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On Walkabout Around: New Zealand’s Roto-Vegas, Rotorua

The most popular tourist area in New Zealand is without a doubt the city of Rotorua and its multitude of hot springs, geysers, and beautiful lake front setting:

In fact the city is so popular that people in New Zealand often refer to the city as Roto-vegas. There is no gambling in the city, but locals refer to the city as Roto-vegas simply because it is New Zealand’s own version of a giant world class tourist trap. Rotorua may be a tourist trap, but it has to be one of the most scenic and stinky tourist traps in the whole world. Yes, stinky because long before I could ever see the city I could most definitely smell it because of the multiple geysers that surround the city which give it a smell of rotten eggs which I got quickly used to smelling and hardly noticed after a while:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua is located about three hours to the east of Auckland and about an hour north of Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island:

The city of Rotorua lies on the shores of Lake Rotorua and is bordered by various smaller lakes and the active volcano Mt. Tarawera which has erupted multiple times in recent decades most famously in 1886:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

Lake Rotorua is an enormous fresh water lake and provides a spectacular back drop for the city:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

The lake is actually a caldera of an extinct volcano that filled with water hundreds of thousands of years ago. The lake is the second largest in surface area on the north island, only behind Lake Taupo, but is actually not one of the top in total water because it is not very deep with a maximum depth of only 11 meters.

From the lake front there are a variety of boats that can take you on a tour of the lake including to Mokoia Island located towards the center of the lake:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

These island is the scene of New Zealand’s very own Romeo & Juliet story, but this one has a happy ending:

Tutanekai lived on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, where of an evening he and his friend Tiki used to play – the one on a “horn”, the other on a “pipe”. The sound of this music could be heard across Lake Rotorua at Owhata and it charmed the beautiful and noble-born Hinemoa who lived there. When Tutanekai visited the mainland with his people, he met Hinemoa and they fell in love. The young man had perforce to return to his village, but the lovers arranged that every night he would play and that Hinemoa would follow the sound of his music to join him.

Tutanekai kept up a nightly serenade but Hinemoa’s people, suspecting something was afoot, had hidden all the canoes. The maiden, however, was not to be deterred and, selecting six large, dry, empty gourds as floats, she decided to swim to the island. Guided by the strains of her loved one’s music, Hinemoa safely reached the other shore and landed near a hot spring, Waikimihia, in which she warmed and refreshed herself – the pool is on Mokoia Island to this day. Just at that moment Tutanekai sent his servant for water. This man disturbed the girl who, pretending to be a man, spoke in a gruff voice and, when she learnt his errand, begged for a drink from the calabash which she smashed as soon as she had had her fill. The servant then went back and reported to Tutanekai what had happened. He was ordered back again and again, each time with the same result, until all the calabashes were broken. The now irate young man himself went down to the pool and to his joy discovered Hinemoa. Like all good stories, the legend has a conventional ending – they lived happily ever after.

The lake side area of Rotorua may be spectacular the downtown area leaves a lot to be desired:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

The buildings are nothing special with only a few interesting buildings such as the visitor center:

Picture from Rotorua, New Zealand

The feel of the town is very touristy and busy which causes the place to live up to its Roto-vegas image. The place is filled with hotels, hostels, and backpacker places along with just about every type of specialty restaurant you can imagine. The city has a big youth feel to it which is evident by the number of adventure sports activities such as bungee jumping, mountain biking, rafting, etc. that can be done in the Rotorua area.

So if you are looking for a good place to base yourself out of on the north island that has a lot of energy and things to do and you don’t mind the crowds then Rotorua is probably the place for you. However, my wife and I preferred staying in the much quieter and much more laid back neighboring city of Taupo.

Next Posting: Video of Tongariro National Park

Prior Posting: Driving the Volcanic Highway

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