This week, AJ takes us on a journey to a smelly place that is very…. Smelly.
Rotorua, a city in the Bay of Plenty built over an active volcano zone, was one of the places I was most excited to visit on my journeys. I heard grand tales of its beauty, its wonder, its thermal haven and most importantly its putrid whiff of rotten eggs, and was excited to experience it myself.
All of it is true. The lakes where reds and whites and greens mix like skittles in vodka, cracks in the city’s rounds which release steam hot enough to soften the most hardened of road-cones, bubbling mud pits that make disgusting but incredibly satisfying sounds, and definitely the putrid whiff of rotten eggs: all true. Rotorua has a sort of Jurassic charm to it that is ever so endearing, and even though its traffic light systems and the local drivers that use them are as prehistoric as the volcanic activity seeping out of the pavements, you can’t help but forgive it. However, there is one phenomenon which left a taste in my mouth as bad as the smell of my surroundings (I cannot emphasize enough the putrid whiff of rotten eggs). Having a good reputation makes you something of a tourist hotspot, and sadly like most tourist hotspots the experiences you tend to have are watered down significantly by one of two factors. 1) Overcrowding, or 2) exploitation, both of which I found at the big natural attraction of the area, the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland.
I failed to do my research before opting to choose this place as our destination for the early morning, and straight away I was floored by the admission price. $35 NZD (£19 GBP or $27 USD) for walking about a park (albeit a very very pretty park) and seeing a geyser. I bought the tickets thinking it was a little steep, but maybe the geyser was well worth the exploitation. We drove up the road and got there just in time for the star attraction, something my friend described as “akin to me laying on my back and pissing into the air.” I’ll take his word on that, as I’m a short guy and couldn’t see above the masses who had flocked to see it. Overcrowding.
|See what I mean?|
Now don’t get me wrong, I found the experience very worth it. The scenery was lovely, the day was beautifully sunny (unlike a few hours later), and I got to take some dope looking pictures inside steam clouds, but it did leave me pondering some things.
Is it okay for a group of people to bandy together and deny a look at one of the most stunning pieces of nature in the world unless you have enough money (in a currency that most of the visitors were almost certainly not totally familiar with), or are they in the right because way too many people come here and perhaps some admission fee is only fair because it not only brings more attention to the area (because if people are paying that much for a walk, then it must be good, right?) but also keeps the crowds to a minimum? I’m a little at a loss for an answer there.
I faced the same issues later in the day, but with far more rain. Skyline have been operating in Rotorua for many years and they offer a number of facilities, including: wine tasting, fine dining, a Jelly Bean shop, one huge fuck off swing and – perhaps more fun – a luge track. They now have operations elsewhere, including as far as Singapore. I previously visited Skyline in Queenstown and deeply enjoyed it, so I was excited to try it again in Rotorua. While it was indeed fun (aside from when I crashed on the “scenic route” ride, only for my friend to collide into me, leaving us both awkwardly paddling like sea turtles to try and get momentum back on a flat part of the track), I found myself thinking of the earlier dilemma again. The luge was significantly overpriced, and the overcrowding was so bad it took us 45 minutes to wait in line for our next turn. Is it okay for them to exploit such a popular attraction?
After all is said and done, however, I deeply enjoyed my time at both Skyline and the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, and I’d highly recommend them both. This will be a common question that I will ask myself in the future and sometimes, certainly, I’ll feel like it’s not worth the whispers it garners. That wasn’t the case with the attractions at Rotorua, though. If you ignore the camera-clickers and the corporate greed, you will find sheer beauty and marvel at just how unique the city is. Oh, and ignore the putrid whiff of rotten eggs, too.