Rotorua: The road's your oyster

Trundling along in a camper van, Elisabeth Easther and family take in some of Rotorua's stellar attractions.

Cycling the new Te Ara Ahi cycle trail, part of the Nga Haerenga National Cycle Trail at Kerosene Creek, Rotorua. Photo / Supplied
Cycling the new Te Ara Ahi cycle trail, part of the Nga Haerenga National Cycle Trail at Kerosene Creek, Rotorua. Photo / Supplied

A weekend in the Britz camper vans - kitted with bike racks and bikes - meant that with more wheels than you could shake a stick at, I was living a fantasy I'd been harbouring for years.

From Natural High Cycle Hire we picked up two bicycles and a tagalong - a contraption with handlebars, saddle and pedals that you attach to the back of your own bike for the kid, so you can go further and faster than one little set of legs will allow.

From that moment on, the road was our oyster.

Arriving in Rotorua, I had to stop at the Shweeb at Agroventures to see if I could get closer to the world record. The Shweeb (German for hanging or suspended) is a recumbent bike in a Perspex pod on a monorail trail, and it's such fun. Currently, I'm 18 seconds off, but the gap is closing.

It'd been a big day though, so at the Top Ten Holiday Park we were glad to be given a site right by the playground, which made for one very happy camper. The park also has two pools and really sparkling facilities. The city centre's just a short stroll away, as is Kuirau Park Geothermal Reserve with its bubbling mud pools.

The next morning we quickly made a few experimental loops of the grounds until my passenger and I were confident we'd mastered the tagalong, before we rode off to the Te Ara Ahi Thermal by Bike Cycle Trail. We were doing the first 8km section starting at the Princes Gate Archway, the perfect first tagalong adventure for families. The full Te Ara Ahi, one of the rides on Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail, is a two-day, 74km ride.

The first part of the trail is other-worldly, a wasteland of bubbling moon-like surfaces, alongside a chalky blue lake. I was so jealous of Jenha from Destination Rotorua, who rode with us, that this is part of her daily commute. It sure beat my frantic morning pedal along the side of the north-western motorway.

Passing through the back of Whakarewarewa - The Living Thermal Village, toward Te Puia - The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, we rode through two wooden carved waharoa (gateways) gifted to the cycleway by Te Puia for the entrance to Hemo Gorge.

After an initial steep-ish section, we trundled through the Hemo Gorge forest beside rocky waterways. It was like something from a movie set. We'd have liked to go all the way to Waipa but after about 5km we turned back, feeling the pull of the Polynesian Spa and a post-pedal soak. Our weary bones marinated in mineral water, while Mr Tagalong found his second wind and took journeys up and down the slide in the kids' pool.

Starving after our swim, we were happy to get to The Fat Dog Cafe, a Rotorua institution. This was the first time we've dined there. The meals were happily large and wholesome - we chose big, meaty dishes - because we had worked up ravenous appetites. There's so much to enjoy there, from the quirky environment, full of local artwork to the amusing bon mots on the wall.

Reluctantly on Sunday, we unplugged from our powered site - but before we headed home, we drove to the Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest.

These woods are so amazing, it's hard to know where to begin. If you like cycling (and you don't need to be a Crusty Demon) you will love the forest's 130-plus kilometres of continually evolving trails. Wade, our guide from Mountain Bike Rotorua, took us first for a few turns of the Children's Loop. Theo had his own bike for this, gaining confidence with every rotation. Then Wade, who knows every inch of the forest, put Theo on the tagalong on the back of his bike and boy, did we blow out some cobwebs.

Being less of a nana than me, and fitter and more daring (but never dangerous) Wade took us on some circuits that flew us over the moon.

I heartily recommend paying for a guided ride once or twice, because these guys know the tracks inside and out and can show visitors places they might never find on their own. From the initial easy ride, we took on the slightly more demanding Dipper, which was like riding a rocking horse on a roller coaster, with its smooth twists and turns, dips and peaks. We also had a taste of Mad If U Don't, The Hobbit Path along the stream, Tahi, The Ball and Chain, and The Creek. I think next time we'll try the Frontal Lobotomy.

So what'll it be? With the raw ingredients of a camper van, cycles and enthusiasm, this basic recipe should please every appetite. Note: Two days is too short for Rotorua.


Britz Campers

Natural High Bike Rental and Tours

Rotorua Top Ten Holiday Park

Fat Dog Cafe

Redwoods Forest

Mountain Bike Rotorua

The Te Ara Ahi Cycle Trail

The Shweeb at Agroventures

Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Destination Rotorua and Britz campers.

- NZ Herald

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