We woke up to rain the next morning. Grey and drizzly, it was not going to be a good day for much mountain biking. We decide to explore Rotura's Geothermal landscape. The whole town of Rotorua is like Yellowstone in the US, decorated with cracks and holes steaming with heat from the Earth’s core. Mist rises up all across the valley, filling the air with humidity and the slightly rotten smell of sulfur. We set a course to explore a Geothermal park.
Whenever we aren’t sure what to do next, our strategy is to drive. So, after the geothermal park we hop in the car and start driving. We take the road around a large lake, and end up parked next to a fruit stand. Nectarines, plums, apricots, watermelons, and corn. We stock up as best we can, then hike up a road lined lined with hydrangeas growing wild. Rumor has it, at the top of this road is the largest waterfall one can safely kayak over.
I don't know who keeps these measurements, but as we get closer we hear the sound of a referee whistle, cheering and screaming. Kayaks and large rafts of tourists float slowly down the river, then toss themselves over the falls. “Whoa, whoa, whoa….Ahhhaaaahghhgh!” A moment of silence occurs when the white water foam floods over the top of the raft and they sink below the surface. Soon, the raft pops up and the team erupts with cheers until the process is repeated over the next fall.
“That looks like fun!” Andrew says. I know he wants to take his own turn, but when we check out the prices, it is outside the plan. So, we pout a little bit, then move on.
One of the biggest challenges here in New Zealand is deciding what is in the plan and what is out of the plan at least with regard to budget. We are always tempted to say: “We are here now! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We need to do everything that comes our way.” Andrew’s motto on this whole trip has been “If it obviously isn’t going to kill me, then I am going to try it.” This plan has worked in the relatively small and undeveloped islands of the South Pacific, and we have stayed mostly on target. Here in New Zealand, though, it is the adventurer’s wonder-world. They have every adventure option you can think of: sailing, mountain biking, scuba diving, white water rafting, surfing, zip-lining, mountain climbing/backpacking, and caving. New Zealand is also the place that bungee jumping was invented, they have heli-mountain biking (i.e. ride a helicopter up and mountain bike down), you can roll down the side of a grassy meadow mountain inside of a giant inflated ball. You can trek through hobbit town (where they filmed Lord of the Rings) for the low low price of $58, add dinner and you are at $125 per person, I don’t know how much it is to sleep there — I didn’t ask. And I’m sure there is more than this that I haven’t found yet. For each of these activities, New Zealand is world class. The rapids here look as good or better than any I have ever seen in the US. They also seem to have delicious food and beautiful wine country. If we do everything New Zealand has to offer, we will outrun even our expanded NZ budget by thousands and thousands of dollars. We feel very picked on.
But of course very few of us in the world get to do everything we want to do. We all have financial, time or physical limitations. We are lucky if we are allowed options. We are not in New Zealand to do everything; we are on a New Zealand mountain biking road trip. We have to remember we are lucky even just to do that.
We soothe our disappointment in some geothermal pools for the night. We drive over to our campsite connected to Waikite Valley Hot Pools and check in. The campsite is a parking lot with a view looking out into a New Zealand meadow, creased by a hot river that steams as it flows along. For the price of our campsite, we are welcomed into the geothermal pools for free. We don our swimming gear and walk our way through a really pretty pathway built from parking lot to pools. We slip into the “garden pool” and let the warm water and the view soak in.
We walk the trail to the natural spring where the boiling water that fills the pools originates. The air is filled with the sound of gurgling water boiling up from the depths of the earth, then rolling down the river over shallow rocks and trickling over waterfalls into the pools. It cools of as it flows, mixing with cold water to be pleasant. The steam here does not stink of sulfur. The humidity supports the growth of some rare ferns that only grow in geothermal areas of the world. It’s all very pretty.
We move around to each of the pools, trying out the varying temperatures like Goldilocks tries out the Bear’s oatmeal. This one is too hot, this one is too cold, and this one is “juuuusst right.”
I settle into the "Zen Pool" and enjoy the view for an hour or so, like a poached egg.
Back at the car, we whip up a split pea soup to which we add our own carrots, onions and sweet potatoes. We top it with bacon and sip on a beer made with the same yeast used to make New Zealand’s famous Sauvingnon Blanc. Allegedly, it creates the famous “gooseberry” flavor inherent in the New Zealand white wine. I’m not sure what gooseberry tastes like, though, so I have to take their word for it. To me, it tastes, hoppy, sweet, creamy and delicious, especially because it is paired with my Campsite-Splitpea Soup and a rainbow filled sunset. Can’t wait for my morning soak in the Geothermal pools tomorrow.