7th June 2013 22:32
If you're planning on visiting Rotorua, do so with a clothes peg firmly clamped over your nostrils. It whiffs a little...
It's not due to the locals having eaten too many baked beans, but the thermal activity in the area producing hydrogen sulphide emissions, which smell like rotten eggs. While I guess this may put some people off, the novelty of walking around town and encountering bubbling pools of mud and steaming chasms does more than make up for it.
The city itself is not very busy, and has some nice architecture and buildings to admire while exploring. However, the main event really is the thermal "goings-on". There was one point where an area in Sulphur Bay was cordoned off and signs warned people not to pass beyond that point as the deceptively hard surface was actually very thin, and there was a danger of it cracking underfoot and you getting scalded by ridiculously hot steam rising from below. I watched as some people blatantly ignored this and began wandering all over the area past the barrier. I secretly hoped for the ground to crack beneath them as a consequence of their idiocy, but alas – no joy. I continued my wandering in disappointment.
A short way outside the city (but, predictably far enough that I'd have to pay for a shuttle/day tour thing!) is the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland! I know, it sounds a little overhyped... but it is pretty good, and certainly on another level to the small, bubbling mud pools immediately surrounding the city. One thing that was a little underwhelming, and didn't exactly live up to the "Wonderland" title was the Lady Knox geyser. It promised an "eruption" every day at 10am, which we arrived for in plenty of time on the minibus. Now I don't know about you, but when I hear the word eruption I expect something pretty violent, maybe powerful enough to blow the front row of tourists 10 feet back in the air with a loud, explosive bang! It was incredibly disappointing, it quietly spurted some water and steam (admittedly) fairly high into the air, but it was all rather tame for my liking.
The rest of the wonderland was filled with a bit more wonder though... the huge variety of amazing, natural colours on display if nothing else.
After arriving back in town at the end of the thermal wonderland trip, I was keen to visit the Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre. This is a little known "attraction" in the area, as they don't market themselves as a tourist destination as such. Indeed, when I'd previously asked about them in the iSite visitor's centre, they hadn't heard of them before. They're actually a conservation, education and research organisation for birds of prey. Every day at a set time, they provide a flying display of their birds which I really wanted to catch. I'd enjoyed the one I'd seen at the koala sanctuary in Brisbane, but that wasn't really the main attraction and hadn't lasted very long.
Unfortunately, once again I was at a disadvantage not having my own transportation. I had to resort to catching a taxi as walking all the way would have made me late for the display. I realise this makes me sound like a complete cheapskate, but when you're backpacking (especially as it was near the end of my trip!) I had to watch the pennies pretty closely! Anyway, I made it in good time, and after having a look around their large aviary, I settled down with the other people there (only around seven or eight people, it was great!) to watch the display.
We were also allowed to hold the birds, which was rather awesome. I've now decided I need to own a bird of prey at some point. You can train them to attack annoying kids, right? It can also sit on my shoulder while I'm sailing my boat. Sod the parrot.