Monday, February 8, 2010

Rotorua

Sally and I have traveled widely and we like to explore countries and places and get beneath the hype and public relations of tourist companies.

We always travel with guide books but over the few years we have supplemented our reading with travel blogs. Now we write them too which we host on our web site www.greatpons.co.nz

The environment means much to us and influences our decisions on what we do and where we stay.

Rotorua has more than its fair share of the world’s natural attractions and it is somewhere were anyone can participate in Maori culture.

We had a two day visit December 2009

Our first choice to stay, Robertson House (www.robertsonhouse.co.nz; +64 (07) 343 7559), was fully booked and therefore unavailable. This was no surprise to us.
We own and operate The Great Ponsonby Arthotel www.greatpons.co.nz so know that many guests love to stay in restored Victorian villas and are often interested in renovations.



However, our second choice the Princes Gate Hotel (www.princesgate.co.nz; +64 (07) 348 1179) was available. This is an original Rotorua hotel dating back to 1919 which is smack bang in the centre of Rotorua opposite the Government Gardens.



It oozes colonial charm and is fully serviced and if you strike the right date you will be entertained by Elizabeth Marvely, a well known Opera singer who is the daughter of the proprietor.

In the cool of the early evening we walked through the gardens and around the lake and found Rotorua’s snazziest bar, the Seismic. The bartender, a Fijian, is a cousin of All Black Joe Rokocoko and made Sally a fabulously good Pina Colada. I settled for a Cosmopolitan which cured my urgent thirst. The rain gods opened and our plan of a leisurely stroll down the streets in search of fine food was unfortunately dashed.

We dined at a less-than-stunning Italian restaurant where the highlight of the evening was meeting Christian, a Danish guy who shared our table. He had already explored Rotorua and enticed us to the Belgian Bar in Arawa Street which is the home of the Bay Of Plenty Blues Club (www.bopblues.com). We share a few Belgian beers and yarns and also listened to a solid old blues band. Peter the publican is a great host and a big blues enthusiast. Not a bad option for anybody anywhere on a Monday night.

Day 2 (16th Dec)

I decided to get a haircut at Bossis’ 11090 Tutanekai street and was lucky to strike Shan a 38 year old Welsh woman as my hairdresser. She is no Lucy Jordan and hails from Newport, where in 1953 the Welsh beat the All Blacks 9-3 and the score board remains up to this very day.

Susan Boyle’s CD played in the background as we had a great chat about Welsh culture, talking of Dylan Thomas, Shirley Bassy and sharing a laugh about Tom Jones. Mary Hopkins even got a mention. I felt great walking out the door. Shan had helped set me up for the day . It doesn’t take much.

We walked to Te Puia (www.nzmaori.co.nz) at Whakarewarewa and looked over the old bridge where the local kids used to dive for pennies. There was interesting stuff about the Maori guides ‘Rangi and Bubbles’ who I remember from my childhood.

Guide Rangi and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1943

The weather warmed up so we taxied back to the Rotorua museum for lunch. Our wait person was an outgoing young guy called Reggie. A fan of the Upper Hutt Possy but he isn’t a Rasta. He is the son of a Ghurkha .

Gate at Rotorua Museum

My vegie feta pie was tasty and the mixed salad fresh. My chardonnay was not over chilled however Sally’s kumara salad was just a huge bowl of cold kumera. If only she had gone to my hairdresser, things would have been different.

After strolling through the old government grounds and hotfooted to the Polynesian Spa for a little pampering. It is located in the old ward baths which were a special part of our school holidays in the 1960s. Mum was ill and we would go there most summers. Mum and Dad would go more often if they could afford to if and my sister Yvonne was available to look after my younger brother Michael and me. The old baths are now gone and live only in old photographs and personnel memories.

The Polynesian Spa (www.polynesianspa.co.nz) is beautiful and it was gorgeous lying in the various pools of varying heats looking out across the lake. Then we had a mud massage although next time I will have the water one.

Polynesian Spa

Following our treatment we return to soak in the pools again. The Bavarian Alps may have more stunning views but with the steam rising off the lake and with the Rotorua hills as a backdrop there is something quite special here.

We return to the Princess Gate Hotel to get warm clothes as our evening entertainment is with Mitai Tours (www.mitai.co.nz; + 64 7 3439132). Their product is a village experience, hangi and concert which are a great introduction to Maori culture and food. Unlike some of the overly staged tours you are able to get in Rotorua; it is very authentic and personal.

Situated beside Rainbow Springs on old tribal land, it is easy to understand Maori affinity with land and nature. There is an added option available of a bush walk in the night to see trout breeding ponds and kiwi in their natural habitat. It was a magical evening as the bush was beautifully lit and it is the first time in my life I had ever seen a kiwi in the wild, so to speak.


Rotorua has been one of my favourite holiday places since as a child we first went there. Regardless of your budget Rotorua has great choices of things to do and places to stay. Hence its nick name of Roto Vegas.

Two of my favourite actitives I have not mentioned namely The Waimungu Thermal Valley and lake Tarawera and the Buried Village.

These choices make a great day out.

Gerard Hill
February, 2010