“Alright, who farted?!”
Chelsey uttered suddenly as she covered her nose with the top of her sweater.
To be fair, it could have been any of us guys. We’ve been torturing her during our whole drive in New Zealand so far, but none of us made claim to this particular accusation. If any of us farted, we’d definitely admit it. However minutes later as we drove on, the smell still lingered and soon realized that none of us were the culprit. It was Rotorua in all her sulfuric glory.
Rotorua smells like freakin’ rotten eggs!
Seriously it reeks!
“How come no one warned us about this?” I gagged, mistakenly inhaling a big gulp of air in my mouth.
Even Chelsey, the group appointed New Zealand expert (she’s been happily reading her New Zealand Lonely Planet Guidebook for months), wasn’t aware. Ryan said that this was the worst smell he’s ever smelt in his young life. The smell grew worse once we checked into Four Canoes, our pseudo hostel/hotel hybrid. There were pockets in the vicinity that smelt like absolute death. The people who live here must have noses of steel.
What To Do In Rotorua?
Appropriately nicknamed Sulphur City and less appropriately RotoVegas, Rotorua is the epicenter of volcanic activity in the North Island. What attracted us here were two things: the Maori Culture (which we’ll get to later) and Champagne Lake. What is Champagne Lake? A boiling multi-colored lake hidden somewhere in the region with edges of orange, turquoise, and green fuming with toxic gases. We had to see it for ourselves, but where was it? We researched on google and found that Champagne Lake resides in a place called Wai-O-Tapu National Park.
We had the day all planned out. Wai-O-Tapu–> Kerosene Creek–> Mud Baths, with bits of stuff in between. Since we were booked solid, we departed early in the morning to Wai-O-Tapu–so early that we were the very first to arrive. We parked the car and stepped out into what felt like the set of the original Jurassic Park. I’ve never been in an environment quite like this. We could have swore we heard a Dilophosaurus and a few Velociraptors in the distance. FYI, a Dilophosaurus is that small dinosaur that sprung opened its frills and shot its poisonous gunk into that fat guy’s deserving face. Yup, we heard those. Even the trees felt prehistoric in front of the vaporous backdrop.
Were we at the right place?
We walked around as awestruck as we were, to the parks entrance. We were definitely the first ones there which meant complete freedom to explore and take photos without anyone else to stand in our way. What we didn’t fully anticipate to see was how completely unique this park was compared to any other place we’ve been in the world. This place was the primary source of that rotten egg smell, from all the toxic pools and gaseous ponds releasing fumes into the air. None of it felt real.
To complete the entire circuit of the park would take about 75 minutes according to the guide map we received. The length of the trail is about 3km and highlights 25 different hot spots to see. The hot spots were all completely unique but the one that caught my eye first was hot spot number 25: Devil’s Bath, a giant bowl of boiling neon green liquid. The color is the result of excess water from the nearby Champagne Pool mixing with the ferrous salts and sulfur.
The Champagne Pool is what attracted us to Wai-O-Tapu in the first place and it too also captured my attention.
It was large and smokey, about 65m in diameter and 62m deep! You could feel the heat from the never-ending spouts of gas erupting from the center of the pool. The edge of the pool is lined with palettes of oranges, reds, yellows, silvers, and browns. The ledges are plates resulting from earthquake activity. There was a silly little rope that blocked park guests from getting too close to the pool. The blockade, if that’s what you want to call it, was so laughable that it was practically asking me to trespass and get as close to the pool as possible. And so I did. We all did.
No one else was around, except for a couple of tourists who happened to show up and caught us being bad. They were so impressed that they copied what we just did. No harm done though. We just wanted a few cool shots.
We split our time at the park in half. After Champagne Pool, we high tailed it Lady Knox, a nearby geyser that was set to erupt at 10:15am. How can they predict when a geyser will erupt on a daily basis? Turns out all you need is some environmentally friendly soap to break up the surface tension to cause a chemical reaction which results in a giant continuous spout of sudsy liquid! A few of us were sprinkled with speckles of the geysers fury, but thankfully it smelt like soap and not eggs.
We went back to the park to continue our walk through one of the most geologically fascinating places on Earth.
Hofstetter, one of our dive masters in Paihia, tipped us about a creek nearby we could swim in that produced hot water. It’s called Kerosene Creek and was super close to the park, so we made our way there.
We secured our valuables and walked a few minutes through a muddy forest to find other people in the creek that we were looking for. A small waterfall delivered the warm water we desired as we lolled in the creek for a bit.
We planned on hiking up Rainbow Mountain, but time had other plans for us. We were scheduled to go to Hell’s Gate, a geothermal reserve park, for a proper mud bathing. The place was just a bit north of Four Canoes and time only allotted us to bath in some mud for about 20 minutes.
It was hot to the touch at first. Sinking your feet in the mud Jacuzzi was the hottest part, but once your body settled into the gray ooze, you became one with the mud. Giant clumps were placed in boxes on the rim on the baths that we could use to smother ourselves. It’s said that the mud has age-defying properties ( I feel like every mud spa says that). We put it literally everywhere on our body except above our eyes as we were warned. We were also warned that the smell of the mud would take a couple days to wear off and not to put any mud in our ears. I put mud in my ears before I read that particular warning and suffered dirty consequences the next few days.
Once our 20 minutes were up, we rinsed off the mud and entered a boiling pool of sulphur to relax in. It was definitely soothing but extremely hot and pungent. I still had mud lodged in my nose and crammed deep in my ears, so I got the heck out of there and into the showers after about ten minutes of bathing in the sulphur.
The warning heeds correctly. I soaped and scrubbed my body to the max, yet I still reeked of foul mud. When I woke up the next day, all I could breathe was the smell of mud all over my face, hands, and now my pillow and blanket. Throw in the smell of Rotorua’s ruthless rotten egg stench, I was a stink. But there was nothing I could do about it. Not for the next couple of days since we decided to extend our stay in Rotorua based on how absolutely fun today was. Queenstown may be the adventure capital of the South Island but Rotorua is absolutely the adventure capital of the North, and yet we had so much more to see!
We were beginning to embrace the rotten egg stench of Rotorua that paralleled a world full of unique recreation.