Hiking Heaven in Rotorua, North Island, NZ


Around Rotorua the earth’s crust is thin and the area is well known for it’s geothermal activity, featuring geysers and pools of  bubbling hot mud and steaming water.  My expectation was the entire area would smell like rotten eggs from the hydrogen sulphide gases escaping the earth’s core.  But the only time the smell was really noticeable was close to steam vents, pools of mud or hot water.  An especially pungent area with dense sulphur deposits is right in Rotorua along the lakeside, aptly called Sulphur Bay, where scalding hot water bubbles up through the rock, seeping into Lake Rotorua.  In the center of town is Kuirau Park where you can find steaming vents, bubbling mud and hot water pools dotting the park, with a couple of foot pools to warm weary feet.  It was an interesting, if aromatic, walk through the park.

Pools of bubbling hot mud and water

A suburb of Rotorua, Ohinemutu, was formerly a Maori village.  Here you can see the Te Papaiouru Marae, a Maori meeting house, and St Faith’s Anglican Church which was completed in 1914.  The ornate designs on the Te Papaiouru Marae building are beautifully detailed.  Our hosts mentioned we should go inside St Faith’s to admire the etched glass window in the Galilee Chapel, added in 1960.  Sit in the pew we were told and the image of a Maori Christ wearing a traditional cloak appears to be walking on Lake Rotorua, beautiful!!

St Faith’s Church (left) Te Papaiouru Marae (right)

Alongside Lake Rotorua is a splendid mock-Tudor building, constructed as a spa in 1908 but more recently home to the museum and art gallery.  The building is closed for a number of years to upgrade it to current earthquake standards, it is still a magnificent sight fronted by bowling greens and croquet courts.

Rotorua Museum

Our very kind hosts offered us the use of mountain bikes so we jumped at the chance and made our way to the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest mountain bike park.  There are 130 km of of trails in the park ranging from beginner to extreme double black diamond tracks.  Not knowing where we were going, we went up, and up, and up until we reached the top of the hill.  The trail up is a rough gravel road and along the way we saw many signs noting the exit for trails, but no entrances until we reached the top portion of the hill.  We found a Grade 3 trail called Box of Birds and started down.  It was a bit more challenging than I anticipated with tight corners, roots, rocks and steep drop offs.  We have not ridden single track for over 20 years, but still enjoyed the thrill of the descent.  The mountain bike park is arranged such that you ride up the rough gravel road and then choose which single track trail to ride down, ending up back on the gravel road.  I got the impression that bikers come here and do a number of the tracks, riding back up in between each track.  Much different riding than we are used to in Alberta.  As with all our mountain biking adventures we emerged with bloody and bruised legs…some things never change 🙂  When we had did have the opportunity to look around, the scenery amid the redwood trees was spectacular.  The park was super busy the day we visited being the first long weekend of spring, plus a huge mountain bike race going on all weekend.

Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest

Not far from Rotorua is the Hobbiton Movie Set, one of the locations used for filming Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.  Yes, it is a tourist hot spot but I was excited to visit the home of Bilbo Baggins, having used a quote from his friend Gandalf as we began our home free life almost 2 years ago.

The Shire is just as lovely and picturesque in real life as it was in the films allowing our imaginations to run free in the home of Bilbo Baggins 🙂  The film set is beautifully preserved and a must visit for anyone who is a fan.  Our guide was a transplanted American gal, so enthralled with Hobbiton she moved half way around the world to work here!  The tour consists of a leisurely walk around the 14 acre site, past many of the hobbit holes and to Bag End at the top of the hill, where Bilbo and Frodo lived.  There are 44 hobbit hole facades in Hobbiton, rebuilt in 2010 after the first set, which was not made to last, was mostly torn down.  Inside, the facades are only a few feet deep with all interior filming done at a studio in Wellington.  Each hobbit hole is unique with no two of them alike in size, color or decoration. The differences in sizes of the hobbit hole allowed for multiple angles in filming, giving the impression that some actors were more hobbit sized, whereas others were normal height or taller.

Hobbit holes, top right is Bilbo Baggins home, bottom left is Sam’s home

Near the end of the tour we stopped at the Green Dragon Inn for a cold mug of cider or beer enjoying the view over the lake to The Mill.  The current Green Dragon Inn was built in 2012 since the original was burned to the ground for a movie scene.  It was a really enjoyable 2 hours and despite it being soooo touristy, absolutely worth a visit to this magical place if you are a fan of the Hobbit and Lord of The Rings.  Tickets for a 2 hour tour cost NZD $84 (USD $60)  I took a lot of photographs, a few more of which can be seen on our Instagram account.

The Green Dragon Inn, bridge over the pond, The Mill

Before our visit to Hobbiton we took a side trip to Wairere Falls.  The walking track from the parking lot goes pretty much straight up with a section of staircases just before the viewing platform.  The scenery walking through the forest and beside the river was stunning and when we reached the waterfall 40 minutes later it was well worth the effort.  Another 45 minute hike up takes you to the top of the waterfall but I was not willing to miss our prepaid reservation at Hobbitton so we headed back down after admiring the waterfall.

Wairere Falls

Just outside Rotorua is the Okere Falls walking track, a 2.4 km loop through the forest and alongside the Kaituna River.  Along this stretch the river rushes through a deep gorge with a number of waterfalls including Okere Falls and Tutea Falls, this is a very popular white water rafting river with the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand.  We were fortunate to capture one of the rafts coming over the falls, now that looked like a lot of fun!!

Rafting fun near Rotorua

Another day, another hike…this time we went 40 min past Rotorua to hike the Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve.  An hour straight up and just less than an hour down.  Very soon into the hike we came upon Crater Lake, an unbelievable pale blue color fed from underground thermal pools.  Upon reaching the top of the mountain you are rewarded with 360 degree views of this region, rolling green pastures and beautiful lakes.

Crater Lake
View from the top of Rainbow Mountain

There is a gentle 5.5 km walking track around Blue Lake which takes just under 90 minutes and at the highest point gives you a view of both Blue Lake and Green Lake.  Tikitapu/Blue Lake was formed 13,500 years ago and in Maori named as the place where the daughter of a high born chief lost her sacred greenstone neck ornament (tikitapu).  With a sandy beach on one side it is a popular swimming and waterskiing lake.  Rotokakahi/Green Lake was formed 13,300 years ago and in Maori is named Kakahi/Lake of the Shellfish.  This lake is owned by the local Maori and is considered sacred, no access to the lake is permitted.

Blue Lake (top) Green Lake (bottom)

Well, I must say that our week in Rotorua has been filled with numerous walks and hikes with not a historic building or cathedral in sight, much to Blair’s delight 🙂  Rotorua is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream with an endless offering of activities available.  There is no question we are getting more than our quota of fresh air and exercise here.  All good preparation for our planned epic hike next week!

Before leaving this post I must mention the outstanding hospitality of our hosts at Central Park Cottage.  The main house is very near the cottage and our hosts were over the top with Kiwi hospitality.  We spent a few pleasurable hours discussing New Zealand, world travels and their life as sheep and beef farmers.  This current farm of 30 acres and 50 head of cattle is a downsize and pretty much a hobby farm since selling their former 700 acre business farm.  It was such a joy to wake up every morning looking out over the fields watching the cows wandering about.  Check out our accommodation page to get the link to this fabulous property if you plan to visit the Rotorua area.  We are sad to leave this beautiful place however our journey South continues, next stop Turangi and the Tongariro Crossing…..



Trip Tips

Reservations ahead of time to visit Hobbitton are essential, you can book tickets on their website here.



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