Rotorua Star Geyser Trail shines at Te Puia

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“You can sit on the hot rocks, but watch out for the steam vents or you’ll get steamed buns.”

The air temperature is a rapid 6C, but the heat of the earth rises through the rock platform that has become my seat. I can feel a light mist lightly kissing my cheeks from the geyser plumes that I mistakenly think are a raindrop. But above, there are no rain clouds, only a bright starry sky and a definite Milky Way.

Patrick is right – sitting on the hot rocks is a lovely warm indulgence on a chilly night, but every once in a while a little puff of hot steam pierces my jeans and I straighten up to move to a new hot spot safely. third degree steam burns.

Te Puia is a well-known tourist site in Rotorua in the geothermal valley of Te Whakarewarewa. It is home to the famous Pōhutu Geyser, boiling hot pools and bubbling mud, as well as the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute and a kiwi enclosure.

Until January, the only time visitors could explore its geothermal attractions was during the day. But, like many tourism businesses struggling with Covid, Te Puia has decided to give New Zealanders a new experience.

The famous Pohutu Geyser in Te Puia, Rotorua.  Pohutu is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere.  Photo / Te Puia, provided
The famous Pohutu Geyser in Te Puia, Rotorua. Pohutu is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Photo / Te Puia, provided

The Guided Geyser By Night Tour takes visitors past geothermal attractions in the dark, where geysers and mud pools are observed by starlight, searchlights, and torches, and guides share captivating stories of the beautiful Maori story of this incredible resource.

We receive torches and start our tour with guides Patrick and Nelson. Patrick leads us down a dark alley and through a tunnel, before asking us to put out our torches. We stand momentarily in the dark as he drives a karakia to bless us on our journey ahead for the next three kilometers.

During the day, visitors can see the bubbling mud and multicolored geothermal landscape; but at night the sound of the boiling earth intensifies and the earth turns into a reel of black and white film. Geothermal steam rising from the earth seems even more mysterious and otherworldly at night.

“It’s like I’m on the moon!” exclaims one of the others on tour, and she’s not halfway wrong. The rocks look like craters on the moon. With torches in hand and watching our feet on the gravel trails, it feels like being led on a secret adventure.

The Geyser By Night experience is a new attraction for Te Puia.  Photo / Juliette Sivertsen
The Geyser By Night experience is a new attraction for Te Puia. Photo / Juliette Sivertsen

Patrick invites us to sit around a natural pool of boiling hot water, weaving stories about the youth here and how the hot water pool was used for cooking. He takes a kete out of the water with something wrapped in aluminum foil. This is our dessert – a steamed pudding made from kumara, wheat flour and toffee, served with custard, and it’s delicious on a cold night out.

Te Puia also has five kiwis in their kiwifruit storage center and Patrick tells us to be as quiet as mice as we walk past, hoping we will hear them calling. Indeed, as we approach the enclosure, we hear a cry in the night. As a person living in a big city, there is something truly precious and rare about hearing our national bird song.

We must rush, however, because Pōhutu must go. The geyser, which is the largest in the southern hemisphere, has a fairly reliable internal clock that sees it erupt about every hour; a reminder of how much of our planet is alive under our feet.

Te Puia's Geyser By Night trail takes visitors through the geothermal valley after dark.  Photo / Te Puia, provided
Te Puia’s Geyser By Night trail takes visitors through the geothermal valley after dark. Photo / Te Puia, provided

Unfortunately, that night we can’t get a clear view of Pōhutu as the smaller but still very impressive Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser takes center stage. But I still hear Pōhutu hissing and rumbling, and water gushing from the rocks. It is impossible to miss the energy of the earth.

Our tour ends with a walk through the pre-European Maori model village of Te Puia and past the wood carving, weaving, stone and bone carving schools. The marae model means that many restrictions and protocols when entering a traditional marae do not apply here. Nonetheless, there is something special about concluding our visit at the entrance to wharenui under the stars, perfectly encapsulating a living culture alongside a living land.

CHECKLIST: ROTORUA

DETAILS
Te Puia Geyser by Night tours run Wednesday through Sunday evenings, 7-9 p.m., priced at $ 50 per adult and $ 30 for residents of Rotorua, ($ 25 per child). tepuia.com

For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, visit newfinder.co.nz and newzealand.com


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