Rotorua-Land of Mists

You’ll smell Rotorua long before you see it, a  peculiar  sulphuric  aroma  that  may  provoke a loud “Euww! Who farted?” from the back  seat.  But  then  you  draw  closer,  and start  to  see  the  steam  hissing  out  of  fissures in the landscape, the scattered lakes and waterfalls, the volcano peak of Mount Tarawera in the hazy distance, and—who cares about the smell?

Geothermals  are  what  make  Rotorua special,  so  head  first  for  Te  Puia,  Hemo Road  , an ancient site set in a rocky landscape  full  of  mud  pools  and  the  prolific Pohutu  Geyser,  which  shoots  hot  water up 16 to 20m (52–66 ft.), 10 to 25 times a day. At its heart is a replica of a Maori village—the  population  of  Rotorua  is  about one-third Maori (New Zealand’s aboriginal peoples), and exhibits of Maori culture are one of the bigger tourism draws here. The other must-do in town is in Ngongotaha, a suburb halfway up Lake Rotorua’s western shore:  Skyline  Skyrides,  Fairy  Springs Road   hauls  you  on  a  gondola  up Mount Ngongotaha, then offers all sorts of thrilling ways to descend, from a chairlift to a bone-rattling luge track.

There are more geothermal sites south of town, a whole valley of steamy activity: I’d   choose   Wai-o-Tapu, a half-hour drive south on Hwy. 5, where you can see the  Lady  Knox  Geyser  (she  erupts  daily at  10:15am)  and  all  sorts  of  intriguing pools,  from  the  beautiful  Champagne Pool to the arsenictinted Devil’s Bath to New Zealand’s largest bubbling mud pool.

The small village of Te Wairoa, or Bur-ied  Village,  on  Tarawera  Road,   is Rotorua’s version of Pompeii, an excavated townscape   dug   out   of   the   lava   that destroyed it when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886. Lots of artifacts discovered in the excavations  are  displayed  at  the  museum on-site,  but  what’ll  really  bring  this  place alive  for  the  kids  is  going  from  one  excavated dwelling to another on a meandering pathway along a stream.

Since  the  19th  century,  tourists  have been  coming  to  “take  the  waters”  in  the geothermal  spas  and  springs.  The  elegantly restored Art Deco Blue Baths, in Government  Gardens,  now  includes  the Rotorua  Museum  , where a multimedia cinema recreates the experience  of  a  volcanic  eruption.  The Polynesian Spa, Hinemoa Street , has  lots  of  luxury  soaking  experiences, including a Family Spa section, where kids can  frolic  in  the  warm  freshwater  pool while adults relax in two adjacent hot mineral pools.