Rotorua is a city rich in history and culture. The city is built entirely in the crater of a volcano. The skyline that surrounds the lake is the rim. Pretty crazy, right? Rotorua is well known for its ‘rotten eggs’ smell. This smell is hydrogen sulphur emission from the thermal activity.
There are so many places to check out but again, the weather was not on our side for the first three days. The skies cleared briefly for us to visit Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre. A ‘bird of prey’ hunts for its food, catching prey with its feet, and has a hooked bill to subdue prey before tearing its flesh into edible chunks. We got to witness a flying display by two Falcon’s, Ozzy and Millie.
Ozzy was focussed on the task of performing for food, swooping and chasing a lure, before flying back to his cage when the crowd applauded the display they had just seen. In contrast Millie attempted to attack a chicken, not the lure that she was meant to, and when it was time for her to return to her cage she vocally opposed it and had to be restrained with leather straps to her keeper! Both Falcon’s were happy to pose for the camera though.
The Buried Village is located on the way to Lake Tarawera. This is the site of Te Wairoa, a bustling tourist village prior to the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. It was this eruption that destroyed the famous Pink and White Terraces, which were considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. The eruption buried small villages surrounding Mount Tarawera beneath 15m of mud. Te Wairoa was covered with a layer of ash and debris about 1.5m deep. In the 1930s excavation of the village commenced. The volcanic ash had preserved many of the buildings and other features of the village. Excavations have continued, revealing more of the buried village of Te Wairoa.
ZORB, an activity invented in New Zealand that just looks like fun! Whether you choose the wet or dry option, you are going to be inside a large globe and roll down a hill. If you choose the dry option, you are strapped to the globe. If you choose the wet option, you will just slide around. You can choose whether you ZORB in a straight line with other people or you can go solo, either zigzaging down a track or taking ‘the drop’ path. ZORB is only in Rotorua so it is a must do while you’re here.
After an easter egg hunt hosted by ZORB it was time to absorb some culture. We visited Whakarewarewa, the only living Maori village New Zealand, set within geothermal land containing active geysers. The village is currently home to 25 families. For over 200 years Whakarewarewa has welcomed people into its backyard, it was a stopover destination for visitors traveling to the Pink and White Terraces. After the Tarawera eruption geothermal activity increased; new geysers appeared, distinct and colourful pools developed and silica formations became more dramatic. As a result of this, and the Terraces being destroyed, visitor numbers to Whakarewarewa increased.
Wai-O-Tapu Sacred Waters Thermal Wonderland was next on our list of attractions to see. At Wai-O-Tapu you get to explore the most colourful volcanic area in New Zealand. We followed tracks around the undulating terrain admiring water cascading over pearly white terraces and viewing pools of yellow, blue, green and orange. Wai-O-Tapu is also home to New Zealand’s largest bubbling mud pools. Whether you walk a 30 minute or 70 minute loop track, the natural landscape is spectacular.
Another special feature of Wai-O-Tapu is the Lady Knox Geyser. When we arrived there were already hundreds of people in the viewing area ready to capture the moment the geyser erupted on camera. The geyser is 150 years old. It was discovered by prisoners contained in a camp located where the carpark is now. Formerly, it was a hot spring the prisoners washed their clothes in. They discovered that when they put soap powder in the spring it caused a chemical reaction. The spring erupted, shooting water and their clothes into the sky. As rocks were stacked to create a wall around the hot spring the eruption became more powerful. Silicon built up over time and the spring evolved into a geyser. The geyser erupts daily at 10.15am when a surfactant, which contains no nasty chemicals harmful to the environment, is poured in it. The water expelled from the geyser can reach a height of 20 metres!
We drove back into Rotorua and visted Te Puia, another thermal village located in the Whakarewarewa Valley. Te Puia is beautifully presented and contains more than 500 geothermal wonders. Attending the concert, which is performed inside the Marae, is a must here. It began with a traditional welcome ceremony (powhiri) and a ‘chief’ was chosen to lead us ‘his family’ into to the Marae. The cultural performance (kapa haka) includes action songs (waiata-a-ringa), poi dance, haka, stick games (iti torea) and plenty of audience participation, which made for a lot of laughs.
Te Puia allows you view the Pohutu Geyser up close. Sitting atop the terraces known as Geyser Flat it is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Erupting to a height of 30 metres up to 20 times a day, they can last from a few minutes to several days. The process of eruption begins when rainwater starts to boil and create steam, due to intense heat from molten rock underground. Pressure builds inside Pohutu’s underground chamber until it eventually forces its way upwards through the geyser vent shooting water and steam in the air.
The kiwi house at Te Puia, built in 1976, gave us the rare opportunity to view live kiwi birds in a nocturnal viewing enclosure. For Lisa, this was her first time seeing a kiwi foraging for food in its habitat.
Our last activity of the day was the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. This historic building was once the old Bath House and the basement of the museum is dedicated to sharing this part of Rotorua’s History. Recently, ‘The Beating Hearts of Te Arawa’ – the section dedicated to sharing the journey of Maori from Hawaiki and their history of life in New Zealand – received a multi million dollar upgrade that must be seen. While you are here you must also check out the viewing platform, which provides panoramic views of the city, and the cinema presentation of the Tarawera Eruption.
Finally the water levels dropped enough to enable us to go out on the Kaituna River with Kaitiaki Rafting. Despite the river being in flood four rafts headed out to descend the largest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I had to boast that I had never flipped going down the big drop… On the first rapid a guy in our raft was thrown out because his feet weren’t holding him in securely. It was almost concerning how long he was under before he resurfaced red-faced.
We survived the first and second waterfalls, respectively 2 metres and 1 metre in height, and it was not long until we were faced with the big 7 metre one. We paddled into it and then obeyed the command to get down! I felt us begin to flip and knew we were going over. Apparently it looked impressive, which definitely made it worthwhile. When none of the other three rafts flipped I knew Jimbo had intentionally made it happen.
We were only halfway down the run so there was still lots of fun to be had. Jimbo had a girl ride the front of the raft cowboy-style down one rapid, we all jumped out and held onto the raft for another rapid and on the second to last rapid we all stood up, no hands! This action-packed Grade 5 rafting is quite possibly the best rafting you will find in New Zealand.
Our afternoon was spent with Rotorua Canopy Tours. This is the only place in New Zealand where you can zipline over native forest. There are six ziplines, which vary in length, speed and height, and a large suspended swing bridge. The longest line is 220 metres and the highest line is 40 metres above the forest floor. Some treehouse platforms have no barriers so you remain attached to a line. This made the experience much more exciting. The tour guides presented us with challenges along the way, encouraging us to fall backwards off platforms and ziplining hands-free as well as upside down.
Another notable thing about Rotorua Canopy Tours is their dedication to eradicating pests introduced to New Zealand (Possums, Stoats and Rats). Their goal is to rejuvenate the native forest, like it was before human contact, and increase native bird life. The really cool thing is that everyone who goes on a Canopy Tour can contribute to making this happen – so spread the word!
The sun was shining on our last day in Rotorua. After a quick visit to the Polynesian Spa, where you can relax in hot springs overlooking Lake Rotorua, we headed to Skyline Rotorua. Although it was only 10am the place was pumping. There was a long line of people waiting to go up the Gondola and participate in the many activities on offer at the top of the hill; Skyvue (a 4D Motion Theatre ride), Sky Swing, Volcanic Hills Winery, the Restaurant and cafe – a great place to take in the view – and of course the Luge.
The Rotoroa Luge course is both longer and faster than the Luge in Queenstown. The race to the bottom was on between Sam and I. I had a slight advantage at the beginning but Sam quickly caught up. We were rapidly approaching a family. At the last minute the kid drifted across the track in front of Sam as he went to pass him. As Sam was edged off track I raced on ahead chuckling with glee. Sam was unable to catch up and I claimed the victory. Seriously though, this luge track is really popular (especially during school holidays) so get there early. By lunchtime the queue was over 100 metres long!
Zoom Zipline is a new attraction, independently owned, at Skyline Rotorua. The high-speed twin zipline descends 385 metres down the Gondola Hill. Once again, the race was on between Sam and I. The specially designed harnesses allow you to lye horizontally in a streamline position, referred to as the bullet. I thought I had won the race until Sam came from nowhere and flew over the finish line ahead of me. Just a word of warning, brace yourself when the braking system kicks in. At the bottom of the zipline is a unique Quickjump system which allows you to jump off the zipline landing platform, down to where you catch the chairlift back to the top.
To conclude our time in Rotorua we caught up with Hon Todd McClay, the associate Tourism Minister, who featured in Episode One of the #greatkiwiroadie. He had told us to give him a call once we got to Rotorua. This time around there was no suit, he met us at Agroventures with his two sons. Agroventures is an adventure playground boasting five high octane rides; Shweeb, Swoop, Agrojet, Rotorua Bungy and Freefall Xtreme. We challenged him to do the Swoop, super swing. Without hesitation Todd agreed to do anything that we would.
Secured in a body harness we were lifted to a height of 40 metres before I pulled the ripcord, which sent us hurtling towards the ground at a speed of 130kph. Todd proved to us that he is well suited to the tourism role. He has a keen sense of adventure and challenged Sam and I to compete against him in Raceline Karting at OffRoad NZ. This is New Zealand’s newest and longest KartSport circuit and word on the street was that Todd frequently raced.
This place was AWESOME! The first ten minutes were spent doing time trial laps in order to determine who would be in pole position, then the race was on! The starting line up had Todd in pole position, followed by myself, Sam and Todd’s son. In the beginning Todd had a clear lead. I noted the lines he took approaching corners and bravely decided to put more faith in the tyres and trust they would not spin out. Slowly, Todd’s lead decreased and then I passed him. Despite my fist-pumping I was concerned he would take the lead back and I had no idea where Sam was!
The checkered flag was in sight. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to take the win. Sam was never going to hear the end of this. Todd was a really good sort, he graciously acknowledged my win, while Sam repeatedly said he only lost because he weighed more which slowed down the kart. Although, Todd did manage to get the last word in when we filmed the outro for the video.