Adventure Capital of the North Island
By Gayle Dickson
A small town perched on the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery is what most people dream off as their ideal holiday destination, and that’s exactly what you get when you visit Rotorua in the scenic Bay of Plenty … and a whole lot more! ??Rotorua certainly punches above its weight when it comes to providing entertainment.
There are boundless activities to be undertaken, from fishing and jet boating to golf and helicopter flights. The list is endless almost as endless as the range of accommodation options.
Situated within a three hour drive from Auckland, Rotorua hails itself as the North Island’s adventure capital. Just getting there is a journey worth making as you venture through eye catching scenery as the roads weave through forests and mountains. In the old days, you knew you’d arrived when that distinctive smell of sulphur from the thermal outlets pervaded the car’s air-conditioning, but these days the smell is localised to a few hot spots and isn’t that noticeable.
Our first stop was at Skyline Skyrides. Nestled on the side of a mountain, the 10-minute gondola ride is the perfect place from which to gain a fantastic perspective of Rotorua, the lake and the surrounding area. This must-do attraction is enjoyed by children and adults alike. At the top you’ll find a choice of activities including the bungy swing and my personal favourite, the luge – don a helmet, climb onboard and weave your way down the side of the mountain. Depending on whether or not you use the break, you can really get the adrenalin going! There’s also a café and gift shop.
Right next door to the Skyline you’ll find Rainbow Springs and Kiwi Encounter. This fabulous attraction takes you on a journey through the rainforest showing you a collection of New Zealand’s most well known birds and wildlife. The star attraction is the Kiwi Encounter where you get to see the work that they are doing in breeding the kiwi from egg to young adults before releasing them back to the wild. A truly magical experience.
In the evenings you can undertake a Night Tour combined with the Mitai Maori Cultural Experience which will give you the opportunity to see the kiwi in their natural environment as they forage for bugs.
We then ventured to Agroventures, where they take normal adventures to the extreme. With speed jet boating around a course at 100km/h, bungy jumping, bungy swing, extreme freefall in their state-of-the-art wind tunnel and, a world first, the Shweeb, a cycling based activity where you’re enclosed in a capsule. There’s a fresh new feeling at Agroventures, so even if you’ve been before, it’s probably time to head back!
The idea of rolling down a hill inside a 10ft bubble, bouncing off the sides and rolling around is not everyone’s cup of tea, yet Zorb has taken the world by storm and it’s right here, too. It’s certainly a unique experience. For added fun and enjoyment they threw a few buckets of water into the bubble, turning a fairly innocuous ball into a moving washing machine. A whole bunch of fun on a hot summer’s day!
For the most complete thrill of all, you simply have to visit NZone where you can jump out of perfect serviceable, honest-to-God working aeroplanes. Sure, you’re harnessed to an experienced jumpmaster, and yes, your canopy is reinforced … but does that stop you questioning your own sanity just before the leap? Oh no! But, as they say at NZone, you either do it and or you don’t … there’s no middle ground .. in their words: “There is no such word as try”.
By now it was time for something a little more sedate, so we headed for Lakeland Queen – relaxation, beautiful scenery and divine food. The vessel is a paddle boat steamer dating from the early 20th century. We found the staff and captain to be really entertaining. Our dinner cruise was certainly a wonderfully relaxing way to end an action-packed day … dinner, drinks, sedate river cruising, and a glorious sunset to boot … aah!
Probably one of the most well-known attractions in Rotorua is the Polynesian Spa. The thermal spa pools are found at the far side of the town and it’s a great place to head to if you’re aching after all the action you’ve managed to pack into your trip so far. The private pools look out over the lake and are perfect for romantic couples, but there’s also a family pool for everyone to enjoy, along with four large adult pools, all with different nutrients and salts serving different purposes. There are also a range of enticing spa and hydro spa therapies on offer.
One of the great things about visiting Rotorua is the Maori influence in an area steeped in cultural history. Te Puia is the perfect place to experience this, and their evening show and dinner is not to be missed. Your journey here commences with a talk as you learn about the Maori and their tribes, with a visit to their meeting house where there is audience interaction and a spectacular show. You also get to see the Maori Hangi (traditional in-ground “oven” where your dinner is being prepared. And, if you’re anything like us, you won’t be able to put your knife and fork down during the buffer dinner – delicious!
After dinner we all hopped onboard a mini train that wove its way through the bushes to the thermal pools and geysers where we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while watching the geysers going off – amazing.
If it’s air action you’re after, Volcanic Air Safaris has fast become the place to go. They offer both helicopter and float plane safaris, operating from a central location on the lake’s shore. There’s a huge range of options to choose from, and they’ll even tailor outings to suit the client. Our trip out to White Island was incredible, but that’s another whole story!
Staying in Rotorua can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. There is massive momentum in town, especially with the decision to make Rotorua Airport into an international terminal. Five star accommodation abounds, and yet the rates aren’t the sort that put the fear of God into the bank manager or your accountant. Hamurana Lodge, Treetops and Peppers on the Point are some of the most spectacular and fabulous accommodation offerings I’ve come across. They are all on the outskirts of the town, adding tranquillity to the mix of style and quality. We’ll bring you more on these fabulous lodges, so watch this space.
If you’re keen to stay within walking distance of the cafés, bars and restaurants in town, you might want to consider Regent of Rotorua who offer great rates in stylish urban accommodation with a touch of glamour, or Regal Palms where 5-star luxury and service abound. Other hotels to consider would be the Novotel, Distinction and Rydges Hotels. Backpackers should try Regent Flashpackers, a brand new option that offers superior comfort, thermal hot pools, internet facilities and a house bar.
The Novotel Rotorua Lakeside was where we lay our weary heads this time around. The modern interiors provide a contemporary haven in a family-friendly environment. There are 199 rooms and suites, 84 of them having lake views. The cream of the crop is the prestigious Royal Suite and their two executive suites as well. A gymnasium, spa and good dining complete the package here – we thoroughly enjoyed our stay!
My, oh my … we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all that’s on offer in Rotorua. This honestly is just the tip of the iceberg. But, no problems … we’ll just have to visit again … soon! Hopefully we’ll see you there, discovering your own adrenalin rush or perhaps relaxing poolside.
Where to Stay:
Novotel Lakeside Rotorua, www.novotel.co.nz, t: 07 346 3888
Hamurana Lodge, www.hamuranalodge.com, t: 07 332 2284
Peppers on the Point:, www.onthepoint.co.nz, t: 07 348 48698
Treetops, www.treetops.co.nz, t: 07333 2066
Rydges Hotel, www.rydges.com/rotorua, t: 0800 440 011
Regent of Rotorua, www.regentrotorua.co.nz, t: 0508 734 368
Regal Palms, www.regalpalms.co.nz, t: 08 350 3232
Regent Flashpackers, www.regentflashpackers.co.nz, t: 07 348 3338
Things to do:
Agroventures: www.agroventures.co.nz, t: 07 357 4747
Skyline Skyrides, www.skylineskyrides.co.nz, t: 07 347 0027
Rainbow Springs & Kiwi Encounter, www.rainbowsprings.co.nz, t: 07 350 0440
Polynesian Spa, www.polynesianspa.co.nz, t: 07 348 1328
Rotorua Golf Club, www.rotoruagolfclub.co.nz, t: 07 348 4051
Agrodome, www.agrodome.co.nz, t: 07 357 1050
Te Puia, www.tepuia.com, t: 0800 83 7842
Zorb, www.zorb.co.nz, t: 0800 22 74 74
Lakeland Queen, www.lakelandqueen.com, t: 0800 572 784
NZone, www.nzone.biz, t: 0800 DroPZoNE
Helipro Scenic Helicopter Tours: www.helipro.co.nz, t: 07 357 2512
Volcanic Air safaris, www.volcanicair.co.nz, t: 0800 800 848
Offroad NZ, www.offroadnz.co.nz, t: 07 332 5748