Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rotorua: 4 Unmissable Activities Off the Beaten Track

Rotorua, known for its pungent rotten egg smell, is probably New Zealand's most touristy city. So, for those who like to get off the beaten track, it can be difficult to know what's worth doing.

This list isn't exhaustive: there are plenty of other cool things to do in Rotorua (hot tip: if you visit the Buried Village, make you you do the side-route to the waterfall - it's worth it). But, this is a list of my favourite four things in Rotorua that you're unlikely to hear much about elsewhere.

And the best part is, you can do all of them in 4-5 hours.

#1.  Wai-O-Tapu
Visiting a Geothermal area in Rotorua is absolutely essential, whatever kind of traveller you are. Having done several, I think the best one for people who like getting off the beaten track is definitely Wai-O-Tapu. It's about 25 minutes out of town, so it gets less visitors, and it offers the most colourful range of different kinds of volcanic sights I've ever come across. The only slightly less-cool thing is that their geyser is stimulated with a chemical to make it go off at a regular time each day.

The Wai-O-Tapu geyser

The vibrant palette at Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu's most famous sight: the Champagne Pools

Oh, ya know, just an acidic, highlighter green-coloured pool

#2.  Kerosene Creek
This place is the best kept secret in Rotorua. A naturally occurring spa pool, complete with a hot waterfall. Let me just say that again: a hot waterfall! It's located a 5 minute drive from Wai-O-Tapu and completely free. Do not miss it.

#3. Māori Jesus

St Faith's Church, a beautiful Tudor-style building right next to a traditional Māori marae (meeting house), has a special secret. Instead of a traditional stained-glass window, they have an ordinary window looking through to the lake, with a white Jesus figure painted on it, appearing to walk across the lake towards you. And what makes it even more special is the fact that Jesus is wearing a Māori cloak and has Māori features. I love this sign of harmony between religion and indigenous culture.

#4.  The best pies in New Zealand
We Kiwis are damned serious about pies. Not the family-sized fruit pies you see overseas, but a single-serving meat pie with flaky pastry. When I was in London there wasn't a kiwi treat I missed more than an old fathful mince and cheese pie.

So, telling you I know where to find the best pies in New Zealand is quite a big deal. But I'm going to: Better Pies 2000 has an awful name, but the most amazing pies you will ever taste. Usually I'm a total carnivore, but even the vegetarian one is incredible: with pumpkin, broccoli, carrot, mushroom all in a delicious cheesy sauce. Honestly, try anything, they're all good.

Once you've got your pie, drive back to the lake and eat it on the edge of the pier. It's bliss.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Magical Coromandel (in Photos)

"This place should have more visitors. It deserves them. You mark my words, the tourists will come flocking here in a few years when word gets out"
- my friend Ally, upon discovering the Coromandel for the first time

Most overseas visitors come to New Zealand expecting the epic snowy mountains from the Lord of the Rings. And they'll find them too - when they visit the South Island. Sadly, this means many visitors find the North Island to be underwhelming. But, once you get out of the cities, the North Island is every bit as beautiful (albeit in a warmer kind of way). If you're visiting Auckland in the summertime, do yourself a favour: hop on a bus or hire a car and get yourself to the Coromandel.

Whangamata beach (pronounced Fung-ah-mah-tah)
The Coromandel Peninsula is just a few hours drive from Auckland, but these sleepy seaside towns are a few degrees warmer than Auckland all year round. That's probably why the whole area is overflowing with local holidaymakers around New Years. But, arrive just a few weeks earlier or later, and you'll practically have the place to yourself.

It feels wrong to bore you with too many words about such a photogenic place, so I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking...

Epic photobomb from my uncle, who now lives in Whangamata

My favourite beach on the peninsula: Hahei (pronounced Hah-hay)

Cathedral Cove - one of New Zealand's stunning natural wonders

Cathedral Cove alone is worth visiting the Coromandel to see

Even on a cloudy day, Cathedral Cove is still a stunner

Hot Water Beach - bring a spade and make a natural spa pool

The Driving Creek Railway in Coromandel Township - built by one crazy potter over decades

The view from the top of the Driving Creek Railway

I honestly can't recommend the Coromandel enough to people visiting New Zealand and wanting to see a less-touristy side of the North Island. It's truly magical.