It's not often that praise arrives from Australian shores high enough to bestow a "best in the world" title on a New Zealand activity. But that's exactly what Australian Mountain Bike magazine did, describing the Whakarewarewa Redwood forest.
"Home of the Worlds best mountain bike trails" they said, and cruising down a couple of runs with Mountain Bike Rotorua's Tu and Tak, it was soon easy to see why. More than 160km of tracks for all rider levels snaking through forestry blocks, native bush, Redwood trees, past clear spring-fed streams and open areas with stunning views across distant lakes. There is a bus service to get bikers up the steep parts, along with bespoke guided tours. All this coupled with a natural pumice self-draining sand surface that keeps heavy mud to a minimum, makes this sustainable resource an exciting family trip out.
There are even electric bikes available for hire, so a lack of fitness is no excuse.
The Dream Stream
But I wasn't in Rotorua just for the mountain biking; I was there to pursue a fishing spot so secret, that its name, The Dream Stream, is whispered about in dark pub corners. And, as I would soon discover, requires a blindfold just to get there.
However that's the thing with Rotorua, there are fantastic distractions around every corner. Like another secret spot, literally called Secret Spot, which features recently opened hot tubs and leg soakers. Conveniently situated at the end of the mountain bike trails, it's designed with weary bike riders in mind but is also perfect for those looking to warm up after paddling over the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall nearby. Known as the Tutea Falls, it's a 7m plunge pushing 18 tonnes of water a second down the Kaituna River. Several rafting companies offer a chance to rubber up and raft off the edge of what I can attest is a massive adrenaline rush.
But again this wasn't getting me to my secret destination, a river purportedly so full of trout that their backs all glisten in the sun as they stick out on shallow gravel runs. An area where you have to know someone who knows someone just to get there. Thankfully my guide Miles Rushmer was one such person.
Only a few anglers are allowed access each season and, in the past, The Dream Stream has been booked consistently by foreign travellers, who have heard of the legend. As a small silver lining to the new world in which we live, Kiwis, once to slow to react, are now making the most of it. Plenty have been using expert guides such as Miles, not just to fish places like The Dream Stream, but to access the thousands of other opportunities for which the area is renown, both in rivers and lakes.
A freshwater angler's ultimate is the brown trout of 10kg or more. Known as double-figure Brown, they can be found here, so it's entirely achievable with the right combination of guide, season, skill, and of course lady luck.
Rainbow trout are also prevalent in all Rotorua waters and some fatten themselves up on native freshwater crayfish, earning the nickname "kōura-munchers". These fish are desirable for their eating qualities as the oil-rich kōura causes the flesh of the trout to go bright orange with a superior taste.
We cooked one such fish on an open fire, nailed to a soaked cedar board, after a successful day with fishing buddy, chef Anthony McNamara. As we sat next to The Dream Stream recounting the day's many successes and near misses, we marvelled at "the best in the world" country we live in. A place that still has plenty of secrets, especially if you know where to look and who to ask nicely.
Clarke Gayford is the host of Fish of the Day, tonight, 5.25pm on Three.
Maple and miso-marinated rainbow trout, grilled on a cedar board
For the marinade
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 Tbsp white miso
Bring the sake to the boil in a small saucepan and flame to burn off the alcohol (which might otherwise toughen the flesh of the fish).
Add maple syrup and miso and whisk until smooth.
Once cool, brush a thick coating over the whole fillet and refrigerate for a few hours, or for up to three days. The longer the fish has marinated, the firmer the texture and the deeper the flavour.
To cook your trout
A board of untreated maple wood, or a split length of tōtara, mānuka or kānuka
A half dozen nails
A good-sized fire of mānuka, which has been allowed to burn down into white-hot coals.
Put fillet skin side down on the board and secure with a few lightly knocked in nails around the edge.
Place the board at an angle next to your fire, close enough to cook the fish in the radiant heat, but not so close that the wood burns before the fish is cooked.
Keep a close eye on the fish, and keep basting with more marinade as it cooks - 15 to 20 minutes.
The fish will be cooked when the flesh feels firm and cracks and yields slightly when pressed.
Serve with cooked sushi rice on the side, seasoned with ground sesame seeds, powdered nori seaweed, chopped spring onion, coriander, chilli and shredded inari tofu.