After getting used to the real world again, I decided to head up to Rotorua, a geothermic active area on the North Island. The first thing you notice when you get to town is the stink! The whole place has a sulfur smell that just overpowers everything. After a few hours you start to get used to it, but I can’t imagine actually living here. The first afternoon I wandered around town just checking it out. All the sewer grates had steam coming out of them, and every so often you’d see steam actually coming out of fissures in the ground.
The next day I went out to the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland. It’s a park where there are tons of geysers, hot pools, mud lakes, and other geothermal features that you can walk around on boardwalks, keeping safely out of reach of the water. One of the most unique things in the park is called the Lady Knox Geyser. The geyser was discovered by prisoners in the early 1900s when they were on a work release program. They were planting trees nearby, and they found a hot pool that seemed ideal to wash their clothes in. A few minutes after they tossed some laundry soap in the pool with their clothes, the pool erupted nearly 20 meters high, spreading their clothes all over the area. Now, it’s understood that the detergents in the soap disrupt the surface tension of the underground water causing the geyser to erupt. Rangers at the park recreate this every morning at 9:15, and it’s quite a sight to see.
That afternoon after seeing the thermal area, I headed down to the Kaituna river to go white water rafting. The big draw here is the presence of the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. The seven meter (21 feet) Tutea falls is an amazing experience. Our guide was great at psyching everyone on the raft up about it, and the actual plunge was a rush. It only lasted less than a second or so, but the feeling of falling was intense! The whole trip was about an hour, but the water was so cold that any longer would have started to suck.