Rotorua (NZ)

Steam and sulphur fumes rising from hot springs at Whakarewarewa

The smell gets to you after a while.

Not only is it an assault on the nostrils but, if you’re trying to recover from a cold (like we were), it leaves you wheezy and congested. Rotorua reeks of hydrogen sulfide spewed out by the area’s mud pools and hot springs. The city literally sits on a massive caldera and is ever venting steam, looking like pockets of billowing white smoke all around. Rotorua is also home to the Maori Te Arawa iwi, fully one-third of the population. The hot springs make it possible for them to practice a special kind of hangi cooking using steam, guaranteeing that food will gently cook in its own juices and never dry out.

When we first arrived in the area, we didn’t notice the odor. Our accommodation was on Lake Rotorua (Marama Resort, WorldMark) some 18km from the town center. It wasn’t until we approached the city the next day that the sulphur smell became quite obvious.

Lake Rotorua is the by-product of a collapsed magma chamber. The resulting caldera filled with water, making it the second largest lake on the North Island. Only Lake Taupo to the southwest is bigger. The most popular recreational sport is trout fishing where the fish can often reach impressive sizes, some of the largest in the world, where ten percent of the catch routinely exceed 10 lbs. On the walls of the resort cafe, a fishing club has mounted their most impressive specimens. The size and quality of the trout is characteristic of all the lakes in this part of NZ.

Lunch at The Pepe (Tairua, NZ)

We stopped for lunch in Tairua, a popular resort town with surfing, fishing and diving recreational opportunities. The commercial district is small with a few shops, galleries, an i-Site center and places to eat. We walked past several restaurants before deciding on The Pepe, which serves basic cafe fare: burgers, sandwiches, fried fish, salads, and the like. The cashier recommended The Steak Stack, which he claimed was the restaurant’s most popular sandwich. When I finished it, I could understand why, an eye-fillet (as beef tenderloin is called in NZ) steak sandwiched in a sesame seed roll with sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato slice and caramelized onions, dressed with a red bell pepper (capsicum) and sun-dried tomato sauce. An excellent sandwich.

Steak Stack sandwich

The Pepe
222 Main St
Tairua, NZ 3508
07 864 7774
Lunch menu

Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve (NZ)

After spending the night in Whitianga, we headed south to Rotorua. Along the eastern edge of the Coromandel Peninsula is Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve which was set aside by the government in order to protect a rich variety of sea animals and their habitats. Curiously, the sea creatures here grow bigger and are more plentiful than the surrounding waters and for that reason are protected within the reserve. There are also impressive kelp forests that rival any in the world.

Moturoa, Poikeke and Motueka Islands are volcanic domes

We took a trail to try to reach the beach near Cathedral Cove, but the rain from the previous night made the track really muddy. We decided to turn back, but not before getting wonderful views of the water and the headlands that make this area so beautiful.

Aside from flora and fauna, the area is unique for its geological formations. About 8 million years ago, violent volcanic activity covered the landscape with pumice and ash, then later with lava flows. Over time, the softer layers of tuff eroded at a faster rate to create the distinctive landforms seen today: arches, caves, sea stacks, blow holes and a distinctive honeycomb pattern along some cliffs exposed to the sea. The most picturesque attraction is an arch carved through the headland.

Cathedral Cove (Note the arch below the headland and sea stack to the right)

Update: (1-20-13) These photos were taken by my daughter, five months after our visit. In the late afternoon, she and her sister took a kayak tour, originating from Hahei (about 35km by road from Whitianga), to Cathedral Cove and surrounding area. Since it was the peak of summer, the weather was more gorgeous than when my wife and I went last winter (see above). The handiwork of erosional forces is very obvious in these images.

cathedral cove tour-1

cathedral cove tour-2

Arch at Cathedral Cove

cathedral cove tour-3

Pinnacle Rock

Like this on Facebook