You'll always struggle to find the words to describe Rotorua. You could fall back on the old chestnut "You had to be there" - or just show everyone your Instagram. The famous places and hidden gems alike are picturesque enough for your followers to demand to know where the shot was taken. Regardless of what type of holiday you're after - family, romance, culture, or adventure - the city of steam has something for everyone.
Natural hot springs
Start with Manupirua Springs. These natural hot pools on Lake Rotoiti can only be accessed by boat or water taxi. All water vehicles can be moored at any of the five jetties.
Then there's Kerosene Creek, where you can sit under a waterfall in naturally warm water only about 30km south of Rotorua. Be sure to go during the day and lock your valuables out of sight before emerging in the water beneath the treetops.
If you don't mind walking, Lake Tarawera's hot-water beach is hard to beat. The Tarawera Trail takes advanced walkers up to six hours to complete one way but at the end a Department of Conservation campsite is waiting. A boat or water taxi can also get you to Te Rātā Bay where you can camp overnight for a small fee, meaning an evening and morning soak over the picturesque Lake Tarawera is possible.
Night Market and Eat Streat
It's the 21st century and everyone has some kind of food intolerance as well as a deep desire to experiment with the flavours of the world. The weekly Rotorua Night Market can cater to both those realities, every Thursday along Tutanekai St. Whether it's vegan food, Mexican or the juiciest dumplings you've ever sunk your teeth into, the market has a huge range. Grab a seat, listen to local, live music and enjoy the buzz.
Just two blocks down, Eat Streat offers a range of choices for a sit-down restaurant meal or tapas.
Rotorua is known for its rich Māori culture. Take a piece of it with you in the form of permanent art skilfully designed by local tā moko artists.
Toiariki, is a studio tucked away on Arawa St and the founding artist, Richard Francis, is a skilled tā moko artist. All his designs are drawn freehand first on your chosen body space. He works with you to custom design a piece from your kaupapa, whakapapa, or story. Be sure to book at least a week in advance.
You could also head to the tā moko studio at Te Puia's Māori Arts & Crafts Institute. There you will have an insight into the traditional and contemporary art form.
Something for everyone, including four-legged friends, is squeezed into more-than 5600ha of forest not far from town. Walk the forest floor or take the experience up a notch, literally, in the Redwoods Treewalk with day or night options. For those more adventurous Redwoods Altitude offers a guided tour along Indiana Jones-style bridges, up to 25m higher than the Treewalk. It even has three flying foxes.
Wheels more your thing? The forest has been dubbed one of the world's mountain biking meccas, attracting people from near and far.
Rotorua's newest gem, Secret Spot, is a short ride away and features hot tubs, feet tubs and a bar.
Kuirau Park is a geothermal wonderland right in Rotorua's CBD with gardens, a crater lake, bubbling mud pools and free thermal foot baths. Make an afternoon of it with picnic tables, barbecues and a children's playground. Or visit on Saturday morning when there is a weekly farmers' market.
For a pop of colour, venture to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It's a breathtaking look at how thousands of years of volcanic activity have been shaped by geothermal elements.
At Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the world's youngest geothermal valley, choose the distance you want to walk while exploring the natural wonder.
Thermal activity is great for the family or a romantic getaway.
The Polynesian Spa is a chance to relax with Lake Rotorua in perfect view from private or public pools. There are options for massages, facials and a shop to pamper yourself at home. Go in the evening to watch the sunset.
Hell's Gate boasts tranquillity and a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in geothermal mud. Māori warriors are said to have bathed in the mud pools or sulphur spas.
Guaranteed to appeal to nature lovers and adrenaline junkies alike. Jump into a raft with other thrill-seekers and be guided by Rotorua Rafting down the Kaituna River, down the 7m waterfall.
Or keep your heart rate lower and walk the Okere Falls Track - 30 minutes of easy walking. You might even hear squeals and laughter as people come down the falls. From a viewing platform in front of the falls you can watch rafts to see if they'll make it over safely.
In 2018 Tamaki Māori Village was ranked in TripAdvisor's top 10 cultural experiences in the world. The evening show includes performances, a hāngī buffet and learning haka and poi. You'll leave with a full puku (tummy) and a deeper understanding of New Zealand's heritage.
Nearby, Whakarewarewa Māori Village is a "living village" with a geothermal backdrop. Be welcomed on with aroha (love) and choose between guided tours, cultural experiences and even an overnight stay on Whakarewarewa Marae.
Māori Carving, Lake Taupō
An hour south of Rotorua is Taupō, home to the biggest lake in New Zealand. And on it, the Māori Carving in Mines Bay.
In the late 1970s master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell started the giant 10m carving as his gift to Taupō. It took him and four assistants four summers to complete. The carving can only be reached by boat and is best viewed up-close by kayak. It's a likeness to Ngātoro-i-rangi, a visionary Māori navigator who guided the Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to the Taupō area more than 1000 years ago.
Mt Ruapehu is a good stop for those leaving Rotorua and going south. It features New Zealand's largest gondola, the Sky Waka, which is 1.8km and travels over waterfalls and ancient lava flows and the majestic scenery of Mt Ruapehu and its neighbouring volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. Use the gondola as the base for adventure including sliding down the snow in a tube, on skis or a board. Not quite as outdoorsy? Test the Pinnacles Restaurant menu, taking in breathtaking views through floor-to-ceiling windows.
THE LOCAL LOWDOWN
Jack Grace is a born and bred Rotorua man. He left Rotorua briefly after his upbringing, spending time in Auckland, winning TVNZ's Stars in Their Eyes, and in Australia, Raglan and Puhoi. But Rotorua is home and he returned to live here in 2019.
What I love about Rotorua is its history.
And when I say history I mean we have always been a resilient people.
We know how to get up and get things done ... Our town was built on the back of hardworking, passionate people [with] an understanding of what it would take to build and work together.
Our tourism history and our ability to develop ideas and concepts so our overseas manuhiri (visitors) get to see our people and our place, our history of music and creative people lays the platform and foundation for our future to explore and create.
In my spare time I like to jump on my bike and ride round Hannahs Bay where I live.
I look out to Mokoia [Island] with its rich history and the awa [water] that is Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe. I am very, very fortunate to live in this beautiful town.
If you have a short trip to the area planned there is lots to do.
While we are a tourist town with many award-winning ventures and plenty of free stuff, I would head out of town and go see Mt Tarawera. Go to the Buried Village out there and read about the history and the eruption of the mountain.
Whakarewarewa Village is unique in that it is still a living village, Ohinemutu is the same, and these things don't cost lots of money.
Head out to Okere Falls Store for a nice feed and they always have good music there.
While Rotorua is an enterprising, forward-thinking city, we haven't reached our full potential. We will continue to grow as an enterprising town that will give you the opportunity if you are prepared to work hard.
Listen to NewstalkZB from 1pm today to be in to win two flights to Rotorua flying Air New Zealand. Ts&Cs apply.
Read the whole series at nzherald.co.nz/GoNZ