Trendy, spunky, cosmopolitan Wellington is not only a global hub for the arts, but it’s also been called “the coolest little capital in the world.” Naturally, given its lofty artistic reputation and wealth of live entertainment, it should only make sense that the city hosts a festival that last for nearly three months.
When teaching children about different parts of nature—such as lakes, rivers, mountains, oceans, volcanos, islands, or geysers—you could show them an illustrated, geographic atlas—or just take them to Rotorua. Here in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, Rotorua is set within striking distance of most of Earth’s natural attractions. Dozens of lakes seem to float between hills that rise into alpine mountains, and rivers teeming with whitewater rapids all rush their way down towards the sea. As you can imagine, hiking in Rotorua is a great way to experience all of this natural splendor, but so is getting a bird’s eye view and seeing Rotorua from above.
There are many reasons to visit Rotorua, but hiking isn’t one of the main reasons that usually comes to mind. Instead, it’s usually some of its more notable features—such as mystical, steaming geothermal wonders that might feel like another planet, or powerful Maori haka dances at a smoky evening hangi—but the amount of hiking trails around Rotorua usually comes as a surprise. Many of the top hikes near Rotorua are located to the east of town, and circle the various lakes of Rotorua or climb the nearby hills. The mountain biking around Rotorua is also some of the best on the North Island, so after you’ve visited the geothermal geysers and feasted on an evening hangi, wake up the next morning and walk off the meal on the city’s surrounding trails.
The central part of New Zealand’s North Island holds dozens of outdoor adventures, but seeing the rock carvings on Lake Taupo is an experience unlike the rest. Though the carvings appear to be hundreds of years old, they were only chiseled into the Mine Bay cliff face in the late 1970s. As a personal gift to the the city of Taupo, legendary carver Matahi Whakatata-Brightwell spent four summers diligently carving the massive cliffs at Mine Bay. The face that’s depicted is of Ngotoroirangi—a navigator who helped lead Maori tribes to Taupo in the 13th century. The carving measures over 30 feet in height, and the facial tattoos that are reflected in the carving reflect those of the original navigator.
Wellington is one of the world’s best capitals, thanks in large part to its legendary art scene, trendy cafes, and serpentine, beach-laden coastline. Even with all of its charms, however, it’s always nice to escape the city and breathe some fresh country air—wander freely amidst the vines or chase the sound of the wind. One of the best places to get back to nature is in the Wairarapa countryside, a thinly-populated, sprawling hinterland an hour outside of Wellington.
Native Maori—like their fellow Polynesians—use hot stones and an earthen oven to cook and prepare their food. Known as a “hangi” here in New Zealand, this underground oven can cook meats, poultry, sweet potatoes, and seafood with just the right temperature and taste. Visiting a hangi in Rotorua is an authentic (and tasty!) experience, and a hangi is usually a part of the evening at cultural sites in Rotorua.