Keeping the fact that Rotorua is generally considered to be the nation’s hub when it comes to all things Maori firmly fixed in your mind when you arrive, make your first stop Te Puia.
Te Puia covers about 170 acres, and is home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, so you’re going to want to allot yourself at least the whole morning here, and perhaps a portion of the afternoon. Here you can learn all you need to know about the Maori culture. It’s a good place to start after you land in Auckland as it’s only a few hours away by car. You can watch how a hāngi is made and cooked. You’ll also get the opportunity to weave flax in the traditional way, see tattoo artists at work and learn how expert carvers produce their beautiful greenstone jewellery. You’ll also get to sit down and enjoy some traditional singing and dancing, including the famous haka.
Whilst here you can also check out the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere, the Pōhutu geyser, which erupts once or twice an hour. You might also get to glimpse the famous and rare Kiwi bird in its nocturnal enclosure.
Te Puia, Hemo Rd, Tihiotonga, Rotorua, +64 7-348 9047
Your visit to Te Puia, as we mentioned, will have you soaking nicely in a veritable marinade of Maori culture. It’s fascinating stuff, and will set you up nicely for further travels in Aotearoa. After you’ve enjoyed a hāngi lunch, or picked something up from one of the many lovely lunch spots in town, it’s time to air the sulphur out of your clothes and take a step into nature.
Head out to take a Rotorua canopy tour. This will take three hours, so make sure you’ve had a decent feed at lunch. You’ll get to breathe the sweet air and experience the beauty of an ancient New Zealand rainforest. Your expert guide will fill you in on the flora and fauna all around you, as you trek up trails, cross swing-bridges and zip through and between the trees. It’s a fun and unique way to gain a perspective on one of New Zealand’s most crucially important ecosystems. It’ll also leave you quite tuckered out and ready to delve into a ripper dinner in the evening, at restaurants like Sabroso Restaurant or Atticus Finch.
Now, if you’ve done your research you’ll be aware that there are 18 major lakes in the Rotorua area. All of them are treasured natural assets and worthy of a visit, but how can you find the time in two days to see them all? The answer is simple. Book yourself a morning skydive! You’ll be able to see all the lakes at once as you fall gracefully to earth like a feather floating down at 200kms per hour. If you think your grande macchiato is going to wake you up first thing, you should see how lively you are after throwing yourself out of a plane at 12,000 feet. Talk about a spring in your step. You can pick some great deals from certain companies. For instance, a tandem skydive and white water rafting experience will only set you back about $370 NZD.
With the adrenaline still thundering through your veins like an out of control train, follow up your skydive experience with a quick blast on the water in a jet-boat. The guys at Agrojet will blast you around a course in a boat that will ludicrously see you tootling along at 100kms per hour in under four seconds. The poor people serving your lunch are going to seem like they’re moving in slow motion.
Agrojet, 1335 Paradise Valley Rd, Rotorua, +64 7-357 4747
After lunch you might be feeling a little drained. No worries there. Just head over to one of the many lakes that you saw earlier as you were plummeting to the ground at terminal velocity. Here you can kick back, relax, indulge in a swim, sunbathe or even a leisurely sail. You can also indulge in a bit of trout fishing, which is another activity that Rotorua is famous for. It has three varieties of trout in its lake, and many a visitor has spent a lazy day trying to coax them out of the water and into the frying pan. If you’re lucky, maybe you can finish off your weekend with a nice bit of smoked trout.