7 Days in and around Rotarua and it still wasn’t long enough.
Last year we were fortunate enough to enjoy a two week cruise around New Zealand aboard Royal Caribbean’s ‘Ovation it the seas’ and although as with any cruise you only basically get a few hours in each port, it was enough for us both to fall in love with this spectacular country and immediately be longing to return.
One of our cruise excursions from the port of Tauranga was to the Living Mauri Village in Rotarua and was one of the highlights of our entire cruise.
Hence when we decided to come back to New Zealand, although we only had a total of 11 days here we decided to base ourselves in Rotarua for 7 nights. Rotarua is right in the middle of the North Island and therefore very easy to go out and about in all directions to see other parts of the country.
We flew into Auckland from Sydney and picked up a rental car at the airport. The direct drive down to Rotorua is around 215km but we decided to break the journey up a little and stayed the first night at the Quantum Motor Lodge in Hamilton.
As we had loads of time the next day to make our way to Rotorua, we decided to take a bit of a de-tour first and drove around 70 miles down to the Glow Worm caves in Waitomo. This was an amazing afternoon and there are several different caves and tours to choose from. We choose the more leisurely guided tour through the main caves and then a boat ride into the darker areas where the glow worms are. You are not allowed to take photos in the caves because the lights disturb the glow worms, but as we glided through the waters in silence with nothing to see other than the lights of the glow worms on the ceilings and their reflections in the water, it was rather like sailing a dream boat through the milky way. For the more adventurous people there are deeper caves to explore and even black water rafting, I would have LOVED to have done that, but also Cam is a little young and not quite got his bravery wings yet as he does always veer on the side of caution!
That evening we checked into our hotel ‘Wai Ora Lakeside Resort & Spa’ Rotorua. It’s actually situated a little way out of central rotorua and is a fairly basic 3* hotel, but oh my, the location right on the lake is absolutely PERFECT. We spent the evening walking along the shore and then sitting on the nearby jetty watching the sun go down.
Well anyone who knows me, knows my son’s obsession with trains and Railways! Hence he was very excited to discover Railcruising. I have already written a separate blog about this, but for those who haven’t read that, these are small hybrid cars which run along tracks on a total 20km return journey, with the most spectacular views out over Lake Rotorua. Truly great fun for old and young alike (and those like me who are somewhere in the middle!)
This was the one and only day we had rain and in all honest it was very much needed as the land is patched and there is a massive water shortage here at the moment. The rain didn’t stop our enjoyment however. We went up to look around the Mauri Village and then headed up to a place called Te Puia geothermal wonderland. You could see the steam rising up and smell the sulphur in the air before you every arrived! An incredible place to visit however and one of several geothermal places to visit in the area.
It’s hard to put this experience into either words or pictures as it truly was a multi-sensory occasion and quite magnificent to witness both the beauty and force of mother nature at her wildest.
Today the sun was shining again and the skies were blue, so it seemed the perfect day to take the Skyline Cable Car to the top of the mountain and enjoy the spectacular views of Lake Rotorua from the top. As cable cars go this was quite a tame one and it only takes 5-6 minutes to reach the top.
Once you are at the top then once again there are activities to every age and fitness level. There are 3 levels of Luge downhill (the luge being very similar to a go-cart). You may just want to take a leisurely stroll around and have a cup of tea or a full meal. It is a popular place for mountain bikers too and several of the gondola cars are special adapted for people to take their bikes up. For the really brave there is the giant swing, it was definitely NOT for us, but we had equally as much fun watching others being basically catapulted over the edge and hearing their screams!!
That same afternoon we went on to visit ‘Hells Gate’ where the centre of the earth meets the skies! This was another geothermal park where we took the opportunity to experience a hot mud bath and then relax in a warm sulphur pool. We were meant to finish off with a plunge into the icy cold pool – but I dipped one foot in and chickened out!!
These were the days when we drove right out of Rotorua and down to Tauranga on the coast which took just over an hour. I have again written a separate blog about Tauranga. It’s a true beautiful town though and if you are lucky enough to visit there via cruise ship you certainly won’t be short of things to do.
For us though it was an opportunity to catch up with a friend whom we knew from our home town of Worthing and spent to afternoon chilling on the beautiful beach there.
After spending the night in a hotel in Tauranga we ventured down the coast to Whakatane and Ohope Beach in the Bay of Plenty. This truly was out of this world and some of the most breath taking and spectacular coastal scenery I have ever seen.
The drive back to Rotorua was an interesting one, about 70km of winding, twisting roads with some tight hair pin bends, and to add to the mix some steep climbs at the same time, I must admit there were a few white knuckle moment! I was certainly glad I made the drive in daylight.
We arrived back in Rotorua just in time to watch the sun setting again over the lake and tonight the sky really was on fire.
Our last day in Rotorua was spent amongst the giant redwood trees, climbing the bridges and platforms which swung below them. Another activity which was suitable for all age groups so long as you are fairly mobile and don’t suffer with vertigo.
You can also do the same tree top walk at night when the forest is lit with coloured lanterns but this is something which we will have to save for another visit. If you are not a fan of heights then there is still plenty of opportunity to explore the forest from ground level too.
From the redwood forest we drove just a couple of miles up the road to the Blue Lake. This really did live up to its name and gave us an opportunity to dip our feet in for a paddle and also watch some of the local youngsters taking water ski lessons. We wouldn’t help but feel a little envious of the extraordinary outdoor lifestyle that people truly here all year around.
In the latter part of the afternoon it was back to the hotel and time to pack up our bags once again before enjoying a final couple of hours at the pool and spa, and then our last walk along the lakeshore as the sun went down.
Our week in and around this area has been quite incredible and we have been on the go the entire time. The roads are endlessly winding & narrow and unfortunately there are very very few places to pull over and stop on many of the routes which is a shame because we have seen the most spectacular scenery on many of our drives but just not been able to stop and photograph it. It is all committed to memory however and what incredible memories we have made here. We have both loved every second.
For us though, another drive now awaits as we wind our way around 240km of roads up to Auckland where we will stay with friends for the next 3 nights before we board the MS Maasdam and sail across the South Pacific…but more of that as it happens.
Goodbye Rotorua – Thank you for the memories.