Rotorua Smells

The main reason for our visit to Rotorua was to see the natural geothermal wonders of the area, but we always seem to forget about the sulphuric odour associated with such things.

The otherworldly views of a hydrogen sulphide-ridden landscape.

The highlight of our time in Rotorua was a visit to the Te Puia geothermal and cultural complex. Located on Maori land and operated by Maori people, Te Puia is home to Pohutu, the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.


The area has seven active geysers and at least 65 geyser vents, along with bubbling mud pools and hot springs. At this location the Earth’s crust is only 5 km thick, so the nearby magma heats underground waterways and forces water and steam to the surface.

We had an excellent tour guide from the nearby Whakarewarewa village. The full name of the area is Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, meaning ‘the gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao’. While this name seems long, we were told the longest Maori word (and reportedly the longest word in the world) is 92 letters long, about three times longer than this one.

Attempted panorama of Maori war canoe.

We learned the Maori were drawn to the active geothermal areas not long after their arrival in this part of the world about 800 years ago. They used the steam vents for cooking and heating, and they maintained excellent skin thanks to the mud baths and alkaline water pools.

The Maori would plunge woven baskets filled with food into cooking pools like this.
Bubbling mud pool! Probably too hot for a bath.

Te Puia also includes a Maori cultural centre where young Maori can apprentice in wood carving, stone carving, weaving, or tattooing. Apparently all Maori tattoos are done free-hand and are customised to the tattooed person’s story. Finally, Te Puia houses a couple kiwis in a dark enclosure. We knew pretty much nothing about this bird before arriving in New Zealand. Turns out it’s a fluffy flightless nocturnal endangered bird with beady eyes.

Back in town, we took a stroll to Sulphur Point (smells as bad as it sounds), and on the way stopped at the Arawa War Memorial. Depicting King George V and a Te Arawa chief, it honours the 500 Te Arawa men who served in WWI, of whom 39 were killed.



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