5 reasons to revisit Rotorua

Associate Editor Sebastian van der Zwan revisits a popular Kiwi hot spot

My family has a long-standing love affair with Rotovegas. We go every time we have relatives visiting from overseas and that infamous eggy smell always carries that magical holiday feeling. But after so many trips, I thought I’d seen it all. How wrong I was!

1. High praise

I’m not great with heights, so it was certainly unexpected that the highlight of my weekend away was stepping out of a 1000-year-old rimu and soaring for 220m across an ancient forest on a skimpy little wire. But the beauty of the unspoiled bush on my Rotorua Canopy Tour made me forget my acrophobia, so I was soon jumping, spinning and flipping my way along the 1.2km network of ziplines, swing bridges and trails. The fun facts and figures my guide provided about the local flora and fauna in this hidden valley were an added bonus – and I’ll never forget feeding one of the cheeky resident toutouwai (North Island robins) out of the palm of my hand. Tree-mendous!

2. In hot water

I’d visited most of the geothermal parks in and around Rotorua, but never Hells Gate. Turns out that was an oversight. Named by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and with a rich Maori history, this is the only place where tourists can safely slather themselves with the local volcanic mud while sitting in steaming hot pools. After a fascinating tour around the bubbling, boiling property, I covered myself head to toe in the grey goop (apparently a cure for skin and joint problems) and soaked up the serenity. Bliss!

3. Buried treasure

At school, I spent what felt like years studying the Tarawera eruption that destroyed the Pink and White Terraces, but I somehow missed the excursion to the Buried Village, the excavated remains of Te Wairoa, one of the settlements devastated by the 1886 disaster. The archaeological site and the relics at the museum are fascinating, but it’s the surrounding scenery that sucked me in. A picturesque riverside path runs through lush native forest and down to the gorgeous Wairere Falls – the stairs are a killer, but it’s worth the burn!

4. Fashion, darling!

OK, I’ve been to Te Puia before and found it to be the perfect one-stop attraction to cover all your geothermal, cultural and environmental needs, with geysers, Maori performances and even kiwi all in one place. But this time, I visited for the inaugural Tiki Ahua contemporary Maori fashion spectacle, which showcased modern clothing, couture, jewellery and tattooing, much of it with a traditional twist. Featuring thrilling dances and music, plus plenty of local celebrities and tasty kai, the slick event was exciting even for a style-free zone like me. And it was such a hit, Te Puia is making it an annual thing. Mark your diary for September 2017.

5. Relaxation station

After Hells Gate, I hadn’t planned on revisiting the Polynesian Spa, but I could see the steam rising from my lakeside balcony at the lovely Millennium Hotel and couldn’t resist a return trip. However, this time, I tried something new – an Aix Therapy treatment that saw my body exfoliated with mud polish and massaged with coconut oil. It’s not cheap, but it’s heavenly!

For a more wallet-friendly relaxation, I recommend having a pint at Tamati Coffey’s trendy but friendly bar, Ponsonby Road. Or take a complimentary stroll through the redwoods of pretty Hamurana Springs, home to the North Island’s deepest natural freshwater spring.

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