"You can sit on the warm rocks, but watch out for the steam vents or you'll get steamed buns."
The air temperature is a brisk 6C, but the heat of the earth is rising through the rocky platform that has become my seat. I can feel a faint mist lightly kissing my cheeks from the geyser plumes ahead that I mistakenly think is a drop of rain. But above, there are no rain clouds, only a bright starry sky and a defined Milky Way.
Patrick is right - sitting on the hot rocks is a lovely warm indulgence on a crisp night, but every now and then a tiny burst of hot steam punctures through my jeans and I bolt upright to shuffle to a new spot of heat without the risk of third-degree steam burns.
Te Puia is a well-known tourism spot in Rotorua within Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. It's home of the famous Pōhutu geyser, boiling hot pools and bubbling mud, as well as the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute and a kiwi enclosure.
Up until January, the only time visitors could explore its geothermal attractions was during daylight hours. But, like many tourism businesses struggling because of Covid, Te Puia decided to give New Zealanders a new experience.
The Geyser By Night guided tour leads visitors past the geothermal attractions in the dark, where geysers and mud pools are viewed by starlight, floodlights and torchlights, and guides share captivating stories of the beautiful Māori history of this incredible resource.
We're given torchlights and begin our tour with guides Patrick and Nelson. Patrick leads us down a dark alleyway and through a tunnel, before asking us to switch off our torches. We stand momentarily in the darkness as he leads a karakia to bless us on our journey ahead over the next three kilometres.
During the day, visitors can see the bubbling mud and the multi-coloured geothermal landscape; but at night the sound of the boiling earth is heightened and the land transforms into a black-and-white movie reel. The geothermal steam rising from the earth seems even more mysterious and otherworldly at night.
"It's like I'm on the moon!" one of the others on tour exclaims, and she's not half wrong. The rocks look like they could be craters on the moon. With torchlights in hand and watching our footing on the gravel pathways, it feels like we're being lead on a secret adventure.
Patrick invites us to take a seat around a natural pool of boiling hot water, weaving stories about early life here and how the hot water pool was used for cooking. He pulls out a kete from the water with something wrapped up in tinfoil. It's our dessert - a steamed pudding made of kumara, wheatmeal and butterscotch, served with custard, and it's delicious on a cold night outside.
Te Puia also has five kiwi in its Kiwi Conservation Centre and Patrick tells us to be as quiet as mice as we walk past, in the hope we hear them calling. Sure enough, as we near the enclosure, we hear a squawk in the night. As someone who lives in a big city, there's something truly precious and rare about hearing our national bird calling.
We have to rush through, however, because Pōhutu is due to go. The geyser, which is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, has a fairly reliable internal clock that sees it erupting approximately every hour; a reminder of just how alive our planet is beneath our feet.
Unfortunately on this night, we can't get a clear view of Pōhutu because the smaller-but-still-very-impressive Prince of Wales Feathers geyser in front is taking centre stage. But I can still hear Pōhutu hissing and rumbling, and water gushing down the rocks. It is impossible to miss the energy of the earth.
Our tour concludes with a walk through Te Puia's model pre-European Maori village and past the schools of wood carving, weaving, stone and bone carving. The model marae means many of the restrictions and protocols when entering a traditional marae don't apply here. Nevertheless, there's something special about concluding our tour at the entrance of the wharenui under the stars, perfectly encapsulating a living culture alongside a living earth.
Te Puia's Geyser by Night tours operate Wednesday to Sunday nights, from 7pm-9pm, priced from $50 per adult and $30 for Rotorua locals, ($25 per child). tepuia.com