For those with a child’s sense of wonder as well as their sense of humor, Rotarua is a blast. If we hadn’t seen enough evidence that the earth’s interior was hot and unpredictable, we certainly were about to.
In the "Sulfur City," a simple crack in the pavement could quickly resemble the nostril of a fire-breathing dragon. The city park particularly smelled of egg and its landscaping was designed around pools of boiling mud. There was definitely something comical in the air, between the plopping and blooping mud bubbles and the general idea that this was a small paradise for the gassy.
However, the real highlight of Rotarua was Te Puia, the Mäori cultural center just at the edge of town. The Mäori people have lived within the Te Puia grounds for nearly 700 years, and now dedicate the site to preserving and sharing their history and culture. Within Te Puia, is the Te Whakarewarewa Valley- home of an astonishing amount of geothermal activity. Cracks in the earth’s crust called fumaroles, mudpots, hot springs, geysers… Visions of dinosaurs coming to extinction in boiling muddy pits floated through my imagination. The most tremendous natural fountain the park boasted was the Pohutu geyer, which gushes 100 feet (30 meters) into the air throughout the day.
And, for the ultimate cherry on top- they had a REAL, live kiwi bird exhibit! It was like stumbling into a dark room (as kiwis are typically timid and nocturnal birds) to find a thing of dreams come to life. To be quite honest, I never thought of how big a kiwi bird actually was. Perhaps I was completely out of touch with the Avialae world, but I imagine a feathered ball the size of a grapefruit. When in fact, they are comparable to the size of a healthy chicken! It was one of my most surreal experiences. A kiwi bird. And, it looks so.. so strange. It wasn’t exactly helping its odd appearance by fiendishly digging through the turf with its long beak like one of its most valued earrings just fell out.
But, what a wild and wondrous place New Zealand was turning out to be… Even amongst the stinkiest parts. Fittingly, the Mäori called their country by a dreamy sort of name- Aotearoa, or “Land of the Long White Cloud.”