Mission: The Redwoods (Rotorua)

When I think of Rotorua I think of boiling mud, geysers, Maori culture and relaxing hot pools. I definitely don’t think of stunning scenic walks through beautiful forests. But maybe I should.

I managed to organise a mid-week escape to Rotorua in a brief (literally less than 48 hours) that my partner and I had together between work commitments. This would be our first time together in just under a month and I was looking forward to a bit of a romantic getaway. Rotorua turned on a simply stunning day for us though and I couldn’t justify not checking out some of the local attractions.

I’m so glad we did. The Redwoods, aka Whakarewarewa Forest, is billed as one of Rotorua’s most spectacular natural assets. This is a high statement to live up to once you include the Whirinaki forest park, Wai o Tapu and Waimangu geothermal areas and the many stunning lakes in the area. 170 exotic tree species were planted in the Whakarewarewa forest from 1899 as a trial to test for suitable timber tree species for New Zealand’s North Island. The Redwoods is a Californian Redwoods plantation and covers 15 acres of the Tokorangi Forest, giving the area it’s nickname.

The road up to the visitor information building was lined with cars and the car park was busy and we knew the area catered for walker, mountain bikers and horse riders so we weren’t expecting the solitude, peace and tranquillity that seemed to envelop us after just a few minutes on the path.

There are 6 sign posted walks through the forest, from a half hour stroll to full day hikes. Not really knowing what to expect we decided on an hour and a half, slightly more than our usual strolls but not near our hiking capabilities. We headed in through thick stands of closely packed redwoods before the path changed to a wooden walkway over a fresh spring swamp that had me enchanted with its unusual colours. It took a while to work out that for the water to be so clear it had to be from a spring despite it’s standing appearance.

On the other side of the swamp lands were a lot more majestic redwoods. With the sunlight filtering through, the warm summer day and the toning of the trees on the red earth had me blissed out while my partner would stop every half hour or so and say ‘I can’t believe we’re all alone.’

Wandering through the forest was, for me, an added bonus in my relaxation scheme. Nothing like a little light exercise in a spectacularly beautiful area to make my day. But there were a few people out running, mountain biking and using the park to its full potential. We passed a family of three generations (plus their dog) on our easy walk, proving that the trail is suitable for most people.

My only regret on leaving was that we didn’t have enough time before going home to complete one of the bigger hikes. Next time…

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Mission – Polynesian Spa

Stepping into the steaming hot pool of mineral water at Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa I can almost feel my worries washing away and my body start to relax. Looking out across Lake Rotorua watching seagulls swoop my mind is taken off work and life. The natural setting and generous views are some of the best I’ve experienced in New Zealand hot pools and it’s no wonder the Polynesian Spa has been named one of the top 10 spas in the world by Conde Nast Traveller. 

I sink my shoulders under the water and tilt my face to the sky as the heavens open and I realise how much I really do love this kiwi tradition that is soaking in the nearest hot pool when the weather turns bad. Heavy rain, a chill wind and I couldn’t be happier. The pool I’m sitting in is 41 degrees Celsius and I’m nicely warmed through. My muscles have all but dissolved and my mind is relaxed to the point where I’m almost asleep. But not quite. There is one other person in the pool with us and of the seven pools here none are busy. 

The two springs that feed these pools provide alkaline and acid water that soothes my sensitive skin. Where usually spending 20 minutes in the bath at home will bring out a painful, red rash, I spend just under two hours soaking and moving between the two springs and escape without any reaction. The Priest spa is named after a Catholic priest who is said to have cured his arthritis soaking in these waters in the late 1800s and an old local belief has it that anyone who swims in the water from the alkaline Rachel Spring will receive ageless beauty. 

As for me I’m happy enough to have had a couple of hours to bliss out completely without any children to disturb the peace!

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