Rotorua is apparently the tourist capital of the North Island, so we weren’t at all surprised that there was so much to do and see here. We stayed in Rotorua for four nights in total and as a result managed to fit in quite a lot so get comfortable and prepare for a lengthier post!
Walking around Rotorua
The day we arrived in Rotorua the weather was gorgeous, but unfortunately this didn’t hold up for the rest of our stay so we spent a significant amount of time in the drizzle. Between the rain and the continuous smell of sulphur it is unsurprising that Rotorua isn’t my favourite place that we have visited. I didn’t feel quite as comfortable there as I have been in the other places we’ve visited and I’m not sure why. Rotorua was also the first place we’ve been to where everyone has asked “do you have a car?”. Whilst there are plenty of attractions, most of them are on the outskirts of the city so aren’t the easiest to reach if you don’t have your own transport.
The best way to get a feel for the city is to do a walking tour, which we really enjoyed despite the weather as there was a lot to see. Kuirau Park is a good place to start, and to see the geothermal activity without having to pay for it. You can see steaming vents, hot pools and bubbling mud (and smell the distinctive smell of sulfur of course). With the low cloud added in it felt like a scene from Jurassic Park.
From the park we continued on to Ohinemutu, a Maori village (not designed for tourists so if you visit treat it with respect) as the church was mentioned in our guidebook. St Faith’s Church is definitely worth going to see to admire the carving and weaving. It’s also really warm because it is heated geothermally. From the lake front you can then walk round to the Government Gardens and see more geothermal activity along the way. Rotorua Museum is unfortunately closed currently as it is not earthquake safe, but it’s a beautiful building. I imagine the gardens are also particularly nice on a sunny day.
The city centre is pretty much like any other city but on Thursday evenings from 5pm it comes alive with a night market which sells some very tasty looking street food and has live entertainment. “Eat Streat” is also worth checking out for a decent selection of bars and restaurants.
Tamaki Maori Cultural Performance
One of the main things to do in Rotorua is to experience some Maori culture. Whilst going to a cultural performance and Hangi (traditional meal cooked underground) felt quite touristy it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and an interesting insight into the culture. We were taken on a bus to the Marae and went through a ceremonial welcome before being invited into the village. Here we were introduced to a range of different things from tattooing to the Haka. James and I were quite lucky as we were picked as volunteers for some activities so James was able to have a go at a traditional game involving sticks and I got to try Poi (basically a dance that involves a rope with a ball on the end).
The food was then brought out of the Hangi whilst it was explained to us how it was cooked. Basically a hole is dug in the ground which the food is lowered into. This is then topped with rags and dirt so that the food can steam as it is warmed by the geothermal heat. Whilst the food was being prepared we watched the cultural performance which incorporated the different elements that we had just been taught about and had demonstrated to us.
The banquet was next and was a great way to try some different food and also meet some of the other people in attendance at the evening. The lamb was particularly tender and I also really enjoyed the kumara (a bit like yellow sweet potato). It was a delicious meal. James enjoyed the steamed pudding as well. I enjoyed the evening and if you are interested in Maori culture then I would recommend going to one. It did largely feel as if it had just been put on for tourists but I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t been to one.
One thing we kept being told by a variety of people as we travelled around was not to pay to go to a geothermal park as you can see the same sort of activity for free but I’d say if it something that interests you then to ignore this advice and go for it which is what we did. We went to Te Puia which James described as a ‘geological zoo’ as you walk around a track but instead of animals behind bars, behind the fences you get to see interesting geothermal activity.
A guided tour is included in the entry fee so it’s worth doing but I’d recommend going back round and doing it at your own pace as well as going to the areas that aren’t covered. Pohutu geyser is the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere and erupts once or twice each hour. It’s easily the star if the show, particularly if you’ve never seen a geyser before like I hadn’t. The mud pools were also particularly large and more active than we had seen in the local park.
In addition to the geothermal activity this is somewhere that you could go to a Maori performance if you hadn’t had the opportunity yet. There is a kiwi house where we were hoping to have our first glimpse of the infamous kiwi bird. Unfortunately they were in their boxes each time we went in but at least we’ve seen them on camera. The national schools of carving and weaving are also based at Te Puia so we were able to see some of their work. I found the carving particularly impressive.
The information boards as we went around were really informative about lots of different things and were very well laid out. The weather wasn’t the best when we were there but this was quite good as it wasn’t overly crowded and I can imagine that at times it’s far too busy. I definitely think it was worth visiting!
The Redwoods Forest is on the outskirts of the city and is a great place to go for a walk, with trails ranging from 2km to 34km (needless to say we didn’t do this one!). It’s also full of mountain biking trails for all abilities.
We did the 11km trek which took us through the forest as well as through native bush. Walking through the trees to begin with was unlike anything we’d done or seen at that point. I couldn’t believe how tall some of the trees were and how thick their trunks were. Coming across a really clear sulphur pool felt quite magical. It was a good length walk but sadly a lot of the final stretch was just along road so wasn’t quite as interesting.
Skyline and Luge
I was really keen to go up the Skyline in Rotorua as I really love gondolas. In the end we managed to do it on our final morning, although we were quite tight on time so didn’t get to experience everything that you can do at the top. The main thing we wanted to do was the luge which was so much fun!
It was different to luges that I’ve been on before as rather than being on a silvery track it was more like a little cart down a path. There were three different pathways that you could take; scenic, intermediate and advanced. The scenic track was a great length but was also the track that younger children were going down so you had to be careful not to go too fast or wait for a point where you could overtake them. Unfortunately the intermediate track was closed whilst we were there so the only other option we had was the advanced track. This was shorter but generally done much faster around tighter bends. There were also a couple of sudden drops which if you went over them too fast led to you doing a small jump. To get back up to the top you went up on a chairlift which is another of my favourite methods of transport.
I had a great time and would recommend the luge but I’d wait for a clear day so that you can enjoy the view from the top.