Driving into Rotorua, I was kind of glad that my friend Gemma and I had chosen to go to Taupo first and spend New Years Eve there.
It wasn’t the rotten egg smell – caused by sulpher – that bothered me; I’d spent the morning at a geothermal park just outside of Taupo where the bubbling mud pools had smelt exactly the same.
No I could deal with the smell of rotten eggs.
It wasn’t the fact that Rotorua was, well, kind of dead. I figured that a lot of people had gone on holiday for new year. No biggie except for it feeling like a ghost town.
It wasn’t the fairground set up in the park next to the lake. I love fairgrounds. I loved seeing the people dressed up in retro costumes with 50s music in the air, kids riding the carousel before screaming their way around the ghost train.
And it definitely wasn’t the lake that had me feeling like I needed to leave, like, immediately. I loved the lake!
In fact, Lake Rotorua was the best thing about Rotorua. It was actually really beautiful. And if you suddenly felt the urge to go zorbing on the water or take a helicopter flight or rent a kayak or go on a cruise there were certainly lots of options.
Gemma and I rented a pedalo and pedaled our way around the small part of the lake we were confined to for 15 minutes before retiring to the pub.
And that’s when we started getting bitten to death.
We were halfway through our drinks and deciding where to have dinner when we both looked down at our legs.
“Did you feel that?”
I did. The tiniest movement on my foot. Then on my calf. Then on Gemma’s arm and my ribcage.
“I’m getting bitten, in a pub!”
We brushed aside the idea of mosquitoes, knowing that it was the middle of the afternoon and hadn’t actually seen any in the pub and wondered what else it could have been.
Five minutes later as we entered a Thai restaurant on the main drag and ordered, we were still scratching at our skin and shivering in disgust.
But we moved on, laughed as we remembered the fun we’d had in the past couple of days in Taupo, ate green Thai curry and spicy beef stir fry. The sun was out hard, even in the late afternoon, and Rotorua was starting to get a little busier than earlier with families and couples dining outside.
Back at our hostel, we took a closer look around.
Hhmmm. Should we have been worried that the wall in the lounge was decorated with everything you’d ever possibly need to kill someone off with in the middle of the night?
But after sharing an $8 bottle of Lindaur and reading gossip magazines and giggling like school girls all night, I kind of forgot about the dangerous weapons overhead and figured it couldn’t get any worse.
Oh how wrong I was.
It had taken me a good hour or two to get to sleep in our small, stuffy dorm room; the heat had me tangled in blankets and every breath I took felt like I was inhaling a year’s supply of dust. So when I was woken up at 6am I wasn’t that impressed.
Peering through the shabby curtain of the window, I couldn’t see the culprit but I knew exactly where the noise was coming from; the radio of one of the long-term locals living at the hostel. The ones who’d sat on the porches of their rooms all night making smart-ass comments and smoking cigarettes, looking at us like we were trespassing when we dared sit outside on the sofas.
Songs from the 60s echoed around the courtyard. The crackle of a bad signal cut through the crooning every so often.
And I could. Not. Sleep.
I wanted to breathe in some fresh air. I wanted to sleep before the long drive back to Auckland that afternoon. I wanted people to have some consideration for others. Was that so much to ask?
Clearly it was. 20 minutes later, the noise of the radio was suddenly blocked out by the people staying in the next room’s singing and screams of laughter.
We’d have enough.
When reception opened we were already waiting at the front desk, ready to swap our room key and sheets for the $20 deposit we’d left.
We grabbed breakfast and coffee, decided where we wanted to stop off on the way back to Auckland, and then we were gone.
I didn’t hate Rotorua. But I didn’t fall in love with it either. It was a feeling I got, like when I was in Brisbane; a feeling that Rotorua wasn’t for me.
That said, with so much to do in and around the town; a geothermal park to visit, mud pools to bathe in, the gondolier to ride and luging to do, Rotorua’s still somewhere worth going to if you’re travelling in New Zealand.
Just don’t go getting bitten by bugs in the pub. And don’t stay at Cactus Jacks.