Whenever I'm lucky enough to spend in the playground that is Rotorua, I always come away feeling energised and yet ... spent. It's such an incredible part of NZ that is proud of its heritage and traditions, where it's so easy to feel like a tourist in our own backyard.
There are so many things to see and do in Rotorua that every time I'm there, I discover something different. But after a recent "work" trip with my Coast mates, here's what I'd recommend:
Steeped on the side of a hill overlooking the lakes and the city, OGO is from the inventors of Zorbing - rolling down a steep hill inside a giant ball. But this place has the biggest, longest, fastest "track", with bonus spa pools. You can soak in one at the top of the hill - looking out over the stunning scenery - or at the bottom of the hill looking back up and watching the giant balls (with passengers inside) tumble towards you. It's an impressive setup complete with digital wind alerts (you don't want to be blown off course), souvenir clothing and a big range of options on how you remember your OGO experience. As well as photos of you taken from in and out of the OGO, you can also film your ride inside with one of their GoPro cameras. I tried convincing Anna and her team to call those cameras "OGO-Pro," but she didn't entirely love the idea. However, she was kind enough to show us the onsite factory where the OGO is manufactured and exported all over the world.
My wife Louise is a fan of David Trubridge's creations and being a Hastings boy myself, I'm proud to point out that his head office and showroom are just down the road from where I grew up. But he also designed the lights at the Redwoods Treewalk - and it is just stunning to see them all lit up. 23 swing bridges carry you across a walkway that winds through this beautiful forest - photos don't do it justice, it really must be seen.
Rainbow Springs Nature Park
It's a world-famous attraction, but it's the work of Shelley and her incredible team that makes Rainbow Springs an absolute must-visit. Since 1975 they have been educating people about our iconic bird and trying as hard as they can to help the Kiwi survive.
Unmanaged, experts reckon our Kiwi would be extinct within two generations. We heard about what's being done to help, and how the team at the hatchery try and meet as many of the costs themselves, but any shortfall is immediately picked up by Ngai Tahu. We met a two-day-old Kiwi chick - something I'll never forget. It's also a place I'll take our kids to time and again.
A dinner cruise is all very nice, but Matt takes it to the next level with an absolutely brilliant cruise on his luxury cat. Bring your togs, because he'll take you across Lake Rotoiti to some hot pools that can only be accessed by boat. He'll also show you some mind-blowing historical sites that locals might not even know about. Pull up a giant bean bag and relax on the bow while enjoying the drinks and nibbles, while the BBQ gets fired up - the food is phenomenal. Matt told us that his chef regularly reviews the menu and makes changes to suit the passengers. The Cat is available for weddings, work-dos, family reunions and all kinds of events and functions.
Rotorua Canopy Tours
It's a guided tour through an untouched, native forest on the outskirts of Rotorua - but with Rotorua Canopy Tours, you see it from above. From the moment you're strapped into your harness and step into the van to head to the forest, the crew (including NZ Triathlete Rebecca Kingsford) have you laughing. They break the ice on the way by asking everyone their name, what they're passionate about, and what your super-power would be - by the time you arrive, you know a wee bit about everyone in your group.
Some people overcome the fear of heights, some have never done anything like this before, but everyone is cheered on by the guides and the group. You walk across swing bridges and biplane between trees, gliding over a dense forest that was once the playground of some of our most well-known, iconic, and in some cases, now extinct wildlife. When you learn how hard the team at Canopy Tours is working for conservation and protection, you'll be blown away by the work they do - you will absolutely see why they were the supreme winner at the NZ Tourism Awards in 2016.
WIN: Visit coastonline.co.nz/win and watch the video of Coast's weekend trip to Rotorua and go into the draw to win a weekend in Rotorua