After saying “see you later” to Auckland in April, I bused a few hours southeast to Rotorua: land of sulfur lakes, rich Maori culture, redwoods, the Luge… and a cat cafe. With four full days to roam around the city that most tourists only spend a couple nights in, I had time to do all of the above.
My bus arrived late at night, so I stumbled my sleepy self into my coed dorm, already occupied by 5 chatty people who showed no sign of going to bed anytime soon. Usually, the unspoken hostel code is to turn the lights off and quiet down when someone goes to sleep. Not the case this time. Tossing and turning to all sorts of inconsiderate-roommate noise made for an interesting, atypical story the next day–and my crankiness subsided when I entered a seemingly magical forest, sheltered by the stunning redwoods.
After a wee walk (as they say here) through the redwoods, I trekked to the famous (infamous?) sulfur-y water. Nothing could have prepared me for that smell–and everyone I knew who’d been to Rotorua did warn me. Much of Rotorua (thankfully not my hostel) smells rank because of the sulfur that escapes through lakes and all over the town, even through cracks in the sidewalk.
Wandering around the lakes led me to Ohinemutu, a suburb and Maori village, where tourists are allowed to politely walk through.
I couldn’t not go to a cat cafe. The cats were exhausted from an adoption event earlier that day, but even though they weren’t in a cuddling-with-humans mood, they still had energy to play with each other while I sipped my tea and happily enjoyed their presence–like the cat lady that I am. 😻
After cats, I was greeted with another favorite thing: a pastel sunset. Photo below: spotted from the YHA Rotorua, where I slept wonderfully the next few nights in a quiet room with considerate guests and enjoyed spending time in the spacious kitchen and lounge with high ceilings and wall-length windows. Hostels all blur together after a while, but this one stood out above the rest.
I hadn’t heard about the Luge until it was recommended to me. I wasn’t sure if it was worth the price (comparable to admission to a Six Flags theme park, for a few rides down a toboggan on wheels). But after some YouTube research and YOLO temptation, I decided to walk the one-hour journey there, instead of taking the bus. I’d remembered reading that the gondola to get to the Luge ran late at night, but it was a surprise to me, upon arriving at 4:30, that the Luge was closing soon. I checked with the clerk and had time to buy one ride, just in the nick of time.
On my last night in Rotorua, a friend I’d made on Waiheke Island, an Irish tour leader, met up with me and we went to a traditional Maori evening experience. We’d both been hesitant to do something that sounded so touristy, but locals said it was a must. Jen and I got picked up on a bus that took us to Tamaki Maori Village, where we learned about traditional greetings, skilled trades, games, and the significance of the facial markings. Before our delicious hangi meal (cooked under the earth for hours), we watched a few incredible song and dance performances, which concluded with a haka (warcry dance).
On my last day, Jen and I strolled by more smelly, sulfurous waterfront. Enjoying the sunshine, I had ice cream for a late breakfast (couldn’t turn down lemon cheesecake flavor) and boarded a bus to my next destination: Taupo!