Although known to the Maoris, it was only discovered by Westerns in 1887 when English surveyor Fred Mace was introduced to it by local tribesmen. The commercial viability of the site was soon realised and it became a tourist spot overnight. The caves have the usual beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, lit in interesting ways to resemble elephants, Bob Marley’s hair or the pointing finger of ET, but its real draw are the glow worms: thousands of tiny blue lights that cling to the ceiling and are only revealed in the pitch dark.
A boat ride, where the participants remain respectfully silent, makes this a haunting trip. It’s a clique to refer to the ceiling as the night sky, but there is simply no other comparison. Our Maori guide, a descendant from Tane Tinorau, the chief who introduced Mace to the caves, was able to show us the ethereal beauty of the darkness, and then the amazing transformation of the scene when the lights were switched on, which was met by audible awe from the tour group. The glow worm lights disappeared and the first thing you noticed were hundreds of sticky threads dangling from the cave roof, often up to 40cm long, waiting to trap unsuspecting insects attracted to the light. Sometimes the strangest sights are offered by nature.
Rotorua is a well-known tourist magnet, and although commercialised it still retains its charm and is a pretty chilled-out place. That said, if you’re looking for adventure you won’t have to go looking for it. It will more or less hit you in the face. And while you’re looking for excuses not to go zorbing, or rafting, or dangling in the air at the end of a piece of string, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Rotorua is a place you can smell before you arrive, and you just have to walk through Kuirau Park in the centre of town to discover the source of the sulphur. Boiling water and mud literally bubbles out of the ground, in swamps, lakes, and sometimes car parks. If you worry about your child falling into the local duck pond, you might want to keep them closer to heel. First-degree burns from a fall in these ponds are likely. It is a mesmerising sight however. At every turn steam rises from the ground.
We headed 30km south to Wai-o-Tapo geothermal park, where we were able to walk around glugging mud, shooting geysers and rainbow-colored lakes. The eggy pong can be nauseating after a while, but regardless this is an amazing moonscape to visit. The pictures just say it all.
Often travel is punctuated by photo moments; they help to keep my memories fresh. One such moment was created this evening. We’re staying at a lakeside motel and writing these notes I have a breathtaking visa across Lake Rotorua. There’s a jetty, with seagulls enjoying the rose sunset, so I decided to stroll across to see the lake at this peaceful time of day. The clouds glowed pink, reflected by the lake and, in between, the silhouetted hills just enhanced this framed moment in time. After I’d take the photo I turned 180 degrees to be greeted by one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.