Situated in the heart of the North Island, Rotorua is a lovely lakeside city world-famous for geothermal wonders, Māori culture, and a memorable smell. Delving deeper, however, visitors will discover steamy actvities full of all sorts of murky fun.
Fuelled by fiery volcanic forces beneath the Earth’s crust, Rotorua’s natural heat made it a hot spot from the get-go. Māori appreciated the geothermal waters for cooking and bathing, and for the medicinal powers of minerals such as calcium and silicon, and the sulphur that gives the area its eggy smell. But after an Irish priest discovered the healing powers of its waters and mud in 1878, Rotorua soon became New Zealand’s first spa town.
The city’s first Tudor-style Bath House opened in 1908 to satisfy the masses wishing to ‘take the waters’. A curative for aches, pains and skin complaints, arthritis and even ‘brain fog’, today a therapeutic soak can be enjoyed at places such as the Polynesian Spa where outdoor pools range in temperature from tepid to a rippling simmer. There are plenty of other mineral spas around town as well as natural springs such as forest-fringed Kerosene Creek.
Mud, glorious mud
Hippos and rhinos have long-enjoyed the benefits of a mud bath, of course. But humans, too, can get in on the action at the holistic and irresistibly retro QE Health centre. The sensual feeling of slipping around in silky, soft, chai-coloured waters, slathering oneself in the mineral- and antioxidant-rich clay that leaves skin as soft as a baby’s bottom… ooh la la! Plenty of other wellness and beauty spas around town offer mud-based therapies, while Hell’s Gate, just out of town, offers mud baths within in a strange and steamy geothermal park.
Pop! Plop! Blob! Blubbub! Few things are as mindlessly entertaining as the bubbling mud pools scattered around Rotorua, created when steam and acidic gases seep up into rainwater ponds. In some places slow and sticky, in others more silky and swift, they gloop, gurgle and ripple with random abandon and leap like an army of frogs. The largest pool, at Te Puia, is up to 10 metres deep, while at Kuirau Park you can ogle pools of all sorts of shapes and sizes for free.
‘Dirt’s the new snow’ – so say the mountain bikers who pump a whole lot of cool into New Zealand’s hottest city. Rotorua’s Redwoods is the undisputed king of New Zealand mountain bike parks, with more than 150 kilometres of easy to epic trails threading through the forested hills known as Whakarewarewa (that’s 'fa-ka-re-wa-re-wa' to you). Getting muddy is entirely optional, with plenty of clean lines for both bikers and walkers, plus spectacular views and even a secret mud pool.
Yes, Rotorua even offers mudwrestling – just one event in the Mudtopia funfest, held over three days in early December. To be staged for the first time in New Zealand in 2017, this sister event to South Korea’s longstanding Boreyong Mud Festival promises sensible wellness and beauty treatments alongside a mountain of muddy madness including a mud run and mud bungy. The packed musical programme at the Mud Stage will be best enjoyed in the muddy mosh pit.
So if you’re looking to get deep down and dirty, that should pretty much have you covered.