Don’t let the title quote from this post fool you – Rotorua is a fascinating place. But it also sits on top of extensive geothermal activity, contributing a sulphurous aroma that is hard to forget. In fact, Rotorua has been nicknamed “Sulphur City.” You sort of get used to the smell, but occasionally a particularly potent waft will remind you where you are.
The Maori name for Rotorua is Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe, which means “the second great lake of Kahumatamomoe.” Lake Rotorua sits on the northern edge of town and connects to Lake Rotoiti. The first Maori to discover the place was Ihenga of the Te Arawa tribe in the 14th century, and settlers followed soon after. The Rotorua area is the setting for many famous Maori legends, including the love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, a Romeo-Juliet forbidden love deal that ended much better. Rotorua is considered the heartland for Maori culture today – there are several traditional Maori villages and cultural centres nearby that you can visit. It’s also a great place to try a Hangi, the traditional Maori feast cooked in the ground. The geothermal activity makes this not only possible but thoroughly delicious.
When the Europeans turned up to Rotorua in the 19th century, they saw the geothermal activity as a great opportunity and built spas to take advantage of the unique features of this area. The Polynesian Spa is a particularly famous one you can visit today. The Rotorua Museum is also now housed in a former bath house, but it’s one of the most impressive bath houses I’ve ever seen.
The food in Rotorua, like the rest of New Zealand, was excellent. One night a group of us went to dinner on Eat Street, and I ordered a mixed grill. They brought me raw meat and a hot stone that had been heated to 400 degrees (not even sure if this is Fahrenheit or Celsius, but after about 200 degrees does it matter?). You then slice your meat and cook each slice on the stone to your desired temperature. It was a really fun way to enjoy dinner.
We spent a few days in Rotorua and got to experience quite a bit there: beautiful natural scenery, adventure, Maori culture and Lord of the Rings. Rotorua is the closest big town to the Hobbiton set, so many tours run from there. I already posted the Hobbiton details, but I will go into more detail about each one of the other Rotorua adventures in the next few posts.
Title quote: Princess Leia in Star Wars