International tourists arrive daily by the busload to take photos from the banks of its namesake lake or breathe in the area's famous (or infamous) sulphuric odour. But — as my husband David and I discovered during a mid-spring weekend — Rotorua is also an ideal place for city-dwelling couples to spend a few days relaxing and recharging.
THE SQUEEZE AT NEW ZEALAND RIVERJET
As we whizz along the Waikato River at up to 90km/h, the spray hitting my face stings like ice bullets.
If the 9-to-5 grind has had you feeling like you're one of The Walking Dead, then spinning 360 degrees through the windy Tutukau Gorge in a 300-horse power vessel with twin engines is one way to remind yourself you're alive.
After a scenic 50-minute cruise down the river, the 25-minute return trip is an exhilarating end to a day out.
We stop at a literal hole-in-the-wall. We squeeze through and follow our guide Tony as he wades through waist-deep water for about half an hour.
At the end of a rocky labyrinth is a thermal waterfall. It's one of two in the world you can put your head under. Running from a deep spring, the water passes over hot bedrock before tumbling down the sheer cliff.
We lie on our tummies, our lifejackets keeping us afloat, as the current slowly tows us back to the boat. If the ride to the waterfall is quick, the homestretch is terrifyingly exciting.
MOUNTAIN BIKE ROTORUA
Although we arrive in the pouring rain, once under the canopy of the Whakarewarewa Forest redwoods the weather hardly matters.
The trails are muddy so we cycle at a leisurely pace, allowing more time to take in the scenery.
However, this proves to be my downfall. Distracted by the unique flora and fauna around me, I'm not looking where I'm going and have a minor crash.
Embarrassed but not badly hurt I wipe the mud off my legs as best I can and, after a few deep breaths, ride on. I'm glad I do because the views around each bend are worth it.
We arrive expecting a light dinner. We leave after two drinks, a meat platter, and a main and a dessert each.
Terrace Kitchen's decor is modern and polished — native timber marble-topped tables and white brick walls. But the food is what made this restaurant memorable.
Although the meals look similar to those at a cafe Auckland millennials frequent, artfully presented and garnished with tiny fresh flowers, they taste nothing like smashed avo and feta.
The flavours and ingredients are perfectly balanced, clearly by a chef with an astute palate.
My only regret? Not coming back for brunch.
As someone who's scared (read: petrified) of heights walking a loop of swinging bridges 12m above the ground, in the dark, wouldn't normally be my idea of a romantic date.
A trip to a museum or an art gallery would be something I'd be more inclined to pick.
The Redwoods Treewalk is a blend of the two activities — and, in spite of my initial anxieties, I love it.
The 23 platforms that connect the walkways are each built around one of the Whakarewarewa Forest's giant redwoods.
They also serve as a vantage point from which to admire solar-powered lights by designed by Kiwi artist David Trubridge, which appear to be suspended in mid-air (I can't figure out how whoever put the exhibit together got them got up there).
There is a bench on most platforms too, which comes in handy during a bout of vertigo.
TE PO AT TE PUIA
At the edge of Rotorua township, not far from the fork where the road to Taupo meets the Thermal Explorer Highway, is Te Puia.
From the carpark all we can see is a ticket booth and a tall fence.
But once through the turnstile gate, we're in Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. Past the entrance, through a narrow doorway, is a wharenui and restaurant to the right and to the left, a breathtaking view of 70ha of forest.
It is home to the national schools of weaving, wood, stone and bone carving, kiwi and Te Arawa — who have welcomed visitors on to their land for more than 170 years.
Te Po means "the night" — an apt name for Te Puia's evening experience, which starts with a powhiri at 6pm, followed by performances of waiata, haka and poi and a buffet dinner that includes kai moana, hangi and pavlova, and ends with cups of hot chocolate, star-gazing and watching the Pohutu geyser blow as we perch on a stairway of geothermal rocks.
A trip to the lakeside Polynesian Spa is a blissful way to end our weekend and recover from our other adventures.
After an hour soaking in the Lake Spa, we change into fluffy blue robes for our treatment — a couple's massage.
We had planned to travel back to Auckland straight after, but pop back in for another dip in the pool and end up staying most of the day. Our favourite pool, the Priest Spring, named for an arthritic clergyman who found solace there, is said to have healing properties and we find soaking in it helps loosen our stiff calves and hamstrings from the mountain biking.
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