Tauranga and Mount Maunganui
We only stayed one night in Tauranga before moving onto Rotorua, but we really enjoyed it. They have some great little restaurants, and a lot of things to do. Turkish food seems to be fairly popular, likely due to the wide availability of lamb meat (great for Gyros and kebabs). On the day we prepared to leave we decided to hike up to the top of Mount Maunganui.
It was a pretty accessible hike, although we had a rough time finding a place to park. It was incredibly busy near the beach and mountain area. For the hike itself here are two trail options once you get to the trail head. The left fork of the trail is steeper but faster, and the right fork is a bit more gradual but takes an extra 10 minutes or so. We went with the left fork, and all in all it was a decent hike.
Quite a few stairs, but great views from the top! After our hike, we went to see Kaiate Falls and Okere Falls reserve before arriving in Rotorua.
Rotorua: Luge, Hot Springs, and Really Bad Eggs
Rotorua is sometimes nicknamed the Sulfur City, and it has a very…uhhh…unique odor? It smells like really bad eggs at times due to all of the sulfur and geothermal activity in the region. Sometimes it just smells like moderately bad eggs. You kind of get used to it after a while (kind of), but it really is worth it to see all of the hot springs and steam coming out of the earth! Neither of us expected to be as excited as we were by naturally steaming hot water pools and boiling mud, but it was awesome!
There are a number of spas that take advantage of the natural geothermal activity in the region. The one we opted to check out was the Polynesian Spa located on the shore of Lake Rotorua. We booked access to the pools in advance (although turns out that isn’t really necessary unless you’re doing a spa treatment, massage, etc.).
We ended up doing the lake package, which gives you access to 4 alkaline pools and 1 acidic pool, all heated between 38 degrees C and 42 degrees C, along with a cold plunge pool (Sam’s favorite). Going back and forth between hot and cold, alkaline and acidic, is supposed to have a relaxing effect on your muscles.
The pools overlook Lake Rotorua, and there’s a nesting ground for seagulls right next so some of them. We heard a few people complaining about the gull noise (they were fairly loud), but we got to see some baby seagulls which was a first!
The Night Market
The Rotorua Night Market is every Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the summer. We’ve gone to a few night markets on our adventure so far, and it seems like it’s a pretty popular summer activity. People sell fresh produce, and there’s always good and interesting food, as well as live music. Joseph got a steak Cornish Pasty (Steak, potato, seasonings, veggies, wrapped in a pastry shell) and Sam got some Thai noodles with BBQ pork. There was a vendor who had real fruit ice cream and dairy free ice cream as well.
Luge + Gondola
Apparently luge was invented in Rotorua! We were on the fence about whether or not we should try it, but it was sooo much fun! They advertised it as a family friendly activity, so we figured it wouldn’t be too scary or difficult. There were a few crazy lugers, who passed us going down the hill. Luckily they didn’t stay there long!
Skyline Luge Rotorua is the company we went through, and we found it’s a lot cheaper if you go at night (between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.). The courses were well lit, and there are multiple course levels (scenic/beginner, intermediate, advanced) so you can work your way up depending on your comfort level. We opted for the option that included 5 rides and a Gondola ride up and back down the hill. We thought 5 rides was plenty, as it took a while to get back up the hill on the ski lift chairs.
Lake Kuirau – Free!
The free option to see some really neat geothermal activity is by going to Lake Kuirau. It was right across the street from where we were staying, so we walked there on our way out of town. They have warm pools that you can soak your feet in (we didn’t do this), you can see boiling mud pools, and massive clouds of steam rising off the lake.
There are plenty of safety fences to (hopefully) keep visitors on the cool side of the geothermal activity. Aside from the smell, which we expected, it was a really great park!
Whakarewarewa Forest – The Redwoods
About 5km Southeast of Rotorua, there’s a forest full of California Redwoods. It’s free to get in and do the trail walks, and they have a treetop walk as a paid activity. The treetop walk takes you on a series of bridges and walkways near the forest’s canopy. There are some massive California Redwoods along many of the trails, which were interesting to see.
The largest Redwood in Whakarewarewa is approximately 239 feet tall and 5.5 feet in diameter. Not quite as tall as the ones in California (their natural habitat), where they can grow as tall as 360 feet. The trails were well maintained, although the signage was confusing at some of the trail forks making it unclear where to go (luckily we guessed correctly!)