Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 23, 2008 - Rotorua

Admittedly, we might be a bit testy due to lack of sleep, but we found Rotorua (aka Rotovegas) to be the most obscenely commercialized place we've come across in New Zealand. Even Queenstown and Milford Sound have nothing on this place. We showed up at Te Puia, a geothermal park containing pools of boiling mud, sulfur springs and New Zealand's biggest geyser, ready and willing to pay the $25NZ admission fee stated in our Rough Guide. Apparently things have changed since the guidebook was published, because now the general admission fee is $50NZ, which includes a guided tour and Maori concert. We asked if we could pay a reduced fee if we promised not to go to the concert. Nope. So then I stopped a guy running one of the dozens of tour buses parked out front. I asked him what his group was paying. He said the fees charged to tour companies are $19NZ per person for the guided tour and if they opt to do it, $31NZ per person for the concert. Hmm. I walked up to a security guard armed with this info and asked if we could pay $19NZ to walk around. He explained that the general admission fee is $50 and the tour and concerts are "free services" offered to the public. Apparently Te Puia is Maori for semantics.
As we walked back to the carpark grumbling about price gouging when Sten noticed steam vents across the street. We crossed the street, jumped a fence, walked around a screening of trees and found ourselves all alone on a crusted over plane of mud, complete with boiling pools of mud and little volcano-like mud mounds with boiling mud spewing from the center.
"Just a little closer, Honey."

All this geothermal activity was surrounded by a golf course. We actually found a golf ball in one of the mud pools. It was all a bit surreal.

Now that we had checked bubbling mud pools off of our list, we still wanted to see funny colored hot springs, so we headed down to Wai-O-Tapu, where the admission price was a much more reasonable $27.50NZ each.
The Artist's Palette - chemical deposits cause the variation in colors

In front of the Champagne Pool

The Champagne Pool

The Devil's Bath - sulfur and ferrous salts cause the yellowish green color of this pool. I made Sten pose next to the pool just to show that I'm not tweaking these pictures to make the colors more intense (otherwise Sten would also be green).

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