5 May 2010

Thermally Rotorua

I had a third night in Rotorua as I couldn’t get a flight out last night – the last flight left too early for me to guarantee I’d be able to make it after training in Reporoa. So I made the most of the night there: when I finished training yesterday I decided to have a look at one of the geothermal sites that Rotorua is famous for, and thought that Te Puia (previously known as Whakarewarewa) would be the best choice, as it was open later than the others (and therefore I had a better chance of getting there before it closed...!). It’s also the home of the Pohutu Geyser and other well-known Rotorua geysers, which are well worth a look.

I did get there in time, it was still open, and it looked amazing. They’ve done some serious development of the site since I saw it last 10 years ago, and now integrated a Maori arts and crafts centre and a huge gift/souvenir shop. But when I found out that the “basic” unguided entry was $40 per adult with no student price, my Benedictine/Franciscan hackles raised a bit! It might be amazing and beautiful, but how can they justify charging $40 per adult for an unguided walk through a natural phenomenon?

I headed back to my motel to change and had a chat with the proprietor, and she suggested Kuirau Park: in the middle of Rotorua, it has boiling mudpools, fumaroles, steam vents, hot springs, and a small geyser, and it’s absolutely free. It’s also very lovely: lots of gorgeous deciduous trees in various stages of colour-change, lots of ferns and mosses, walks around the geothermal bits, and in the middle, a “paddling pool” where you can sit and soak your feet in a geothermal spring. It was lovely, sitting dangling my feet in the hot water, feeling the tension of the day melting away, wind on my face and the quiet rustle of the trees. I felt very much at peace, and was reflecting on the amazing gift of the thermal waters – and the incredible power for good and ill lying just underneath my feet.

The foot soak convinced me that a whole body soak might be in order – it seemed a shame to come to Rotorua and not “take the waters”, so after a very early dinner I headed over to the Polynesian Spa. The Polynesian Spa is one of the top 10 spa sites in the world: sited right on the very edge of Lake Rotorua, you can choose from any of a private pool to a fun pool, to a series of pools for adults only, to a full-on spa and massage experience including a soak in a special pool area and a treatment with Rotorua volcanic mud. I went for the adults-only zone: there are seven pools of varying temperatures and depths, three of which are slightly acidic (the Priest Pools, named for a Catholic priest who used to soak there for his rheumatism and arthritis 150 years ago) and four of which are slightly alkaline. It’s also not all that expensive: the adult pool is $21 and you can stay there as long as you like. You can also hire togs and towels there – in fact, they recommend this, as the chemicals in the water can damage lycra togs fairly quickly.

It was divine. The middle-temperature Priest Pool is right on the lake edge, so I was soaking in what felt like a swimming-pool-sized bath under the open sky, with the stars and lights reflecting in the dark waters of the lake in front of me. I tried out all of the pools, but that was the one I liked most. One of the Priest Pools was too hot for me – I hopped in, soaked for a minute or two, and hopped out! The other one, under a sort of canopy of lovely rustic wooden beams, was like a comfortable bath, slightly cooler than the lakeside pool.

It is a beautiful setting: lots of natural stone, wood, private nooks and crannies, subtle lighting, and the lake. The changing and clothes storage facilities are also very well designed and set out. It would be lovely during the day, but it was exquisite at night, especially with the quite cool night air all over my very hot self when I changed pools! There were quite a few people there, including what was obviously a couple of tour groups, but it didn’t feel crowded. Maybe it would be different during the day or later on – I went down not long after 6 so it was still very early evening – but the design of the place would also facilitate a feeling of space.

I felt very relaxed, very calm, and very centred afterwards – the pools were a wonderful place to pray and just be. Highly recommended.

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