Tourist hotspot Rotorua is famed for its geysers, steaming springs and exploding mud pools. The area attracts some three million visitors annually. Newly elected Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey offers his top tips for where to eat, drink, ride your bike and relax.
WHERE TO EAT
If you're going to splash out, try Terrace Kitchen. It used to be the old Pizza Hut on the lake front. They've moved the cheese and pizza makers out and moved in a really top notch establishment, which would give any place on Auckland's Ponsonby Rd a run for its money. The decoration is beautiful - right down to the kind of crockery they use. The food is delicious and they have an open kitchen. I do love a good open kitchen where I can see the chefs making the food.
For somewhere cheap and cheerful, check out Columbus Coffee.
They do tasty mince on toast and for two dollars extra they put an egg on it as well.
The best coffee award I would give to Picnic Cafe, which is owned by a lovely Dutch couple who have been living in Rotorua for quite a while. They do a sensational Allpress coffee.
has quirky glass rooms, so you can be a bit private if you like. The food is yummy and you can park your bike.
Yamato is a great little Japanese restaurant where you can see all the sushi made in front of you. The food is the best value in town — really well priced.
Seriously, go to Leonardo's, which is on Eat Streat, the main dining precinct in Rotorua — Tuscan heaven and they do a mean antipasto platter.
If you're not on a pizza/pasta vibe, check out Che Chorizo. It's all big, barbecued South American Latin-style food where you get lots of meat. Sometimes the chefs and the cooks come out and sing karaoke for you — which is fine by me, as they're all amazing singers.
Finish the night with drinks at Ponsonby Rd Lounge Bar, which has twice won bar of the year in Rotorua (full disclosure, it's owned by me and my lovely partner Tim). We do live music four nights a week. If you're there on a Thursday, catch the jazz. We're known for our cocktails. My tip would be to try the Timtams, which are named after yours truly and Tim.
I love a good free activity. You can go out to Hamurana Springs, which is just on the other side of the lake. It's a neon blue river that flows into Lake Rotorua. If you trace it back by walking the trail, you'll get to the source of the spring. It's a really lovely, easy walk through a redwood grove.
If you want to do something a little more adventurous, head to the mountain bike park at the Redwoods. You can rent a bike and go in to the forest for an hour.
They have the Pak 'n Save Kids track which looks very tame to begin with, but gets a bit gnarly at the end, especially if you've never done any mountain biking before. It's free too — the cost is just hiring your bike. We even took Tim's 65-year-old mum. We let people pass because we were going slower than some of the kids but that's ok, we had fun.
For an awesome Maori cultural experience you've got a couple of main options — Mitai or Tamaki. They can pick you up from your accommodation, give you the show and then feed you. Te Puia is also amazing and it's just about to undergo a huge redevelopment.
What makes Rotorua special is we have boiling water just underneath the ground. Every now and then a geyser pops up in your front yard and you either have to move or try to bore it! This happens especially down at the Maori village, Ohinemutu, at the lakefront. There's a local guy there called Shaloh who is often just walking around and he also does tours — he'll take you around the village and tell you the stories.
The place I recommend for tourists to relax is the Polynesian Spa.
The best times to go are when it's dark or when it's raining. When you're sitting in a hot pool under the open sky, you don't really think too much about the rain.
The Government Gardens are a pretty awesome place to go. You'll get the best Instagram photos from a walk around there. They've got full-time gardeners catching the leaves before they fall on the ground — or at least it seems!
The museum is closed at the moment for earthquake strengthening. They are still doing a range of things "beyond the walls" though including education programmes, events, and free guided tours of Government Gardens at 11am and 2pm daily — where they give you the low down on the buildings and battles.
Splash out and go to the boutique hotel Regent of Rotorua. It's right at the end of Eat Streat so after you've finished your night at Ponsonby Rd, you can just stumble around to your room. It's very lovely and plush. In terms of fine dining in town, it's the place to go.
If you're looking for something cheaper, any one of the many motels in Rotorua would do. Depending on what age you are, there is accommodation next to the backpacker bar, The Lava Bar. A lot of people who stay there end up going to Lava, where you can have an infinitely good time.
Must-sees and must-dos
The Luge at the top of Skyline Rotorua is still pretty awesome. Head on up! If you're there with the kids, you'll have a ball luge-ing down the hill. If it's just grown-ups, you can sit in the Volcanic Hills tasting room — have a couple of wines and look out over the whole of Lake Rotorua. Take a few Insta pictures while you're at it!
There are a couple of new places that have just opened here in town which are quite new in terms of concept. At AdventureRooms, you get locked in a room with a bunch of clues and you have an hour to escape. Rotofobia is the latest. Plenty of my friends have had curiosity get the better of them and found themselves in there, trying to escape.
Finally, for a dose of cuteness, check out Fancy Meow, New Zealand's first purebred cat cafe. Have a coffee and pat some pedigree cats. It's purr-fect for some time out!
Tamati Coffey presents 'Moving Out with Tamati', Saturdays from October 7, 7pm on TVNZ 1 or streaming on TVNZ Ondemand.