Coast presenter Lorna Subritzky almost beats her travel hoodoo on a 36-hour bonding session with workmates in Rotorua... almost

I love travel, but the feeling's not always mutual. I once went to Rarotonga with a man I'd known mere months and came home with a positive pregnancy test. Last time I went to Queenstown, I lost the underinsured solitaire from my engagement ring before I'd even left Auckland Airport. And on every family holiday, something which wouldn't be a big deal back home becomes an enormous spat in the confines of shared accommodation.

So when a sojourn to Rotorua with colleagues is first suggested, I'm excited (I love Rotorua) but apprehensive (would the team fall apart?). Most of all, I'm intrigued: just how much can we fit into 36 hours?

As it turns out — quite a lot.

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Three hours after leaving Auckland we're checking into Sudima Hotel Lake Rotorua, where the staff are as warm as the hotpools, and the lakefront location is magnificent.

First stop is an after-work drink with our local radio team, putting faces to email names and reigniting old friendships, but lunch is 228km in the past and rumbling tums send us in search of kai. Some of the team haven't been to Rotorua in a while, so they're pleasantly surprised at the rejuvenation of Eat Streat at the lake end of Tutanekai St.

Three years ago, the addition of a stylish timber structure created a covered central walkway; the retractable roofing and unique geothermal heating underfoot ensure all-weather, year-round alfresco dining.

From the many eateries we choose Atticus Finch: it promises "lively conversation, playful plates and thoughtful concoctions". And for those like me with a literary bent, the novel reference is too good to resist. Thankfully, no mockingbird is on the menu; instead, there's plenty of delectable-sounding sharing dishes, delivered as and when they're ready. Our waiter is the take-charge type; his insistence we cannot order garlic bread (even though it's on the menu) is a bold but impressive move, and his recommendations?

The whipped goats cheese, smokey beer braised beef shin, garlic and ginger prawns, and chilli caramel pork belly are faultless, while the cocktails are pretty and witty and delish.

After an unplanned sleep-in and large cooked breakfast (included in the tariff, so has to be done, right?), we hit the road - and promptly split up. Unlike the missed alarm, this is actually deliberate: the ladies stroll to Polynesian Spa for a blissful soak followed by the signature mud wrap (10 out of 10, would mud again), while the blokes opt for OGO. We meet at Skyline Gondola and head into the clouds for lunch.

Stratosfare Restaurant sits atop Mt Ngongotaha and provides a feast for the senses: panoramic views, sensational decor (marble, schist, David Trubridge lights) and the best buffet I've encountered in years.

Replete, several head to the luge, the rest to a leisurely wine-tasting session at Volcanic Hills. Though the climate is unsuitable for growing grapes, the winery at the base of the gondola presses fruit brought in from around the country, while the tasting lounge at the top offers a sensational experience, both in outlook and product.

My luging companions have been caught in a heavy rain shower, but it's done nothing to dampen their spirits and several opt to stay up the mountain and have a go on the Skyswing.

The rest of us head down to Rainbow Springs, which houses the largest, most successful kiwi hatching facility in the world. This fulfils a vital role in the survival of brown kiwi, which few human Kiwis have actually seen. But we do see one, and meeting a two-day-old chick after hearing his miraculous birth story is something I will never forget.

A two-day old kiwi chick at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua. Photo / Lorna Subritzky
A two-day old kiwi chick at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua. Photo / Lorna Subritzky

Reunited, we then head 17km out of town to Okawa Bay on the tranquil shores of Lake Rotoiti, boarding Pure Cruise sailing catamaran Tuia to a warm welcome from skipper Matt and assistant Jamie. Matt's a genial host, explaining the history of both the yacht and the lake as we visit picturesque coves and fascinating sites (including the Manupirua hot pools, accessible only by boat). We're well looked after, with bean bags and blankets on deck (plus down jackets when the sun sets), a gourmet barbecue served in the spacious saloon, and a glass or two of NZ's finest to wash it all down.

We arrive back to shore in plenty of time to finish with Redwoods Nightlights, where Redwoods Treewalk and David Trubridge have partnered to create an iconic nocturnal experience.

Thirty giant lanterns with colour spots and feature lights illuminate the huge and ancient redwoods, ferns and pungas. It's like a fairy wonderland with more than 30 swing bridges wending their way above the forest floor; my vertigo proves a challenge initially, but a stern word with myself (and the young team member bouncing behind me) and I conquer it. I've not heard of anything like this elsewhere, and I reckon it's a must next time you're in Rotorua.

As my head hits the pillow, I congratulate myself on my travel jinx not rearing its unwelcome head. Ah, such naivety. By 4am, I'm writhing with severe eye pain and as Sunday morning breaks, so do I, begging Camp Mother to take me to Rotorua Hospital.

While the rest of the crew enjoy a three-hour ziplining adventure with Canopy Tours (the supreme winner in last year's tourism awards), I'm diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. I'll be eternally grateful that prompt attention and correct diagnosis potentially saved the sight in my eye, but when the rest of the crew describe ziplining as the best of our exceptional weekend it does nothing to lessen the FOMO of Camp Mother and me.

Then, too soon, it's hometime.

Eye dramas aside, it couldn't have been more fun. The team that plays together, stays together.

And me? I'll be back with the family for more Rotorua wondrousness during my big birthday celebrations early next year. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

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