If you like cycling, you'll love Rotorua. Whether you're on the road, hurtling through the stunning Whakarewarewa Forest or gently lapping up the lakes, there's something for everyone - from cruisers to bruisers.
To get a pre-taste of next week's Bike Festival, I paid a visit to the City of Sulphur in search of adventure. And what better place to start than the ladies' shuttle run in Whakarewarewa Forest?
For just $10, riders and their bikes are transported to the top of the trails - to then plunge down the trails. You can make four trips in the bus and the all-female crew make it ideal for first-timers.
The Southstar Ladies' Shuttle Runs are the brainchild of cycling guru Kim McVicker, and have been running for about 18 months. Not only is it heaps of fun but Kim brings outstanding home baking along for the ride. Sweet as.
Starting off a little gingerly, I was soon taking those corners like I'd been born to ride. With Kim up front narrating the track - calling out hazards, roots to be wary of or just yelling "bouncy bouncy" for rutted sections - and Jenha behind ready to pick up the pieces, I found the confidence to really let rip. Braking, I learned, is the enemy. Although there were a few spills and a lot of mud, I made it to dinner in one piece. Which is just as well because lamb shanks and a craft beer at popular cyclists' bar Brew was the perfect reward.
As for my hire bike from Mountain Bike Rotorua, it was like riding a trampoline and I quickly became attached to those shocks. Bouncy bouncy, indeed.
I slept like a log that night at the Rotorua Holiday Inn, waking to steam billowing from the thermal springs outside my picture window. Fuelling up at the hotel's splendid breakfast buffet, I frocked up and rocked over to Multi-Day Adventures in town, where I picked up a cruiser bike for a taste of Frocks on Bikes.
This is a much more lady-like craft, basket optional. We rode (in heels) around the lake, starting from Whakarewarewa Forest, navigating the same route the ladies will cover on Sunday, February 16. And yes, men are welcome but they'll need to frock up, too.
Best of all was boarding the Lakeland Queen, a darling replica of a Mississippi paddle steamer. On the day, this vessel will provide high tea for the ladies - such a refined way to finish an easy ride. And if high tea is anything like the Lakeland Queen's buffet lunch, those ladies are in for a treat as they chug to Mokoia Island and across to idyllic Sulphur Point.
To work off the effects of the three-course lunch, we returned to the forest to hook up with Kim and Tuhua Mutu, manager of MTB Rotorua, for more cycling fun. Not only does Tu make the most amazing coffee, he's also a mean mountain biker. Climbing to the top of Tokorangi Pa, we admired the panoramic views (and caught our breath) before pedalling down a smorgasbord of tasty trails: laps of Challenge Roadside, the new Challenge revamp and finished up with a bit of fun down the Dipper.
The trails here are works of art, lovingly conceived and maintained. The enthusiasm from my guides gave me wings as we flew through the enchanted forests, our faces caked in dust and sweat as we grinned from ear to ear, eyes shining.
On the trip home, I couldn't help but stop in at Agroventures to have a crack at the Shweeb world record - although, I'm sad to report, I'm still a way off. But if you fancy racing a recumbent bike in a Perspex pod on a monorail trail, the world champs are part of the festival - I dare you to give it a go.
I'm back in the office now but I've yet to wipe the smile off my face, or the grease from my calves - just brilliant.
ROTORUA BIKE FESTIVAL: FEBRUARY 14-23
The second Rotorua Bike Festival starts next week for 10 days of non-stop cycling fun for everyone. From national champs to events for the whole family, it's a celebration of pedal power. There are Frocks on Bikes, Tykes on Trikes, a Pimp Your Bike party and races for road riders and mountain bikers (including the national MTB champs). The festival ends with the Waipa Bike Fair (9am to 5pm, Sunday February 23) where people can bring, buy, swap or just covet cycle paraphernalia.
Check out the Frocks on Bikes (Saturday, February 16), Agroventures Shweeb World Champs (Thursday, February 19), Skyline Sprint Warriors (Friday, February 21) and the Telecom Inner City Kiddie Criterium (Sunday, February 23) events.
Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Destination Rotorua.