Rotorua is the perfect place for a weekend getaway with the family, writes Annemarie Quill. It's not too far to travel, yet its abundance of activites means there is something different to do each visit, from lakes and forests to geothermal wonders, plus it is becoming a foodie destination.
Scope: 1296 Tutanekai St, Rotorua
A wild food-inspired cafe owned by Dana Symons, who has 17 years' experience in hospitality, and partner Steven Greer. With an all-day breakfast and lunch menu, it has both an à la carte menu and a wide range of savoury and sweet culinary delights.
Friendly and welcoming, the centre point of the cafe is a stunning red deer antler chandelier which Dana explains to us is made locally. There are also other local products for sale including tea, pot plants and condiments.
Service is attentive and everything is homemade from scratch on the premises.
There is a wide range of options to suit all tastes and ages which is great when you are dining with children and teens. We warmed up with some hot chocolate and delicious Altura coffee, then dug into the breakfast menu. I had the vege stack of hashbrown, panfried mushrooms, spinach and poached egg, which was delicious and filling, while the kids opted for french toast with crispy bacon, almonds, maple syrup, grilled banana and cinnamon sugar, as well as sweet and wild pancakes with raspberries, grilled banana, cream and cinnamon sugar.
Redwoods Treewalk, located in the Rotorua Redwoods
Long Mile Rd, Whakarewarewa
With Rotorua and the Redwoods nightlights experience recently described by the New York Times as one of the Top 50 places to see and things to do in the world in 2018, the eco-tourism treewalk is a major drawcard to Rotorua and can be enjoyed day and night.
Whakarewarewa Forest is one of the oldest exotic forests in New Zealand, with the area the Treewalk is in first planted in the early 1900s. Redwood trees are one of the oldest living species in the world with life spans more than 2000 years old.
A nine-metre high lantern-inspired spiral entranceway that opened in April is the Redwoods Treewalk's latest development.
Designed by New Zealand sustainability champion David Trubridge, the new entry allows visitors the chance to wind their way up from the forest floor into the tree canopy.
It also morphs into a large lantern at night, giving an enchanted feel to the walk which is a magical experience both day and night.
The walk is both relaxing and informative with interesting information about the trees on each platform. There is an ethereal feel to being 'suspended' on the walking platforms on a par with the branches of the trees and local wildlife which is a delight to both children and adults.
Prince's Gate Hotel
1057 Arawa St, Rotorua
Built in 1897 in Waihi, it was transferred to Rotorua, nail by nail, in 1917 and reassembled.
The hotel has recently been refurbished but kept its traditional historic features which means it offers four-and-a-half-star facilities and comfort with the elegant traditional feel of a historical home. With a roaring fire in the entrance way, you can enjoy cocktails and mocktails before dinner, or out on the patio in warmer months.
Our accommodation was a luxury two-bedroom suite with a lounge, kitchen and SkyTV with beautiful decor and attention to detail, like vintage lamps and chandeliers and flocked cushions.
The bedrooms of the hotel are built around its thermal hotpools, where we took a relaxing dip. There is also a private spa area and sauna.
The children were suitably spooked to read of a ghost that haunts the hotel and asked our host if it was true. "Of course," he replied, "but he's a friendly one." I admit to checking the cupboards, to the amusement of the children.
The highlight of our weekend is a seven-course degustation in the hotel restaurant. Guided through each course by our host, general manager Phil Agent, the menu has been designed by local Rotorua celebrity chef Charles Royal to creatively showcase the best of New Zealand ingredients. Māori chef Royal is a leading figure in the rediscovery of indigenous New Zealand herbs and edible ferns, and the unique flavour of these wild plants appear throughout the dishes, in particular horopito (Māori pepper), pikopiko (edible fern fronds) and kawakawa (Māori bush basil).
The dishes use the best of New Zealand ingredients such lamb, eel, blue warehou and mānuka honey. There is hāngī as one of the main course options which is delicious but Phil explains the idea behind the degustation menu is to show to international and local diners alike that New Zealand cuisine is so much more than the hāngī experience.
With Phil's expert explanation of the ingredients, the children were much more receptive to trying new tastes as it was so much more than a dinner — it was a magical journey where each dish brought out was marvellously presented like a work of art, and oh so delicious.
I was amazed to see the children happily devouring new tastes like smoked eel mousse served on a riverstone, the blue warehou served with salty warrigal (sea spinach), and smoked venison with horopito, juniper, mānuka honey and mustard. One of the most delightful discoveries was a simple boil-up with rewana paraoa, Māori potato bread with horopito butter and organic flaxseed oil. Dipped in the pūhā and chicken boil-up, I have found my new winter delight.
The venison and hāngī roasted meats were melt-in-the-mouth perfection too.
Another highlight was the desserts — the kawakawa baked egg custard is still the stuff of my dreams, and I am equally devoted to the apple and rhubarb crumble with homemade icecream. The dishes are matched with New Zealand whites and reds from boutique vineyards and conclude with a dessert wine. The degustation menu is available as a three, four, five or seven course.
It was a journey of the senses, not only delicious and nourishing but we learned so much about local ingredients and traditional methods of cooking. Phil was knowledgeable and entertaining in his stories and answered all our many questions patiently.
I really recommend this experience and have been raving about it to friends since. It would be great as a family experience, date night or even work outings.
After a delicious breakfast at the hotel we headed to Waimangu Volcanic Valley where we enjoyed a guided walking tour learning about local vegetation and the fascinating history of the geothermal lakes and craters, marvelling at the high temperatures and amazing colours.
Our guide was super knowledgeable and friendly and answered our many curious questions.
After a picnic lunch in the park we had a leisurely boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana — formerly home to the Pink and White Terraces — where we saw more geothermal wonders not accessible on foot.
We always love coming to Rotorua — it never disappoints and is a magical place of wonder and delight. We will definitely be back and cannot wait to sample more of the incredible menu and hospitality at Prince's Gate which will be my recommendation from now on for stays.