Mike Yardley soaks in the geothermal delights of Rotorua.

Welcoming visitors from all over the world since the 1880s, Rotorua remains one of the world’s most enthralling geothermal regions. Surrender to nature’s ferocious awe, where mud pools bubble and boil, hissing geysers gush, and steam coils like phantoms from the earth’s fissures across Rotorua’s remarkable landscape. In a city laden with so many geothermal wonders, choosing what attractions to plump for can be a tough call. Leading my hit parade, I adore Te Puia in the historic Te Whakarewarewa Valley, home to the feisty Pōhutu geyser, the southern hemisphere’s largest, which relentlessly flips her lid every hour, spewing boiling water high into the air.

If you’ve done Te Puia by day, definitely check out one of Rotorua’s newer visitor offerings, Geyser by Night—Te Puia Light Trails. The spell-binding sense of atmospheric splendour is seriously next level, with the valley artfully illuminated.A couple of convivial Te Arawa guides led my group and I on a leisurely 90minute nocturnal stroll through the thermal valley, intimately sharing historic anecdotes, tribal mythology and showcasing the valley’s remarkable features.

Local Māori have been living here for nearly 700 years, with the guides linking directing to Rotorua’s earliest hosts. As we enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate, mighty Pōhutu started erupting 30metres high. The tell-tale sign is two other geysers, Kererū and Te Tohu, starting first. We soaked up the power and glory of the geothermal opera. The korowai of natural darkness and the evening calm heightened my senses, accentuating the sensory wonder at Te Puia.

I also hold deep reverence for the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, that strikingly illustrates the unwavering and tempestuous power of nature. Waimangu’s major point of difference is the fact that it’s a hot and steamy adolescent, the youngest volcanic valley in the world — created as a direct result of the last catastrophic eruption in 1886. It ripped open a line of craters, obliterating all plant, animal and bird life across the area before you. So, all the vegetation that now covers this valley is remarkably youthful. As Mt Tarawera split in two and exploded Lake Rotomahana to 20 times its previous size, it also opened the earth along a 17km-long rift. 

Waimangu is home to a host of geothermal formations including Frying Pan Lake (the largest hot spring in the world), Cathedral Rocks and multi-coloured silica platforms like Marble Terrace and Warbrick Terrace. But the most spellbinding sight is the topaz-blue hue of InfernoCrater, a wide open window on the Earth’s molten core. Fall in this crater lake and you’d be dead in about 6 seconds. The 45 minute guided boat ride on Lake Rotomahana is a cracking encounter with the location of the destroyed Pink and White Terraces.

It’s quite the novelty to be cruising over the exact site of the terraces. A decade ago, small remnants of both terraces were discovered, 60metres below the water surface. You also can’t beat a good fumerole and Fumerole Bay’s intense steam vents, billowing like factory chimneys is a show-stealer.

Need some personal pamper time? Overlooking the sublime Whakarewarewa Forest, Secret Spot Hot Tubs is a hidden oasis of tranquillity. Established just a few months before Covid-19 changed our world, the plucky business has not just survived the pandemic but thrived in its midst. Founded by Keith and Eric Kolver, their luxury cedar hot tub experience in fresh forest springwater is studded with quintessential Kiwi accoutrements to ramp up the pamper-factor. The hand-crafted cedar tubs are wrapped in native planting, boulders and streams, with a lush lawn leading you down to the banks of the Puarenga stream. Another enticing offer is Secret Spot’s Shinny Dip deal. Your feet can enjoy a free soak with any beverage purchase! Secret Spot Hot Tubs is a wonderful, inventive addition to Rotorua’s sensory stable of treats.

I romped my way around the manifold delights of Rotorua in a trusty Mitsubishi Outlander, courtesy of Ezi Car Rental. I thoroughly enjoyed the Ezi experience, where excellent cars, stringent cleaning practices, super sharp prices, and fast and friendly service are all part of the package. Ezi Car Rental operates an extensive network from 25 locations across the country. www.ezicarrental.co.nz