Famous for its Maori culture, redwood forests and mud pools, this geothermal wonderland is also fast gaining a reputation for its gastronomic delights, writes Debbie Griffiths

Our local hosts nod vigorously when we tell them we're going to Capers Epicurean. It's been named Rotorua cafe of the year eight times. We're greeted by smiling staff and an array of salads in the cabinet with gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free options.

On this day, there are courgette, cauliflower, almond and bacon, Balkan cucumber and vegetarian rice salads. Or be prepared to spend some time perusing the menu, which ranges from the classic scotch fillet to the mouth-watering juniper berry-marinated venison and lentil, spinach and kumara curry. The kids' crunchy munchy picnic plate is met with a squeak of approval from my 7-year-old.

My pistachio-and-parmesan-crusted salmon is exceptional - tasty and delicate and served with seasonal vegetables. It leaves just enough room for dessert - the grasshopper (mint and chocolate) cheesecake is good, but we swoon over the lime-and-white chocolate cheesecake. Littlies can chill in the glass-fronted kids' television room, and make sure you check out the specialty food store for great gifts.

You'll need to get off the main streets of Rotorua to find Ciabatta Bakery: home to Swiss baker Alex Burge's handcrafted artisan bread and the longest hotdog in the world. The Long Dog is described as a 42cm edible adventure. We loved the "lammie" and the "BBQ porkie" ciabatta sandwiches, the giant pretzels, mini cronuts, and the delicious, traditional streusels and berliners.

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The bakery owners have come up with yummy gluten-free and vegetarian options and there's paleo goulash, brownie and even the paleoccino - so good it's popular with non-paleo coffee drinkers.

Rotorua's multimillion-dollar Eat Streat has a retractable roof that runs between the al fresco dining areas of about a dozen cafes and restaurants. Choose from Thai, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean as well as classic Kiwi pubs and a cafe that specialises in gluten-free food.

Nate Wadsworth, 7, tries out the Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience. Photo / Debbie Griffiths
Nate Wadsworth, 7, tries out the Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience. Photo / Debbie Griffiths

We chose one of the latest additions - CBK (Craft Bar and Kitchen) to introduce the kids to stone-grill dining.

They were suitably impressed and thoroughly enjoyed their vanilla milkshakes served in jars. The surf and turf was fantastic and our enthusiastic server recommended brownie for dessert. We loved that it was served on a hot skillet with sauce and cold ice cream on top.

It is well worth booking a meal on board the paddleboat, Lakeland Queen, just for the different perspective of Rotorua. We took the one-hour breakfast cruise and after we'd filled up on cereal, croissants, and bacon and eggs from the buffet, we spent the rest of the time enjoying the scenery.

The boat glides past the geothermal area of Sulphur Bay and then loops in front of Rotorua's CBD towards Mt Ngongotaha. The lower deck was tranquil with the water flowing past and on the upper deck, the friendly skipper on the day let the kids "steer" while he chatted to guests.

I dare you to walk out of Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience without an armload of goodies. Most stop for a real fruit ice cream or a fresh muffin, and once you've sampled the jams, jellies, chutneys and liqueurs you'll have a tough time deciding which to keep and which to give away.

Our favourites: the 100 per cent blueberry juice and the feijoa liqueur, which just tastes amazing.

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Need to Know

Capers Epicurean is open 7am-9pm, 7 days a week at 1181 Eruera St, Rotorua.

Ciabatta Bakery is open Monday to Friday 8am-3pm and Saturdays 8am-1.30pm at 38 White St, Rotorua.

CBK (Craft Bar & Kitchen) is open seven days from 11am-late on Eat Streat, 1115 Tutanekai St, Rotorua.

Lakeland Queen runs daily breakfast, lunch and dinner cruises as well as coffee cruises. There are additional services depending on numbers.

Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience is open daily on Maraeroa Rd, 20km north of Rotorua.

The writer and her family travelled courtesy of Destination Rotorua