New Zealand, South Pacific

South Pacific Part 6: Colorful Geothermal Valley of Rotorua

Our first “real” New Zealand adventure started with a side trip from Auckland to the colorful geothermal valley of Rotorua. Early in the morning, we checked out the hotel and paid our $30 NZD internet bill for 2 days (yikes) and lugged our luggage up the hill to Europcar. The office just opened but a couple was in front of us and they took such a long time; they thought they booked a GPS with the rental but the company didn’t confirm so they were in panic and the sales lady told them to go to Queens Street to buy one. Our turn finally and the lady was asking for my husband’s credit card which I didn’t bring! We rented with Europcar before in France but she said she didn’t see a credit card number on file and the worst, she won’t accept my credit card! She could add me as the additional driver and then can use my credit card but I didn’t bring my driver’s license (I hate driving so it has always been my hubby the driver that was why I didn’t feel the need to bring my driver’s license urg)!!! This was the first time I ever heard that you’ll need your own credit card to rent a car blah!!! Luckily, my brother brought both of his driver’s license and his credit card (the IHG credit card I told him to bring to pay for the IHG Tahiti room for extra points). He’s under 25 so they’ll need to charge extra per day…..whatever it was only a 2 days rental and at that point, we really don’t have other choice!!! We finally got the car, at least it was an almost brand new Toyota Corolla! This made me extra worry about the South Island rental which will be a 9 days rental so the daily extra charge really adds up $$$….fortunately, Apex Car Rental doesn’t require my husband to present his own credit card! They accepted my credit card and in the rental contract there’s a signature for the credit card owner. I felt I got ripped off by Europcar….oh well…we didn’t let that affect our mood in our adventure!

Driving on the left side of the road was a scary idea but hubby had experienced that before when we were in Cayman Islands and I kept reminding him. He said it wasn’t bad if there are cars on the road, you’ll just need to follow them.

It took a good 3 hours to get from Auckland to Holiday Inn Rotorua, when we got out of Auckland via Highway 1, we were the only car on the highway for a while LOL! On the way, we saw more sheep (in a ranch, not roaming around freely like the sheep in Iceland) than people nor car! When we were almost there, traffic suddenly came to a complete stop, cars pulled over and people came out of their car to look……..and so did hubby and brother. We found out there was a really bad accident happened and both direction of traffic was blocked. It was a one lane highway on each direction so no idea how the car and the truck on opposite direction had such a bad crash! The nearest town, Rotorua, is 15 minutes away so it did took a while for the ambulance to arrive….we didn’t wait, we turned back and zoomed in the GPS to find an alternative road. We made it to Holiday Inn Rotorua almost 1 pm! When we stepped out of our car, we smelled sulfur…..urg that boiled egg smell…..reminded us of Iceland! The hotel acknowledged our IHG membership and we got “free internet”, it was definitely high speed but limit to 1 GB per day! Our room was above expectation of what a Holiday Inn should be…the mattress was so comfortable!

Great toiletries too!

We went out immediately to lunch, we were starving! We went to Amazing Thai, few minutes away in the town center. We found meter parking right in front of the restaurant, how lucky! It was great and excellent lunch special prices: $12 NZD, where can you beat that? Hubby ordered basil fried rice:

Both brother and I ordered our favorite drunken noodle:

When we were almost done, an old Chinese couple walked in and the old guy looked left and right and spotted us; he walked up to us and asked “do you speak Chinese?” in Mandarin. Hubby said yes and he asked can you help us translate? Sure…and he was absolutely thrilled that he found us! He told his wife he found Chinese translator and sat down on the table next to us. It turned out that they are Cantonese too and they went to visit friends and family in Auckland and decided to tour Rotorua. They also wanted to visit the South Island but they couldn’t find hotels; all have been fully booked! It was that popular during the Christmas to early January time that it is possible to not able to get a room! Remember to book the rooms as soon as possible and if you find better prices later on, you can always cancel providing you didn’t book a non-refundable room! We thought they were so cute to travel together and brave enough to do so without any English at that age!

After lunch, we drove to Wai-o-Tapu, the colorful geothermal park only 22 minutes away. On the road…quite empty:

Admission fee was $32.50 NZD per person quite expensive but for the unique landscape to photograph, definitely worth it! When we walked in, first thing we saw smoke coming out of the ground…..and strong sulfur smell!

I made brother to be our “tour guide” for the day haha!

Each point of interest was clearly labeled like this. Devil’s Home…..hum it looked quite deep!

Rainbow Crater:

The pastel colors of those rocks:


Thunder Crater:

It was so deep that I couldn’t see the bottom, it was covered with smoke 🙂

Devil’s Ink Pots:

Those boiling pots, no kidding those mud are really bubbling!

Those hot spring really warmed up the air fast but good the trail has trees like those for shading:

Next, the amazing Artist’s Palette; the name described it well!

Wow the colors and the smoke coming out, it was so magically!

The weather was perfect, yay I had luck this time!

The size of this compared to our little humans…….

The landscape was incredible, the colors of mother nature!

Yep definitely stay on the pathway, do not wander out, it’s hot and dangerous!

The star of the park..the Champagne Pool! The direction of the wind played an important factor to photograph this pool!

And have to endure the smell of sulfur!

I was standing on this corner and waited for the seconds in between the break of the winds to focus and capture its colors!

On the right is the Artist’s Palette.

See the bubbles? Boiling temp!

The corner that I waited patiently for each wind breaks!

It was mesmerizing!

We walked around the pool for different angles!


After taking tens of photos of the pool, we finally moved on to continue on the trail…looking down at the pool and the people starring at it:

The Lady Knox Geyser in teh park erupts once a day at 10:15 am manually induced. We didn’t come for that since it would be crowded and the early afternoon would be more ideal for photographs than early in the morning!

Should be a waterfall but it was dried up….

Bubbling everywhere!

The walking paths are mostly flat like this so the park is family friendly!

The rocks made up of sulfur and other minerals…

Frying Pan Flat….anyone have an egg?

Doesn’t that cloud looked like a heart?

How about this cloud? <3

Oyster Pool…..hum wondered why it named that?

Sulphur Cave…hum that spelling….


Lake Ngakoro waterfall:

And of course Lake Ngakoro! It’s so emerald colored!

What a huge tree that got cut?

Sulphur Mounds:

Hot air coming out and brother tested that!

The field of crystallized….what kind of mineral?

The layers it created when cooling…nature does have a pattern!

After the whole loop and visited all the points of interest on that trail, we were back to the Champagne Pool!

At that time the wind totally changed its direction so now we could clearly see the orange and emerald colors without waiting for the wind break in between!

I recommended to budget enough time for Wai-o-Tapu; it’s totally worthwhile to wait for the right condition for beautiful photographs!

We moved on again…to the remaining points of interest in the park!

Inferno Crater:

Bird’s Nest Crater:

And lastly, Devil’s Bath! The almost neon green color was so bright that it completely fooled the camera’s sensor! In this case, you’ll need to use manual mode to get the correct exposure!

On the way out….Rock Lily:

After the park, we drove back to Rotorua town center. I love the bright colored architecture of the visitor’s center!

We parked the car and did some souvenir shopping. There wasn’t much souvenir shops around and most of them are selling the same thing…..Manuka honey (very expensive there so don’t buy from there), honey products, as well as Rotorua mud cosmetic products. We didn’t buy any of those! There are also New Zealand jade shops….named Jade Mountain…..actually they are selling jade from other countries but carved in New Zealand into Maori (New Zealand’s native people) symbols.

How cute!

Eat Streat…not Eat Street….but it is like a street filled with different cuisine restaurants!

We decided to try out Wild Rice Thai Cuisine!

Hubby ordered a seafood sizzling plate:

Brother ordered Pad Thai and look they have Thai Iced Tea!

I ordered a hot Thai chicken curry:

They were good but I thought Amazing Thai was better in flavors. Total cost of dinner was $86.50 NZD for three entrees and three Thai Iced Tea.

More beautiful architectures in Rotorua:

The visitor’s center:

Before we head back to the hotel, we filled up the tank, the price was $1.655 NZD per liter…yea more expensive than gasoline at home! We found it cool that in New Zealand you fill first and then go in to pay instead of pay then fill. That tells you how safe and friendly New Zealand is, they aren’t worrying people fill up and run away!

At night, brother and I went swimming in the hotel’s naturally heated swimming pool and took a dip in the hot tub while starring at the stars above, doesn’t it sound relaxing?

We were quite debating on where to go the next day before heading back to Auckland….we thought of the glow worm caves but it is too far away and they prohibited photography inside the cave! We decided to visit another thermal park nearby: Waimangu. The next day morning, we drove to a cafe for breakfast but it was closed grrr so we headed straight to Waimangu. Good that it has a little cafeteria right at the entrance of the park so we had our quick breakfast there!

The admission fee was higher than Wai-o-Tapu…at $37 NZD! The lady gave us an overview of the park and suggested a hiking path that she claimed required to be physically fit for the half an hour incline but with great views!

We followed the map on the brochure and off we go…first was an easy down the hill trail:

It was very early in the morning around 9 am so the lighting was very harsh for photos!

The most spectacular point of interest in this park, in my opinion, was this lake!

The smoke evaporated from the hot water was like dancing on water!

It looked magical!

We continued on the path……the hot stream into the lake:

And a little blowing hole:

The sun was quite strong with the cloudless sky! It was best to do this hike early in the morning when the temperature was bearable!

The smoking pond!

Called Inferno Crater:

We walked to near Bus Stop 2 and according to the lady this hike is worth the effort and we believed her………..

It was nonstop climbing up, thank goodness we took a bottle of water with us!

After half an hour of nonstop stairs upwards (I did stopped a few times to catch my breathe and drink water) came to this the view she claimed totally worth it! Are you serious?

And that was the only so call “view” OMG!

We wasted our energy for nothing!!!! Please do not waste your energy to do this trail, just walk to Bus Stop 2!

It was one of the worst hike ever, wasted so much energy for no views, and it was just a big detour back to the original point…..blah what a waste of time!

Continued on the path….

Another dried lake of sulfur?

We walked through forest like…

And meadows….

Near Bus Stop 2, there’s restroom facility and this big field of sulfur!

I like the swirly pattern!

Then back to the trail again to head to Bus Stop 3 where people also take a boat ride to tour its lake (extra cost which I don’t think it’s worth the money)! AT least some nicer views along the trail to Bus Stop 3:

We ran to the bus stop to catch the bus after we looked at the bus schedule because the bus leaves like once in an hour!!! If we missed this bus, we would need to walk all the way back to the entrance which is at least an hour of walk!!! We made it phew!!!! Bus Stop 3:

The bus:

That was it, I much prefer Wai-o-Tapu over Waimangu! In my opinion, Wai-o-Tapu has so much more to see in less walk and lower admission fee! Waimangu….I don’t like how the bus schedule works out, if you missed the bus, there’s basically nothing to do there to wait for another hour or more! It’s just not convenient at all! And the amount of time (the whole loop plus bus back takes at least 3 hours) needed to spend there for just a few interesting sites….was not worth it!

My mini breakfast was all burned after the hike and it was time for lunch! We drove back to town and went to Wild Rice Thai again because they have Thai Iced Tea……we were craving for iced cold drinks at that moment!

Hubby ordered another seafood plate in a pineapple:

I ordered tum yum soup….gosh I can’t believe for $10+ NZD how small of a bowl it is!

Brother ordered drunken noodle:

That lunch was $74.50 NZD. Did I mention the prices in New Zealand included all taxes so what you see is what you pay and no need to tip too!

After lunch, we drove back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and left Rotorua; we didn’t have much time left to see the red wood forest! The drive back to Auckland was interesting…we took Highway 1 almost the whole way and the outdated GPS that we borrowed from Evita was showing that section of the highway that we were driving on doesn’t exist at that time! We just ignored it and continued to follow the sign to Auckland. It probably wasn’t the best route since we passed through few towns that we hit heavy traffic! We made it back to Auckland almost 5 pm and Evita made us abalone soup!

She let it boil and we headed out for a delicious dinner at the same little Chinese restaurant nearby her home. Fried shrimp balls with salty duck egg yolk….the way they made it was kind of wasting the yolk because it barely stick to the outer surface that got fried and falling off. We could barely taste the flavorful duck yolk unlike the dish we had in Oxford where they stir-fried the egg yolk with the shrimps, that was very memorable!

We tried out this new dish….steamed tofu with parsley and preserved egg, now this dish was shockingly good! Next time we are back, we’ll definitely have to order this dish again along with my favorite New Zealand lamb chop!

Sizzling New Zealand beef and lamb chop…oh yes we finished all the dishes!!!

After dinner, the soup was ready!

We were so stuffed LOL! And fresh sea urchin….see the look of my brother’s face? LOL first time he tried!

Thanks for your hospitality Evita…we’ll be back to Auckland one more day before we head back to the States!

After more food and chit-chatted, it was getting late….like 10 pm and we drove to the hotel (Heartland Hotel) near the airport to stay for the night in order to catch tomorrow’s early flight to Queenstown. We checked in, unload the luggage to our room, and then drove to the airport to return the car. Our plan was return the car tonight rather than rushing tomorrow morning and it turned out to be a disaster! According to the opening hours, the Europcar rental office opens late night in Auckland Airport, so we drove to the domestic terminal where there’s a parking lot/car return lot in front of the rental car offices but the Europcar office was closed!!!! I went into Avis and asked and the lady has no idea of their office hour and said to check at the international terminal where it should be open. Alright we got back into the car and drove to the international terminal where it was poorly marked. It has the sign to rental car return and then once we were in the terminal, no more sign…what the!!!! Let me tell you, Auckland International Airport is by far the worst airport for rental car return!!! We literally circled the terminal for three times and couldn’t find any rental car office; there was only a small rental car parking lot but no instruction of what to do! We finally gave up and I told hubby to drop me off at the departure entrance, I ran into the Europcar counter to ask for direction on how to return the car!!! There was a couple who just arrived New Zealand trying to rent a car but her debit card has insufficient fund urg! They were back and forth and I tried to wait patiently. Finally that lady has no other choice but walked away with her husband and two kids….oh boy! I asked the lady and she said just park the car over that car return lot in the Europcar spaces and drop the key off in the box! Alright…we drove back to the rental car return parking lot, parked the car, and trying to find that key return box..nowhere to be found! We walked the perimeter of the lot and still couldn’t find it. I got so pissed that I took the key and walked into that counter again and said to the lady we couldn’t find any drop off box so here’s the key!

Our car parked into the last Europcar space…sigh what if the lot is full then what to do with the car?

It was midnight already by the time we got the car “returned”, it wasted so much of our time OMG!!!! I used hubby’s phone and made a call to the hotel to send the shuttle over to pick us up. Hubby has T-Mobile so he has free data in New Zealand plus only $0.20 USD per minute for phone call, it was convenient and inexpensive when we need to call! We waited like 5-10 minutes out in the cold for the shuttle to pick us up. When we finally got back to the hotel, we were so tired! I booked the hotel when Orbitz was having a promotion $50 off $100 plus my Orbitz bucks, I ended up paying $20 USD for the night! We were surprised on the size of the bathroom compared to the room!

Those mattress were not comfortable at all! And “free internet” was slow as snail…..

Our flight next morning to Queenstown was at 7:10 am so we told the hotel we’ll need a shuttle to the airport at 5 am….we only had like 4 hours of sleep that night!

Overall, the side trip to Rotorua was well worth the effort to get there (despite the extra cost of the car rental), it’s truly a unique geothermal valley with colorful hot pools! We haven’t been to Yellowstone National Park yet so couldn’t compare but after this trip, we really need to go! Geothermal colorful landscapes are amazing!

I have posted some of the photos in my newly created Flickr account here:

Stay tuned for our next chapter of our New Zealand trip to the South Island! Subscribe to my blog for the latest trip report!

2 thoughts on “South Pacific Part 6: Colorful Geothermal Valley of Rotorua

Leave a Reply