New Zealand 11: Rotorua

My intercity bus arrived at Rotorua ISITE at around 6:40pm and it took me about 10 minutes to waddle through this near-empty town to reach my accommodation for the next 2 nights – RockSolid Backpackers at $26 per night. I realise I haven’t really made much comment on the places I have slept, which would probably indicate that none have been awful and none have been spectacular. What I would say about RockSolid, however, is that they have pretty tight security; I was given a set of keys that contained 3 separate keys, one for the door that lead from the reception to the other floors (which was directly after a door that required a code to get in), one for my dorm room (although this was slightly redundant as people hardly ever locked it, which had to be done from the inside) and the third key has a use that I didn’t figure out/listen to/require. So basically no crazy, random person would get up to our rooms but someone from the hostel would more than likely be able to get into our room. 

Shattered from my early morning and long hike in Tongariro I wasn’t up to doing much but I always like to have a bit of a wander round the area so I walked over to the PAK n SAVE and browsed the supermarket aisles for a while (a favourite pastime of mine back home; living the dream) and picked up some food and a cider for the following night. Despite being shattered I didn’t get the best sleep as the beds weren’t particularly sinkintoable (don’t tell me that’s not a word, autocorrect!) and I woke up with my head cold in full force, feeling more wiped out than the day before. Ooooo Rotorua is going to be wild, I can feel it…

Anyway I decided to take it easy and took a slow walk around Rotorua, starting by making my way to Government Gardens where there are geothermal pools (and the Polynesian spa that you have to pay for). I had been warned about the smell in Rotorua due to the geyser and thermal activity but I hadn’t really noticed a pong until now, but the stench was definitely present as I stood by the thermal pool surrounded by brick that emitted an eggy smoke.

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I then walked down to the lakefront and walked along the perimeter before I looped in to enter Kuirau Park; a public park with tonnes of naturally occurring geothermal activity including boiling thermal water, the best of which is basically in this lake surrounded by trees. You can cross over the lake using the boardwalk, so at certain points you are literally surrounded by eggy smoke, making it feel like you are in some kind of budget music video. It was pretty mystical and fascinating to watch.

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Other geothermal activity in the park included bubbling mud enclosed by stone and hot footpools, two of which I came across but there may have been more. A rectangle hole in the ground with a wooden plank seating around the periphery, I slipped off my shoes and rolled up my jeans before sitting on the edge and sinking my feet into the pleasantly warm water. 

I had pre-booked white water rafting with Rotorua Rafting for the afternoon. There are a few spots you can do his activity, ranging from $90-120 NZD, but I managed to find a deal on bookme.com where I paid $66.50 NZD for Grade 5 Rafting (whatever grade 5 means – I’m gonna go with the hardest!) on the Kaituna River. The Kaituna boasts the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7m and has Maori culture/history associated with it so I went for this one. Plus, I’ll be honest, it was the cheapest; I would recommend checking bookme.com for any activity you plan to do in NZ as you can get some pretty decent discounts and the costs really do add it, especially if you get sucked into the “adrenaline” pull. 

I asked for the transfer service so I made my way back to the ISITE for 2:30pm (I had booked in for the 3pm slot) and was picked up in a minivan before being driven 10/15 minutes to the Rotorua Rafting base. Here I was handed soaking wet booties and a ridiculously tight wetsuit to stuff my body into; snug isn’t the word, I felt physically contained by a thick layer of damp flesh. Not the ideal feeling for someone whom lacks body confidence and suffers with debilitating physical self-esteem…or maybe it is as it forces you to confront it and carry on. Well, I certainly wasn’t about to pull out of Rafting because of the way I looked (that would be absurd, right??)

We all then piled (or slipped like seals) into a couple of minivans and drove about 5 minutes down the road, with rafts and oars on board, to the start of our river raft. We got into Rafting groups (5 or 6 per group with one qualified dude) and hopped into our rafts. You sit on the edge of the raft and use your oar to paddle forwards or backwards at the instruction of the professional, us starting off by slowly making our way down the river as our professional (Cam) talked us through the safety instructions. It wasn’t long before we reached our 2m drop followed immediately after by a 1m drop and got our first taste of the water crashing into our raft.

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A little bit further downstream we were able to hop out of the raft and jump off a small cliff edge into the water before swimming back to our raft and climbing back in. Or, as the case may be for me, clambering over the edge of the boat and being hauled in by others. Graceful as ever, Sparkes. We then came to another small fall and took this one backwards, oars in the air, and another small one we took standing up, although apparently we all have the worst balance in the world and it was about a second until we all fell into the raft on our bums; I was the last one standing (hurrah) but I did basically use the other falling bodies around me to hold myself up.

We finally approached the infamous 7m fall and I was actually feeling a bit nervous, which seems ridiculous considering the skydive and bungy jump but apparently fear doesn’t disappear, you just get used to facing it and giving it a good talking to. And, if I’m honest, it wasn’t even half as scary as I imagined nor did it feel like much of a fall; at least, in the sense of your body registering a fall and the usual physical responses you may have. Perhaps it would have felt more dramatic had we tipped over (not all that rare and it isn’t dangerous) or had I not been expecting it to feel wild; don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable and we were thrilled to “survive” it upright (although we did pretty much sink into and under the water at the bottom), it just wasn’t quite as exhilarating as I had maybe imagined.

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At the end of the route we hopped off the raft and dumped our soaking bodies back into the minivan for the short drive back to base where we changed out of our very wet wetsuits before having the chance to view our photos. Unfortunately you don’t get photos included, which I think is a bit cheeky when you have paid so much for an experience and it would barely cost them anything to just upload them to Facebook. However as there were 5 of us in the raft we paid for one USB of the pics at $40 NZD, so only $8 each, and shared them via email. We were then dropped back at the Rotorua ISITE for just after 5pm. When I had made the booking I was advised it would take 3 hours in total so I was surprised and maybe a bit disappointed to arrive back so much earlier; the crew were amazing and it was a fun day, but I did head back to the hostel feeling a bit shortchanged. Perhaps I am spoilt – after paying less than $40 USD for a full day of canyoning with lunch included in Vietnam it’s hard to not make comparisons. Having said that, though, I am really glad I did it and get to tick White Water Rafting off my list!

I spent that evening procrastinating rather than packing, going on social media sites rather than searching for hostels in Brazil, before trying (and failing) to get to sleep; damn noisy, inconsiderate hostel people. Before I knew it my alarm was going off at 4:40am to check out the hostel and make my 5:25am Nakedbus to Mount Maunganui. The crisp air and eggy stench on my short walk to the ISITE was certainly a wake-up call.

LS.

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