You can visit Rotorua many times and always experience a fresh, fun and exciting side to this city that wows.
I visit for 48 hours and experience the geothermal earth forces. I do stand-up paddleboarding on one of the 18 lakes. Luckily, there were thrills with no spills. This fussy Auckland chick also got to savour some epic kai. I left wishing only I had more time in this place that's home to the world's best mountain biking trails.
Water, glowworms and wonder:
Walking on water with Paddle Board Rotorua sets my heart soaring. I'm on Lake Okareka, a 15-minute drive from the city centre. Deep blue waters are below. Blue skies stretch overhead. Sunshine warms my back. I breath in fresh air. There's a vista of green soothing hills in every direction. There are coves to duck in and out of, which light up with glowworms at night (the twilight tour is the most popular). We glimpse rare birds. This. Is. Bliss. Every parent needs to take their kids to do this.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley:
If, like me, you are a Game of Thrones fan then you will understand this likeness...
The Inferno Crater Lake at Waimangu Volcanic Valley has the same ice-blue as the eyes of the White Walkers. It's that darn beautiful it will leave you in absolute wonder. This is Rotorua's premier tourist attraction for good reason.
The valley formed in 1886 when Mt Tarawera erupted. There are unique geothermal features on the self-guided eco-walks of varying lengths. This protected scenic reserve is a 20-minute drive south of Rotorua. You can also do a boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana. This gives visitors a view of the reserve's volcanic displays from a cool perspective.
Okay, I was a bit of a wuss about doing this at first with the New Zealand River Jet crew. I was a bit wobbly, worrying about going fast and flying on water and doing 360-degree turns. But I ended up loving this thrilling jetboating trip. It winds through the spectacular Tutukau Gorge. The canyon walls rise up to 50m. The tour guide shared history of the area (and lots of laughs) along the way. He helped us spot rare birds too.
I loved the stop-off at the world-renowned Orakei Korako thermal attraction. The bright yellows and pinks of the boiling mud, geysers and silica terraces are so memorable. Then there's the option to go through The Squeeze. You wade through knee-deep warm water towards a narrow gap in the cliff face, then squeeze through crevasses top end up resting in the waist-deep thermal waters for a soak.
Food resembles art here, and tastes so darn good I almost licked the plates. The chefs make fresh, seasonal, sustainable food, showcasing local ingredients at their best. You know what's epic about this place though? The super-friendly staff.
So, here's what I ate: My starter is a vegan warm salad (turmeric tahini emulsion, slow-roasted aubergine, truffle butter, and oyster mushrooms); my main is fish with turmeric and lemon marmalade, asparagus, fish and herb beurre, and with buttered kamokamo and pan-roasted carrot; dessert is a berry parfait (it has coconut, biscuit, berry sago, cider coulis and edible flowers). The food, staff and this modern, friendly place lived up to my fussy Auckland-girl-expectations.
Sudima Hotel Lake Rotorua:
The city's largest hotel is nestled on the edge of Lake Rotorua. A short walk to the city centre, it's close to lots of attractions. They have Māori bread at the buffet breakfast. I scoffed four pieces. I couldn't stop, it's that good. The coolest thing here though is the kids' area at the entrance. It's so inviting with colourful beanbags, a giant 'connect four' game and TV screens to amuse. Adults like this hang out as much as the knee-high-folk.
To find out about more amazing experiences in Rotorua check out rotoruanz.com
Rachel Grunwell was kindly hosted by Destination Rotorua
Rachel Grunwell is a wellness expert and author of Balance: Food, Health + Happiness (which boasts 30 global experts on how to live healthier and happier). Find Rachel at inspiredhealth.co.nz, Instagram @rachelgrunwell, and Facebook InspiredHealthNZ