The morning was dry, and Rett wanted to go for a run, so I mapped it into a sightseeing-run. Our hosts had a cute hand-drawn map of a nearby walk in their guidebook, so we started and ended with that, but in the middle I extended us out to the Whakarewarewa Forest. A cool “basement level” was integrated into Rotorua’s newly-constructed major roundabout to let us run car-free under SH5 and over to the extensive network of mountain-biking and hiking trails.
We passed a serious BMX racing course, and then a big mountain-biking center, with swarms of kids getting ready to take to the trails. Luckily we made it to a hiking-only trail before they made it to us. Up and up we went, and then down to my real target, a view of the Pohutu Geyser. Pohutu is the biggest geyser in the southern hemisphere, and a close-analog to Old Faithful: it erupts near-hourly, to nearly 100 feet, just a bit lower than Old Faithful. But unlike Yellowstone’s geyser, New Zealand’s Old Faithful is on private land, and requires an admission fee to see up close. But not if you look down on it from the hillside in the public park! We luckily arrived to the viewpoint just a few minutes before an eruption, and it flung its boiling water into the air for at least as long as Old Faithful does.
Despite the statistical similarities to Old Faithful, it had a far smaller audience. I could see maybe 10 people walking down at the rail that surrounds its cone, and a group of five guys showed up with us on the platform with even better timing. I don’t know how much of this lack-of-interest is due to the entry fee, versus the fact that it’s in a town, but once again it’s striking how days-away-from-anything Yellowstone draws huge crowds, while easily-accessible Rotorua is relatively indifferent to the earth ejecting boiling water 10 stories into the air. The fact is, this geyser exploding is regularly seen by people driving to work, and it makes some sad sense that “can be seen when running errands” drains the mystique and majesty of a mystical and magical thing like Pohutu Geyser. For me, the fact that its towering clouds of steam obscured houses and businesses behind it made it an exciting contrast to Old Faithful, but I also never came back to see it explode again.
We had zipped through the much more “neighborhood” Tihiotonga Centennial Park on our way out, but spending more time on the way back, found it to be surprisingly-impressive too. It’s essentially an arboretum, with a dozen sections dedicated to different (mostly-foreign) tree species. We explored the maple loop, which our hosts’ map recommended for the colors. I assumed early summer would be a bad time to see colors, but I assumed wrong! It was a carefully-designed (and manicured) Chicago Botanic Gardens-level display, here in this non-destination park!
Rain returned in the afternoon, which, along with a great morning, helped to justify our decision to stay in Rotorua.
This day we did a more “planned” hike, riding our bikes across town to the eastern side of the same Whakarewarewa Forest we ran through yesterday. We spent more than three hours doing this “hike”, vs. the less-than-two-hour run-walk of yesterday. That makes sense, except…we covered only 7.5 miles vs. yesterday’s 7.3. It’s good evidence of the value of the fast-and-light philosophy; yesterday we just took off with little besides our phones in our pockets, while today we each loaded ourselves down with a backpack, water, a packed lunch, and just moved…far slower.
We started at the Redwood Forest (more on that later!) and took off “the wrong way” on the Tokorangi Pa loop. Strangely, even though it’s a loop with wayfinding signs and directional arrows, they only worked if you were walking clockwise, and if you were going against the grain, no help for you!
It was an interesting walk with a lot of variety (partly because the mostly-commercial forest is planted with different species, starting in the early 1900s to experiment with foreign trees’ ability to grow in New Zealand), but nothing was especially spectacular until we returned to the redwood section near the beginning. Although the trees in this now-protected grove are just over a century old, they grow faster here than in their native California coastal environment, so some are already 230 feet tall. None are as monstrously wide as the true 3000-year-old old-growth behemoths in the protected groves of Redwoods National/State Park, but this places definitely equals the “standard” groves that cover a much-greater area of the California coast. And the native tree-fern understory made it feel even more like an Ewok village than the actual filming location of Return of the Jedi (though the structures built to let humans walk high among the trees probably contributed to that feeling too).