Before going to New Zealand in June of 2003, I never even heard of Rotorua. I didn’t understand or know about the Maori culture. When I visited Rotorua at the tail end of my trip, I was in the middle of a group of Maoris in Rotorua, learning how to poi dance. Unreal.
Rotorua is a thermal region in New Zealand. There are cracks in the Earth where steam rises, mud boils, and water spouts at degrees surpassing 200 Celsius. You can visit these areas up close and personal, in several parks throughout Rotorua. It really is an amazing site.
Unfortunately, there is a smell that eminates from these cracks… And it stinks of sulfur. I mean, STINKS of sulfur. I was told I would “get used to it,” but I certainly didn’t. Even worse, the car stunk for a few days after we left.
Rotorua is known as “Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific.” You can find many different spas that take advantage of the natural hot springs and mineral-enriched mud. I wanted a treatment at the Polynesian Spa, located on Lake Rotorua, but there weren’t any appointments available. Take my advice and call ahead!
There is so much that you can do to relax in Rotorua. You’ve got the spas, salons, plenty of trout fishing, nice scenery, terrific hotels… But, what if you don’t want to relax? What if you’re more of an adventurer?
Well, Rotorua is certainly the place for you!! Off of State Highway 5, you can find a park called Skyline Skyrides that has gondolas, bungee, slingshot and the world’s first luge. Plus, it isn’t very expensive. You have to take a gondola to the top of the mountain, where you will find the various activities. The gondola alone costs NZ$15. But, you can get packages. For example, the gondola and 1 luge ride for just NZ$8 We shared the luge rides, so I just paid NZ$15 for the gondola. There is a restaurant and gift shop at the top as well. I bought 2 NZ exclusive Beanie Babies and a luge hat up there. Sweet.
The luge was AWESOME. You absolutely MUST do it when you’re in Rotorua. It is so much fun! The view from the gondola is fantastic, too, although I hate being enclosed in an elevator-type thing for long periods of time. Just have your camera handy. Trust me.
Maybe agriculture is your thing. There is a huge place called The AgroDome, where you can visit all types of New Zealand agricultural activities. For example, there is a sheep-shearing show. You can also go zorbing– Thrown down a hill in a padded ball. (Unfortunately, didn’t do this.) If The AgroDome isn’t your thing, you can always go to Rainbow Farms, a smaller and more expensive (NZ$25!!!) farm where you can watch sheep-shearing and the dogs herding the sheep. I went there, but left after finding out the price. There is a huge store, too, although a bit over-priced.
There are tons of museums and parks, too. I went to the museum located in the Government Gardens, located at the end of Fenton Street. The museum cost only $10, and has a lot of Maori art there. I bought my mother a book from the museum shop, which I am certain she will love. There are a few bath houses which use the hot mineral springs. Most cost between NZ$10 – $15 to go in. Just be sure you have a bathing suit– I didn’t, so I wasn’t able to go in. Some of the parks, like Government Gardens, are free. However, you have to pay for others, such as Hell’s Gate. If you can go to a place for free, why bother paying?
A really interesting place to visit is The Buried Village, located in western Rotorua. Basically, in 1886, Mt. Tarawera erupted and buried a village called Te Wairoa. About 150 people, Maori and settlers, lost their lives in this eruption. The village is still being excavated. There is a museum that shows the articles that were recovered as well as the history of Te Wairoa. You can also walk through The Buried Village and see where and how people lived. I recommend good hiking shoes, as the path to the waterfall is steep and can be trecherous. However, it is SO worth it. Again, bring that camera! After your hike, have a Coke and a smile in the tea room, then visit the moderately-priced gift shop.
Rotorua is the heartland of the Maori people– those indigenous to New Zealand. There are several Maori villages around, some of which you can stay in, most of which you can visit. I visited Whakarewarewa, the Thermal Village. The cost was just NZ$18 and included a guided tour, cultural performance, all day admission and freedom to roam and hike throughout the village. I took some spectacular photos.
That night, I stayed at Lake Plaza Rotorua, right on Lake Rotorua. It was a terrific hotel within walking distance to the lake and Polynesian Spa. The bar was moderately priced, and there were three “pokies” (slot machines) in the lounge area. I won the jackpot of $200 on a 2 cent machine!! The staff was fantastic, service excellent, food awesome, and location amazing. It was only $99.
For dinner, I decided to participate in the Maori Concert and Hangi at the Lake Plaza. For just NZ$35, I experienced the Maori culture first hand. I learned words and how to do the greeting called “hongi”. We ate a feast fit for a king– food from the hangi. A hangi is when a pit is dug into the ground, river rocks are heated, baskets of food are placed on the rocks then covered with a sheet or tarp, and the food and rocks are then buried again to steam. It was the best food that I ate during my entire vacation– lamb, veggies, beef, bread, kumara (sweet potatoes), noodles… I can go on and on. It was fantastic. You simply MUST attend the Hangi and concert offered at Lake Plaza Rotorua.
Oh, yes, the concert… A Maori family performed traditional songs and dances. I was pulled onto the stage with some other women from the audience to learn to poi dance– a dance involving raffeta balls. Believe me, it is extremely difficult. The men were pulled onto the stage to do a huka– A Maori war dance. It was SO much fun!
I only spent 2 days in Rotorua. I wanted to spend at least three, but I didn’t have the time for it.
If you’re going to visit New Zealand, you absolutely MUST visit Rotorua. It looks the way I envisioned all of New Zealand to look. It’s amazing. Utterly amazing.