The original New Zealand tourist destination long before Queenstown and Milford Sound. Victorians travelled from the other side of the world to visit the Pink and White Terraces, before they were destroyed by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. Even without them Rotorua, or Rotovegas as it is ironically called, remains one of the most popular places in the country to visit. It may not offer the up-market nightlife and snow-capped mountains of the South Island, but the geothermal sights are like little you are likely to have seen before.
The best views of the town are from Aorangi Peak, looking across Lake Rotorua and tree filled streets.
I last visited in mid-May when the autumn colour was in full bloom at Rotorua Centennial Park.
Which is also home to the attractive Ikeda Hall Peace Garden.
For free geothermal sights the central Kuirau Park offers surreal steaming rocks and pools, bubbling mud, and a more sedate reflective pool.
The Government Gardens offer a huge amount of interest in a relatively small space, including the giant wooden Prince’s Gate Arches, Wylie Memorial favoured by seagulls, a Victorian Band Rotunda, numerous Maori carvings, the Spanish Mission-style Blue Baths, the Arawa Soldiers’ Memorial commemorating Maori who fought in WW1, and the incredible Elizabethan style Bath Room, now the Rotorua Museum of Art and History.
On the edge of town, Whakarewarewa Forest (Redwoods) are renowned for over 130km of mountain biking trails. I did a 30km loop climbing hundreds of metres up Hill Road before coming down Eagle vs Shark to reach the attractive Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), and neighbouring Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake).
Fifteen minutes drive out of town the Te Wairoa Buried Village tells the fascinating story of the Pink and White Terraces, and includes what is left of the village buried by the same eruption that destroyed them.
Further south is the incredible Wai-O-Tapu, one of the most surreal places I’ve ever been. In a relatively compact area geothermal activity has created a huge range of colourful sights, along with Lady Knox Geyser, which is encouraged to blow daily at 10.15am.
To end with Lake Rotorua, beautifully lit by the sun at the start and end of the day.