Is it time for Rotorua to take a long, hard look at its branding?

Not "Famously Rotorua" or "New Zealand's coolest hot spot". These are superb evocations of who we are.

No, I'm looking at you "Rotovegas".

Read more: Graeme Simpson: 10th anniversary for Tarawera Ultramarathon
Graeme Simpson: Hamilton the backbone of region's MTB
Graeme Simpson: MTB legend Brett Tippie in Rotorua

Advertisement

I'm not sure when that nickname came into common use and, sure, it trips off the tongue. But I can pretty much guarantee that it was never complimentary, more an association with Las Vegas' seediness when it really was "Sin City".

Okay, so some of my favourite friends live in a reformed Las Vegas and I've spent some very enjoyable times there.

Off the strip there's a vibrant scene - restaurants, bars, music venues and a growing microbrewery culture. The spectacular, surrounding landscape is packed with hiking and exhilarating mountain biking trails. There's even a ski and snowboard resort on Mount Charleston, 45 minutes from town.

Early last December I headed out of the rental car hub at the city's McCarran International Airport. Best deal I'd found, online, was the "luxury" category. The first vehicle in the offered line-up was a massive Volvo XC90 SUV. Next to it was a two-door convertible 3 series BMW. There was no hesitation. My destination was Palm Springs in California, the natural habitat of the drop top.

Instead of the Interstate, I took the two-lane B-roads past Boulder City, then on to Searchlight, Arrowhead Junction, Twenty Nine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park. Tom Petty boomed out of the stereo and the little Beemer flew.

However, it was winter and the sun was down by the time I left the park and set the GPS to Palm Springs. It was dark as I rolled into town and a relief to get to the Holiday House, one block back from South Palm Canyon Drive, the city's main street.

This is a boutique hotel built in 1951 and recently renovated. There's original work by artists including Roy Liechtenstein, Herb Ritts and David Hockney in the reception, bar and dining room.

I'd booked an entry level "Good" room on Hotel.com. Great deal, however, it was lucky break time again, with an upgrade to "The Big Room" - apartment style and not much smaller than my home.

The Edris House, an outstanding example of modernist architecture in Palm Springs, California. Photo / Barberstock
The Edris House, an outstanding example of modernist architecture in Palm Springs, California. Photo / Barberstock

The Holiday House was a perfect place to stay, as it's a very fine example of the main reason I was visiting – mid-20th C, modernist architecture.

This was originally inspired by the Bauhaus "Functionalism as Modernity" movement in pre-WWII Germany, filtered through the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. The half-day tour of some of the most celebrated homes and buildings that make Palm Springs a living "museum" of this unique style was inspiring and entertaining.

The city is in the Coachella Valley, a couple of hours southeast of Los Angeles. Last century it became renowned for being the preferred holiday destination of Hollywood stars and the rich and famous. Leonardo DiCaprio owns a gorgeous $5 million modernist classic that he rents out on Air BnB for $5000 a night.

Palm Springs is a spa and wellness centre (like Rotorua) with friendly, laid back people and I could've happily stayed for a month, not a few days. One balmy evening, as I wandered back to the hotel from dinner at a brilliant Vietnamese joint, I had a brainwave: instead of Rotovegas, how about Rotorua Springs?