It took about an hour to get from Taupo to Rotorua, which is one of the shorter journey’s I’ve made since starting my travels in the country.
The first thing to say about Rotorua? The smell.
Stepping off the coach gave me the first whiff of the sulphur that lingers around the town. It’s everywhere, and that rotten egg-like smell took a bit of getting used to, but after a while, it was hardly noticeable.
When you get closer to the geysers, you’ll get a fresh blast of it and when the wind picks up, it carries it further. With enough time, I’m sure it wouldn’t even have factored but it caught me by surprise more than once.
That said, it didn’t diminish anything I did or saw.
An epic white-water rafting experience
My first-time white-water rafting was on the Tully River, in Australia. I got a taste for it and wanted more. I found another golden opportunity in Rotorua with Kaitiaki Adventures, where you can raft down the Kaituna River.
What makes this special? How does a seven-metre waterfall sound?
That’s right! It’s the largest waterfall you can commercially raft over in the world. While the experience wasn’t as long as the day in Tully, it was pretty epic regardless.
Like the last time, I found myself at the front of the raft for most of the adventure, but unlike my first time I fell out!
At the bottom of the huge waterfall, a second bounce dislodged my and I took a flip into the swirling water. Due to almost making it to the bottom unscathed, I surfaced pretty quickly. You can see me in there water below – but those legs sticking out of the water aren’t mine! I’m the other one in the water, but that would have been hilarious.
There are a few waterfalls and rapids to enjoy – and once of the latter we got to float down, which was pretty epic, too! The river was surprisingly warm, or maybe not surprisingly, given the geothermal activity in the area.
I’d definitely recommend this one!
Another skyline luge
Remember the Queenstown Luge? Well, there’s another in Rotorua. Skyline Rotorua is similar to its Queenstown counterpart in that a cable car will take you up to a big hill. There’s walking tracks and a restaurant, as well as a few other attractions.
There are more mountain bike tracks here than I saw in Queenstown, but my attention went straight to the luge.
This time, I bought five rides in advance. I’d heard this luge was the better of the two, and having done it, I’d have to agree. Not only are there three courses instead of two, but they’re all longer and more exhilarating. You don’t get the same views as there are trees protecting the track but when you’re going down at that speed, the views are only a distraction.
Unfortunately, a day or two before my visit, the advanced track closed.
This is so they can do some construction work on it, with the plan to improve it. I wish I could have tried it, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to come back in the future and give the new version a shot!
Experiencing a Māori village
There are a couple of Māori villages in and around Rotorua that you can visit and get a firsthand experience of what life was like for the native people of Aotearoa New Zealand. Each offers something different and I wanted to visit two, but due to the Covid cases (see below), one unfortunately cancelled.
I did make it to Whakarewarewa Village, however, and I’m really glad that I did.
There are two parts to this. The first is a geothermal walk around the bodies of water surrounding the village and the mud pools. There are views of the town, the village, the nearby geysers and some gorgeous scenery. Make sure you get this done on a good day as it’ll really paint a stunning picture for you.
You can then go on a guided tour through the village, learning about the customs of the Māori and how they not only lived, but still live today. Many things have changed over time, but you’d be surprised at some things, like how the geothermal energy is used to cook food. I was treated to some corn on the cob cooked in their traditional way – in a boiling hot spring that has a surface temperature of over 90 degrees!
It was delicious.
I was even luckier to be the only one on this tour, so I got to have some honest, one-on-one discussions with my guide, who was asked to be a guide of the village. That’s a great honour and the pride she took in taking this role shone through. Our discussions were great, and I learned so much more by being able to ask questions I probably wouldn’t have on a tour full of people.
Please, please, please – visit at least one of these villages if you can. You might not get a better way to understand this rich and vibrant culture.
Visiting the Redwoods
The Redwoods. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to see these gorgeous trees but, as luck would have it (depending on how you look at Covid cases appearing) I made it there.
This is a huge site full of trails and walks that you can easily spend hours and even days exploring it all. I only did a couple of the shorter trails closer to the entrance, but what I did do was the Redwoods Treewalk.
You’ll walk up a ramp and then across a number of bridges between trees through a small section of the forest. These bridges are unique in that they’re not sturdy or flat. Each step will make it move – and if there are multiple people crossing at once, it can get a bit bumpy!
Even the platforms the bridges connect to aren’t completely held in place. You will notice movements. There’s a smaller section later on that goes even higher. That said, those views are stunning.
If you can, visit both during the day and at night, as things change completely.
There’s a number of lanterns you’ll see during the day but at night these come alive and, combined with numerous other lights and effects, will transport you to a completely new and amazing place. Do. Not. Miss. This.
What is it with me and heights?!
Covid strikes again
As I was set to leave Rotorua, a few cases of Covid-19 appeared in the community in Auckland. The lack of a source for where this outbreak came from caused concern in the government and the alert levels were changed. That meant I couldn’t make it to Auckland.
I stayed in Rotorua for an extra three days, until the levels dropped and I could continue. I did a lot of walking, and it gave me time to see the Redwoods a second time at night, which was awesome. I caught up on some writing and video stuff for the blog while I waited and rearranged plans.
It was a little stressful but not too bad, in the end. My hostel had a heated pool, so bonus.
Next stop? Mount Maunganui.