America has Yellowstone. New Zealand has Rotorua. The north island has a lot of geothermal activity, but Rotorua is famous for its concentration of hot springs, geysers, and permeating “rotten egg” smell.
I drove in from Mount Maunganui on Thursday morning. The drive was pretty easy and not as winding as in Coromandel. I had read about a waterfall and my hosts in Katikati said it was great, so I decided to make a pit stop and check it out.
Omanawa Falls is a local gem. It’s hidden from the main roads and only accessible by a long farm road followed by a mile hike. There are no signs showing you where the trailhead is. The only way I found it was from the other 2 cars parked along the side of the road and a giant police sign saying “TRAIL CLOSED.”
I’m not normally a risk taker. If I had found this sign without researching beforehand, I would have turned around. But the internet said the police had closed the upper deck of the waterfall due to people trying to jump off, but the bottom was still accessible, so I figured the signs only meant the top.
I hopped the fence and continued on my hike. The trail lead to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the waterfall so I stopped to snap some photos.
But I was confused. I thought I was going to the lower viewpoint, so how did I end up at the top? During my hike, I passed two other people who were coming from the waterfall and they had clearly been swimming, so there must be a way to the bottom. I looked around and spotted stairs leading down to a doorway that descended into darkness. I could hear the roar of the waterfall echoing up the tunnel. There was no other way. Either I entered the tunnel or I turned around. I stood there for a full minute debating my options. I had come so far and I wanted to see the waterfall! But the tunnel was pretty terrifying and looked like it was out of a horror movie.
I decided to do it. I turned on my phone flashlight and walked very slowly down the slippery stairs that went on forever. When I emerged, I found myself at the base of the waterfall and it was gorgeous!
There was a viewing platform raised above a bed of boulders leading to the water. There were 5 other people who had jumped the fence and climbed down to swim. I wanted to swim, but I was scared. I usually never break rules. It looked dangerous. As I mentioned before, I am terrified of slipping and falling, so this was daunting! But after pretending to “enjoy the view” for several minutes, I pumped myself up and hopped the fence.
Surprisingly, climbing down the boulders was easy. I forget how human feet have literally evolved to help us grip the earth. I didn’t slip once and even felt confident climbing down into the freezing water. Once I jumped it, I was ecstatic. I had conquered my fear and was now swimming in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I felt on top of the world!
After my swim, I hiked back up to my car and drove the rest of the way to Rotorua. Before I met my hosts, I stopped by a free park that has an amazing geothermal pool you can walk over top of. It was already a scorching hot day, so standing in the steam was a bit nauseating, but the views were cool!
Then I drove to meet my hosts, Dan and Sarah. They live in a cute little house that Dan has completely renovated since he’s a builder. Sarah works with foster kids who live in group homes. We sat all night drinking beer and chatting about our travels.
I learned that Rotorua has a reputation as a cheesy tourist capital. Asian tourists come here by the bus load to see the geothermal sights and stay at the fancy spas. The city has earned the name “RotoVegas” since the streets are lit up by neon hotel signs every night.
On Friday, I woke up and headed to the Redwoods Forest to go for a morning stroll. My knee STILL is giving me troubles, so I opted for only a short walk, knowing I had a whole day of activity ahead of me. After the forest, I headed to Kerosene Creek. There are numerous hot springs you can pay $20 to sit in at a resort, but I’d much rather drive into nature and find a hidden one for free!
Kerosene Creek is named from the stinky gasoline smell that comes from the water. It’s a long stream that has many waterfalls that bathers can sit under and enjoy. Before I went, Dan and Sarah warned me not to put my head underwater because some people have died from amoeba entering in the nose/ears and causing meningitis!
When I arrived, Kerosene Creek was deserted. I shared the spring with only two other people, but suddenly a large tour bus arrived with loud, obnoxious Australians who began splashing each other and causing a ruckus. I figured it was time to leave.
Friday afternoon, I went with Dan and Sarah to meet their friends and spend the afternoon on Blue Lake on their boat.
It’s always lovely to spend time on the water and I’m so glad I got to be on the lake! Tomorrow morning I head out to Napier for their Art Deco festival!