Breathing deep in the “Sulphur City”

Rotorua, New Zealand

The skies were sunny in downtown Auckland as we picked up our Toyota Camry at Avis and set out on the Southern Motorway. Just off the Green Lane exit was One Tree Hill, the country’s greatest fortress and subject of the song of the same name on U2’s Joshua Tree album.

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At the summit (182 meters) sits the grave of John Logan Campbell, who gave the land to the city in 1901. There were also amazing 360-degree views of Auckland and the surrounding suburbs. As for the tree? It was chopped down by activists in 2000.

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The rain was steady as we continued southeast for 3 hours to Rotorua, one of the North Island’s most visited cities, best known for its Maori culture and active geothermal attractions — which scents the air slightly with the smell of rotten eggs. We’re staying at the Regent of Rotorua, a motel that has recently been given a new, stylish, black and white life.

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The rain had started to let up and we were feeling stir crazy from sitting in the car so we made our way to Te Puia, what Lonely Planet said was the “most polished of New Zealand’s Maori cultural attractions.”

We started with a performance inside the Te Aronui a Rua Meeting House. It was not nearly as touristy as we thought it would be and provided us some sense of the customs and traditions of this country’s indigenous people.

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Afterward, we walked along steamy vents and bubbling cauldrons, ending at Pohutu, the park’s largest geyser that shoots hot water about 100 feet into the air.

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It’s sad to say but we’ve already gotten a bit tired of the fresh — but bland — New Zealand cuisine. Amazing Thai changed that tonight with spicy Tom Yum Goong soups, along with green curry chicken and a rib eye fillet nam jim that left our mouths burning.

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