GeyserCon Report & Rotorua

After our backpacking trip, Jon and I traveled to Rotorua to get ready for GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 2019 national science fiction and fantasy convention.

We got into town a little early, so we stayed at a tourist cottage with Grace Bridges, con chair. Grace booked us into one of her regular favorite places, where we had hot pools and a hot beach and a steaming stream and warning signs all over the yard about the ground potentially burning your feet, be sure to wear shoes.

Rotorua is one of a very few (countable on one hand with fingers left over) communities in the world built on an active geothermal site.

Lake Rotorua, on whose shore our cottages sat, is a water-filled caldera, still active. You can walk along the beach and find little hot springs bubbling up through the sand and lake. This is a good place to wriggle your toes in — but be careful, because it’s easy to find one that’s too hot.

Note the bubbles coming up between my toes.

Remember those chilly wades we had in Abel Tasman? This was the opposite. Even though we were less than a week from the official start of winter, I waded into Lake Rotorua and, with chilly lake water biting at my legs, pushed my toes into the sand to find the heat. My ankles were cold, but my feet were warm.

And my legs were white, because I am a super pale Dutch-English girl and that’s our default.

The lake is beautiful, and some black swans kept an eye on us as we explored. We wandered down to St. Faith’s church, built with a Maori aesthetic.

Everything is hot in Rotorua. The park has a boiling lake. The drains along the streets steam. Open hot springs are along the sidewalks. And everywhere you can find evidence of the planetary core oozing out to defy human containment.

This scarred pavement shows where a steam vent opened, corroded the brick with heat and chemicals, and then moved on.

The atmosphere in Rotorua is a bit different; appliances, etc. don’t last as long there due to corrosive gases. I actually lost my voice just in time for the con — related to the irritating air? I’m not sure. I didn’t experience that during my only previous visit to the town, but neither did I show any other symptoms of illness. /shrug/ Who can say?

We walked to the city park, which is full of geothermal features.

A hot pool.

Grace has a series of geothermal-powered superheroes who start their stories here. It’s easy to see how this place could spark the imagination!

mud with with large bubbles boiling up and bursting dramatically
a boiling mud pot

Later on our trip, we conversed with a new Kiwi friend who was curious about tornadoes in the American midwest. We talked about how destructive they can be and also how they can be avoided. “But aren’t you afraid to live there?” she asked. “I would be afraid live in someplace so dangerous!”

I looked at her. “You know we’re having this conversation in a caldera, right? That outside the window, the ground is literally boiling?”

“Fair point.” We had a good laugh about how the unfamiliar threat is always the more threatening. The devil you know, and all that.

Side note: The very day I wrote up this blog post, after I wrote the above, we had to take shelter in a basement because a tornado passed over a wedding reception we were attending. Serious damage around us, some damage to guest cars, but we were all fine — and we were playing in the community center gym, including the bridesmaids jumping rope (the maid of honor was a competitive jumper) as water seeped in and spread a pool across the floor. It really is just what you’re used to.

We cooked our dinner in a hāngī, as the cabins and campsites had a communal one to share. A traditional hāngī elsewhere is a pit dug into the ground, with wrapped food placed in with hot stones to slowly cook. In Rotorua, a hāngī is an above-ground box where you harness the natural steam as an oven. Why use purchased energy to heat a home or food or bathwater when the earth is willing to do that for you for free?

Then we went on to the convention hotel. Jon and I checked into our room just in time to catch the Pōhutu Geyser out our window, which was erupting in welcome.

Pōhutu is the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere and allegedly the most reliable on earth (though Old Faithful might take issue), often erupting up to 100 feet or 30 meters. Very impressive, and a fantastic welcome to GeyserCon!

This was my second time to be an author guest at a convention, and the first as a guest of honor, and I have to say that the con attendees were fantastic. Kiwis are so friendly and they made us feel very welcome. Everyone was so nice about my failing voice, and I was given so many cough drops, chews, snacks, drinks, etc. Thank you all again!

On Friday, I helped to teach for the Young NZ Writers program. I had about 140 kids in my room, I think I was told, who heard from several professional authors, including fellow author guests Kaaron Warren and Alan Baxter, on various topics. These kids were great! I was also attending GeyserCon as a cosplay guest, so I taught my session dressed as Mara Jade from Star Wars.

I’d also had the chance to judge one of the Young NZ Writers contests for short prose, and we were able to award most of our winners at the con.

Alena and I stayed on after the con with Grace for a bit of tourism and writing time. We went to Rainbow Springs Nature Park, and to a cat café (my first), and walked around Lake Rotorua. We bought pies (I live on pies while in New Zealand) and rum balls. Rotorua is the only place I’ve been where one puts the chocolate in one’s pocket to keep it cool (walking through the steam).