I’ve been too Rotorua twice, once in about 1976 and also at the start of 2015. It’s got a bit of a reputation for being a destination all too willing to open itself up to tourists for the equivalent of a glass of wine and a suggestive wink.
And look it really does seem like an ‘easy’ destination (even though I wouldn’t go as far as using the rather offensive ‘S’ word), but it’s also a really totally fabulous place. Back in 1976, or whenever it was, I went with my family (they always used to hang out with me in those days, given I was four and needed them to feed me and what not). My big sister taunted me by putting her head inside the geysers. I was petrified by all the geo-thermal crap popping up around the place and I thought her head was definitely going to be boiled off from her body and be left in a gloopy mess on the path.
On my next visit, unfortunately it did happen. Well, I had flashbacks to the 70s and all I could think of was the potential for this to happen, but luckily they fence off most of the geysers so unless you make some special effort you face won’t melt away into oblivion.
Having earlier written Rotorua is fabulous, my first night there was absolutely fabulous, we stayed at the Regent of Rotorua, as recommended by the Lonely Planet guide book. It had that nice Audrey Hepburn type era feel to it, though I’m sure she’d never stay at such a place – just because she was a movie star and could afford to stay at a place with really big rooms and proper glasses that guys with white gloves hand to you that you don’t have to wash in the sink – that’s one of my little pet hates about hotels, having to wash drinking glasses in the same putrid place you spit your toothpaste into. The owner of the hotel was so helpful though, he even helped us get an earlier booking to Hobbiton the next day, and I loved the place. The pool is a dream.
Before I go blowing the trumpet of Lonely Planet too much I should also mention they had this cafe ranked as the number one place for breakfast in Rotorua, and we went there on our first morning for breakfast after a big drive from Lake Taupo after getting lost because the GPS system took us down some back road which went past a geo-thermal electricity type thing in the middle of the forrest, and I ordered poached eggs and on their first attempt at making them the yolks were all hard so I sent them back. On the second attempt there was a little trickle of yellowy goodness, enough to dip the end of the now cold of bacon into, It was without a cliche of a doubt the most disappointing egg experience I’ve ever had – I mean you have to be deranged to only like the whites of the egg, I don’t even think the chicks eat that crap. So, sometimes the LP works, sometimes it blows out the butt cheeks.
So, I only mention eggs, because the whole town smells like eggs. It’s from the gas from the ground… and there’s some technical reason for this you can just go Google. Once you go though, you’ll never get the smell out of mind.
Anyway, in Rotorua you will see the sort of things pictured in the pictures on this page – geysers, bubbling water, and steam rising all over the place, including from street drains, which I thought was nice. There’s also plenty of Maori artefacts and old Maori style houses you can get your photo sticking your head out of.
But by far the best thing you’ll experience in Rotorua is a good old fashioned Maori hangi. Holy Jesus, this meal of chicken, lamb, potatoes and kumara (sweet potatoes) slowly cooked on coals underground for hours is worth a trip to NZ in itself and it made up for the crappy eggs in spades upon spades!
We were treated to the hangi at an a touristy, but still extremely warm and welcoming, Maori site in town, where there was perfectly executed Maori dance, stories and ceremonies, as well as a walk through a recreation of an old Maori village, including a look at the sacred spring pictured at the top of this page.
I’m usually a pretty cynical person, but the exposure to Maori culture you get in Rotorua is really touching and despite being hyper aware it was designed for us tourists, as authentic as you’d ever hope for. There’s an obvious ongoing pride in their connection to the area, and their pre-European heritage, that shines through in everything they do.
And did I mention how good the hangi is, god damn, if someone gave you a choice as to exact time and place you’d die – I’d choose the moment after I had a nice steamed pudding cooked with the hangi that I had just finished – including a second serve of chicken and lamb and 8th kumara.
Well that’s Rotorua, personally I’ll always associate it with the 70s, even though I stayed at a 60s style hotel. You’ll see bus stacked on top of other busses bringing an endless stream of tourists from around the world but it really doesn’t seem to take away from any of the ‘reality’ of the place. You just got to accept when you’re travelling that every other bugger wants to see the same stuff you do and just go with the steam flow, before the whole place goes up as I suspect it’s sitting on a volcano or something.
In parting I leave you with a couple of pictures of the Regent of Rotorua. I’m not related to them, and they didn’t give us any discount (it’s a little pricey by the way), and I doubt I’ll ever even go back to Rotorua, so I’m just putting them up because I like the light fittings, wallpaper and the excellent service.
That’s my daughter’s sheep hat on the couch by the way, she wore that the whole trip, but left her nice fedora hat at the Maori village. It was a really nice hat, but still, she insisted on wearing the sheep one everywhere.