Step Twenty-Four: The Region That Smells like the Life-&-Death of An Omelette

Taupo smells like scrambled eggs. That’s not too bad, and certainly all right if you are excited about breakfast.

Taupo is where some of the thermal activity in the North Island starts becoming apparent. Along the hillside steam vents send plumes in to the sky. You can join a crowd of strangers as they sit in a pleasant-yet-prickly-feeling hot spring by the river side. Taupo — like many other towns in New Zealand, sits beside a vast lake. To me, Taupo is a little like the North Island’s Wanaka. There’s a nice, slightly touristy town center, families bustling about, and an all around good vibe.

I stayed in a hostel for a couple nights and another night in my car by the river. There was a very popular free camp ground there that even had toilets! The real deal!

Sunset over Lake Taupo
Sunset Over Lake Taupo
Waikato River, near Huka Falls

For Easter though, it was time to go to Rotorua.

Rotorua smells like scrambled eggs after they’ve rotted.

Rotorua’s Sulfur Bay — more specifically — smells like several raw eggs have cracked in the carton without your knowledge and have been sitting in the sun for 5 days.
 Rotorua is the Circle of Life.

It’s a nice place.

Easter weekend made it difficult to find accommodation, so I was directed to a place called The Citizens Club. The Citizens Club was actually nice even though you had to walk through a casino full of sleeping senior citizens to get to it. The night was humid beyond belief. I slept in a sports bra and underwear in a bed that was right in front of the door and didn’t even care when 2 late-night dude arrivals waltzed in to the room. I imagine them to be French, and maybe wearing glow sticks around their wrists. Or I was having a fever dream.

Easter morning the world was misty. I walked to a church situated near the lake shoreline. Easter Mass at home is normally packed. At Easter Mass in Rotorua, everyone is late. The only exception was a very enthusiastic stray dog that ran in between the pews and up and down the aisles. She was early.

Later that day I went to Te Whakarewarewa, The Living Maori Village, which has a full name of “Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao.” Aside from a dauntingly long address, the village was an incredible place. Built right over a hot bed of thermal activity, this Maori tribe uses hot water straight from earth’s core to heat their homes, bathe, and even cook. When the hot springs bubbling underneath get too close to their homes, they build pipes in to the ground to release the pressure and avoid the collapse of their floors in to boiling water.

Pressure-relieving ground chimneys prevent the collapse of villagers’ homes in to the thermal springs below.
Hot springs right by a cold, cold river.

After a performance of traditional music, dance, and the famous intimidation ritual of the Haka, we were invited on a tour by one of the village residents. A tall, angular Maori woman was our guide. She had a soft voice and well-rehearsed storytelling abilities. She led us to the outdoor cooking area, which smelled faintly of pork, and invited us to touch the chalky ground. It was warm, like fancy Japanese bathroom tiles (but out in nature)!

A round-faced Maori chef was steaming meat and vegetables in a wooden box. He lifted the top and we were misted with warm vapor. The vegetables were bright from the minerals and the meat looked like you could pull it apart easily with a fork. Behind the chef, a woman was boiling a bag of corn in a pool that was translucent blue. It was done within a manner of minutes. She pulled the bag up on a string and drained the excess before handing me a cob in a bag of my own, topped with butter and salt.

Meat & veggies cooking a la natural steam vents.
Bag o’ Corn

Behind the main village was a set of geysers that our angular woman took us to see from a shaded area. Getting any closer would mean paying to go to a completely different ‘park’, but this village tour was just what I’d been looking for. I was able to learn more about the Maori and also felt like I was giving back.

Rotorua days felt like lazy, easing-back-in-to-life sort of days. I spent time wandering in and out of the library, sipping coffee, going for walks. The end of my trip was on the horizon and it felt best to breath it all in. Even that sulfury, eggy air.

But first: Hobbiton.

Originally published at nzwhynot.wordpress.com on August 16, 2016.