Rotorua is one of the tourism hot spots of New Zealand. We had a blast taking in Maori Culture, hot springs, geysers, nature hikes, goofy adventure activities and more. We never acclimated to the sulfurous smell from the geothermal activity, but we were there long enough for a grand time.
by travelswithkids on February 2, 2011
If you want to check out some of Rotorua's famous geothermal activity, but are on too tight of a budget to spring for one of the spas or Maori centers like Te Puia, then the Kuirau city park is one excellent spot to wander along some great examples. There are many small pools fed by hot springs scattered throughout the pleasant park. The steam rising off the hot water leads you from one pond to the next. There are also quite a few places where you can marvel at stinky gas bubbles gurgling up through the mud of a hot spot. You will definitely smell the sulphrous odor of the volcanic origins of the heat. Actually, you'll live with that smell throughout the city.Besides the geothermal activity, the park is also filled with pretty flowering trees and shrubs, with beautiful yellow and magenta flowers even in winter. Kuirau park is located right beside the main street as you get near the city center when arriving from the west. It's worth a stop whether you're going to hit one of the bigger geothermal spots or not. It gives a nice introduction to the hot springs and bubbles of the area, but the activity at a place with an admission fee like Te Puia is certainly much better and worth the price.
We first saw Zorbing when it was featured as an activity on our favorite television show, The Amazing Race, a few years ago. So when we found out our New Zealand trip would take us to the home of Zorbing, we were really psyched up. Zorbing is a light-adventure activity where you get sealed inside a giant transparent beachball and roll down a big hill while inside.At the Zorb center just outside of Rotorua, they offer a dry or a wet ride. In dry Zorbing, you're strapped in on the inside of the ball and thus you'll tumble head over heels as the ball rolls down the hill. For wet Zorbing, you're sealed in with a bit of water for lubrication and you just sort of slide around the inside as you go, never really turning your body upside down. We opted for the wet Zorbing experience. After changing into swim gear and signing waivers saying that we recognized the Zorb company isn't responsible for our stupidity, they're nice enough to give you a lift up the steep hill in a truck. At the summit, they add some water into the Zorb ball to make the interior nice and slippery, and thankfully, they do use warm water when it is a cold day. You squeeze into the ball through the little loading chute, and the attendant zips you in. After a couple steps of a push to get started, you're off and rolling and the good times begin.My take on the experience: Just pure fun. I literally laughed the whole way down the hill as I was sloshing around inside my Zorb sphere. The course down has several zig-zags in it, and you bounce around a bit as you make each turn. Even though the Zorb is sort of transparent, you really can't see where you're going and you don't know when the next turn is going to be and that is part of the fun. Eventually you come to rest at the bottom of the hill, and you emerge out of the access chute with a big smile on your face. Your handlers are there with a camera to take a nice photo of you that you can purchase back at the registration desk if you want.Zorbing wasn't terribly scary or dangerous or adrenaline pumping, but I really had a great time.
by travelswithkids on February 1, 2011
Part Maori cultural center and part geothermal spectacle, Te Puia is an fascinating spot to visit in Rotorua. We visited on our own (as opposed to part of a big bus tour) and were given very good service. One of their guided walking tours had just departed a few minutes earlier and rather than make us wait on the next one, they were able to catch us up to the tour guide and made sure we didn't really miss anything the guide had gone over, such as how to pronounce "Te Whakarewarewa" (the name of the valley). The guide first showed us around the Maori cultural park, including the traditional carving school and weaving school which have been established to keep these traditional Maori arts alive. Unfortunately, there was no one at the carving school when we were there, and there was only minimal activity at the weaving school, both of which we attributed to the hazards of visiting in the off season.Te Puia is also a great place to see New Zealand's iconic kiwi bird. They operate a rehabilitation center and breeding program for the endangered kiwi birds and have birds on display. Kiwis are nocturnal, so the display birds are housed in a special daylight-inverted house so that us tourists who visit in the daytime can seem them while they are active. After showing us the kiwis, our guide took us over to the Pohutu Geyser, showed us the excellent hot rock benches nearby, explained a few geyser facts and left us to explore the geothermal valley on our own. Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, is one of the center pieces of Te Puia. It reliably erupts many times per day, shooting up to 100 feet in the air and it didn't disappoint us. Pohutu Geyser is just the most prominent feature of Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley within Te Puia. Walking trails lead you past many other steaming sulphurous pools, bubbling mud pots, and colorful mineral-crusted puddles.The final highlight of Te Puia is the historical village, with several buildings featuring displays of New Zealand history and Maori legends. At the large Mare (meeting place) building there is a show which includes a traditional welcome, Maori songs and dances, and the haka (war challenge). I Was lucky enough to be chosen as the representative of our audience and receive the traditional nose-to-nose greeting. But during the show, any members of the audience are invited up on stage with the performers to emulate the dancers moves as best as you can, and this was a lot of fun also.We thoroughly enjoyed our glimpse of Maori culture at Te Puia and the walk around the geothermal features was fantastic, and shouldn't be missed, even on a cool, drizzly day like we had.
The Curry Specials of the Tandoori Palace broke the stalemate of our indecision over where to eat dinner. The special pricing covered most of the menu and the "curry" category included a wide spectrum of flavors and spice levels. Their menu has something for everyone, from the sweeter kormas for our daughter who'd never had much Indian food,to the spicier dishes that I like. Everything we ordered was delicious, and nicely prepared and presented. They also make good naan (flatbread) in a few varieties, great crispy samosas as appetizers and serve a nice mango lassi (fruit and yogurt smoothie).The Tandoori Palace is along the main restaurant row in downtown Rotorua. It has a very nice interior and with a more upscale interior appearance and table setting than many of the more casual restaurants along the street. But with the specials pricing, it was actually quite affordable for a nice dinner feeding a family of four.
We checked in to the Silver Oaks Resort Heritage with a bit of a skeptical attitude since we'd originally made our reservation at their sister property (the Gwendoline) down the street but we were switched to this property. This redirection seems to be a common occurrence with this hotel company. However, our worst suspicions about this motel turned out to be unfounded.We had a standard room at the Silver Oaks Heritage and I have to admit it was a nice clean room for a fair price. But I would call it a basic motel room in a pretty standard motel. There isn't much about the place to call it a "resort" and it isn't as glamorous astheir website makes it look. There was certainly no big resort staff to pamper you, just one clerk working the front desk (who was certainly friendly and helpful, don't get me wrong).The best feature of this motel was its geothermally heated pool. We had a nice time relaxing and swimming around in the warm water, even on a chilly, rainy August day. The dash through the cold drizzle up to our room when we decided to leave was no fun though! This Silver Oaks Heritage motel is along the main Fenton Street drag with lots of other motels and hotels. It's a very convenient location if you have a car --- just a couple kilometers from the Rotorua center and even closer to Te Puia. There are also big grocery stores nearby.Full disclaimer: We visited in the off-season of August and it was cool, cloudy, and rainy for just about our whole stay in Rotorua. Maybe those grey skies have colored our view a little bit. But we had a fun time anyway and the Silver Oaks Heritage was a nice close-by place to come back, warm up, and relax in between our outings.
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