Rotorua: The City That Smells of Farts
This is by far the most juvenile title that I (or indeed a six-year-old) could have chosen for this section. Rejected, more mature titles included: Rotorua: The City That Smells of Sulphur*, Rotorua: The City That Shouldn’t be Judged on Smell and Rotorua: The City That Doesn’t Smell of Farts Because That’s Rude.
Anyway, a few hours drive south-east of Auckland lies Rotorua (roughly Māori for ‘second lake’), and it smells like rotten eggs. You can smell it as you walk through the streets and the parks; you can smell it inside the hostel when you leave the window open; you can smell it inside the hostel when you don’t leave the window open; you can smell it on the toilet when you’re – oh no wait, never mind.
Tourists are drawn to Rotorua because of this smell, although not literally. Rather, Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, which is evident throughout the city. The park next to my hostel is full of bubbling mud pools and clouds of steam, along with hot pools for you to bathe your feet.
Nearby Lake Rotorua is blue in parts and yellow in others, with numerous rock fissions expelling gas into the air. There are signs warning you not to stray from the path because of the activity that’s fizzing just beneath the surface: in true New Zealand fashion, these signs are rather haphazard and largely ignored. In fact, they often directly contradict path signs, making the whole walk something of a lottery, in which you can win Badly Burned Legs.
On the outskirts of Rotorua, you can wander through an impressive forest of Redwoods, imported from California by the New Zealand government in 1901 as part of a project to combat deforestation. Near to the Redwoods is Whakarewarewa (Far-ka-ray-wa-ray-wa), a Māori village that educates visitors into the Māori way of life.
The village is a literal hotbed of geothermal activity, and the Māori use it to cook and bathe. In parts of the village, it feels like it’s raining even under a clear blue sky: nearby geysers spray water up to 40m into the air.
(*Dr Loren Parry says I can still spell it this way.)
Taupo: The Town You Can’t Pronounce
An hour’s drive south of Rotorua lies Taupo. No-one can pronounce it. Almost everyone I’ve met pronounces it tau-po, but it’s a Māori word so should actually be pronounced toe-paw or something similar. Even locals seem to swap between the two pronunciations depending on who they’re talking to, either because they’re trying to make life easier for tourists or because even they can’t get it right.
The travel guides would have you believe it’s a quiet lakeside village, but by New Zealand standards, it’s practically a metropolis. The town centre is similar to Rotorua but on a larger scale, with a grid structure of wide, expansive streets and a mixture of generic chain stores and independent shops.
The town borders the sizeable Lake Taupo (it’s about nine times the size of Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest lake, and bigger than Singapore), which stretches away over the horizon to distant snow-capped mountains.
Taupo is popular with tourists for its extreme sports, but it’s also an area of great beauty, with peaceful botanic gardens overlooking the lake, a hot water beach where geothermal activity keeps you warm, and a scenic walk along the river to the famous Haka Falls. I’m in Taupo for four days, and during that time, the weather alternates between hot sun, blustery winds and rain so angry that it turns into hail. It’s almost like being back in Britain. In fact, for a while I think I might be feeling homesick, but it turns out just to be dehydration.