge and hooned down together chasing Mark and Mylo in the other luge!

Even now, I still have vivid memories of having to literally peel my hands off the handles at the end of the rides with the imprint of the rubber handles firmly in my palms after gripping on so tightly for so long!

So, after a very full and fun day out, four tired and happy bodies packed themselves back in the car for the hour's ride home again to Hamilton. It was a great one day introduction to this awesome place - and no doubt a place we will be back again to visit again before long!

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