Thrill seekers have been journeying to Rotorua in New Zealand’s North Island since the late 1800’s to experience the town’s legendary geothermal pools and geysers for themselves. But plenty has changed.
Back then; most of the adventure was getting there in the first place with the lions share of visitors made up of the British army on their leave from Auckland and the arduous trip itself taking three days, much of it on foot.
Thankfully, these days Rotorua is much more accessible with a new and improved highway (just 3 hours to Auckland) and daily regional flights into the town’s airport from all over New Zealand to connect visitors from afar.
Adventure still rules here though with New Zealand’s self-proclaimed ‘Coolest hotspot’ plonking itself on the world stage as a North Island Mecca for adrenalin and experience seekers from all over the globe.
Here’s 5 reasons why.
1. GET ON YER BIKE
New Zealand has embraced cycling big time as an essential tourism and health driver and invested millions in fantastic new routes to connect the country with a further whopping NZ$400m investment in more trails to come in the next three years.
They’ve even recruited Australia’s favourite model (and proud Kiwi) Megan Gale to get on her ambassador bike to help lure more Aussies across the ditch and into their saddles.
And it’s a strategy that’s worked a treat with Rotorua owning the whole ‘mud is the new snow’ trend and creating endless world-class tracks for cyclists of all ages and abilities in and around the town.
From the famous Redwood trails with over 130kms of continually evolving trails through ancient World Heritage Redwood Forests to the Skyline Rotorua, which is now home to New Zealand’s first year-round Gondola, assisted bike lift, accessing world-class downhill mountain biking.
The Skyline gondola takes all the hard work out of the park’s 200-metre vertical rise with dedicated gondola cabins designed to take up to four bikes and riders per trip allowing up to 3000 downhill runs per day. No riding uphill? Sweet!
Feeling like you want to go nuts? Check out the annual world tour Crankworx event (or maybe event enter yourself if you’re a daredevil) held in March at Skyline Rotorua for probably the most ridiculous Mountain biking tricks you’ll ever see.
Find out more at www.riderotorua.com
2. OGO! OGO! OGO!
What’s going on here then? Ogo’ing is when you dive into a huge plastic ball filled with warm water and then roll down a hill at high speed being thrown around while screaming like a baboon.
I know this because I experienced it myself recently and after initially feeling like I could take it or leave it before I’d tried it, ended up loving it after one Ogo. It’s just like being a kid again.
For me the deal was sweetened even more by the fact that waiting at the bottom of the hill are two piping hot tubs and cold beer to enjoy while you get your breath back before the next Ogo. Ahh yes.
It’s seriously good fun and a great way to spend an afternoon with friends and even funnier when you watch the GoPro footage they take of you inside the Ogo on the way down. How loud did I scream again?
Find out more: www.ogo.co.nz
3. THE GONDOLA SKYLINE
No visit to Rotorua can be complete without a trip up the hill on the Gondola to take on the legendary Luge and the Skyline’s newest attractions – the Zoom zip line and the Skyswing. I can honestly say that after enjoying this luge on three different occasions in my lifetime, it’s undoubtedly the best in New Zealand.
Sorry, Queenstown. But it is.
Rotorua’s highest attraction has recently undergone a massive renovation and now also features the Stratosphere Restaurant with panoramic views out across the town and lake as well as a Jelly Bean extravaganza and sweet gift shop. It’s a great place to take the family or head up for an adventure yourself.
Find out more: www.skyline.co.nz
4. ZIPLINE ON A GREEN HIGH
Another of Rotorua’s newest adventure attractions is the Canopy Tours where you’ll get to discover Rotorua’s spectacular native forest from high above on a 1.2km network of Rotorua ziplines, swing bridges and treetop platforms.
Aside from gliding through the lush green forest all around you, you’ll see and hear the native birds such as Robins, Kereru, Tomtit, Tui, Bellbirds, Whiteheads, Kaka and Fantails. Canopy Tours dream is to restore the ecosystem to the one Captain James Cook discovered on arrival to New Zealand – full of loud bird chorus with all fees including a donation to help restoration work within the forest.
The Canopy Tours are suitable for almost everyone with the company saying that they have “made over 200 people aged over 75 young again”. It’s great for couples, families and groups of friends.
And if you are scared of heights, you have even more to gain. It’s easy and safe. Go for it!
None of the groups has more than ten people in them, and the tours last for around 4 hours in total, all guided by expert local guides.
Find out more: www.canopytours.co.nz
5. MARVEL AT TE PUIA’S NATURAL WONDER
Going full circle on Rotorua’s journey, we go back to the old skool and the reason people came to this literal hotspot in the first place.
Te Puia is New Zealand’s living Maori cultural centre, just 5 minutes from central Rotorua. Situated in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, Te Puia’s 60-hectare site is home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, a live kiwi enclosure, the world-famous Pohutu Geyser, and more than 500 natural geothermal wonders.
With land steeped in ancestral history and a guiding legacy that stretches back to the 1800s, Te Puia does a fantastic job of sharing their unique hospitality and rich Māori cultural heritage to all visitors.
While it may not be every thrill seekers idea of hardcore adventure, if you use your imagination to think about our forefathers that went before us and some of the natural obstacles and perils they faced, you’ll get a sense of their bravery for the sake of discovery rather than fun.
Seeing the legendary Pohutu Geyser (recently ranked in the world’s top 5 geysers by Lonely Planet) erupt to a height of 30m up to 20 times a day is a spectacular sight in itself, never mind coming face to face with a Maori haka (war dance) gives you just a little insight.
These days’ visitors are more concerned with nailing the perfect selfie. How adventure times have changed.
Find out more: www.tepuia.com