Posted by: Ted | October 9, 2007

Rotorua Geothermal Parks and Volcanoes

Rotorua, New Zealand September 24- October 4, 2007

Continuing southbound to Rotorua, a hotbed of geothermal activity (a.k.a. volcanoes, craters, hot lakes and steam vents as a result of colliding tectonic plates and a location right on a volcanic fault line) and Maori tribal culture, we knew we were nearing arrival as the smell of sulfur increased with each kilometer. For someone acutely affected by smells, Heather surprised me with an odd affinity to the pungent odor that permeates this entire region (from the sulphur) whereas I had to simply grin and bear it with her. Thanks to the money Heather’s parents gave her for her birthday and a discount Internet special, we scored a hotel room at the Sudima Hotel with daily (rather than hourly) Internet access and our own bathroom with TOWELS! [Side Note: a backpacker essential is your own towel. They are generally not provided in the hostels unless you pay a fee- the same with sheets and pillows. So, we’ve been carrying our own flimsy, quick-dry towels with us for the last few weeks.]

Determined to get our blog established, we holed up in our room for several cold and rainy days/nights to create our blog and website, rotating turns on the laptop editing pictures and videos and writing what we hope you’ll find interesting content. Sharing one laptop it takes a lot of time to get all of this done and to post updates. It also costs an average $5.00/hr internet access throughout New Zealand so please understand that our blog won’t be updated daily. We’re hoping for 2-3 times per month. Dealing with the PC to Mac conversion has also thrown us for a loop.

After four days as Internet hostages, we felt like we had officially gone back to work (bad feeling). We vowed to get back to backpacking and our vacation. We even missed the hostel kitchens, camaraderie and being able to cook our own meals instead of eating out at bars & pubs with endless fried food. We moved to the environmentally friendly Funky Green Voyager Backpackers in central Rotorua where new friends Beth, Tyler and Sabina welcomed us like family. This is without question the most inviting and well-run Hostel in the Rotorua area, recently scoring 90% on the BBH online ratings. [Side Note: The Budget Backpacker Hostels (BBH) organization is a group of 370 independently owned and operated hostels in New Zealand. By paying a fee and joining “The Club”, you get discounted accommodation at every BBH you book. Every year on a single day, each BBH is rated on a scale of 1-100. The results are published in book with a description of each hostel’s location, amenities and draw.]

Recycling was taken very seriously at the Funky Green. Kiwis in general would earn the “Being Green” award if challenged by Californians. There were bins in and outside the kitchen for just about anything you’d throw away…plastic, tins, bottles and even left over food scraps (to feed to local pigs). We cooked some amazing dinners in the evenings and eventually had other guests standing in line for our leftovers. Since our feasts were beyond the budgets of most, Ted and I gladly obliged. We even treated the couple running the hostel to a nice steak dinner, which didn’t break the budget since beef is only about 1/3 what it costs in the U.S. What a surprise when our German acquaintance Marcel (from Raglan Backpackers) walked in the door for a two-night stay! Like a flock of birds, we all seem to be on the same southerly migration.

Activity wise, we hit the Rotorua “Big Three Thermal Wonderlands”- Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and Te Puia and the grounds of the Rotorua Museum.


We saved a fortune by driving ourselves to each park, skipping the regurgitated guided tours and simply walking and exploring on our own. We doubled the amount of time normally suggested to spend in each park since we were filming and photographing the bubbling mud, colored pools and steaming waters.


Ever seen a boiling hot stream running through a park?


Unfortunately, my knee surrendered before I did and I am forced out of any hiking or adventure for at least a week while it heals. Heather spent the day at Te Puia without me. Look at this geyser! It looks like it’s touching the clouds.


The park had geothermal activity like the other two, but was more dedicated to the Maori (local tribe) culture (dances, wood carvings and weaving). The Discovery Channel has featured several Maori tribal customs. The most well known are ancient warrior dances


where the men try to look possessed by evil spirits by popping their eyes out to look crazed


and sticking out their tongues symbolizing the spirit wants to eat you after killing you.


Wouldn’t you be intimidated with this guy approaching you?


A soak in the geothermal pools at the world famous Polynesian Spa was a much deserved treat after days of hiking and we finished the final day walking through the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest (trees brought over from California) since I couldn’t handle the uphill hikes. I was concentrating so hard on the rugged path so I wouldn’t twist my knee more, I didn’t notice the big tree overhang and bumped my head. Heather got a good laugh out of that one.


The Funky Green team stretched our 4-day visit in Rotorua into a 10-night stay. Hugs and email exchanges completed, we delayed our morning departure from the Funky Green Voyager as long as we could until accepting that it was time to get behind the wheel and move further south. We look forward to catching up with Sabina and Tyler on the South Island next month (they’re moving to Queenstown) and meeting Beth for beers in Taupo next week. I am starting to think about the prospects of owning a hostel while Heather is questioning whether we could deal with the ridiculous hours or make it profitable. Our brains are running wild.

To keep ourselves entertained, we decided to sneek our video camera into the grocery store and share with you one of the funniest things we’ve seen yet….exotic flavors of potato chips. Watch the video.




  1. Hey guys!
    Thanks for the mention and remember, all paths lead back to the Funky Green so don’t forget us and please come back and see us soon, it was great to have to stay! I saw Karen yesterday from Rainbow Lodge and she was so gutted to have missed out on your feasting….you are the talk of the central north island hostels! Hope to catch up with you again soon, Beth xx
    PS. Watch out for those pecky fallen trees…!

  2. WOW, look at all those flavors…we ya’ll stoned? You landed in munchie heaven. LOL! By the way, the last ones were my favorite! Glad to see ya’ll are having a good time.

  3. Yup, I agree we have an immense selection of potato chips in NZ! The weirdest one I found so far has to be Meat Pie flavor. However, they still call them potato chips – it’s us Brits who call them “crisps” and I still get mocked for it out here!

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