Rotorua and Lake Taupo

New Zealand's premier destination for geysers and hot springs.

Let's not pretend anything else: Rotorua smells. There is a constant sulphurous smell which hangs around Rotorua and which, once you get used to it, is part of the attraction of this unique and fascinating town.

Arrive in Rotorua and you will immediately smell the sulphur, then you will see the white steam from underground hot springs drifting through parks and gardens and you will know that you are very close to the hot centre of the planet. You will come to understand why New Zealand is known, in some quarters, as “the shaky isles” and what it means to sit on the edge of the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Located 230km south of Auckland, the name Rotorua comes from the Maori phrase Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe which means “the second great lake of Kahumatamomoe”. The town is located in what is known as a caldera. It was formed some 200,000 years ago when a huge magma chamber collapsed forming the 16km wide caldera which is now filled with the waters of Lake Rotorua.

The area was first settled around 500 years ago by Maori who now make up nearly one-third of the region's population which is nearly 70,000.

Europeans did not settle around the area's geysers and mud pools until the 1880s and since then the whole region has developed as a major tourist attraction. Visitors flock to see the thermal activity and to enjoy the spa therapies which are on offer at a some of New Zealand's best health spas.

The modern city is driven almost entirely by tourism which means it is delightfully multicultural – food options include Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Italian restaurants. And Fenton Street, the heart of the city's accommodation, boasts more than 50 motels.

Rotorua Museum of Art and History

Every visit to Rotorua should start at the Museum of Art & History. Located in the remarkably beautiful Bath House building in the Government Gardens it has significant collections of fine arts from the area, a huge photographic collection and the impressive Taonga Maori Collection which houses treasures from the region's original inhabitants.

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Check out http://www.tourism.net.nz

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Located 31km south of Rotorua, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland offers an excellent opportunity to inspect a range of impressive thermal attractions including a number of walks around the edges of geysers, mud pools and thermal ponds.

The “wonderland” offers a series of walks which take the visitor around 75 minutes to complete. Nearby is the Lady Knox Geyser which blows every morning at precisely 10.15am. A guide explains exactly how this precise reliability is achieved and visitors get the opportunity to sit on benches set in an amphitheatre which surrounds the geyser.

Equally impressive is the “wonderland” Mud Pool which is the remnant of a mud volcano and which bubbles continuously.

Check out http://www.waiotapu.co.nz for more details.

Whakarewarewa – The Thermal Village

Whakarewarewa is known as “the living Maori Village”. Located on the edge of Rotorua township it offers cultural performances twice daily, tours of a traditional Maori village every hour, exhibitions of handcrafts and singing, and a particularly impressive hangi (served between noon and 2.00pm daily) where meat and vegetables are cooked in a pit covered by a bed of hot stones. The village is open to the public from 8.30-5.00 daily. Check out the details at http://www.whakarewarewa.com

Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park

Away from the region's dominant thermal experience is the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Park where visitors can walk through quiet rainforest and, most importantly, actually see a kiwi in its natural habitat – a rare experience in New Zealand. The park currently has a population of eight North Island Brown kiwis. The park also offers visitors the opportunity to see the Tuatara – New Zealand's unique and beautiful lizard-like creature. For more details check out http://www.rainbowsprings.co.nz

Hukafalls Jet

Hundreds of thousands of tourists pour into Rotorua every year and this has meant, inevitably, that some attractions have little to do with geysers and hot mud pools. The most famous of these modern attractions is the Hukafalls Jet, located 45 minutes from Rotorua, which is a speedy 30 minute jet-boat ride up the Huka River to the low, but dramatic, falls. The thrill-a-minute journey guarantees action and some spectacular views of the river. For more details check out http://www.hukafallsjet.com

Huka Prawn Farm

Located next to Huka Jet, the prawn farm uses the local hot thermal water to create an environment where Malaysian prawns can be fooled into believing that although they are really in cool New Zealand, they are basking in the warm waters off Penang. The thermal waters keep these tropical babies comfortable at 28 degrees centigrade until they find it a little warmer in the woks and pans of the Prawn Farm Restaurant. Well worth a visit simply because the prawns at the restaurant are large, sweet and perfect. For more information check out http://www.hukaprawnpark.co.nz

Rotorua's Greatest Secret - Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park

The Lonely Planet Guide says "Orakei Korako is possibly the best thermal area left in New Zealand and one of the finest in the world". They are right. Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park is located at Hidden Valley. It requires effort to get there. The park's internet site explains: “If driving from Rotorua, travel down State Highway 5, the turnoff to Orakei Korako is 3km south of Golden Springs. Turn right on to the Tutukau Rd, travel 16kms then turn right onto Orakei Korako Rd, travel 5kms to the end of the road. Approximate driving time from Rotorua is 45 minutes.” But the trip is worth the effort.

How magical is this experience? You arrive at the Hidden Valley, park your car beside Lake Ohakuri, head off and buy a ticket to the Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park, catch a ferry across the lake and start your adventures. It is a mythical start to a remarkable set of natural features.

As you cross the lake the Emerald Terrace tumbles down into the lake. Above it the steam from a thousand hot springs wafts around in the breeze.

The ferry moors at the jetty and you start the walk - a huge circle - around the Thermal Park. In 2.6 km you will see everything that thermal New Zealand can offer. What Rotorua offers in two days, Orakei Korako offers in two hours.

The wooden walkway crosses the Emerald Terrace where mineral-based golds and oranges mix with whites and browns in a rainbow of colours. You then reach the Diamond Geyser where every few minutes a fountain of water cascades down the mineral-encrusted rocks. Then it is on to the Rainbow and Cascade Terrace, a beautiful formation that looks as though it belongs in a cave rather than as a broad thermal terrace. At one point there is a huge white terrace which looks like a freshly shorn sheep's fleece.

Further up the hillside is Ruatapa Cave, a deep cave with warm water in the pool below. And beyond that, in a delightful walk through a rainforest, are mud pools which bubble away like a witch's cauldron. It is an unforgettable geothermal experience.

Check out http://www.orakeikorako.co.nz for details.

PLACES TO EAT

Fat Dog Cafe
1161 Arawa Street, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7347 7586
www.fatdogcafe.co.nz

Lewisham's Cafe
1099 Tutanekai St, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7348 1786
www.lewishamsrestaurant.co.nz

Bistro 1284
1284 Eruera St, Rotorua
Phone: + 64 7346 1284
www.bistro1284.co.nz

Freos
1103 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7346 0976
www.freos.co.nz

Seismic Gastrobar
1158 Whakaue Street, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7348 2082
www.seismicgastrobar.co.nz

PLACES TO STAY

The Princes Gate Hotel
1057 Arawa Street, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7-348 1179
www.princesgate.co.nz
Price: From NZ $90/night

Millennium Hotel & Resort Manuels Taupo
243 Lake Terrace, Taupo
Phone: +64 7 3785 110
www.manuels.co.nz
Price: From NZ $180/night

Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort
77 Robinson Avenue, Holdens Bay, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7 343 5100
www.waioraresort.co.nz
Price: From NZ $275/night

River Birches
19 Koura Street, Turangi, Tongariro
Phone: +64 7 3860 445
www.riverbirches.co.nz
Price: From NZ $385/night

Treetops Lodge and Wilderness Estate
351 Kearoa Road, Horohoro, Rotorua
Phone: +64 7 3332 066
www.treetops.co.nz
Price: From NZ $980/night

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