Good as gold, cheap as chips, hot as hell? (Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand)

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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Rotorua
December 24th 2009
Published: December 28th 2009
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(Day 629 on the road)Rotorua stinks. Literally. The town is situated smack-bang in the middle of New Zealand's most active geothermal area, and everywhere you go the earth is smoking, hissing and steaming, basking the city in an omnipresent strong sulphur odour. It is actually quite a strange sensation to walk around downtown and see steam coming out of the ground in various places. Not surprisingly, the thermal activity with its range of geysers and steaming lakes plus a stronghold of Maori culture (the first settlers of New Zealand) draws tourists in their thousands to the area. On top, the thermal activity also means that the area boasts a number of hot mineral pools - very much to my liking!

In fact, less than ten minutes of arriving in the city I had lowered myself into one of the hot springs, my choice being the Polynesian Spa right in the city centre. It is situated right by the lake shore, and from the outdoor pools the views are pretty fantastic. The spa has actually been rated as a top ten spa worldwide by Conde Nest. Well, while certainly nice, I am not sure it is a top one however - there are no facilities here at all except for the hot springs and a changing room. Shouldn't a supposedly world-class spa have some saunas, a relaxation area with some comfy deck chairs, a nice restaurant etc, all pretty standard in some of the nicer spas I have been to? Anyway, very relaxing nevertheless, I am not complaining!

Soaking in the hot water, I had to think how every country has its own way of doing things. I have been to many very different countries on this trip so far, wand have always been amazed how different approaches they all take to various issues. New Zealand is no exception, but of course as compared to Asia the differences are not that great to my western upbringing. One thing that immediately threw me however were some of the rhyming slang they use here all the time. Or do expressions like "good as gold" or "cheap as chips" really feature frequently in your everyday vocabulary?

I have also been taken aback by a few instances of indirect or direct racism I have encountered in my first two weeks here. Whilst I certainly have had some bad experiences before on my travels, I have never encountered some of the outright racism that a few New Zealanders were throwing at me. The worst one included things like "F*** of to your own country, the f****** airport is 1h this way, you stupid f***". Pretty extreme and pretty scary. I had heard from other travellers that some Australians are supposedly quite racists (I never experienced anything there though), but I had never heard anything bad about New Zealand. Interesting, for a population made up of 100% immigrants! I wonder if the remoteness of the nation has something to do with that - many New Zealanders have never travelled abroad (save for a trip to Australia or Fiji maybe). As such they tend to have very little inter-cultural experiences that people from Europe for instance are so blessed with. To be sure however, the vast majority of people I have met here are unbelievably friendly and genuinely interested in me and my experiences. Such a shame that some people are staining the nice impression somewhat.

Another thing that struck me as odd is where New Zealand gets it kiwi fruits from. Well, of course, from New Zealand, the home of the kiwi, right? Well, no, actually the ones I was about to buy in the supermarket were originating in - you will never guess this one - Italy! Pretty amazing, when you consider that in Italy it is now the middle of winter and that kiwis are certainly not native to Europe and have to be grown in a greenhouse, whereas here in NZ it is the middle of summer and prime kiwi-season!

From a sightseeing point of view, the two most impressive places I went to whilst in Rotorua were the thermal areas of Te Puia and Wai-O-Tapu. The former is situated two minutes from downtown Rotorua, wheras Wai-O-Tapu is some 25 minutes south of town. Of the two, especially Te Puia was immensly impressive. Around every corner there was bubbling mud, boiling water, hissing vents, or a smoking lake. And then there was the super-active Pohutu geyser. The geyser erupts a few times every hour, with water shooting about 30 meters high. In fact, such a violent natural display right in the centre of town is pretty scary when I think about it - just how thick is the earth's crust here?

Next stop: Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk (North Island, New Zealand).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


29th December 2009

Looking forward to your tramping reports...
Been following your great blog for quite some time, and I'm very much looking forward to your review of NZ's many great tracks. I hit a few of them when I was there (Routeburn, Kepler, Tongariro crossing, Rees-Dart, Abel Tasman by kayak, and QCW), and enjoyed them all immensely. I still love reading about the tracks there when I can, but surprisingly few people tend to write about trails other than Routeburn, Abel Tasman, and Milford. From what I can gather, you're a big fan of hiking so here's to hoping that you'll get around to a bunch and write about them! BTW, the whole fruit import thing has always amused me. When I was in NZ, Gala apples were not all that common back home, and the ones that we did see at our markets were always the Royal NZ Gala. Of course, when I went to NZ, I wanted to get a locally ripened Gala, but all I saw were gala apples imported from the US! Finally - your comment on the treatment you're getting from some of the Kiwis - I had similar experiences when I was there, but I would tend to describe my experience as more anti-tourism and not really racism (although country of origin or race is always an easy target, I genuinely thought the anger was more a result of frustration at tourists in general more than anything). I always thought this was due to mass tourism being relatively new to NZ, but that's pure conjecture. That contrasts, BTW, with my experience in OZ, where I rarely encountered anti-tourism (they were very skillful at handling tourists), but often ran into both subtle and blatant racism. Not to put down either country - they were both amazing and I enjoyed both immensely, but these were my observations from when I was there. Either way, hope your experience improves as you work your way around the country...
29th December 2009

Racism in NZ
Wow! It's hard to believe that any Kiwi would display such open hatred toward a tourist. Coming from South Africa though, we're no strangers to that kind of thing. Hope you don't meet anymore of those types on your travels! Nice pano by the way. Keep it up! Cheers...
29th December 2009

Firstly just like to say I've really enjoyed reading about your adventures, your current destination seems amazing. Though I am concerned that if a person of European dissent might be discriminated against what must it be like for a black or Asian person visiting New Zealand?
29th December 2009

Hi Ben, alles Gute erstmal zum Geburtstag!! Ich hoffe Du laesst es Dir heute gutgehen! Du musst unbedingt die Tongariro Ueberschreitung machen bevor Du die Nordinsel verlaesst! Das war eine total beeindruckende Wanderung! Viel Spass noch in NZ. Claudia
29th December 2009

No secrets !
Ha ha there are no secrets on the internet: Happy Birthday, felize cumpleanos, Herzlichen Glueckwunsch Walter
30th December 2009

hi ben
allways interesting to hear comments about your home country from an outsider. never ever bought kiwis from Itally in NZ before or even seen them , but Itallian Kiwis are not grown in Glasshouses they grow outside as they do in NZ. I would like to say that a NZ maori will not take kindly to being called an immigrant in his her own country and if you say such things you might not need to go to the hot pools to find yourself in HOT water, Maori considder themselves tangata whenua , (spelling may be incorrect) which means people of the land, thus aborigines of Aotearoa NZ. It does not mean to NZ Maori that they are not such simply because they cannot prove in a european way that they have not been there for thousands of years. Fijian Indians born generations ago in Fiji do not considder themselves as Immigrants there either ! I live in Amsterdam and do not think that Kiwis are anny less travelled or less multicultural than the europeans I have met here , of course if you are hanging arround getting fish n chips with the local homies in a suburban town in NZ you might get the impression that its a prietty backward isolated place in the world. I liked your comments nice blog an happy travels matey . Patrick G
30th December 2009

Happy Birthday (and Merry Christmas)
Hi Ben, How are you? Happy Birthday! (and Merry Christmas!) I just read your latest blog.... very very surprised about your negative experiences with some of the locals.... sounds like the worst of the bogan Aussies! Sorry to hear that you have had to put up with that... Take care! Enjoy the fush and chups! Steven
2nd January 2010

We were also shocked at the level of racism we heard in NZ and Aus. They can be very open about it. It was never towards us though. It was generally white NZ'ers commenting on Maori's. I found it really strange because they are also really friendly. Enjoying the blog. Darren
12th January 2010

Kia Ora
Hi there - I have enjoyed reading your blog but felt compelled to point out a couple of corrections..... There are two parts to the Polynesian Spa - one is the bit that you were in and the second part is the "spa" part, which includes the comfie lounge chairs, treatments etc. It is located slightly separately so may not have been immediately obvious. Re the kiwifruit - it might be summer, but kiwifruit picking season isn't until May so any kiwifruit you buy now are either from the coolstore or as you've found, imported (although I've never seen any from Italy myself!). Re the racism you have experienced - I can only apologise on behalf of my fellow NZers. I'm shocked to read that you've had such terrible experiences. NZers like to pride themselves on being well travelled (beyond Australia and Fiji!), and the "OE" is a rite of passage for many, so am surprised to hear that you have met many who haven't travelled far. Hopefully the majority of us are not small minded and rascist!! I am enjoying reading your blogs - all the best for the rest of your adventures!

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