Rotorua – a destination with a difference
Looking for some awesome hen and stag party ideas? Our editor Simone and her husband Steve tested out a few of the best offerings in Rotorua, and report back after an action-packed 48 hours in the city…
I hadn’t been to Rotorua since I was a kid, riding the luge, drinking ‘traffic lights’ at Cobb & Co and complaining about the smell of sulphur. Some great memories, but now it was time to create some new ones and see what has changed in the last 20 years!
Well, the sulphur smell is still there (as is the luge and Cobb & Co!) but Rotorua is one slick destination, perfectly set up for tourists, groups and couples alike. For friends celebrating a hen or stag weekend, it is an adventure playground with so much to offer, from exciting outdoor activities through to luxurious pampering.
After a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland we pulled off the main road and arrived at OffRoad NZ where a personalised sign welcomed us – a great touch that really got us buzzing for what was ahead.
We kicked things off with the self-drive 4WD Bush Safari. Steve jumped in the drivers seat of the grunty Suzuki Jimny, and our guide walked ahead of us in the trees, giving us instructions, driving tips and funny anecdotes over the radio. We navigated some nerve-wracking muddy holes with water coming over the bonnet, steep climbs and descents, before hitting the big one…a 6m high 80-degree slope they call The Luge. I may have had my eyes closed the whole time, but it was definitely thrilling!
Next was the Monster, a one-of-a-kind 4x4 V6 beast with 4-wheel steering that can take you sideways through the tightest bush trails. With the seats already splattered with mud, I was a little nervous about what was in store, but it wasn’t long until my adrenaline was pumping, my lungs were screaming and my face was sore from non-stop smiling. Our driver had amazing skills taking us near vertical slopes and trails called the ‘widow maker’ and ‘logger’s long drop’. Epic.
Lastly we tried the state-of-the-art Raceline Karts on NZ’s longest circuit, a massive 1.2km of tarmac that gave us a great opportunity to test our skills on the turns and get some speed on the straights. We didn’t quite reach the 100kmph that’s possible, but it was great fun, even in the pouring rain!
Despite being an activity full of mud and dirt, the facilities at OffRoad NZ really impressed us – clean, modern and well-organised, and with knowledgeable and super friendly staff. After a day of fun and excitement, groups would love the cool facilities to carry on celebrations in the evening – huge cabins complete with long tables, heating, sound systems, a BBQ, outdoor fire pit and license till midnight.
Situated in the heart of the Rotorua township with views over the lake, Novotel Rotorua Lakeside Hotel was the perfect base for us to explore Rotorua.
We took our bags to our spacious room, raided the mini bar and got ready to go for dinner. Before heading out the main door we spotted the Novotel’s lounge – an incredibly cosy, cool and romantic spot to hang out, complete with a central open fire, large comfortable booths, great music and a huge selection of drinks. The following night it was pumping with a huge crowd of people watching the All Blacks play Australia!
Redwood Forest Treewalk
Arriving at the Redwood Forest as dusk arrived I didn’t know what to expect from the nighttime treewalk. We quickly climbed 20m up into the towering redwood trees and were transported to a magical wonderland filled with forest sounds and captivating lights. Around every corner of the 700m suspended walkway we were blown away by the number of hanging lanterns designed by popular artist David Trubridge. It was such a peaceful setting. This was the perfect way to spend an evening trying something totally unique, being in the outdoors and creating memories.
River Rats Rafting
Steve and I are not ‘water people’ so were both a little hesitant to climb into a rubber raft and ride rapids with only a paddle! However, after spending just a few minutes with the awesome team at River Rats we felt much more at ease. The safety briefing and practice exercises were comprehensive while including plenty of laughs, and all of the equipment was modern, clean and in great condition. We were soon ready to hit the water!
We were about to attempt the grade 5 Kaituna Waterfall adventure, but River Rats offer something for everyone, from a gentle grade 2 scenic trip for kids as young as five, up to the Kaituna. I loved the sound of the Evening Guided Hot Pool Kayak, which takes you to Manupirua Hot Pools where you’ll enjoy a soak while a chef cooks you a BBQ dinner before paddling across the lake at sunset to visit glow worm caves. What a unique and special idea for groups of friends!
Well, these two land-lovers ended up having the time of our lives. It was such a rush as we navigated some pretty gnarly rapids (including the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall at 5m), all the while laughing non-stop with our fellow rafters. We also got to enjoy beautiful scenery in the volcanic gorge surrounded by native bush, could swim one of the waterfalls if we wanted (we passed!) and some fun surprises from our guides. We came away a little wet but with faces sore from smiling and some awesome photos from the pro photographer. Memories to last a lifetime.
Next stop was New Zealand’s most active geothermal park with a rather ominous name – Hell’s Gate. We signed up for the Excite Experience, which saw us take a leisurely walk through beautiful native bush to see the awe-inspiring geothermal activity, including traditional cooking pools, steaming cliffs, a mud volcano and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere.
We then changed into our swimsuits and lathered ourselves in mud! This was a really fun experience, and the nutrient-rich mud and sulphur spa pools are said to have revitalizing and rejuvenating properties. Our skin certainly felt soft afterwards!
After showering back at the hotel it was time to recharge with a meal so we decided to head to nearby ‘Eat Street’ – a vibrant, all-weather dining hub (it has cool retractable roofing and thermally heated footpath!) packed with lively restaurants and bars to cater for all tastes. We were after something pretty hearty after an action-packed day, and Steve is a bit of a beer aficionado, so we decided on CBK, which boasts a menu packed with favourite dishes and over 60 different beers. Steve chose the Angus Beef Stonegrill and I had the Chicken Pesto & Bacon Fettuccine – both were exceptional! Although we were full afterwards, we couldn’t resist CBK’s famous Skillet Cookie – yum! This area has a great vibe and would be an awesome place to hang out for an afternoon or evening with friends.
Mountain Bike Rotorua
We woke to a misty Sunday morning, but this just made the Whakarewarewa Forest an even more spectacular setting for our mountain biking adventure. The friendly and enthusiastic staff at Mountain Bike Rotorua helped me find the right bike for my skill level (zero!) before Steve and I headed off in to the forest. There is over 160km of trails to explore, and most of the time it felt like we were the only people there. So peaceful, so refreshing.
After screaming (me) and laughing (Steve) through a couple of trails together, Steve took off for the more challenging areas, while I enjoyed a relaxing tootle back down the mountain, breathing the crisp, fresh air and feeling totally invigorated.
With sore, tired bodies, we were excited to visit Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa – an iconic landmark in the city that has been voted one of the top 10 spas in the world by Condé Naste. We were treated like VIPS as staff warmly greeted us and showed us to our private lake view pool where we relaxed in the warm waters and reminisced about our amazing weekend. We tried a few of the 28 hot mineral pools, each with different levels of acidity and alkalinity to ease your aches and pains, and nourish skin. It was all so peaceful, soothing and felt secluded, even with other groups soaking nearby.
Then it was time to don our plush robes and head to the couples’ spa room, where serenity washed over us and total relaxation kicked in! It was the perfect massage, and we were quickly lulled into an almost sleep-like state. Pure bliss.
After a jam-packed 48 hours in Rotorua we felt invigorated, relaxed and with a renewed love for the town. There’s so much to do and see, especially for groups wanting to celebrate their hen and stag party, whether it be a weekend of adventure or decadent pampering. We also realised a weekend away in Rotorua isn’t just ideal for groups of friends, but for couples too – trying new things together is the perfect way to reconnect.
Yes, our clothes may smell a little like sulphur, but we came back from Rotorua with amazing memories to last a lifetime.
Thank you to Rotorua NZ and all of the wonderful suppliers for hosting us.