And smelly, too. Not because the place is a dump, quite the opposite in fact, but because it is a highly volcanic area where not only spas and steam baths are the thing to do, but it is also the best place in New Zealand where you can learn about Maori culture and understand the cultural heritage of this distant country (New Zealand is, after all, far away from everywhere).
We arrived to Rotorua from the North with our camper van, and were sure we were on the right track when the southern winds brought the sulfur stench up our nostrils (Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. It emanates naturally from volcanoes, an element highly present in the Earth’s core), making Liza and I stare at each other as if asking who had hmm…errrr…farted.. before remembering where we were arriving.
Rotorua is a pleasant town: small, well designed, clean, with a few photographic areas, it is quite manageable and has many spots near the lake (lake Rotorua) where you can park the camper van or pitch the tent for an overnight stay.
Most visitors come to Rotorua to gaze at the geothermal activity within the city, engage in any of the extreme sports that are popular in the area (skydiving stealing the show), and visit any of the Maori cultural shows that abound. These do not vary too much in content, but do vary a lot in price, some of them costing up to 200 NZD per person for a 4 hour show. Upon asking at a souvenir store what are the best activities in Rotorua he suggested among other things that we visit one of these shows, but not one of the expensive ones (like Te Puia) but the cheapest instead. The reason is that where as in the expensive shows everything is staged, Te Whakarewarewa has a small dance show (that I admit is not that great) and also includes a guided visit of Te Whakarewarewa village, and this is what differentiates it from the rest. In this village people still live as they used to over 400 years ago, right in the middle of a highly geothermal area (some houses have had to be abandoned because of safety reasons), and there is a nice walk to be enjoyed in the nearby woods. The very entertaining guide explains how they live in harmony with nature and the many uses they make of geothermal energy. This tour costs 28 NZD and is very good value in my opinion. Highly recommended (you can get more info at www.whakarewarewa.com).
Other things to do include a walk along the lake, visiting any of the museums of the city, jumping on a speed boat for a fast race against time, visiting the nearby redwood forrest and as a personal suggestion I recommend you visit Okareka lake which is only a 15 minute drive away, towards lake Okataina. In fact if you’re sleeping in a camper van or a tent, spend a night there. Right besides the dock there is a small parking space with a green area and camping tables. The scenery here is breathtaking, both during sunset and in the morning, making you feel alive as soon as you look close the day or welcome the new one. Plus the ducks that want your food are a geat source of entertainment. Again, if you’re a photography aficionado, have your camera ready. You wont regret it!
Unless you want to experience all of the extreme activities in the area or are a very slow walker two days is enough to see and enjoy what Rotorua and nearby surroundings has to offer, but not less. It is a must in your North Island tour and one place you will not forget. Don’t you think?
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