Welcome to the Gates of Hell

Anyone who has stood at Hell’s Gate can tell you what Hell smells like. But in case you have any doubt — Hell has the pungent aroma of rotten eggs — according to George Bernard Shaw, anyway.

This cave at the Orakei Korako geothermal area is actually the vent of an ancient volcano. The jade green pool inside was once used by Maori women as a type of beauty parlour. Today

Anyone who has stood at Hell’s Gate can tell you what Hell smells like. But in case you have any doubt — Hell has the pungent aroma of rotten eggs — according to George Bernard Shaw, anyway.

Hell’s Gate, located outside Rotorua, New Zealand, markets itself as the most active geothermal area in the region and one of the most active geothermal areas on the north island. It is one of several geyser parks and attractions that provide visitors with the opportunity to experience steaming fumaroles and boiling mud pools and it is just one of the many spots in the area where hydrogen sulphide gas is emitted, creating a relentless rotten-egg-like atmosphere.

Rotorua sits on a volcanic plateau and gas exudes from pits, holes, nooks and crannies throughout the area. Once you get used to the smell, it can be fascinating to explore these areas and see the awesome power of Mother Nature at work.

Hell’s Gate and Wai Ora Spa

Hell’s Gate is New Zealand’s only Maori-owned thermal park and the Ngati Rangiteaorere tribe have lived in the area for more than 700 years. Although the Maori people considered the waters to have sacred healing powers, the area became known as Hell’s Gate after a visit in the early 1900s by the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw. Although Shaw was a self-professed atheist, he reportedly stated that the area must surely be the gateway to Hell that his theologian friends had warned him about. Apparently, the name stuck.

Set on 50 acres of land, you can see a variety of geothermal features at Hell’s Gate, including hot pools of boiling mud, swirling streams of steam, scalding water baths and the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere. In ancient times, warriors bathed in the sulphurous Kakahi Falls to heal their wounds after battle and to remove the “tapu” of war.

A feature that sets Hell’s Gate apart from other geothermal reserves is the Wai Ora Spa, where you can enjoy a mud bath, a massage and other spa treatments.

The mineral mud is said to detoxify and purify the skin and promote the regeneration of skin cells. While your skin does feel absolutely fantastic after a mud bath treatment, it may take several washings for you to lose the rotten egg smell.

The healing properties of the mud are not as obvious on fabric — your swimwear may never be the same.

Kuirau Park

You don’t have to look far or spend a lot of money to find geothermal wonders in Rotorua. At the heart of the city is the free Kuirau Park, where locals and visitors alike sit on park benches sipping lattes while watching the hissing, scalding hot waters that find their way to the surface.

Every decade or so there is a new eruption that hurls mud and rocks high into the air and even though it sounds quite menacing, you are pretty safe as long as you stay on the right side of the fences.

In ancient Maori times, the small lake in the middle of the park was much cooler than it is today.

According to legend, a beautiful young woman named Kuirau was bathing in the waters of the lake when a legendary creature called a taniwha dragged her to his lair below the lake.

The gods were so angry that they made the lake boil and destroyed the taniwha. Since that time, the lake and the park area surrounding it have been known by the name of the lost woman.

Orakei Korako

Located about 68 km southwest of Rotorua, Orakei Korako is one of the most impressive geothermal areas in all of New Zealand. On the banks of Lake Ohakuri, you must cross the lake to reach the fuming craters.

Boardwalks and paths lead past seething geysers, bubbling mudpools, boiling fountains and steaming vents. You can also step inside the vent of an ancient volcano to find a jade green pool that was once used by Maori women as a type of beauty parlour. The name Orakei Korako means “a place of adorning.”

The highlight of this site is an enormous cream and pink silica terrace that is believed to be the largest in the world. The terrace has such an impressive range of colours that its top has been dubbed the Artist’s Palette.

If you go:

• Rotorua is located on New Zealand’s North Island about 235 km southeast of Auckland. There is a local airport in Rotorua, but most international visitors fly into Auckland and drive to Rotorua. Inter-City Coachlines offers daily bus services between the Auckland and Rotorua at a cost of $NZ16 (Cdn$12). Phone +64 9 623 1503 or visit www.intercitycoach.co.nz

• Geothermal adventures near Rotorua include: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (www.geyserland.co.nz), Waimangu Volcanic Valley (www.waimangu.com), Hells Gate (www.hellsgate.co.nz), and Orakei Korako (www.orakeikorako.co.nz).

• Renting an RV is a good way to save money on a visit to New Zealand and a great way to travel around and see the sites. Our RV rental was actually less costly than a minivan would have been for the same period and it provided us with accommodations and a full kitchen. There are several companies that offer motorhome rentals in New Zealand. We rented from Apollo Motor Homes (www.apollocamper.co.nz). Our seven-day rental during the off season cost about Cdn$450 (NZ$638) for a six-berth motor home.

• Caravan parks are inexpensive places to park a motorhome for the night. Many parks have recreational facilities, kitchen and laundry facilities, washrooms, showers, Internet services and other amenities. Most parks also have cabins for those travelling by car. For a list of caravan parks, use the AA Accommodation Guide available for free at most tourist information centres or online at http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/index.php

• To order a free Northland Visitor Guide, visit www.northlandnz.com. For more information on travelling in New Zealand, visit the official tourism website at www.newzealand.com

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, PO Bag 5200, Red Deer, T4N 5G3.

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