This was an essay I wrote while I was attending Grant MacEwan College.
At first glance Rotorua looked just like every other city on the North Island of New Zealand. The same cracked asphalt, the same tall trees looming in the background. The sky at dusk was still awash with the same pinks and oranges that streak the sky in every other city. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I could really see and feel the difference. The air was heavier in Rotorua with a thickness that clung to everything and made me long to fall asleep. The accommodations were kept on the outskirts of town and left to cling to the fringes as though banished. The hostel employees didn’t recommend a single restaurant in the town. Rotorua was hiding something.
The town’s big secret is not a very well kept one. Rotorua stinks.
Rotorua seriously stinks, and not in the way the Oilers ‘stink’ at hockey, or the way it ‘stinks’ to miss your bus. Rotorua smells really bad. It is a smell that reaches out to grab hold of you once you approach the centre of town. A foul smell, so thick it chokes you, filling up the inside of your throat until you can’t breathe. The smell of rotten eggs, a by-product of the sulphur filled surroundings. It soaks into your clothes so that not even a sweater pulled hastily up to your face to block out the smell can protect you. It made me sputter and heave as we walked the streets of town. Kiwis looked at us with a mixture of pity and amusement, they were used to it. But it wasn’t the foul smell that put Rotorua on our map; instead the thermal activity made it a hot spot.
Outside the town and past the assorted hostels is a gold mine of hot springs surrounded by tall trees and ferns. It is the most beautiful place on earth. On a tour, pool after pool of thermal water surrounded us. In one large pool the size of a small lake the water was an electric blue, so blindingly beautiful it almost hurt the eyes to look at. Its surface bubbled and boiled, the steam floated into the air like a majestic mist. Another smaller pool was sea foam green with a rippled surface, the red earth stretched along its fringes with leafy ferns reaching out across the edges. I stared at every pool in awe. It is a rush just being there, knowing that from time to time a geyser explodes shooting the scorching water high into the air and burning everything it touches.
The day was cold and stung the skin despite the heat surrounding us. Droplets of sweat gathered on our faces, condensation from the steamy waters surrounded us. The air was so moist and humid we felt like we were in the water. A thermometer was stuck 3 inches into the ground, it read 97.4 ͦ Celsius. I imagined so much barely contained energy beneath our feet. Further along on the tour the pools changed from boiling water to boiling mud. Thick grey bubbles grew bigger than a baseball before bursting in all directions. A popping sound followed every burst. Pop, another bubble. Pop, pop, two more burst.
I was more afraid of the boiling mud than the water, unable to help imagining the way mud clings to your skin upon first contact. Grey splatters cover the ground surrounding the pools of mud showing just how far those bubbles can burst. Every bursting bubble made me jump and I rushed past the last few pools. A serene boat ride across Lake Rotomahana took us to the Te Wairoa Village where my fears were validated.
The village, now known as the Buried Village was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 which spewed boiling mud destroying the pink and white terraces and killing more than a hundred people. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as we walked by a white piece of wood sticking up from the ground. A buried house lay five feet beneath us. Some of the old houses have been excavated, preserved in the mud after more than a hundred years. More ferns surround the area, thriving in the area because of the mud. I reached down to touch the ground near the buried house and felt the mud, now packed and dry but still malleable. I left the buried village and all I got was out alive.