We sped in to Rotorua (as fast as we could given the 3-hr journey that was supposedly meant to last only 1.5 hrs) and stepped out to the disturbingly familiar fart-like presence heralding geothermal activity. A hasty lunch of Fish and Chips at Oppies – which is a bizarre fast food stand that is a melange of Chinese food and British street fare -, I dragged my poor co-driver to the Polynesian spa and we happily dunked into the geothermal lake pools for a short roll around in hot waters overlooking Rotorua Lake.
The bay of plenty is a region of lakes and gorgeous forests. A tip off from the proprietress at BnB Redwoods got me going down to the Redwood forest for a half-hour hike among the redwood trees and a further drive down the same windy road brought the Tarawera landscape into view, shaped by the 1882 volcanic eruption that killed over a hundred people and altered the surrounding vista.
In times past, Maori high priest Ngatoroirangi is said to have been caught in a blizzard in his climb up Mt Ngauruhoe; his plea for help was answered by his sisters who then sent fire to him, leaving a wake of geothermal spots in its path. Hell’s gate is such a site of the sisters’ leftover gift, now a tourist spot that is a drive down the state highway 30 off Rotorua, in place of the Maori sacred site that it was in pre-European times.
Visiting the park was, to the romantic imagination, like visiting a primitive, geologically-young earth or for those who are more spiritually inclined, like plunging into the several levels of hell without the privilege of death.
The awful stench of rotten eggs (unfortunately) became a familiar acquaintance. I surreptitiously sniffed myself and my armpits after the hour-long visit – there was thankfully nothing too offensive.