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The geothermal wonderland that is Rotorua

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That is first thing you notice when you arrive to Rotorua, the smell, but that is why you are here. Well, not for the smell as such, which basically is like rotten eggs. But the smell is caused by the reason you’re here – geothermal activity.

Even just walking around the city, you see the geothermal activity everywhere. The parks are full of bubbling mud pools, steaming ponds and boiling water. And the smell, well you get used to it quite quickly. The locals don’t even notice it anymore.

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On my second day in Rotorua we went for a tour to Wai-o-tapu. We first drove to, what apparently is, worlds second largest mud pool. Biggest being in Yellowstone; damn Americans, always have to have everything bigger than everybody else. The mud pool itself was, well, a big bubbling mud pool; the mud sometimes flying over a meter into air as the hot gases burst out from the mud.

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Next stop on route was the Lady Knox geyser, which erupts every day at 10:15. Well to be precise, it is erupted at 10:15 everyday with something called surfactants, which lower the surface tension between the hot and cold water deep in the geyser, making it erupt. There, some science for you. Even if the geyser wasn’t given the helping hand, it would still erupt, but would do so fairly randomly. This apparently is preferable, so that people can come watch it erupt at a certain time instead of camping next to it for few days, just waiting for it to erupt.

The geyser was originally found by inmates of a nearby open prison some 100 or so years ago. They used to wash themselves and their clothes on the hot waters from the geyser. They were the ones to discover that if you dropped soap into it (which acted as a surfactant), it would erupt. That must have scared the shit out of them the first time it happened, as the geyser itself erupts to some 20 meters initially and then calms down for a bit but continues erupting for an hour or so.

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Next stop was the Wai-o-tapu Geothermal Wonderland. Seriously, could you make it sound more commercial? I mean we are not exactly talking about an amusement park here. Geothermal Wonderland just brings up images of roller coaster and such, but actually there is nothing of the sort in Wai-o-tapu. Just a nice three hour walk in nature thru some of the most amazing geothermal activity I have ever seen. It’s not hard to believe that the earths crust is very thin here.

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Later, as I hitched a ride, a Maori who picked me up, told me that new hot springs pop up around the place all the time. One had erupted in his fathers garage, the whole house had to be demolished. It’s not hard to believe; as you drive around the country side, you see steam rising all the time all around you. You see it even in the middle of residential areas. Such a bizarre land scape.

I also went to see a Maori show in a what was called a traditional Maori village. They told us about their culture and how they are adapting old traditions to fit the modern age to ensure that the old traditions don’t die out. It was also interesting to see the similarities between the Maori culture and the indigenous culture I saw at Easter Island. You can see that they share a common root. However, as interesting as all that was, to be honest, that was not the reason I was there. The reason was the hangi (meaning feast in Maori), the meal that is cooked underground for hours, making the meat really soft and tender, and so good.

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And it was delicious, the meat was so soft, I went to refill my plate twice.