Fast as Hell in Rotorua

That morning someone went on a jog and got lost. We couldn’t wait because we had a scheduled tour to keep. So we left (after calling them to let them know). Her friends decided stayed behind in Rotorua to wait for her to take a taxi into town while the rest of us went on to our next activity: luging.

Eventually, sporting brightly-colored helmets, we all lined up to at the beginning of the tracks. Excitement was high as we watched others begin their decent. You see, luging in New Zealand takes place on a concrete track in a hard plastic cart, winding through trees without a snowflake in sight.

When I finally found myself in one of those plastic carts, gravity starting to pull me along down the track, the adrenaline begin to pump. I ended up flying through the corners and speeding down the hills. If it was a video game, flames would’ve been coming out of my tracks, and while racing isn’t allowed, I’m sure the resemblance to Mario Kart has certainly tempted people do to so (or at least throw banana peels).

I quickly got separated from the group after a pit stop in the bathroom. So I completed two of my rides alone, enjoying the wind in my hair as I whipped down the hill. I caught up with part of the group on the last of our five runs (Yvonne sped past me with an evil grin on the advanced course), but others were missing. Afterwards we found out that they had sacrificed their last run. We were running late and they were trying to make up for the lost time this morning, but the word hadn’t gotten to us. We now had barely 30 minutes for lunch before our scheduled tour.

We scarfed down a something eatable at the closest café in Rotorua, met with those left behind, and headed out to Hell’s Gate. Despite being named by George Bernard Shaw, the hot pool park is the only consistently owned Maori hot pools in the area. Consequently, Hell’s Gate greeted us with an image of the Maori volcanic god and the local tribe’s ancestors. Considering BU’s insistence on giving us a Maori perspective, we were not surprised to encounter these Maori tikis.

Our Maori guide welcomed us with the customary “Haere mai!” before explaining the tikis and handing out a collection of staffs to a few in our group, dubbing them temporary chiefs and chiefesses.

With the formalities out of the way, he led us into the hot pools. We weaved our way around the steaming vents, boiling ponds of acid, and sulfur outcroppings, stopping occasionally to listen to bit of science and Maori medical history. The Maori had many uses for the mud and water of the hot pools, with unique stories explaining everything, until, of course, the Europeans came in with their science and modern medicines. Today, like in much of New Zealand, a hybrid exists: Maori still tell their stories and scientists still study the waters but both acknowledge and utilize the other.

We passed the largest mud volcano in the Southern hemisphere, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern hemisphere, a hot pool naturally shaped like Australia, and the most expensive mud in the world. Our guide handed each of us a small sample of the white mud, said to have countless medicinal and beautification properties. We cheerfully rubbed it on our arms and faces, turning some of us into white-faced clowns.

Afterwards, the appointed chiefs and chiefesses played a stick game for the prize of a mud mask, while our guide explained the importance of sharing stories in Maori culture and how much it meant to him to have a chance to share his culture’s tales. He told us how the sulfur in the air of Hell’s Gate has given him asthma, but as long as he can get inhalers, he will continue to share the land with visitors.

Feeling touched by the weight of his passion, we filed out of the park and into the swimmable hot pools. We didn’t last long in the steaming opaque waters. The heat quickly drove most of us out and into the showers. Exhausted and damp, we eventually all made it back onto the bus and on the road back to Blue Lake.

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