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Destination Rotorua

Emily Bell travelled to Rotorua for a mini-break and discusses all the fabulous activities to try out in the area.

Words Emily Bell

Nestled between the rolling Waikato hills to the north and the bubbling lakes of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley to the south lies Rotorua; an adventurer’s playground, alive with geothermal activity and famed for its generous smell of sulphur. But, admittedly, at first it didn’t strike me as an obvious destination for those who are looking for a green weekend getaway. Happily, I was proved most wrong.

On a high

Rotorua’s Canopy Tours are perfect escapism from city life and for those who want a thrill while exploring the forest above ground. We arrive in the rain, sure it was going to be cancelled. But before long we are suited and booted in gear worthy of fighting the downpour and swinging through the dense forest Tarzan-style. Upon arrival and at intervals in the tour (between standing on elevated platforms, scaling valley sides or ziplining through extraordinary scenes of native forest) you are treated to invaluable information about the conservation work that goes into protecting this corner of the world.

For years foreign pests such as possums and rats invaded the forest, destroying vegetation and the bird population. With the money that visitors pay to attend, it’s possible for the forest to be preserved and for humane, Goodnature automated traps to be purchased in order to control the pest population. What’s more, the tour guides are so passionate and enthused about this project – and ten minutes in, they knew everyone’s names. It’s this personable approach that really gave added value to the tour and – with a partner who’s afraid of heights – made us feel comfortable. Three hours later it’s time to board the shuttle bus back to base.

Right on track

Post Canopy Tour, take a drive for 30 minutes or so for lunch at Okere Falls Store, set in the heart of the Okere Falls valley.Stepping inside and out of the rain, we’re offered a warm welcome by the staff. Among the crowds and wafts of hot coffee, plates of organic cake are passed to raised hands. Sarah, who owns the store, tells me to order some food and enjoy the hospitality. It’s a family-run business with a clear focus: sustainability, longevity, organic produce. Around the store are shelves and freezers full of food and gifts, including a T-shirt with the slogan ‘If the ocean dies, so do we’.

Time to get moving again. The Okere Falls Track is a bushwalk on which you can spy rare species of plants and watch rafters tackle the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall on Kaituna River. If you feel daring, the white-water rafting company is located just down the road

Preserving the forest

If it’s a one-of-a-kind tree walk you’re after, make the short trip to the Redwoods Treewalk in Whakarewarewa Forest, which towers over Rotorua. Consisting of 28 bridges suspended from the ground, these have been constructed ecologically to protect
the aged trees – as the tree grows, the walkway moves to accommodate this change. What’s more, the bridges are made from locally milled durable macrocarpa timber.

At night the forest comes to life. This is thanks to the David Trubridge Company who were commissioned to build an installation to light up the Redwoods. The company has a strong environmentally conscious philosophy, evident in the lanterns made from composite timber on a stainless-steel frame. Walking round, it’s a magical place, a sanctuary for the trees to exist for the next hundred years.

Geothermal theatrics

Spend your Sunday morning adventuring to the world’s youngest untouched geothermal wonder, located to the south of Rotorua. Waimangu is a volcanic valley offering spectacular views, hot water springs and varied plant life. On arrival, we wore raincoats but approaching Frying Pan Lake Crater and after a short climb to Inferno Crater, the layers were shed. Heat emits from the pools, an effect of the volcanic eruption that changed this landscape so dramatically. Visually, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before and, like most scenic landscapes in New Zealand, a camera struggles to capture the sheer enormity. After partaking in the self-guided walk, we hopped aboard the free shuttle bus which took us to Lake Rotomahana (once famous for its Pink and White Terraces). Here we boarded the little boat, sat back and relaxed while enjoying the guided tour, and plumes of geothermal steam.

On a roll

For adventurous types, head to Mountain Bike Rotorua, set on the outskirts of Rotorua town on the edge of the Whakarewarewa Forest, for one of the best trail networks worldwide. Once you’re fitted for a bike and instructed on how to use it, you’re given a safety briefing, a map of the area and away you go. With more than 160 kilometres of mountain biking trails available, be reassured there’s an appropriate route for you, from novice to expert. Twist and turn through kilometres of natural beauty at your own speed. After a couple of hours biking and covered in mud, I’m certain the best way to experience New Zealand is on two wheels.

Rotorua must dos

  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley: Experience spectacular volcanic craters, enormous hot water springs, beautiful geothermal features, rare and unusual plant life and multi-coloured micro biology at the natural wonder of Waimangu Volcanic Valley. waimangu.co.nz
  • Okere Falls: Watch daring white-water rafters plunge over waterfalls from the safety of the Okere Falls Track, then head to eco-friendly Okere Falls Store to fuel up for more fun. okerefallsstore.co.nz

  • Redwoods Treewalk: Stroll along a series of 28 suspension bridges on the Redwoods Treewalk, knowing precious trees and abundant wildlife are protected. treewalk.co.nz

  • Canopy Tours: Channel your inner Tarzan or Jane by ziplining through the trees – perfect escapism from city life and for those who want a thrill while exploring the forest’s beauty from high above ground. canopytours.co.nz 

  • Mountain Bike Rotorua: Exploring nature on two wheels takes on a thrilling aspect at Mountain Bike Rotorua, with its 160km of trails,  ranging from beginner to advanced. mtbrotorua.co.nz

  • Where to stay: Novotel Rotorua Lakeside Hotel is superbly located. If you arrive late in the day, but feel peckish, order from their in-house dining menu – each dish has been analysed at Good Health Solutions to ensure it adheres to four key elements: right size portions, healthy oils, vege energy, variety for life, healthy options. novotelrotorua.co.nz

  • Farmers’ market: There’s nothing better than being able to sample fresh local produce straight from the source. The Rotorua Farmers Market is one such place to get your fill. Held every Sunday from 9am to 1pm between October and April, on the corner of Hinemoa and Tutanekai streets, it’s a great way to start your day. facebook.com/RotoruaFarmersMarket

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