Rotorua is an adventurers paradise. If you're one who
enjoys intense activities then you can do everything from:
taking a journey through a native forest at both ground level and high up in
the canopy where you can fly through the trees on a zip line for over 70
riding downhill inside the Zorb, a large inflatable ball;
swinging through the air 50 metres up in the air on the SkySwing;
travelling up to the top of Mount Ngongotaha for a panoramic view of Rotorua
in an eight seater gondola;
and, if you're not exhausted after all this, you can try skydiving,
rafting, horse trekking, jet boating, hiking, dirt bike riding, and more.
One of the activities that captures the essence of New Zealand is a visit to
a Maori village to experience some aspects of their history, culture and way of
A visit to the Mitai Maori village, which is located within five minutes of
the city centre, opens up a window into how Maoris lived before colonial
Maori warriors paddling their Waka down the
The Mitai welcome their guests to their village with traditional greetings.
They invite you to share in their traditional Hangi feast, learn of their
lifestyle through song and dance and experience their way of life and respect
for the land.
Prior to enjoying a traditional ground cooked Hangi feast we were taken on a
tour of the village. Our first stop was the site where our evening meal was
being prepared in the hangi tradition. The meal, while not comprised of
tradition ingredients, was being prepared in the traditional way - in a covered
hole in the ground with white hot volcanic rock generating the steam necessary
to cook the meal.
In single file we walked through the forest down to the crystal clear waters
of the Wai-o-whiro (or spring) where we waited in anticipation for the arrival
of the Mitai warriors. Soon they arrived in full battle gear in their hand
carved Waka (war canoe) chanting their war cry. After disembarking they made
their way up to the village. We followed.
A Maori Cultural Performance
The highlight of the visit was watching the cultural performance. As the
Mitai family told their story through song and dance the village chief
explained the meaning of the dance steps and songs, the significance of their
weapons and tattoos and their way of life and interaction with other villages
and early western settlers. The performance ended with the traditional Haka.
Later in the evening, following the feast, we were taken on a night walk
through the forest to visit the sacred Fairy Spring where over 24
million litres of pure spring water bubbles to the surface from an underground
source every day. Our visit ended as the artificial lights dimmed and the
natural light of the glow worms appeared.
One of the first things you may notice when you arrive in Rotorua is the
smell. Depending on the time of day and the direction of the wind you may be
hit with the odour of rotten egg gas (or hydrogen sulphide). Don't be
embarrassed as this is a natural emission of the hydrothermal systems found
throughout the area.
There are numerous sites throughout Rotorua and stretching as far as Taupo
one can see the natural wonders of thermal activity. To see it all, and, to
ensure a viewing of an active geyser, then a visit to Wai-O-Tapu thermal
wonderland is a must.
Frying Pan Flat, Wai-O-Tapu with a glimpse of
Lake Ngakoro through the trees
Wai-O-Tapu is located off the Thermal Explorer Highway and is 27k (or
approximately a 20 minutes drive) from Rotorua, or, if you're coming from Taupo
about 53k (or 40 minutes).
The whole site, called the Scenic Reserve, covers approximately 18 sq
kilometres, although the general public can see only a relatively small
proportion. But what a fascinating proportion it is.
There are three key areas to visit, the Mud Volcano, Lady Knox Geyser and
When you turn off Thermal Explorer Highway to head to Wai-O-Tapu you'll pass
a turn off to the Mud Volcano (Pools). If you are sufficiently early to later
see the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser you may make this your first port of
call. It is spectacular. This is the largest boiling mud pool in NZ. There are
constant eruptions of hot gas though the grey viscous mud. Some eruptions
conclude with an explosive spray of hot mud others just peter out. Make sure you
walk to the higher viewing area so you can take in the whole scene. Thirty
minutes should be sufficient to see the Pools.
Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu with a view of
Lady Knox Geyser erupts daily at around 10:15am, so make sure you're there
early enough to get a good view. Allow sufficient time to visit the Visitors
Centre (a short drive past the Geyser) to purchase your ticket. During peak
visitor times it can be very busy. The least busy times are basically outside of
Under normal conditions the Geyser would erupt every 36 to 48 hours but, with
the addition of bio-friendly soap to the geyser mouth, it is induced to erupt
around 10:45am every day.
Prior to the eruption a park ranger explains the interesting history of the
region and the geyser and the mechanics of the eruption and the thermal
activity. This provides a good basic understanding of the geography and
The geyser, on a good day can erupt to a maximum height 20 plus metres and
following the initial eruption will continue to rise and fall for the next 45
Next on the programme is a visit to various, craters, lakes and pools to be
dazzled by their variety of colours and hues. Make sure you obtain a guide map
from the Visitors Centre before commencing your walk.
The thermal park is comprised of three looped walks. The first, although
undulating, is relatively easy to walk. The second and third require some
climbing and has steps. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. At a comfortable
pace, and, with stops to wonder and take photos, walk one takes around 30
minutes, walk one & two around 40 minutes and all three walks consequentially
around 75 minutes.
When you start your walk you enter another world. Surrounded by thickly
forested trees, the lakes, flows and surrounds resemble a desolate alien
landscape with billowing steam rising from the waters, crevasses and fumaroles
and wafting in the breezes across the park. Be prepared for the odour.
The colours of the waters and rocks are amazing with green, orange, purple,
white, yellow, red-brown and black. The colours are due to the different
minerals and elements that have been dissolved by the boiling underground waters
(reaching as high as 300°C) and being deposited on the surface.
If you do take on the three walks you'll be rewarded by the spectacular views
of Lake Ngakoro (The Grandfather) which was formed by an eruption over 700 years
ago. The deep green colour of the lake is beautiful
Allow yourself the reasonable part of the day to get too and from the reserve
and to spend a comfortable time while there. Make sure you wear a sun hat and
apply sun screen.