Rotorua has more than its share of thrills for the adventurous visitor, writes Stephanie Holmes.

Our four wheel drive is teetering precariously at a 45-degree angle, balancing heavily on two wheels.

My face, in the passenger seat, is dangerously close to the ground while Nathan, driving, is high in the air. I'm gripping my seat, holding my breath and starting to break out in a nervous sweat. It feels like we could tip over at any moment.

"Ok," comes a calm voice from outside. "Here's what I want you to do . . . lean out of the window, smile, and I'll take your photo."


Not standard advice for everyone in this situation, but thankfully we're in safe hands at Off Road NZ, an adventure playground in the Mamaku Plateau, just north of Rotorua.

It's the kind of place stag party dreams are made of — there's an internationally-acclaimed go kart track, clay shooting range, archery, monster trucks and this — the 4WD Safari, a self-drive obstacle course through native forest. Nathan and I are in a sturdy little Suzuki Jimny and we're being guided around by Frankie, who talks Nathan through each obstacle via walkie-talkie.

With obstacles like the Romp n' Swamp, the Chunnel and the Luge, this course is certainly not for the fainthearted — we squelch our way through muddy streams, careen down steep hills, inch our way over balance beam bridges, bumping, squealing and nervously laughing the whole way.

For the driver, it's a test of skill and steady hands; for the passenger, it's a test of mettle.

We survive to tell the tale but there's no time to relax; Frankie is about to show us what stunt driving is really like, taking us for a spin in his monster truck — a modified Toyota landcruiser, with four-wheel steering and V6 Holden engine and transmission.

Rotorua has a range of energetic experiences, on land and lake.
Rotorua has a range of energetic experiences, on land and lake.

There's no self-drive option here — we just strap in tight and Frankie takes us along for the ride. We do high-speed donuts, fly over hills called the Roller Coaster and the Widowmaker, and I've never heard Nathan — a grown man — giggle with such childlike delight.

This is just one of many adventures in an activity-filled weekend away. Not for us, the spa treatments and lazy lie-ins of a romantic couples getaway; we are here to expend some energy. We're taking part in the Legend of the Lake swimming event, part of the Banana Boat Ocean Swim series. People have travelled from around the country to take part and we're all wowed by the beauty of Lake Tikitapu (the Blue Lake).

It's really not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. The water is stunning — fresh and clean and surrounded by towering redwood trees and native forest. The swim is invigorating and there's a real sense of camaraderie and community among the swimmers and supporters.


With barely time to dry off, we're on the road again to NZ Riverjet for more high-octane adventures.

Like Frankie, our guide Cam is another man with the kind of job your kids dream of. He spends his days whizzing up and down the Waikato River in a jetboat, doing as many 360-degree spins as his guests can handle.

We're sharing our ride with an Australian couple and a group of San Diegan baby boomers. They're all blown away by NZ's stunning landscapes and possibilities for adventure; we can't help but see the country through their eyes and feel lucky to be enjoying this beautiful afternoon on the river.

Though the jetboat journey is enjoyable, the best part of the day comes when we get to a tranquil part of the river and hop out into bath-warm thermal water to experience The Squeeze.

This secluded branch of the river leads to a narrow canyon, with a tight path carved through the rock.

Rotorua has a range of energetic experiences, on land and lake.
Rotorua has a range of energetic experiences, on land and lake.

Wading through the knee-height water, we're surrounded by native bush and the gentle sounds of nature. We shimmy and squish our way between the moss-covered rock walls, the water soothing on our swim-tired bodies, before reaching one of nature's wonders — a thundering waterfall, spilling out glorious, warm water. We stand under it for a while, getting a free massage on our tight shoulders, before climbing up the slope to a huge, natural rock pool.

It's a welcome moment of rest in a fun-filled, activity-heavy weekend. Under the shade of native palms and ferns, I'm in awe at this secret spot I had no idea existed. Rotorua is full of fun surprises.

Off Road NZ.
Ocean Swim NZ (the season has now finished, but events will begin again in spring).
NZ Riverjet.
For more on Rotorua activities.