A Geothermal Sauna Experience

Water spouting from the ground, surrounded by a thick cloud of steam and the sound of traditional Maori songs in the distance. That was what I spent my morning experiencing when we paid a visit to the Whakerewarewa Living Maori Village here in Rotorua.

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This morning I woke up to Codie lying on my pillow and my legs dangling down the back of the bed. It wasn’t the nicest of things since I’d shifted a spider of my pillow the last night and flicked something off my face as I’d been trying to sleep and was quite an edge that there was a nest of them underneath. Still, it made me want to get up rather than have a lovely lie in so I hopped out of bed and got ready for our day out to the 2.1425059903.ari-at-the-entranceWhakerewarewa Living Maori Village. After a quick breakfast of hash brown patty things (free from the freezer!) and covering my face and any visible skin in 50+ sun lotion, I grabbed my bag and we set off on the 2.5 km walk to our destination. The walk there was really nice and we were able to see an area of Rotorua we wouldn’t normally have seen. Admittedly, other than a couple of motels and a horse racing course there wasn’t too much to see but with the sun shining down on us, it was nice to just have a walk around.

About 50 minutes later, we left the main road and found the little ‘Admissions’ entrance to the place. With us having bought our tickets on bookme.com for a cheaper price of $28 as opposed to $35, we had thought that we could only go in at 11, the time we selected, but that wasn’t the case and we soon found ourselves sitting on the wall waiting for a tour. At one point a little honey bee landed on us both and proceeded to search us for nectar but after realising we had none it flew away. Just about 10 minutes later, a group of people came over and asked the people at security when the next tour was. It turned out that contrary to what we’d been told, there wasn’t a guided tour at 11 but 12, grrrrrr, and so rather than hanging around outside for an hour we decided to head on through and discover the village for ourselves. It was a bit annoying that the information we’d been given was wrong but at the same time I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to have a little look around without being in a massive group as I think it allows you to really get the feel of a place before being inundated with information.

As we walked along the path, we made our way under the huge archway built after WWII to commemorate the fallen soldiers and emblazoned with the words “Te Hokowhitu a Tu” which acknowledges the god of war. It was 2.1425059903.6-thermal-villagenice to see such how much care had been taken to show the respect they had for both the soldiers and the gods and I found it interesting to see the differences in how they did so. We crossed a river, slowly walking and taking in the views before coming face to face with huge clouds of steam, billowing from vents in the ground.  I was of course expecting to see things like this with it being a geothermal environment and all but it was a lot more impressive than I had anticipated. It was really cool to see. There was a couple of little wooden houses built right next to these holes in the ground which had been built by the first Maori occupants of the area. By settling there, they were able to take advantage of the natural heat which I think is such a good idea. If only there were steamy holes all around the UK as perhaps it wouldn’t cost so much to keep warm then!

We continued our walk around, saw where they made the sweetcorn in the hot pools and vowed to return to try some of it later on. We’d really only just had our potato based breakfast and I wasn’t particularly hungry so there’s wasn’t much point forcing it down then. If you’re going to eat thermal corn then you have to do it properly! So continuing on and trying not to inhale the sulphur-y smell of the hot steam, we wandered over to a pool called “Korotiotio” and watched the bubbles forcing their way up and onto the surface. This was the most volatile of all the pools in the village and was also the place where you can see the water gushing out from the 2.1425059903.hot-pool-cooking-cornground and stays at a rather toasty 120C. I can imagine even a splash from that would really, really hurt! I enjoyed watching it froth about for a while but in the end, it got to the point when the steam was just too relentless and we had to carry on. It was like being in an eggy sauna. Having said that, the smell of sulphur still wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be and definitely wasn’t anywhere near as Nissyros in Kos. I was actually quite disappointed though I’m not entirely sure why! We left the bubbling hole and had a little look at one of the geyser look out points before wandering through the village and up a hill. It was quite strange walking through as it felt a lot like a display village rather than a place where people actually live. They were all just getting on with their everyday lives though and it was nice to see even if they were driving around in cars and things and not being all tradition. You can’t expect them to stay in the past though for the sake of tourism and it was still a really interesting experience. Wandering through on our way to the better geyser viewpoint we passed a cemetery with the coffins placed on the surface of the ground rather than buried underneath. It might have seemed a little bit peculiar at the time but realistically there’s no way they’d be able to properly bury anything on ground that it so dominated by volcanic activity. I can imagine there’d be some pretty strange accidents if they did and I don’t think it’s really the respect of the dead they’d want!

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A couple of minutes later we reached the best Geyser viewing area and were able to see the Prince of Wale geysers erupting right in front of us which was really cool to see. It’s all very well learning about them in geography and watching them on documentaries but it’s nothing compared to seeing them in reality. They really were spectacular. These were the two smaller ones though and every hour, apparently reliably, the larger one next to them, the Pohutu Geyser, erupted at up to 30 metres. Now that sounded even more amazing and so we settled down to wait, taking photographs as we did and watching the numerous people wandering around in the other thermal park. From what I’d read before our visit, the other place Te Puia, allows you to get up a lot closer to them and there’s more to see thermal wise which would have been good. However,  the land used to be a part of the Maori village which was taken from them following a dispute and now that part is run by the government. Hmmm. Yes you would get to see a bit more than where we were but I really don’t think we would have had the same, interesting experience. I think I’d have been quite disappointed on the other side as not only do you have to pay $20 more, you don’t get to see real people living amongst it all and that was really, really intriguing to see.

2.1425059903.ari-with-the-geyserAn hour later and there was still no sign of the great eruption. Considering it was supposed to be reliable and goes off up to 20 times a day, it was a bit disappointing but we decided to wait around for a bit longer and see if we could see it. Another hour later and there was still absolutely nothing. Even the Prince of Wales Feather geysers had calmed down and were practically none existent. Oh dear. We’d missed the cultural shows and had heard the chanting and singing going on behind us which was a shame as I’m sure they would have been really good to see. Rather than missing anything else and now pretty desperate for some of that delicious sweetcorn, we decided to leave the geysers and go back to the village. It was a bit of shame that we’d not been able to see it, especially when we were told that it can go off up to 3 times an hour, but at least we’d seen the other two and they were really nice to watch. Just before we were about to leave, a tour group appeared behind us and we caught the last bits of information. To be honest, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before but we did get to hear the singing they did at the end and that was quite interesting. It did feel a little bit as though we were intruding though and I felt quite awkward so I was quite pleased when it was time for us and them to leave and make our way back.

Wandering back past the cemetery and down past the houses and shops, we found ourselves back at the sweetcorn pool. We arrived just in time to see a guy pouring the frozen corn segments into a bucket lined with cheese cloth, tie it all up with rope and then throw it into the hot pool. I really liked the idea of being able to make vegetables and things in such a natural way and when another tour arrived and began talking about it in more detail, I clung on to every word. I heard that the temperature of the pool varies between 94 and 98C (so very hot!) and that it’s thought of as being bottomless because they don’t know how deep it is. The cable they put in reached 25 metres so it’s very deep and goes even further down! I love the thought that there are just 2.1425059903.ari-with-cornholes in the Earth’s crust like that and how people have used them as an advantage. The water rises every 45 minutes and bubbles which is why it got it’s name “The Champagne Pools” and is also a lovely deep blue colour, so clear you can see quite far down providing you can look through the steam. It really was a very beautiful pool. After being distracted by the bubbling for a while, the 10 minutes of waiting for the corn flew by and it wasn’t long until it was ready.Yum. We’d paid for ours before the tour had arrived and so, perhaps somewhat naively, thought that we’d be served first however it just seemed to be a free for all.A few times, a girl at the front who’d turned up last, tried to grab ours and I found myself getting quite protective over it. Grrrrrr. I don’t know whether queuing is just a British thing or not but nobody else seems to care and everything descends into utter chaos! Eventually we got our food in a little bag with butter and salt and headed off to find a bench to sit on. Neither of us could wait to tuck in and hungry pulled out the corn to munch. It was amazing! Having soaked in the butter in the bag it was completely melted in and it just seemed to taste even better than normal corn. Yum, yum, yum. For $2.50 it was definitely worth a taste however there just wasn’t enough for my liking and all to soon it was over. I must have gone at it like a beast because I normally take ages eating it! It really was just too nice to take your time with though.

2.1425059903.me-with-my-cornCorn munched, we had another little wander around and sat under the first geyser lookout shelter again. Another tour came past and said that the fiercely bubbling pool, “Korotiotio”, was so violent at that moment because the geysers were erupting. To think how everything under the Earth’s crust was connected was an incredible thought and it made me think about how fragile living just above it must be. We sat down for a little while and then headed back but the pool caught my attention as it was bubbling more than ever. I hoped that it meant that the huge geyser was about to erupt as the other two were now going absolutely crazy but it never appeared and we ended up leaving. We’d spent ages waiting for it through the day and we didn’t want to miss out on the thermal foot baths in the city centre so packed everything up and wandered back to the entrance. As we walked across the bridge, we could see some of the young Maori boys diving for pennies in the water. According to the guide, it’s been a long standing tradition and whatever money they find is their pocket money or goes towards their education so that’s quite nice. I’m surprised they’re able to see anything in the water though, it was so murky you could barely see them swimming! Our trip to the Living Maori Museum had been really, really interesting and I’d really enjoyed immersing myself in another culture and learning about how they live in a geothermal environment. I do wish that we’d been able to join a tour however we had managed to pick up some bits of information and exploring ourselves had still been a lot of fun. I’d really recommend visiting to people who want to learn more about the Maori culture in a really interesting and informative way. 

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Dragging our tired feet back down the road and to the city centre, we decided to quickly call in to Pak N’ Save for something to drink and some snacks before making our way to the thermal pools in the central gardens. It had threatened to rain for a little while by this point and by the time we’d wandered through the Government gardens and found where we were supposed to be going, it was bucketing it down. Instead of giving up and heading back to the hostel, we decided to keep going instead and after a little walk around some muddy pools, we found the thermal foot baths. Ok, so they weren’t as pretty as I thought they’d be as they were basically in a little shelter thing but the water was amazingly hot. It felt a lot like we had our feet in a really hot fountain which was a bit strange but definitely helped our aches and pains. The thunder rolling off the surrounding mountains and the flashes of lightning gave it quite a cosy feel and I enjoyed sitting there, soaking in the water and the atmosphere. It really was nice. I was quite aware that there was a risk of amoebic meningitis though and that did spoil the experience a little bit after all, nobody wants to get that! Still, when I was thinking about that I really enjoyed being warm when it was raining outside. When a huge group of tourists appeared and clambered into the pool, we decided it was time for us to leave and walk back to the hostel. It wasn’t the biggest of spaces so with so many people wandering around taking photos of each other and shouting, the magical feel disintegrated and it all felt a little bit weird.

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When we made it back to our room, now covered in rain and dirty pool water, I decided to grab my things and go for a shower. My intentions had been so I could get warm again however the showers were still absolutely freezing and I ended up with a headache instead. Grrrrrr. I’m really looking forward to having a nice warm shower again and I will never, ever, ever take them for granted ever again. After rushing to get out and dressed, I wandered back to the room and waited whilst Codie had his. Of course his was warm, grrrrrr, and I was quite jealous but I suppose “it’s all part of the experience” as everyone keeps saying! Now both clean and dry, we went back downstairs to indulge in a free burger and sit down for a nice rest. It’d been quite a busy day, especially walking wise, and I was glad that I didn’t have to go and make any food as well. Free food is always nice but even more so when you’ve been out all day and can’t be bothered moving! For the rest of the night, we relaxed on the sofas watching Shaun of the Dead and eating some late night sweetcorn before deciding we should probably go upstairs to bed.

When we got back in the room, I was ready to sit in bed and work on my blog but there was the lovely job of packing first. It’s never fun to attempt to shovel things in your bag first thing when everybody else is trying to sleep and so it seemed like the better option to do it then instead. However, when I went to move my bag I noticed the top of it was covered in something that looked a lot like sick. It was grim. We looked around to see where it had come from and noticed two big patches on the floor and all over someone’s bag. It really was horrible. After a lot of scrubbing with paper towels and soap we managed to get it off mine but I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like it’s clean again! Ew. It makes me really cross when things like this happen as nobody seems to care about other people’s things. I don’t think I could ever be like that so I suppose I don’t really understand how other people can. It’s all just a bit mean.

We’ve now finished sorting everything out and are sat in bed ready to watch some more Friday Night Dinner before we go to sleep. It’s been a really good day exploring the thermal activity around Rotorua and tomorrow we’re off to Taupo to explore somewhere new. I’ve enjoyed being here, despite the lack of the sulphur smell that I was expecting, and I do wish we’d have spent longer in the area however I’m excited to go to new places and can’t wait until tomorrow!

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