A weekend in Rotorua didn’t immediately spring to mind when organising a romantic getaway either, but the past few days in the thermal wonderland has shattered all expectations. If you’re looking at whether to go, or what to do in Rotorua, look no further, because our experience couldn’t have been better.
Lake Rotorua is visually stunning; the Maori cultural experience is incomparable to anything else I’ve seen in New Zealand; and the people are wonderful (even when they discovered we were from Auckland).
For more photos, see end of post.
When to visit Rotorua
It’s the perfect spot for a weekend getaway: 2-3 nights is an ideal amount of time to spend here, though there’s enough activities and attractions to fill twice that time at least. We visited Rotorua in New Zealand’s Autumn (May) and though it wasn’t warm (and it sometimes rained), the activities weren’t really weather dependent, and some are even better in the wet. If you want to avoid the throng of international tourists, I’d suggest that the Winter season is ideal – unfettered access to activities, cheap deals on hotels and avoid crowds and queues. Six of our wedding guests visited Rotorua in February and found themselves in long queues for Hobbiton, so if you do plan to go in summer, you might want to book some things in advance.
Things to Do
While I can’t claim to be an authority on what to do in Rotorua, my little sister works there at Novotel and assists tourists plan their stay in Rotorua every day, so our experience was guided by her knowledge. I don’t know if you could tell by my snapchat and instagram… but we had a pretty incredible time!
If you Want Romance
Blair and I haven’t had a night alone (together) since the wedding – there’s always flatmates at home, and if we’ve left Auckland for the weekend we’ve stayed with family. Booking a nice hotel was the perfect way to spend some time together, so we did just that and spent our first night at the Boutique Regent of Rotorua.
It’s been awarded seven TripAdvisor ‘Travellers Choice Awards’ for Luxury & Service in 2016 and we can see why. The look is all modern glamour (think black chandeliers and a gloss-white champagne bar) but the service is still true Kiwi-style: welcoming and comfortable. Welcoming: chocolate cookies on arrival, Comfortable: buffet breakfast including a la carte buttermilk pancakes and eggs benedict for breakfast – Regent of Rotorua sure know how to please me!
Romance also abounds at Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa, famed for its stunning vista and geothermal, healing waters. We visited on our first night and enjoyed the deluxe private pool, and loved it so much we returned on the second. It’s said that those that bathe in Rachel Spring water will be blessed with ageless beauty, so naturally I spent as long as I could in there too. They’ve just added the (free) reflexology walk too, so with that and 7 adults only pools, you could easily spend a couple of hours here gazing into each others’ eyes.
Redwoods Treewalk is one of Rotorua’s newbies, it was opened in December 2015 and has attracted around 200,000 visitors in just six months. Inspired by the spiritual connection he felt with the forest on a visit, it was the vision of a German tourist who moved to New Zealand to establish the forest tree walk. While you won’t be able to walk hand-in-hand across the bridges, it makes up for that with the unique perspective of the beautiful redwood trees and tranquility of the forest. There’s a number of seats along the 553 metre long walkway too, so you can take a moment or two to sit and relax along the way.
Grey Dress by Lana Boutique.
For our second night, we changed hotels and stayed in Novotel Rotorua. If you’re looking for a room so comfortable and romantic you won’t want to leave it to do anything else, then the Tutanekai Suite at Novotel Hotel is for you. A two storey suite overlooking the lake, huge spa-bath, and arriving back from Polynesian Spa to Champagne on ice and a fruit platter – Novotel really delivered.
Try Something New
In another life, I was a keen horserider, having my own for most of my tween and teen years, and attending holiday horse-riding camps whenever the school holidays arose. Blair, however, had spent no time on a horse in around twenty years, and had also never been in a jet boat. Rotorua was set to change all that for him, and I’ve never eaten from a Hangi, so that was my new experience.
Horse Trekking Lake Okareka reminded me why I spent my childhood on horseback, and left me wishing to return to weeks on end of riding. We set off around 10am with Lucy, and spent almost two hours trekking into native bush forests surrounding Lake Okareka. In all my years riding, I’ve never trekked like this: along dense forest bush and tracks, to finally arrive at the top of a mountain! The view was spectacular, a 360 degree view over the whole of Rotorua, including many of the lakes. It was perfect for all levels of experience (i.e. Blair having none), and Amy took me aside twice to have a speedy canter around the hills – a huge adrenaline rush.
Speaking of an adrenaline rush, Kawarau Jet was it! I was anticipating a bit of spin and splash… but the “Hamilton Spin” we were introduced to was a lot more than that! Any description of it would be an understatement, but it’s essentially a manoevre where the jet boat goes from very high speeds to a complete stop, spin and slide – like car-race drifting, straight across the surface of the water (complete with huge spray). Our captain and tour guide Tony was brilliant, bringing a wealth of knowledge about Rotorua’s history, especially the romance, wars and legends of Rotorua’s sacred Mokoia Island.
Kawarau Jet was Blair’s favourite aspect of our entire Rotorua experience, it being his first jetboat ride, and also by far the most thrilling attraction of the weekend. For me, it was Tony’s personality, rather than the jetboating itself, which stood out – he obviously has a huge respect for Mokoia Island and a gratitude for tourism and all that it brings to the region.
Te Puia also stood out because of its tour guide, Carol. In the two hours we spent with her touring the geysers, the live kiwi house, and the arts and crafts institute within the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, Carol was greeted as “Aunty” at least ten times by other guides and staff, and by the end of the tour I too wanted to call her “Aunty”. Our experience at Te Puia was Te Rā + Te Pō, an exclusive guided tour, plus a banquet of storytelling, entertainment and authentic Māori kai (food) from a Hangi. The geysers left me lost for words (as my evident in my snapchat) and the tour also gave me my first introduction to a real live Kiwi! Rotorua is also particularly well known as a centre for Māori culture, and many visitors attend ‘Kapa Haka’ (Māori performance). Te Puia’s was a combination of Poi dance, Haka and Titi torea (stick game) followed by an authentic Hangi meal. Hangi food is cooked underground on heated stones, giving it a delicious smokey aroma and taste. The buffet dinner was huge and very well received, especially the dessert buffet,
And if you prefer to just view the all-important photos… these are in the order of experience.