Putting the ‘Holiday’ Back in ‘Working Holiday’

As you may or may not know, M and I have managed to get jobs in Auckland: me as a data scientist, him as a liquor store employee. I earn the money, he gets the discounted alcohol. Things are wonderful, but we haven’t had much of a chance to travel, especially since navigating New Zealand pretty much requires a car. Sure, you can get around by bus, like we did to the Bay of Islands, but they aren’t terribly convenient for the average working person. However, last Monday was the Queen’s (official) Birthday, meaning it was the last 3-day weekend for a while, so we jumped on the opportunity and took a road trip to Rotorua!

Rotorua is a, if not the, major tourist destination in NZ and thus has styled itself “the Las Vegas of NZ.” I think they’re slightly missing the point though, since Las Vegas has nothing to offer in terms of its natural surroundings, hence everyone has to stay inside and gamble, whereas Rotorua is centered on an extremely geothermically active area and offers tons of outdoorsy activities. Plus, not even one person in Rotorua tried to give us a flyer for cheap strippers. Despite these shortcomings(?), we found it a charming little town, if a bit smelly from all the sulfuric gases. We arrived at a nice hostel with a hot tub (a perk of most places on a geothermal site) on Saturday evening, and spend the rest of the night planning our two days in Rotorua.


On Saturday morning, we wandered around the town. Rotorua touts a lot of spendy tourist things, but as far as I’m concerned you can see most of the highlights for free. We walked along the shore of Lake Rotorua, which as expected, has tons of steaming vents and bubbling pools around it.

Near the Laughing Gas Pool, sadly closed indefinitely.
Near the Laughing Gas Pool, sadly closed indefinitely.

The lake itself is slightly warm too, making it the perfect wintering place for a variety of birds. We saw gulls, coromorants, ducks, black swans, fantails and swallows, the last two of which happily feasted on the multitudes of bugs that also thrived in the warm water. The fantails were especially adorable: they flitted around the path and one even hovered about a foot in front of us, then landed on a nearby branch and twittered at us, as if it was asking for more bugs to eat.

Look at all those nests in the tree!
Cute lil bird!
Cute lil bird!

After the lakefront, we headed inland to the charming Kuirau Park. This public park features normal park things like fields and playgrounds, but also steaming pools and noxious gases:

Pretty flowers and a portal to hell.
Pretty flowers and a portal to hell.

Besides the vents and pools, which are thoroughly fenced off, the city has taken advantage of the geothermal heat to install warm foot baths around the park. We were hungry though, so we skipped the baths and headed back to the hostel. After a hearty meal of bagels and nutella, we drove out of Rotorua to one of the many nearby lakes. Here we found no geothermal activity, only a wonderfully peaceful walk along a boardwalk with autumn hills to our right and a lake full of birds to our left. Partway along the boardwalk we stopped at a bird hide, but all we could see were some Canadian geese (yes, they are here too, but are much less common):

View from the hide.
View from the hide.
Some black swans, which gave us the eye as we walked past.
Some black swans, which gave us the eye as we walked past.

We also spotted the rare dabchick, which is an unremarkable bird except for the fact that there are only about 2,000 of them left in the wild (according to a sign we saw). Like many other birds, it likes hanging out around Rotorua since the water is warm.

They didn't want to get close.
They didn’t want to get close.

We still had a few hours of daylight left, so we headed to Kerosene Creek. Unlike the fancy luxurious spas around Rotorua, Kerosene Creek is a naturally warm stream that’s totally free to swim in. Of course, it is down an extremely bumpy gravel road about 20km out of town so it’s not the easiest place to get to, but despite that the small parking lot was full of campervans and family cars. The small stream was also full of people enjoying the warm water and so we also got into the waterfall pool. The water was slightly silty from being disturbed by the falls, but there was a nice natural jacuzzi effect. Unfortunately by this point the sun was well on its way down and the air was getting chilly, so we dried off as best we could and headed off back up the road. Surprisingly, we met a lot of people going towards the stream even at this late hour. Though it was getting dark, we made one last stop at the Rainbow Hill crater lake. It was especially beautiful in the sunset:

The Rainbow Hill, with steam coming out of course.
… and the lake!



After this long, busy day, we ate an awesome dinner at Fat Dog, the best local cafe, and relaxed in the hostel hot tub. The next day was almost as busy, so it will have to wait for the next post!


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