Rotorua: Boiling wonderland

By Mike Yardley

Very few destinations take pride in hissing, frothing and exploding at their visitors. But Rotorua's irrepressible suite of geothermal wonders rock the socks off even the most jaded of travellers.
The North Island tourist Mecca and heartland of Maori culture has withstood the strains of the economic downturn, with the introduction of direct flights from Sydney providing a timely shot in the arm.
Many of the resort town's top sights won't cost you a bean - a stirring foray can be found at Kuirau Park, a fabulous free introduction to Sulphur City, with bubbling mud pools, and steaming holes and lakes to admire. Plus you can tickle your toes and soothe your feet in the warm mini-pools.
Equally pervasive as Rotorua's odour is the fundamental safety maxim - "do not stray from the path" - at all geothermal sites.
Another must-see attraction are the mighty Californian redwoods of the Whakarewarewa forest. Planted in 1901, in the nation's oldest exotic forest, the towering splendour of the trees - and their accompanying native plants - is free to enjoy and explore, by foot or mountainbike. A walking track threads its way through the tall timber and meanders past a thermal pond.
An unmistakable city highlight is to stroll through the exquisitely manicured grounds of Government Gardens, home to the mock-Tudor magnificence of the Rotorua Museum and the Blue Baths.
Another photogenic haunt is at the water's edge of Lake Rotorua, playing host to the landmark paddle steamer. And the waterfront is very handy to Eat Street.
As well, you can amble along the lakeside to the enchanting Maori village of Ohinemutu and the intricately decorated St Faith's Anglican Church.


If you want to experience just a couple of pay-to-enter sights here are my picks. Buy a 24-hour entry to the sublime finery of Rainbow Springs to see the treasures of New Zealand's flora and fauna and the nocturnal magic of a kiwi encounter under the stars. More information at www.rainbowsprings.co.nz.
One of the biggest dilemmas many Roto-Vegas visitors confront is choosing what geothermal attractions to see - and which to skip. For me, Wai-O-Tapu packs the most punch.
Twenty minutes south of the city, the thermal park is widely regarded as the most colourful and diverse volcanic area. The boardwalk that traverses the Artist's Palette is a spellbinding panorama of hot and cold pools, steaming fumeroles and multi-coloured marvels.
The sheer expanse of the bubbling Champagne Pool is a dazzling spectacle, topped off by its amazing ochre-coloured rim. And every day at 10.15am, the neighbouring Lady Knox Geyser explodes into human-assisted life, gushing up to 20m high. Find out more at www.waiotapu.co.nz

TOP TIPS


* A great value way to soak up the Tarawera-related attractions is to buy a three-in-one combo pass, giving you direct entry to Rotorua Museum, Whakarewarewa and the Buried Village. www.taraweralegacy.co.nz
* Linger by the lakeside and enjoy some tasty, affordable nosh at Lime Cafeteria. Very popular with alfresco breakfast diners, all-day snacks and dishes are available, and the coffee is supreme. Cnr Whakaue St and Fenton St.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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