Sulphur Point, Rotorua and Sulphur Flats is underrated as a place where visitors go. I can't say that many of them line up to say, "Hey, how do you get to Sulphur Point, I'm dying to see it?"
Alien, barren and wild-looking; it's a unique, fascinating area, quite beautiful in its own way.
A walkway begins at the Lakefront; if you stand looking at the lake head to the right and follow the shoreline. There is a clearly marked track to follow with information panels at various points.
Where the track splits, keep to the left hugging the lake. Not too far along the track and beside a longish boardwalk is a floating man-made wetlands. It's been put in this sheltered area in order for the 20,000 native plants to establish themselves - to improve lake water quality - before being moved to a permanent home off-shore from Rotorua Airport. People flying in will be able to see the word "Rotorua" spelt out in the wetlands.
Exiting the track onto a road will find you at Sulphur Point. A public toilet is located here.
In the past Sulphur Point used to be a 'lovers lane' type of hangout, I don't know if it still is or not. Have I used it for that purpose myself? My lips are sealed.
There is a tiny little island by the boat ramp by the name of Motutara Island. This is a wildlife refuge and when the season is right it's covered in all sorts of baby birds. There are different types of Shag, Robin, Weka and Saddlebacks with some of them being endangered.
This is also a popular area for fishing boats to enter/exit the water hence the pier and there is a big concrete pad available as well.
Continue on following the shore line to Sulphur Bay. The water gets noticeably whiter here. It's in this area that about 28,000 tons of water is poured into the bay every day from the geothermal field. That's huge isn't it. A great view of this can be had from the viewing platform at the Rotorua Museum (not accessible now).
I read recently, can't remember where, that the webbed feet of some of the birds are all raggedy or gone completely because of all the thermal elements in the water. They're not silly either. The birds apparently drive smelt from the lake into the white part of Sulphur Bay where they get asphyxiated. How's that for dinner being served up on a plate?
Keeping to the track look for a turn to the left into the thermal area where you will find Cameron's Laughing Gas Pool and the Coffee Pot thermal mud pool. It is said that this was the first area used for commercial bathing purposes. People were actually tied with ropes and lowered into the muddy waters to soak. I wonder if that was to stop them from disappearing into the murky depths.
Continuing on for another 10 or so minutes the track exits out onto the road. It continues left past the Polynesian Pools and the rear of a couple of hotels before heading back into the brush again. Now you're getting into the real Sulphur Flats.
You may like to download our local council brochure for this portion of the track. It provides information on the different points of interest along the route as well as a map.
The track is right beside the main road here and you can even see Pak n Save from it. Walking across the boardwalk you may be lucky enough - or not - to see and hear hundreds of seagulls. This must be where they nest and boy, do they make a racket. You have to watch out here as I've had them hassling me sometimes, the little buggers.
Part of this area used to be Rotorua's dump (sacrilege huh?) so don't be surprised to see the odd bits of car tyres or glass etc. coming through the surface of the ground.
When you get to a sign saying straight ahead to Sala St and there's a turn to the left, take the left turn. You will do a loop to get back to this point.
The left turn will take you through the middle of the Sulphur Flats towards the Puarenga River. This is where it gets really alien-looking so is well worth a look.
Steam comes out all over the place and there are holes with plops and gurgles going on all the time. You have to remain alert around here and stick to the track (you have to look hard to see it sometimes) because on some parts you're actually on the flats themselves.
I talked one of my brothers into taking a walk around this portion one day after lots of rain. We ended up wading through rain water up over our ankles and because he had nice new shoes on he was not impressed. Talk about moan, and I'll leave the language to your imagination. Yep, there's nothing like a bit of quality family bonding time is there?
Keep walking in a loop until you get to the right hand turn to head back to the Polynesian Pools. Once there, stay on the road and make your way past the font of the Museum - can't miss the big Elizabethan building, through the Government Gardens, through the roundabout and follow the road back to the Lakefront. Voila, done. I hope these directions aren't too confusing. All up it should take around an hour.
The Natural Heritage Trail Pdf download features ten walks around the city area, including this one that takes in the Sulphur Flats. This portion of the track is No.4 on the brochure map. Take the loop back using the yellow dotted bike track route.
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