If you don't mind the smell of sulphur, you will understand why Rotorua was voted New Zealand's most beautiful city four times. It has cobblestone streets, beautiful parks and gardens and Tudor architecture celebrating its colonial past.
Rotorua sits by the largest of the 16 lakes in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, and to be named "most beautiful" amongst all that splendour is no mean feat.
Dermott Brereton hopped on a bicycle to check it out. The volcanic landscape is flat so it's an easy way to explore the geothermic wonder. There are hissing geysers, plopping mud pools, smoking craters and hot springs.
Every hour, the geyser Pohutu at Te Puia sprays 30m into the air and apart from being spectacular, supplies 25 percent of the city's hot water. With all that hot water coming from the ground, there is a lot of mud around and Rotorua's mud is said to cure everything from arthritis to skin diseases.
A treatment and swim in one of the 26 pools could have you cured, or at least take your worries away for a time. They have been attracting locals for hundreds of years and are the reason the town was established. Temperatures vary and can be as warm as 42°C.
The three Priest Spa pools are the most unusual. They are particularly therapeutic as they have acidic hot water the others are alkaline.
As you sit in the pools you can truly appreciate geothermal Rotorua steam rises on the other side of the lake so it's relaxing and eerie at the same time. Drinks and healthy cuisine are served in a lounge overlooking Lake Rotorua.
Maori culture is extremely strong in Rotorua and Dermott was fortunate to wander around Ohinemutu, once the area's most important settlement, with historian Don Stafford. He is widely revered and is known as "Mr Rotorua".
The marae was the assembly place and the house is particularly significant as it represents Tamatekapua, a great ancestor. Outspread carvings represent welcoming arms, rafters are the ribs and the main supporting ridge pole is his spine.
Marae carvings represent Rangitihi, a great chief. Known as the Hard Headed One, the carving has a split on top, significant as he was hit on the head with a sharp-edged club when leading his men into battle. He fought on and the eight children he subsequently fathered are depicted on the flag pole.
There is a meeting house and church and a bust of Queen Victoria presented by Prince Alfred in 1870. It is protected by a marvellous carved canopy. Between the houses and in tiny gardens, clouds of steam hiss from the ground.
Boutique lake edge accommodation, A-Kahu is just a few minutes from town and is much an encounter with Te Arawa Maori people and culture as it is a good base from which to explore Rotorua.
A-Kahu has just four ensuite rooms, large and superbly appointed. Guests are treated to luxurious linens and furnishings, handmade Maori herb and oil infused soaps and contemporary and traditional Maori works of art.
Views pour through the windows and outside is a private jetty stretching into Lake Rotorua, dinghy and good swimming. Waterskiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing and fishing are all available. A floatplane is a great way to take in the area from on-high and after a busy day, guests may dine with the hosts by arrangement. Breakfast is included in the tariff. Home-baked goodies and chocolates are special treats.
Rotorua, 3.5 hours south-east of Auckland.
Polynesian Spa treatments start at $64 for half an hour and up to $190 for 90 minutes. You should arrive one hour before your appointment for consultation and to unwind. The spa is open between 8am and 11pm and spa therapies can be enjoyed between 9am and 8pm.
A-Kahu rooms start at $275 a night. Breakfast, access to kayaks, spa pool and jetty swimming are included. Waterskiing, fishing and jet skiing are available by arrangement.
Don Stafford's one-hour tours are $80 per person.
Air New Zealand has flights to Auckland, including a free one-way New Zealand domestic flight. Valid for travel between May 1 and June 20, 2009.
One-way fares from:
- Melbourne $214
- Sydney $219
- Brisbane $284
- Adelaide $335
Be quick. The offer ends on Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 11.59pm AEST.
Prices correct at April 30, 2009.
For further information
Air New Zealand
Hinemoa Street, PO Box 40
Ph: +64 7 348 1328
Fax: +64 7 348 9486
155 Kawaha Point Road
Ph: +64 7 347 4148
Travel and Information Centre
1167 Fenton Street
Ph: +64 7 348 5179
Visas: Australian citizens do not require a visa to enter New Zealand.
Electricity: 230V/50Hz using the same plugs as in Australia.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The New Zealand dollar.
Telephone code: +64.