Rotorua is widely regarded as the geothermal wonderland of New Zealand. Rightly so, as from our hotel room, we could see steaming geothermal activity and awoke to an unfortunately strong smell of sulfur in the air. It was definitely a surprise as we had arrived late at night under the cover of darkness and didn’t know what to expect the next day (read about our first day in NZ here)!
We had a bit of a late start to our day, which seems to be a common theme when we travel, but managed to stop at the impeccably maintained Government Gardens and the Kuirau Park Mud Pools before once again grabbing a lot of coffee, stocking up on some road trip provisions, and setting out for the day.
For the uninitiated (us, in this case) we had assumed that the geothermal wonderland activity and parks around Rotorua were primarily free and open to the public to explore, similar to our experiences at Yellowstone National Park and throughout Iceland. While Rotorua does have a number of geothermal areas around the city and free areas nearby, there are a number of privately held thermal parks where you pay admission. We decided to visit the geothermal wonderland called Wai-O-Tapu and the headlining Lady Knox geyser. (Thank you @jmk.travels for your travel tips!)
We read online that Lady Knox erupts at 10:15am every day, and with our slow start in the morning we were rushing to arrive in time, rolling up to the parking lot at 10:10am. We were hoping Lady Knox was having the same kind of morning that we were that day.
A guide explained some history of the area and Lady Knox which was actually quite interesting. Lady Knox was discovered in 1901 by a group of prisoners from the newly opened nearby ‘open prison’. This prisoners came across the hot thermal water of Lady Knox and began to wash their clothes in the water with soap. The soap created a chemical reaction and Lady Knox erupted with a jet of water, nearly 20 meters high! Turns out, that this is still how Lady Knox erupts. We were a bit disappointed to see that the guide places a surfactant into the opening of the vent to initiate the eruption of Lady Knox each day. Certainly, Lady Knox was no Old Faithful!
After the slight disappointment of Lady Knox, we made our way around the rest of the geothermal wonderland and were pleasantly surprised at how large it was.
We easily spent a couple hours here, walking the trails and seeing the diverse thermal activity.
From bubbling mud pits, to hissing steam vents, boiling hot waterfalls and strikingly lime green pools – there really was something for even the most discerning geothermal observer.
We also made friends with the locals...
The geothermal wonderland was only our first stop that day. With limited time in New Zealand, we were aiming to see as much of the North Island as possible and were headed to Napier (I mapped out our drive for the day here.). Our drive this day took us through the Waikato region to Hawke’s Bay over the hills and through the valleys via State Highway 5. I really enjoyed driving through all the windy roads in this fairly remote area.
Unfortunately, as we arrived in Napier it began to rain pretty hard. This was not the weather we had in mind for our afternoon of touring vineyards and wineries. That being said, good wine is good wine whether it is sunny or pouring rain.
This area has no shortage of world famous vineyards. With this being the low season, a number of the tasting rooms were closed or had limited hours, so make sure you do some research in advance rather than assume they are all open! Our first stop was at Elephant Hill Wine Estate. The pictures of this winery and it’s vineyards set along the ocean looked breathtaking online, however it was raining so hard when we arrived we could hardly see the rows of grapes from inside the tasting room.
We enjoyed our first tasting and were eager to try some more, so we continued to Black Barn Vineyards. We enjoyed all the wines, but were blown away by the Pinot Gris here. Pinot Gris is not what we would call one of our favourite wines, but the vintage by Black Barn Vineyards was amazing and we bought a bottle to take with us!
Heading into downtown Napier, we took in the Art Deco architecture that is highly concentrated within the city. We enjoyed a dinner of fish and chips and New Zealand lamb at the Emporium Eatery & Bar, which transported us back in time with its interior décor. We didn't take any pictures so you have to believe us when we say it was really well decorated!
Have you heard of New Zealand's great wines before? What is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!