Welcome to Hell’s Gate in Rotorua, New Zealand

While you probably won’t run into Satan, a visit to Hell’s Gate in Rotorua, New Zealand, will immerse you in a world of boiling natural ponds, smoking sulfur pits, active volcanoes, and the Inferno, two violently erupting geothermal pools. The area, which was originally called Tikitere, looks so much like a trip to the underworld that when Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw set his gaze on the area he immediately dubbed it “Hellsgate”, as that’s where he believed he was. In fact, it is said that Shaw, who was an atheist before visiting the site, converted his religion after spending a week there.

While New Zealand is located on the chaotic “Ring of Fire”, Rotorua itself sits on the country’s volcanic plateau, causing erupting geysers, mud pools, steaming fumaroles, and boiling hot natural pools. Hell’s Gate itself formed over 10,000 years ago when an ancient lake emptied into the sea.

Along with being unique in landscape and natural features, Hell’s Gate also has a rich history. The local Maori people have lived on the site for over 700 years. During those early years a young Maori princess named Hurutini, whose abusive husband was the Chief of the tribe, threw herself into one of the boiling pools to “remove the shame of her people”. Sadly, Hurutini died in the pool, which now bears her name.

Despite the area’s resemblance to the nether world, the natural properties found in the geothermal features of Hell’s Gate actually make for a holistic and healthy experience. The sulfurous hot waters are good for healing wounds while black geothermal mud can help to cure arthritis and rheumatism. There is also an ice cold white mud that changes back and forth from liquid to solid that is used to relieve burns, and a grey mud that exfoliates and nourishes the skin. Luckily, there is an on-site spa where you can try all of these mud-healing treatments for yourself.

For a better idea of what Hell’s Gate looks like, check out the video above. And keep in mind, none of this is man-made.

Outside of Lake Okareka Lodge by lebua in Rotorua, New Zealand

Perhaps the best thing about staying at lebua’s Lake Okareka Lodge in New Zealand is the setting. The island nation — and Rotorua especially — is known for it stunning landscapes, nature’s “greatest hits” so to speak. One can sit on the lodge patio and stare out at the lake and rolling, coniferous hills all afternoon, content in the southern hemisphere sun. Or if one had the hankering for adventure? Well, Rototura is that sort of place.

Many of the locals call it Rotovegas, actually, and for a good reason: it’s the exhillirating, thrill riding sort of place that inpires the same sort of high that Vegas does, a never ending urge to stay out, stay up, drink in as much of the landscape as possible and be happy.

And there is plenty to keep one happy in Rotorua. An outdoor adventure mecca, one can barely turn throw a stone wihtout hitting a new, adventure soaked activity begging to be visited. Yes, there’s the traditional, sky diving, white water rafting and bungee jumping. But there’s also monster truck and time trials at Off Road NZ, Zorbing, trout fishing and sledging (read: being dragged down white water on your face). They’ve even got big game hunting, which is a treat not for the joy of hunting or killing an animal, per se, but purely for the experience of mashing through the unique forests and landscapes of New Zealand, immersed in fauna and nature.

It’s the combination of myriad available activities and endless pampering that make Lake Okareka Lodge by lebua special, from departing on a volcano tour from your private helicopter pad to catching your dinner from the dock and having your personal chef cook it for you. Check out our profile inside of the property for more details.

Disclaimer: lebua sponsored our trip to come check out their hotels, though our opinions and experiences were all of our own design. No animals were harmed in creating these blog posts.

Inside of Lake Okareka Lodge by lebua in Rotorua, New Zealand

Opulence. It’s a term that I as a traveler have rarely been able to use in my years on the road, but I finally found a reason to use it this past September.

We had been taken to a small lodge deep in the heart of New Zealand, a 7000 square foot stone and wood mansion perched on a peninsula in Lake Okareka, just outside of Rotorua. A property managed by the Thai luxury hotel brand lebua, it’s got only three suites, each with a stunning view over the lake and premium furnishings.

Inside of each room there is the perfect balance of comfort, technology and elegance. One can plug an iPod into the Sonos sound system, order a complimentary scotch from the butler and gaze out into the New Zealand hills, jump on the bed and watch the BBC on the flat panel television or surf the internet from private patios — everything has been done to ensure a plush stay.

Into the bathroom, visitors are treated to luxurious, overhead rain shower heads and Bvlgari amenities. Were it not so comfortable in the suite, this room could seriously be a great place to spend the day.

Downstairs, a private chef and butler are at your service around the clock. David, the genius behind each of your meals will custom tailor everything to your tastes or if you’re feeling adventurous, can surprise with the fresh, local fare of his creative invention.

The entire lodge, staff and property are effectively at your service while you’re at Lake Okareka Lodge. If you’d like to arrange fireworks over the hill as you sit on your patio, you can do that. If you’d like to eat a five course meal at 3AM with no pants on, well, they can arrange that too.

Those interested in getting out into the property have a fishing boat, kayak, hot tub, jet ski and helicopter landing pad at their disposal. If it’s raining, there’s also a work out room, fully stocked bar, wine cellar, lounge and grand piano to keep busy.

So is it for you? lebua’s Lake Okareka lodge is expensive, exclusive and off the beaten path. Those looking to get away from civilization and be treated like royalty will find this place to be heaven. For a visitor with a tight budget or a desire to walk into the city to visit the nightlife, it’s not the best place. Why anyone would ever want to leave this lodge, however, is beyond me.


Disclaimer: lebua sponsored our trip to come check out their hotels, though our opinions and experiences were all of our own design. No animals were harmed in creating these blog posts, but that’s only because the rifle sight wasn’t calibrated.

In the Corner of the World – Cold and glowing vs. hot and bubbly

Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.

You’re standing on the edge of a ledge. Covered head-to-toe in a neoprene wetsuit, purple short-shorts and giant white rubber galoshes, and holding a large inner tube. You’re contemplating a jump into the frigid waters that slosh noisily just below. It’s pitch black, but your headlamp punches temporary holes in the emptiness, providing glimpses of other victims shouting and flailing wildly beneath you. A man taps you on the arm and pushes you forward – you hesitate, but there’s nothing to do but turn around and jump, plummeting ass-first towards the numbingly cold water beneath you, awaiting the inevitability of a painful impact.

This certainly wasn’t how I had pictured my day unfolding when it began. We were headed 2 hours south from Auckland, driving towards Waitomo, a village that is home to one of the largest complexes of underground caves in New Zealand. Caving is highly popular attraction in New Zealand, and the underground spaces like those found at Waitomo boast almost 400,000 visitors each year.

We had also heard about a peculiar Waitomo Cave phenomenon known as “Glowworms” – a unique species of bioluminescent insect that emits an eerie light in order to attract its prey. Glowing insects and cave exploring? Our interest was piqued – we wanted to see these strange creatures up and close and personal for ourselves. But how exactly does one go from a casual curiosity in glowing cave bugs to standing shivering, wearing a wetsuit in a pitch black cave? And how did we plan to warm ourselves up afterwards? Keep clicking below to see what happened.
Visitors to Waitomo caves have a huge range of options for viewing these amazing natural wonders and the strange wildlife like glow worms that live within them. Trips to Waitomo Caves range from more casual walking tours along guided underground paths to full-on spelunking and cave rafting expeditions.

Though a leisurely cave walk sounded fun, this was New Zealand after all – frequently cited as the home of “extreme sports.” We wanted a more “hands-on” experience so we opted for an underwater tubing trip which would take us on water voyage through the inner workings of the one of the caves. After suiting up in what is perhaps the stupidest outfit I’ve ever worn in my entire life (pictured left), we were ready to enter the caves.

As we entered the first narrow tunnel, icy cold water up to our waists, I began to wonder what I had gotten my claustrophobic self into – but the scenery quickly changed. After jumping through a few small waterfall pools, the ceiling soon opened upwards, revealing a massive underground cavern big enough to hold a cathedral and a meandering underground stream. Above us lay a miniature Milky Way of twinkling lights – a constellation of glowworm insects silently advertising for victims. We hopped aboard our inner tubes and floated lazily down the cave’s river as we gazed up at the artificial light show performance above us. Still under the hypnotic visual spell of such a strange sight, we soon emerged back into the midday light, none the worse for the wear but soaking wet and exhilarated by our recent adventure.

After all the freezing water from the morning’s caving activities, it was time to warm up and relax. We headed 150 kilometers east towards Rotorua, a city that lies on the edge of one of New Zealand’s more active geothermal hotspots. In addition to geysers and mud pools, Rotorua is also an outdoor activities destination offering the chance to mountain bike, raft, fish and swim. But a morning of cave-exploring had just about done us in at this point – we were ready to just hang out. We stopped by the Polynesian Spa to take a soak in their naturally heated thermal waters, renting a private pool with a view of Lake Rotorua for 30 minutes.

As we immersed ourselves in the warm embrace of the nearly 100 degree water, the starry night sky above us punctuated by the Southern Cross, we had a chance to think back. Our day had taken us across two huge extremes in temperature. From a morning sloshing through knee-deep freezing water, looking up at ghostly glowworms to a heated hot-spring pool and starlit New Zealand sky. Going from cold to hot – it was just the kind of extreme transition we’d come to find down in New Zealand, the corner of the world.