Destinations Cities

Wendyl Nissen visits Rotorua

Wendyl Nissen takes a walk on the wild side to find the real Rotorua.

By Wendyl Nissen

In our busy lives, mothers and teenage daughters don’t often get quality time together.So when I was offered the chance to take my 15-year-old Pearl to Rotorua for a “green” weekend, I leapt at it. A girls’ road trip was just what we needed as we headed off for the three-hour drive away from Auckland.

Baking bliss

Our two days kicked off with a visit to Alex at Ciabatta Bakery, tucked away in the industrial part of Rotorua, but doing a roaring trade on a Saturday morning. As Alex talked to us about the art of baking real bread – long fermentation, good flour, no additives –I took notes, while Pearl happily munched on her Go-Nuts, a cross between a doughnut and a croissant.

Alex is from Switzerland and is passionate about good baking. He offers courses where people can learn all there is to know about making artisan bread.

But many tourists simply visit Alex for his famous Long Dog – a very long hot dog encased in his ciabatta bread – or to sample the gourmet sandwiches.

Find Ciabatta at 36-38 White Street, and ask about his classes by calling (07) 348 3332 – I’m definitely signing up for one next year.

Spa Heaven

No trip to Rotorua is complete without a long, hot soak in the thermal waters, which were once famous for their healing qualities. Take a water taxi on Lake Tarawera where you will learn about the history of the lake and then be dropped off at a hot water beach to enjoy a private soak for an hour or so before being picked up again.

For more information, Contact Karen and David Walmsley at And if you have time, a visit to the Polynesian Spa is a must for a girls’ relaxation afternoon.

You can get all sorts of massages and beauty treatments, swim in the public pools, or opt for the private ones out the back, which have a range of different temperatures to enjoy. A new addition Pearl and I particularly enjoyed were the heated loungers. For details and information on how to book,


Art and Culture

One of the most impressive buildings in the area is the Rotorua Museum with its eye-catching Tudor style.

For years it was neglected and even spent time as a nightclub called Tudor Towers until it was saved and turned into a museum.The building used to be a bath house and you can still see some of the old baths where tourists would come from all over the world for a “cure” and to be healed.

Pearl and I were most moved by the display honouring the legendary World War Two exploits of the B Company of the 28th Maori Battalion. If you’re visiting before March next year, do make sure you look at Matatoki – the Maori carving exhibition, which celebrates the work of the very best internationally recognised contemporary carvers in New Zealand.


Canopy Tours

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. Well, our Sunday morning spent on this canopy tour took up six days worth of scariness for me.

I have a mild fear of heights and somehow didn’t realise that being in a tree canopy actually involved being high up, but this tour is worth overcoming your fears. It is wonderful and takes you up into the tree canopy of the forest. You get about by riding on a series – I counted six – of flying foxes.

Everyone had an amazing time, the guides were incredibly good (one even held my hand) and their knowledge of conservation and native bird life in the forest was inspiring. Canopy tours are proactively killing bird predators such as rats, stoats and possums in an effort to bring back more native bird life, and Pearl and I plan to go back in a few years to see how beautiful that will be.

Now I’m over my fear of heights, I’ll be loving the flying foxes. Visit


Until we visited Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre it would be fair to say that Pearl and I had no knowledge of our native falcons, hawks and owls.

We left having seen a falcon give a display of their agility and hunting techniques, and aware of how threatened these birds are.


read more from