After a travel post hiatus I decided it was time to continue our journey after Hobbiton. Next destination – Rotorua, where the sulphur hits your nostrils before you see the town. It’s the land of thermal hot springs and mud pools. I must admit you get used to the smell and it no longer bothers you. Especially when you get to Lake Rotorua and immerse yourself in one of the most amazing views. We did visit in the middle of winter but the sky was clear blue as blue and the lake reflected much the same. Needless to say we stopped off for some fish and chips from Oppie’s Fish & Chips to have by the lake. They’ve won several awards so we tried some Hoki fish and chips. NZD5.40 for a generous serve, not bad at all. Fish was delicious. New Zealand fish is amazing all round. I’ve never eaten fish so often in my life. Mr Foodie the non-seafood loving man pretty much only eats fish in New Zealand. As for the chips I still like the crispier Aussie chips with chicken salt.
In Rotorua we stayed at Diana’s Place which turned out to be a lake lodge share house with three bedrooms. This Diana appears to have a few units, some more deluxe than others. We booked the Deluxe Queen Room in the standard house which I’d recommend doing because it’s the master bed room with your own TV, a sitting area to put your luggage and stuffs with enough room in the middle to do yoga if you want. Each room has its own bathroom. For the more budget conscious go for the other two bedrooms, albeit rather erm….compact. It is a house so the kitchen and lounge is a common area, there’s a decking area outside sort of overlooking the lake with a spa but in the middle of winter neither of us stepped outside. We were lucky to meet some really nice people over the two nights we stayed. It’s a pretty convenient location and good value if you overlook the “continental breakfast” that is included. It’s just stale cereal and frozen loaf of bread. Just buy your own food from the supermarket, there’s a full kitchen anyway. We bought bagels and cream cheese. Overall we had a good experience there and would definitely stay again over a hotel.
Dinner on the first night was at Ali Baba for some Tunisian food. It was a delicious and generous feed of kebabs and rice. I was seriously craving rice by then and the thought of chargrilled meat and breads got Mr Foodie’s stomach grumbling. It cost us NZD26 for two mains and a soft drink each. That night we had a really good sleep, the bed was soft and comfy.
Next morning the first order of business (after bagels for breakfast) was to visit Kuiran Park. A free walk in the city centre to check out the geothermal activity. We spent about an hour and a half there watching bubbling pools of water and mud, taking dramatic photos with excessive steam and dipping our feet in the common thermal spring foot soak. Our skin was so soft and smooth after! It was actually quite a nice walk with a huge lake at the end, you can cross the bridge or boardwalk if you want. The water underneath all the steam was crystal clear I loved seeing all the plants and root systems underneath.
After our walk we drove out of town to take a short trail in Redwood Forest. An incredible feeling with nature at its best. The air could not feel freesher. The forest was dense, filled with very tall skinny trees with glimmers of sunlight peeking through the foliage. Mr Foodie was feeling nostalgic, he said it was very much like an English forest. Fully refreshed after our forest walk, we headed a bit further to the Blue and Green Lakes. They sit side by side and one is said to be very blue due to reflection from the pumice and rhyolite at the bottom while the other said to be very green. More dark green when we saw it but on a good day it’s supposed to be almost emerald green. Like most lakes these are collapsed volcanic craters.
In typical me fashion, I discovered the Rotorua night markets was on Thursdays from 5-8pm on Tutanekai Street. It’s very food focussed with a variety of cuisines. Something I didn’t expect from such a small town. Fresh fruit and vegetable stalls were also selling their goods at really good prices. We may have had more than a few things eating our way through the night enjoying some live music from a 3-piece band. It was actually quite decent, just honest comfort food. There was Asian, Latin American, Japanese, Indian, breads, American, Spanish and others it was hard to choose!
With such variety after snacking on Okonomiyaki and waffles we both found the ideal dish for dinner. For me it was piping hot Pork Rib Noodles while Mr Foodie found a Poutine stall. Yes. Poutine and they were busy with a long line of men. Yep. Mr Foodie is too much of a gannet to just order the basic so behold the Southern Man Poutine. The biggest item on the menu. Large crispy southern chips topped with crispy bacon, chicken, fresh avocado, extra cheese and three sauces. Pretty sure they were mayonnaise, BBQ and sweet chilli. MY GOD WAS IT GOOD!
We finished the night off with the cheapest Churros I have ever bought and it was decent too. It cost us NZD5 for 5 sticks of piping hot crispy churros with a soft centre. Of course with chocolate sauce and icing sugar.
Oh wait, we actually finished the night with a beer at Pig & Whistle. A former police station turned pub. We tried their own brew of Swine Lager which went down a treat.
When in New Zealand you have to visit a Maori Village. While the Maoris have integrated into society many cherish their heritage and wish to maintain it. We visited the Tamaki Maori Village. The ticket includes a hotel pick up and the bus to and from, show and dinner. Before booking we looked at a couple of others but this had the best review and I can honestly say I agree with it. The whole experience was fun. The experience pretty much begins on the bus. Our bus driver had such dry humour I couldn’t stop laughing. Upon arrival they gave us an insight of a challenge and the welcoming ceremony when another tribe approaches. It was interesting to learn about their culture and history and limitations to what they can practice due to acceptance in modern society. One such obvious practice is face tattooing.
Before heading into the auditorium, our guide kindly gave us an introduction to the Maori culture. The village the Tamaki brothers built to keep their culture alive. He was kind to allow question time even though it was freezing and pouring down. As you can see he isn’t really clothed much. It was also where their Hangi was. Hangi is earth cooking, a Maori way of slow cooking with firewood and stones in a hole in the ground. After the lifting of the Hangi to show us some of the dishes we would be having for dinner, we were invited to the entertainment part of the night.
Cultural performances with song and dance, stick games and the world famous Haka (Maori war dance) had us intrigued and entertained. Of course audience participation was a must. When you say war dance every male in the room gets on stage. Incidentally the men to the left and right of Mr Foodie turned out to be our housemates at Diana’s Place that night.
Dinner was a buffet of meat, seafood, vegetables, bread, potatoes, pudding and pavlova. I like NZ sweet potatoes and yams so I went overboard. Yeah I know, stodge and carbs. So good though! Had to eat it all before coming back to Australia. There were songs, speeches, dancing, jokes and laughter. Many people joined in. It was a truly enjoyable experience, hospitality was fantastic. The evening ended with a Poroporoaki – the farewell ceremony. I’d recommended this experience at the Tamaki Maori Village. You can check bookme.co.nz for discount deals.
Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland was the next destination in the morning. Get there earlier to buy your tickets and allow yourself enough time. It’s not that it’s far away or apart, it’s just that the Lady Knox geyser goes off at 10.15am everyday (triggered). If you’re wondering how it accurately erupts exactly every 24 hours it doesn’t. It may be anywhere from 22 to 50 hours but for tourism purposes, the staff add surfactant to it to trigger the eruption. It’s a pretty cool sight to see hot water spurting out almost 20 metres high to that backdrop. I’ve never seen one before, Yellowstone National Park is on my list somewhere but a fair way down. Like my mum says, you can’t jump queue so I’m glad I got to see one here. It was raining that day so the skies are a bit grey and I was fending off people’s umbrellas for a good photo.
The rest of the time was spent on a trail around the “wonderland” to see craters, caverns, holes, lakes and mounds of different colours caused by the chemicals and minerals in it. Quite an interesting and spectacular sight. The pools, lakes and springs were steaming hot. I mean boiling temp hot. There were warning signs everywhere not to touch the water. The walk takes about 2 hours to complete including stopping for photos along the way.
After seeing the boiling pools that could kills us, we decided to go for a dip taking advantage of the minerals and silica rich thermal spring water at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. There were six pools of varying temperatures (37°C – 42°C) with a couple of infinity pools overlooking a stunning view. These pools are filled with water directly from natural thermal springs. Because we have been driving and walking so much it was great relief to our muscles. Not to mention the silky soft skin after.
Rotorua, you have given us quite the experience but alas we bid you farewell as we journey for Taupo. My most anticipated stay at our splurge for this trip!