Rotorua: the North Island hotspot that comes alive in winter

Rotorua, Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe, is one of Aotearoa’s most iconic tourist destinations, legendary for all that New Zealand is famous for.

During the Covid-19 pandemic New Zealanders have continued to flock there and as such a timely local guide could potentially offer new places for those looking to dip their toes again this winter.

For a short day trip, head to Okere Falls, an area known for its rafting, kayaking and fishing. The area has been attracting tourists since the 19th century and was the location of one of Aotearoa’s first hydroelectric power stations.

There is a nice walk to the falls and a viewing platform which features the historic Hinemoa Steps and Tutea Cave. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the Okere Falls Store for brunch, or even one of their famous burger nights. This eco-friendly cafe is legendary for its food, beer garden and great service.

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* World famous in New Zealand: the buried village of Te Wairoa in Rotorua

The scenic promenade overlooks the Okere River.

Provided

The scenic promenade overlooks the Okere River.

From Okere Falls, Lake Ōkataina, one of the lesser-visited lakes in the region, is a short drive away. It’s a hidden gem that’s often overlooked and its mix of nature, walking trails and history makes it a great place to explore again and again.

The area is steeped in fascinating cultural and natural history, with Ngāti Tarāwhai having its main pā on the Te Koutu Peninsula and there are a series of walks that pass through an incredible variety of native trees, including the Ōkataina Phantom, a rātā of legendary size.

At night, you can head along the Te Auheke Trail to the back of the Outdoor Education Center, where once near Te Auheke Falls, you will see an incredible wall of glowworms.

Okere Falls Store is known for its food and beer selection.

Provided

Okere Falls Store is known for its food and beer selection.

If you’re willing to go a bit further, continue to Whakatāne, and between Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoehu you’ll find Hinehopu/Hongi’s Track – a terrific little bush walk with lots of significance.

The names of the trail come from Hinehopu, who traveled the trail regularly, before meeting her future husband halfway, at a location now marked by the “Wishing Tree”.

The name Hongi speaks of when Hongi Hika (Ngāpuhi) and his people carried their waka across the trail from Rotoehu to Rotoiti, then allowing them to travel to Lake Rotorua where a historic attack took place on the people of Te Arawa on the island of Mokoia.

Lake Ōkataina Scenic Reserve offers five short walks.

Destination Rotorua

Lake Ōkataina Scenic Reserve offers five short walks.

For a longer day experience, you cannot go past the Tarawera Trail. It’s a great 15km hike with the reward of a warm water beach at the end. Just be sure to book your water taxi in advance and pack your clothes if you want to enjoy the swim.

The trail skirts Lake Tarawera, taking you from what was the village of Te Wairoa, which was destroyed by the Tarawera eruption in 1886, to the Hot Water Beach campsite. The trail is long and steep at times, so make sure you are prepared before you set out with plenty of water and supplies for the trail.

If you’re in town and need to renew your energy, looking for food and beverage options, there’s a wide variety on offer during the day, including Abracadabra Café, And Rice, Capers, Grounded Café, Le Café From Paris, or even a cat café, Fancy Meow.

And in the evening, options include places like the Brew Craft Beer Pub, El Mexicano Zapata Cantina, Pig and Whistle, and Yamato Japanese Restaurant, or new spots like Poco Tapas and Wine and Mekong Buffalo.

If you want to continue exploring in the evening, Te Puia’s Geyser by Night experience is a great way to take in the geothermal beauty of the area. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the recently installed Hemo Gorge sculpture, an amazing work of art and engineering feat to behold.

Of course, any trip to Rotorua wouldn’t be complete without a dip in a hot pool. While you could go to now crowded free spots like Kerosene Creek or Hot & Cold, you better invest in your hot pool experience.

Waikite Valley is home to New Zealand's largest boiling hot spring.

BROOK SABIN / Stuff

Waikite Valley is home to New Zealand’s largest boiling hot spring.

The road to Taupō is a beautiful drive, and along it you will first find Secret Spot, a “bookable” cedar hot tub experience nestled in the bush before finding the classic hot spring pools further afield. of the Waikite Valley.

These pools have been around for over 50 years and are a truly fantastic place to soak your weary bones at the end of a long day of exploring.

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on Covid19.govt.nz.

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