Rotorua, the city & how to get there
Rotorua (on the map) is literally situated in the heart of the North Island and thermal activity is the city’s number one tourist attraction. With it comes something that’s often perceived as a fly in the ointment: a funky foul smell! But hey, you can’t have it all! Rotorua has therefore a few well-deserved nicknames, such as: The sulphur City or Rotten-rua.
Be aware, this smell, and I will mention it another few times in this post, will be ever-present during your stay!
If you are travelling from Paihia to Rotorua you’ll have to drive past Auckland again on the SH1 (that becomes the Thermal Explorer Highway at some point) and cross Hamilton on your way down. The distance is approximately 454km, which will take about 6 hours by car… yes, it’s an awful lot of time!
What to do in Rotorua
Our two days in Rotorua were suspiciously drama free: no forgotten passports, no weirdly cooked seafood and no random metal bars stalking our heads!
As for me, I discovered that NZ small cities or towns are quite lacking in architectural spirit … the city centres reminded me more of commercial zones than urban neighbourhoods, and I even don’t qualify particularly as a stickler for architectural flamboyance !
That being said, I have to admit that we still found some beautiful corners and that I really loved my stay in Rotorua.
Kuirau Park (on the map)
Kuirau Park, next to the city centre, is one of those geothermal areas you can visit by foot or even by bike or roller-skates while driving on the Green Corridor that surrounds the park. In Kuirau Park bubbly mud pools are popping up here and there while giving off that foul sulphuric smell. You can also soak your feet in one of the hot pools that are available to visitors… you might even find a nice kiwi to chat with!
Lake Rotorua (on the map)
Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake of the North Island. And it is truly a big lake!
Here you can contemplate the magic scenery: black swans sliding gracefully over the water, beautiful sailing boats floating majestically in the distance and Chinese tourists hiding mischievously behind the “Do not feed the birds”- signs … eagerly feeding the birds!
But Rotorua has more to offer than the geothermal bubbles, its sulphuric whiff or that big lake. Every kiwi loves to dip into a spa from time to time! For my part, I tried the Polynesian Spa and I’d definitely say it’s worth a trip (or a dip)!
Having a bite & a snooze in Rotorua
Eat Streat (on the map)
Eat Streat is a concentration of pubs, bars and restaurants looking like a covered street (I really have doubts about the relevance of this description. Just go and have a look for yourselves!) It offers its visitors a great variety of food and comes alive in the evenings around 8-9 pm.
I found it rather impersonal, but you get your money’s worth in great craft beers and delightful food.
Atticus Finch (on the map)
Talking about delightful food: Atticus Finch is situated in East Streat. What do I have to say about this restaurant? Well, run for it! After the Paihia food fiasco this was definitely the place where our taste buds came back to life again. This eatery operates according to the tapas principle: you order a few small dishes and nibble a bit of everything… We had for example:
Chilli, ginger Prawns with peanuts, vermicelli, cucumbers and a palm sugar dressing. The lamb loin with eggplant puree, roasted red pepper and caper salsa. The chargrilled Sirloin with duck fat potatoes, roasted red onion and port wine jus … are you already drooling?
An for desert: Peanut butter banana cheesecake with salted caramel and popcorn praline, which is a pompous thing that has, in my eyes, nothing to do with a genuine cheesecake but is however extremely delectable. Bon appétit!
The Regent Hotel (on the map)
The Regent Hotel is obviously very cool (noting that in NZ a bit more “upscale” places do not have the same standard as in Europe).
An earthy rococo/contemporary designed room, a great minimalistic bathroom and a super duper snug king-size bed… what more could you ask for?
Third Place Café (on the map)
Just 15 minutes by foot from Rotorua’s centre away, Third Place Café is the place to go to for a hearty brunch before starting the day! And the bonus: Even only by returning to the centre you’ll burn a tiny amount of the calories you’ve just taken in!
Other activities around Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu, the thermal Wonderland (on the map)
I must admit, the name is a bit chintzy, but still: pack your bag (good sunscreen, some water and a pair of trekking shoes are mandatory) and visit Wai-O-Tapu during a half-day trip. What awaits you there? A stunning scenery, bright colours and … the well-known sulphuric whiff! Have fun!
Matamata (on the map)
Another “town” worth visiting is Hobbiton, also known as Matamata. We didn’t have the time to swing by the chubby hills and the round doors of the “Peter Jackson cinema scenery”, but it’s a highly recommended activity and often figures among the top things to do around Rotorua. So, off you go having fun!
Anyway, there are heaps of things to do and to discover in and around Rotorua… So, I leave it up to you!
Interested in other posts about NZ? Then dip into those posts: