Rotorua is the ‘hot spot’ to stop in New Zealand’s North Island and has long been renowned for its mud pools, steaming geysers, natural hot mineral springs and the fascinating Māori culture.
Unfortunately, as far as we are aware, the town has no ‘hot’ gay night life. However, the daytime tourist activities ‘sizzle’ and have a real wow factor.
Firstly, we dropped into the Tourist Office in the centre of town and they made three fabulous suggestions for our 24 hour stay.
TE PUI THERMAL WONDERLAND
Just a five minute drive out of town at Te Pui Thermal Wonderland we strolled through a moon like geothermal landscape filled with bubbling mud pools and hot geysers shooting steam from the centre of the earth’s core to at least 30 metres into the air. We stood right under Pohutu Geyser which is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Here massive cascading clouds of fine wet steam soaked us through and the smell of sulphur challenged our nostrils.
Further along the walking trail we were able to use our hands to touch small geysers and we were surprised at the intense heat pouring out of the earth. The hot mud pools with their familiar slow plopping sounds, seemed to be beckoning us to take a mud bath. The park also has great examples of traditional Maori homes and buildings and the park’s nocturnal house (sorry – not a dark room) where we searched hard and eventually saw a North Island Brown Kiwi scratching around a strategically placed log. The park is a must, both for its stunning natural beauty and the cultural connection this area has to hundreds of years of Maori heritage.
Where in the world you can completely relax in open air mineral bathing pools fed by natural hot underground springs? At the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua we played goldilocks, soaking in all seven pools in the adults only area. Some pools have acidic mineral waters while others alkaline and all steaming hot between 38C and 42C.
For that ultimate indulgence we tried the totally private and beautifully landscaped rock pools overlooking Lake Rotorua. By this time in the afternoon the setting sun was turning the nearby hills a combination of blush and turquoise.
A full range of spa packages and even male masseurs can help you enjoy a full body exfoliation using Rotorua mud polish followed by a shower massage with coconut oil. Whether it is a mud wrap, a honey facial massage or a simple soak in the thermal baths, the Polynesian spa in Rotorua is the perfect place to be pampered. After all, it’s not on the Conde Nast list of the top 10 spas in the world for nothing.
Before leaving Rotorua the following morning we started off with breakfast at the Rotorua Museum cafe. The salmon bagels and coffee were excellent. The Rotorua Museum is said to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. Originally constructed as a Bath House in 1908 this grand thermal spa offered medical and therapeutic treatments. The Victorian structure features a large central foyer with high ceilings and grand staircases, a half-timbered exterior, wings extending north and south, gabled windows, and towers but there is more than meets the eye with this fascinating and historic building.
We explored both upstairs and downstairs to discover a romantic and opulent world where visitors came both for pleasure and the need to be cured. The baths featured private bath tubs fed by a complex system of pipes that carried the hot mineral waters into each room. The New Zealand Government promoted the baths to Northern European visitors as the Great South Seas Spa.
In the same building we visited the Taonga Māori collection which is both extensive and of national significance. We saw examples of oversized carvings, warrior implements, dugout boats used to move around the Bay of Islands and hundreds of other handmade items historically and spiritually important to Māori culture. Set aside a couple of hours to do both the bath house and the Māori exhibition, both are fascinating.
Before leaving the museum don’t miss the bronze sculpture outside and to the side of the museum which celebrates the new millennium and the rich melding of Māori and European cultures of the local area.
Our visit to Rotorua was short but we’re sure whatever your interests this town will fire up your emotions, imagination and affection for New Zealand. As we drove toward the lake to look at the parklands separating the city from the water, we felt we may need an extra day here next time to fully explore all this charming and famous part of the country has to offer.
Know Before You Go