Rotorua is famous for its bubbling hot springs, steaming geysers and Māori culture and it would be easy to spend a small fortune seeing them all. It’s possible though to experience all that Rotorua has to offer without spending a cent.
At the back of the Government Gardens and the Tudor Bath House is a walking track which begins by meandering through a wetland wildlife sanctuary on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Beyond the wetlands the landscape takes on a lunar appearance with the hard-baked craters and crusted expanses of Sulphur Flat.
The warning signs are clear – this area might look safe to walk on but that crusty surface could be just a few centimetres thick. It’s best to stay on the path! The most interesting of the bubbling hot pools is the Coffee Pot, where people used to pay to bathe in the hot, murky liquid. The information board shows old photos of this unique commercial venture.
In 1899 another business scheme saw the planting of 170 different types of trees around Rotorua. The idea was to see which species would grow well enough to cultivate in timber plantations. Many trees either did not survive or grew so fast in the damp, cool conditions that they were unsuitable for use as cabinet timber. The legacy of this experiment is the six hectares of towering Californian Redwoods that now stand at the centre of the Whakarewarewa Forest. The loftiest trees are around 219 metres tall and beneath them is a 90 kilometre network of trails which starts from the Redwood Grove. The forest is a haven for walkers and runners and the mountain bike trails are renowned.
On the opposite side of Lake Rotorua is a second redwood forest which grows on the banks of Hamurana Stream. The stream is fed by the crystal clear waters of the Hamurana Spring, which finally emerge from the earth after falling on the Mamaku Plateau as rain 70 years ago. A walking track loops through the forest to the spring and back along the stream. Stop on one of the timber bridges and watch the sand dancing on the river bed as the underground water rises to the surface.
There’s more evidence of subterranean activity at the Māori village of Ohinemutu on the shores of Lake Rotorua, once a busy trading centre for the Māori and now a suburb of Rotorua. The area has an abundant supply of geothermal energy which was used for cooking and heating in the past. There are boiling pools of water in the back yards of the houses and steam rises from the grates in the roads.
Here you can see the beautifully carved and decorated meeting house Tama-te-Kapua. Tourists are not able to enter the meeting house but the outside of the building is beautiful.
Closer to the lake is St Faith’s Anglican Church which was built in 1901. Externally the building is Tudor in style and inside the Māori decorations are lavish. A window in the Galilee Chapel is etched with an image of Jesus Christ wearing a Māori cloak and placed so that he appears to be walking on the waters of Lake Rotorua.
It’s free to visit Ohinemutu and visitors are welcome, although it’s obligatory to remember that it is a living village and homes and sacred areas should be treated with respect.
If, after all this walking, a rest is needed, head for Kuirau Park in the city centre. Here weary feet can soak for as long as necessary in a hot mineral foot pool. Further along there is a series of boardwalks for leisurely strolls. Steam hovers above the small lakes and boiling mud pools pop and belch as if the earth has indigestion.
At the end of a long day dinner will be welcome and the best deal in town is found at Thursday’s Night Market on Tutanekai Street. There are stalls selling local produce and specialty goods, and a dizzying array of ethnic foods is for sale. And best of all – after spending nothing all day you can try one of everything!