The water is hot around me, the air is fresh. I’m looking out onto the surrounding fields and hills, silver steam rising from the meadows. It’s so quiet and peaceful, easy to relax my racing mind and just be. Later we’re walking beside the Otamakokore Stream, the sunlight poking it’s rays through the thick mist coming off the boiling water. I tilt my face into the warmth of the sun and think to myself, this is what Fairylands must look like.
In the morning we drank our coffee right at the shore of lake Okareka, the setting quiet and peaceful. I spent a little time planning our route, using the NZ Rankers App while Ben cooked breakfast. We then headed into town to the Visitor Centre and booked a White Water Rafting experience with Rotorua Rafting, which is the cheapest of the different rafting providers ($90NZ). I can only recommend this company!
After a short bus ride we were jumping into our wet suits and putting on our helmets whilst listening to safety instructions. Another short bus ride and we were climbing into the rafts, hearts racing with excitement and anticipation. Our guide explained how to position ourselves and what to do once the raft was going down steep rapids. The first few waterfalls weren’t too big and a lot of fun to go down. We stopped for a few minutes so everyone could have a go at cliff jumping into the river. After another few rapids we stopped once more to pay the native Maori people who had lived in those lands our respects and then we were off to the big drop, seven meters to be exact – the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
With our hearts pounding and hands sweating we jumped into a crouch position at our guides command and held on for dear life. Our boat crept over the edge of the thunderous waterfall, plummeted into the water, then bounced out again and flipped. Everyone in the boat was thrown into the whitewash and for a second most of us were trapped under the raft but escaped in a heart beat, and were left gasping for air. We were immediately hauled into the other rafts and went back into our own, once we managed to flip it back over. The rest of the experience seemed like a nice walk in the park by comparison, and before we knew it we were done. We quickly took a group picture and then got into the bus to go back to the company base.
After getting changed we had a good laugh at our expressions in the pictures that were taken by their photographer. Purchasing them was optional but we shared one USB stick with an American woman from our group so it ended up being twenty dollars instead of forty (your girl is always up for a good bargain).
After stopping at the centre of Rotorua and a quick stroll through the Government Gardens we headed out of town to the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. The entry fee is usually $20 but if you stay at the campground (same price) you can visit the hot pools for free. The campground has a kitchen and shower/ toilet facilities and also a café serving food and beverages.
We parked the car, jumped into our swimmers and relaxed in the pleasantly warm thermal pools, which was definitely needed after a day of adrenaline and excitement. The pools have an average temperature of 35°-38° Celsius, with my favorite being the Pergola Pool, overlooking the boiling Otamakokore Stream and Waikite Valley.
After relaxing for a while we headed to the Eco-Trail, which leads to the Te Manaroa Spring. It is the largest single source of boiling water in New Zealand – and magnificent to look at on top of that. We ended the day with a huge dinner and fell into our beds exhausted but happy.
Hot Springs & Lake Taupo
The wet stones are gleaming in a million different colors, like a rainbow – like kerosene. I trace my hand over the slick surface and watch the colors transform. The stream is steady, slowly flowing. The birds are chirping, the leaves are russling. I slip off the edge and slide into the hot water until I’m fully submerged, holding my breath as long as possible – until at last, I have to break the surface again and suck in a deep breath of air.
After a quick dip in the Thermal Pools we left the Waikite Valley behind and headed to Kerosene Creek, a natural hot spring. If you don’t want to pay at all to visit a geothermal area to swim in, this is the place to go. Make sure to take all your valuables with you though, since there have been break-ins at the Kerosene car park in the past. The river has a few beautiful waterfalls and the water temperature is just right, and the smell of sulfur isn’t too strong. I definitely would not recommend going to any of the big geothermal spa parks since they are extremely expensive and also extremely touristy (unless you’re made of money and like that sort of thing).
Our next stop were the Waiotapu Mud Pools, which are funny to look at and also totally free. We then made our way towards Lake Taupo, and had a quick break in the city for Wifi and coffee (free Wifi at the public library – get on that). The drive from Taupo to the Tongariro National Park is absolutely beautiful, so be prepared to stop a few times.
We spent the night at the Mangahuia Camping Ground, which is again very basic but beautiful and is about 10 minutes away from Whakapapa Village. In the village you can get information on hikes and other things to do in the area (at the DOC Visitor Centre). If you eat at the Chateau Tongariro you can use the Wifi for free, and if you’re after coffee or cake head over to Fergusson’s Cafe.
If you keep driving on Bruce Road from Whakapapa Village you’ll get to Iwikau Village, which is a stones throw away from a couple of Lord of the Rings filming locations (Mordor), so if you’re a fan definitely check them out!