Stinky Thermal Pools, Redwoods & Maori Village
After spending four nights in Auckland, we got ready to travel to our next destination - the small town of Taupo, situated approximately 3 hours south of Auckland, on a lake by the same name. Once we left Auckland we were in constant awe of the views - tons of green rolling hills peppered with cows and sheep. We took a small detour on the way to Taupo to stop by the town of Matamata for lunch. For many Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit fans, Matamata is probably very high on the list of places to visit as this is where the Shire (the Hobbit village) is based. As I am not a big fan (I've never even seen the movies), we skipped the 80 NZD tour of the set and instead snapped some photos of the Information Center which, aside from the movie set, is the only LOTR themed building in the town.
After around 4 hours of driving, we arrived in Taupo and found our Airbnb house. Our room was pretty spacious with large windows overlooking Lake Taupo and the nearby mountains. We found it a tad messy and dusty, which bothered us but then again, the views more than made up for it. The hosts were a very nice young couple with a well trained dog. On our first night we went for a walk to the town center and ended the evening with dinner at Cobb & Co restaurant, which claims to be New Zealand's oldest chain restaurant.
On Monday, October 27th, 2014, we drove about 35 minutes north towards Rotorua to a thermal park called Wai-O-Tapu. This park is something you will understand better once you see my photos (or go there and see it with your own eyes). The park is an active geothermal area covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water, and steaming fumaroles. Because of sulfur, Wai-O-Tapo smells like rotten eggs but that is something you forget very quickly as you start discovering the amazing sites.
The following day we visited Rotorua again for a relaxing stroll in the redwoods and for a Maori show at Mitai Maori Village. Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand with a very interesting culture. They are known for intricate body and face tattoos as well as the war dance called the Haka, which nowadays is used mainly for sporting events (All Blacks national NZ rugby union team does it best). About 16% of New Zealand population are Maori although it is worth noting that there are no longer 100% pure Maori left. In comparison to Australia's Aboriginals, Maori people are visible in every day New Zealand life; they are on TV and hold political office positions. New Zealanders actually pride themselves in treating indigenous people well after the settlement (or at least better than they were treated in other places).
Overall Rotorua area was a very fun place to visit. Too bad it was too cold for us to jump in one of the thermal pools (you can find some along the Lake Taupo). Maybe next time.
We drove down a big chunk of the island. It took over 4 hours with stops. Our drive from Auckland to Taupo was very scenic. Cows were a very common sight along roads. I was very happy when we were finally able to stop and snap some photos. The cows quickly became very curious of us and started gathering near the fence. They did not look very friendly. Here we are in Matamata, aka Hobbiton. Hobbiton Information Center is the only movie themed building in the town aside from the movie set.
Lake Taupo on which the town of Taupo is situated. It was definitely too cold for a swim.
Probably the only time I'd refer to McDonals restaurant as cool. Our room in Taupo, which had amazing views of the mountains and the lake.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park
Gift shop at the Rotorua thermal park. Kiwi birds, lambs and things adorn with a silver fern are the most popular items. First stop in the thermal park was this big hole - Devil's Home. Off to some more colorful spots. Here is Artist's Palette.
Don't even think of dipping your foot in this water, it's hot! I had to wait a few minutes for the wind to sweep the fog away from me so I could snap few photos. I kept my camera under my jacket so it wouldn't get steamed like a dumpling. Vlad walking across the bridge surrounding Artis's Palette. The day we visited was cold and foggy so the colors were not as vibrant as they would be on a sunny day. Artist's Palette, Rotorua, New Zealand. Artist's Palette from afar.
Someone made an outline of a kiwi bird with pebbles. Tree branches near the thermal pools covered in trentepohlia, a type of algi.
The signs say not to touch but Vlad is a rebel and does not care. Oyster Pool. Lake Ngakoro. Pretty green huh? Not as green as the Devil's Bath pool though! Look at this color! The fluorescent yellow/green is caused by the mixing of sulphur and ferrous salts.
We could not contain our amazement at the color of this pool. We spent about half hour there and only one other tourist walked by. Outisde of the Waiotapu is this huge and steamy Mud Pool. It was hot and bubbling. I wondered what the original settlers must have thought when they first saw it. Probably that it was work of the devil. Smaller bubbles. Green hills near the thermal park.
We walked around the woods for a bit admiring the tall trees and filling our lungs with fresh air.
We stumbled upon this mysterious thermal lake that looked like it was frozen.
The lake was very still and the leaves and sticks suspended in the water looked very well preserved, as if they were frozen in light blue jelly.
We felt like we were walking in a fairy tale setting. Look at the huge silver ferns! Rotorua Museum, previously a bath house, is New Zealand's most photographed building. Before the Maori show we wanted to learn more about the culture so we visited the museum bookstore to browse some books. This is a typical Maori tattoo in a not so typical (for us) spot.
Mitai Maori Village
At Mitai Maori Village. The event started with an introduction by a friendly host. Turns out there were people from 23 countries present that day. Our host presenting us with the Hangi, a meal cooked in a traditional Maori way using heated rocks burried in a pit oven. It reminded me of an Imu pit used by native Hawaiians to roast pigs. Maori statues decorated the village. Maori show depicting their native culture. Facial tatoos were very popular with native Maori. On the right is a girl performing Poi (swinging tethered weights around herself). Performance with sticks. By the way, you think these guys work out? LOL.
Keywords: Matamata, New Zealand, North Island, Rotorua, Taupo
ah the Shire! probably my #1 reason to visit NZ :)
though i must say those thermal lakes look intriguing...
what a scenery there! love every photo!
thank you for interesting info!
@Gabu - We also loved maori style tattoos but feel like we would be such posers for getting those. The thermal lakes were not toxic at all! haha. Vlad's finger was fine. It was just hot water. We did not touch the green lake though, it was not accessible.
@Vanessa - If you have the time we would very much recommend New Zealand. Wait till our Queenstown post is ready, that place blew our minds. It was super gorgeous. NZ is a beautiful country.
WOW...that lake/river looked so cool. It really did look like blue jelly. All your pictures are making me seriously consider NZ for our honeymoon!
Question, when you're driving around these places, are you old schooling it with a paper map? Or did you guys purchase data plans and use your phones for GPS?
This is so cool. I love the look/culture of the Maori people. Fun fact: Rihanna's hand tattoo was actually done in NZ and is a Maori pattern!!! The more you know... Those thermal lake things look toxic, did Vlad's fingers fall off after he touched that puddle?
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