New Zealand’s North Island Part 2: How to spend 3 days in Rotorua

Wai-o- tapu Thermal Park

Moving on from Taupo we started our journey to Rotorua. Rotorua is famed for its geothermal activity, hot springs, geysers and bubbling mud pools as well as that fantastically egg inspired sulphur scent. The first stop on our journey was the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park. Wai-o-tapu is Māori for sacred water. Once you’ve visited Wai-o-tapu it is clear to see why this is such a special, if not a weird and wonderful place. The best way I can describe the crazy natural geography of Wai-o-tapu is as the secret love child of Picasso and Dr Frankenstein. Random bursts of colour thrown together with ominously bubbling pools which look like they could combust at any moment…it really is a mad place.

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I would advise arriving at Wai-o-tapu either early morning or late afternoon. Due to our travel schedule, we arrived around 11.30am. Although the journey from Taupo was relatively short, only 40 minutes, it would have been even better if we had planned our arrival time a little more carefully. Whilst there was a small queue for tickets, the trails around the park were pretty busy at this time particularly at the Artist’s Palette pool and the entry tracks around the Devil’s Ink Pots and Devil’s Home.

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The park is fantastically set up with boardwalk trails, so it makes for easy navigation and walking. We opted for the longest trail which encompassed a good proportion of the park. Our choice for the longer trail certainly paid off as the boardwalks became much quieter and we didn’t have to jostle hundreds of other tourists to get the best views of the pools, waterfalls and geysers.

Wai-o-tapu was a fantastic trip and well worth the $32.50 dollar entry price. I would leave around 2-3 hours to make the most of your visit. It’s easy to get drawn into the steam and multicoloured waters and not realise you’ve been standing in the same spot for fifteen minutes, mesmerised by the aspect in front of you.

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No edit here….the water is genuinely that colour!

Hobbiton

Undoubtedly, Hobbiton stole my heart! I have always been a big fan of all things Tolkien and a visit to Hobbiton has been firmly on my bucket list since its existence on the tourist map. Hobbiton is situated in Matamata, a 45-minute drive from our base in Rotorua so, it’s easily done as a day trip. With our tour booked late afternoon, we still had all morning to cram even more into our day. It’s worth noting that the pre-booked tours are the only way to visit the movie set and they do get booked up. So, if you are keen to experience a little slice of movie history and share in the furry toed Hobbit love then make sure you book ahead.

Matamata evokes a quiet charm; nestled at the base of the Kaimai ranges; it is true farming country. Gently undulating hills, like something from a patchwork quilt stitched together with ranges, hedgerows, picket fences and pockets of native bush. The natural artistry of the place is unparalleled. Driving through this remarkable countryside produced one of those rare warm and complete feelings within me.

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Arrival at the Hobbiton movie set was super simple, we parked up, collected our tickets and even had time for an ice-cream before I firmly established myself at the front of the 5.10pm queue, yes, I was that keen. Despite the queue being in the burning sunshine, a little-added sweat wasn’t going to keep me from claiming the best seat on the bus. Tragic, I know.

A short bus ride takes you through the Alexander farm and down to the set. Thehobbiton 4.JPG Alexander farm is still a working farm; so the partnership between Peter Jackson and the filmmakers and the Alexander family has been incredibly important to the success of the attraction. From start to finish the tour was fabulous. Our guide was knowledgeable, passionate and clearly knew her movies and her Tolkien. It was also an added bonus that as a local girl her Grandmother had actually been in the films as an extra in Hobbiton.

The set itself is phenomenal, with only minutes of footage being actually used in the films the environment, Hobbit holes and the village is exceptionally intricate. Each Hobbit hole has a particular theme from fishing to gardening and beekeeping; a glorious insight into the Hobbit’s interests and pastimes. The gardens, allotment and paths are perfectly curated in a wild and realistic way, with the tourist path gently winding its way up the hillside to lead you to the big green door of Bag End, set slightly ajar as to beckon you into the wondrous fantasy that is the Shire.

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The attention to detail and the way the tours were operated was excellent. I particularly liked the drink at the end in the Green Dragon and I can thoroughly recommend the ginger beer.

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Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) Track

Who doesn’t love a good walk? Honestly, there are some days when nothing is better than tramping around a local landscape to get the feel of the place. The walking trails in and around Rotorua are plentiful so it would have been rude not to check out a few on our short stay.

We opted for the Blue Lake trail which was an easy-going 5.5km hike, taking around one and a half hours. I say it was easy and this is certainly true if you don’t lose the trail and go a little off-piste. In truth, the trail is clearly marked and there is a section along the road. I would recommend sturdy walking shoes or trainers as the woodland sections are not really suitable for open-toed shoes or sandals.

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The trail which takes you through the native bush and woodland and is a total delight. There were moments when the path ahead was encased in Jurassic foliage, not a sound penetrating the dense bush and the scent of moist earth lingering in the air; once again I was truly captivated by the landscape. I felt as if I had been transported to the set of Jurassic Park.

An excellent way to spend a morning, working up an appetite for lunch.

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Lake Tarawera

Lake Tarawera is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand and used to be home to the pink and white terraces which graced its shores until the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. The terraces were once named the 8th wonder of the world. Mount Tarawera can still clearly be seen from the shores of the lake and it is an imposing landmark on the horizon.

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Lake Tarawera was only a 15-minute drive from our base in Rotorua so it was a great option for an easy lunch stop. The café on the lake is called The Landing Café and if you are after quality, quick and easy food then this is a perfect stop for your list. If you stick with the twisty, winding drive down to the shore you won’t be disappointed by the views or the food.

I could have stood on the edge of the boardwalk quietly taking stock for some time. It’s an easy place to lose yourself in.

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Zip lining at Rotorua Canopy Tours

New Year’s Day: a day for firmly enacting and living out your new years’ resolutions. Well, New Years day 2019 was incredible; I climbed big trees and jumped out of them with the Ultimate Canopy Tour from Rotorua Canopy Tours. I’m not especially scared of heights but I’m not a huge fan of the unknown and change; however, there was something hugely freeing both physically and mentally about casting my body of a small ledge into the unknown. With the wind in my hair and the forest below the 1,200m of zip line completely transported me to a happy place.

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To experience the Canopy Tour, you definitely need to book in advance. Upon booking you have a choice of two different experiences. We opted for the Ultimate Canopy Tour; a three-and-a-half-hour tour through the trees with a range of zip lines, bridges, different ascents and even a cliff edge walk – perfect to get the adrenaline going.

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Before booking you should note that there is a weight limit of 120kg and you are weighed before getting kitted out with helmet and harness at the centre. All the staff were incredibly well-trained and safety conscious before and during the tour; their advice and tips as we were going through the forest made the experience even more enjoyable. Whilst you don’t need to have an athlete’s level of fitness to take part in the tour, you should have good mobility in your knees and hips to get them up ready for landing on the platforms. There is also a steep stair climb and some walking involved throughout the tour, so a general level of fitness is recommended.

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400m zip line!

In addition to the experience, you get a range of photos taken during the day which are available free of charge after your tour is finished. You can, of course, take your own photos but there really isn’t anywhere to store a big camera and you’re going to want both hands going down the zip lines. One thing which I wish had taken advantage of was the go pro which is available for hire from the centre.

One of the most fascinating parts of the tour was actually hearing about the conservation work the organisation is doing to restore the natural flora and fauna to the forest. Their commitment to trapping pests and rejuvenating the forest is brilliant. Comparing images of the difference in the canopy over a period of four years was quite impressive. It is always good to know that the funds you put into a business as a tourist genuinely are making a positive impact on the local environment.

Kiwi at rainbow springs

I had always assumed that Kiwis were just a stable part of the New Zealand countryside like sheep or foxes are for us in the UK. In my blissfully ignorant state, I thought that these cute little furry, feathered round things just pottered about the bush with not a care or predator to bother them. How wrong I was. I was ashamed to say that my Kiwi knowledge was zero, I could definitely identify one (thanks Canterbury clothing) but that’s the extent of it.

Rainbow Springs is great for an afternoon’s wanderings with the park open all year round from 8.30am to 10.30pm, there is plenty of opportunities to fit a few hours into the day. The Kiwi burrow is a purpose-built enclosure with history, conservation and educational material provided before going into the enclosure. After 20-30 minutes reading the information I felt thoroughly clued up on the unfortunate plight of the Kiwi and other native birds such as the Moa – these chaps are sadly extinct but they certainly would have been kings of the forest.

Kiwis are easy prey for small mammals such as stoat and weasels. It was shocking to discover that only 5% of Kiwi hatched in the wild actually make it to adulthood. This startling figure makes the work of Rainbow Springs and the One Nest Egg programme even more important to securing the future for the Kiwi.

Kiwis are shy nocturnal creatures so it felt pretty special to see one pottering around in his burrow. Rainbow Springs works hard to promote and enact meaningful Kiwi conservation and the conservation of native plant life which is clear to see as you make your way around the park.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Rainbow Springs for the Kiwi alone, never mind the other attractions the park has to offer. It felt so worthwhile educating myself on this strange little bird with mammalian tendencies and what a treat to see one now I have improved knowledge.

Happy travels

Jess

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