Walk 130: Rotorua New Zealand. It’s smelly but you’ll get a great welcome

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.12 miles (6.7km)

Time to walk: With stops to look at churches & other sights, this walk took us about 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy, flat & all on hard surfaces

Parking: Plenty of on street parking

Public toilets: Cafes, bars, hotels etc

Map of the route:

We visited Rotorua as part of our 2019 Australia & New Zealand trip. You know when you’re there because you’ll smell it!

Rotorua, which gets its name from the Maori ‘Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe’, meaning “The second great lake of Kahumatamomoe” is a city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island

The city has an estimated permanent population of 59,500, making it the country’s 10th largest urban area. Rotorua is a major destination for both domestic & international tourists. The tourism industry is by far the largest industry in the district. It’s known for its geothermal activity & features geysers

The area was initially settled by Maori of the Te Arawa Iwi in the 14th century. During the early 1820s Ngapuhi led by chief Hongi Hika launced a series of raids into the Bay of Plenty as a part of the Musket Wars, in 1823 a Ngapuhi raiding party led by Hongi Hika attacked Te Arawa at their Pa (Fortified settlement) on Mokoua Island defeating them. The first European in the area was probably Phillip Tapsell who was trading from the Bay of Plenty coast at Maketu from 1828. He later married into Te Arawa & became highly regarded by them

The lakeshore was a prominent site of skirmishes during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. A “special town district” was created in the 1883, to promote Rotorua’s potential as a spa destination. The town was connected to Auckland with the opening of the Rotorua Branch railway, resulting in the rapid growth of the town & tourism from this time forward

Shall we go & have a wander?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk round this city starts at the Information Centre on the corner of Fenton & Arawa Streets. We didn’t know a great deal about Rotorua so thought we’d canvass the staff as to “what not to miss”. We suggested a few things & they said “Yes, that’s it” & weren’t able to offer anything else, so we sat down with their map & drew up our own route

2. Over the road on Fenton Street’s the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre. The venue offers banquet, concert, conference, meeting & exhibition spaces, along with a 686 tiered seating theatre

3. Cross over Arawa Street & continue along Fenton Street…

…passing part of the city’s World War II war memorial. This road leading to the lake front is called War Memorial Drive. Rotorua’s citizens decided to develop a park on Lake Rotorua as their Second World War memorial. Fundraising began in 1951. In 1955 contracts were let for both the reclamation of the lakefront & the construction of memorial gates. At the opening ceremony on Anzac Day 1958 the memorial gates at the entrance to War Memorial Drive were dedicated

The roll of honour on the gates consisted of four granite tablets listing the names, ranks and serial numbers of 93 men from the area who had been killed on active service. On 8th October 1972 an olive tree gifted by the people of Crete to the NZ Veterans of the Battle of Crete was planted nearby. In April 1993 Rotorua District council & the RSA redeveloped the memorial area at the entrance to War Memorial Drive, at which stage a plaque with an RSA badge & plaques commemorating the Malayan Emergency & Korean & Vietnam Wars were added. On 13th August 2000 the Burma Star Association (NZ) also unveiled a memorial plaque honouring all who had served in the Burma Campaign

4. As mentioned, at the end of the road & park is the lake front with its very attractive boardwalk…

The path to the right leads to Sulphur Point Wildlife Refuge & Motutara Golf Course, however our route is to the left

The Rotorua region has 17 lakes, known collectively as the Lakes of Rotorua. Fishing, waterskiing, swimming & other water activities are popular in summer. The lakes are also used for event venues. Rotorua hosted the 2007 World Waterski Championships & Lake Rotorua was the venue for the World Blind Sailing Championships in March 2009

5. It’s also a departure & landing point for sea planes…

…some of which will take you to see White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano which lies 50km off the coast

6. Continue along the boardwalk. In the picture below you can see the church which we really wanted to visit & will come to shortly

At the tree, the boardwalk ends & we continue on the small road following the signs towards Oheinmutu Maori Village

7. The Maori village of Ohinemutu gives visitors the chance to glimpse the Maori way of life. Members of the Ngāti Whakaue tribe live in the village. They gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built. Ngati Whakaue is a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) which journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand around 1350AD

The location was chosen for its lakeside setting & abundant geothermal energy, used for cooking, bathing & heating. Visitors are welcome to walk around the living village. Remember to keep to the paths at all times

8. Walk through into the beautiful Maori area & turn to look at Te Papaiouru Marae which is the home marae of the Ngati Whakaue. The mare’s carved wharenui (meeting house), Tamatekapua, is named after Tama-te-kapua, the chief or captain of the Te Arawa canoe, which came to New Zealand from Polynesia in about 1350

Tamatekapua meeting house was first opened in the centre of Ohinemutu in 1873, but was demolished in 1939. It was rebuilt & reopened in 1943. Many of its carvings may be much older. An earlier Tamatekapua meeting house stood on Mokoia Island. Te Kotahitanga (the Māori parliament) met here in 1895, & many significant people have been welcomed onto Te Papaiouru Marae, including British royalty

Take time to look at the incredible carvings in the area…

9. Opposite the Marae is the church we’ve come to see, St Faith’s. A church has stood on this site at Ohinemutu since 1885, the first being called ‘Te Hahi o Te Whakapono’ – The Church of the Faith & the second dedicated on the same site in 1914, called St Faith’s Anglican Church

Go inside & chat with the curator as they’re really happy to show you around

What most people come to see though is the Galilee window on the east side of the church, which was installed in 1967 giving the impression of a Maori Jesus walking on the water of Lake Rotorua. You do have to position yourself low in a pew to get the best shot!

10. Come out of the church & walk down Tuohopu Street where there’s a considerable amount of thermal activity…

The Maori have used the springs as a resource for healing, relaxtion, educational forms, economic opportunities, cooking food & preparation of weaving materials. It’s quite bizarre to suddenly come across a drain at the side of the road that has a boiling spring in it!

11. To return towards the city centre, turn left along Ariariterangi Street. There’s some old traditional canoes on the left

All along the street, steam’s escaping & it all feels like you’re sitting on something that’s about to blow, which is basically true!

12. The street eventually arrives at the main road…

Cross over & enter the incredible Kuirau Park. In the early 1800s, the small lake in the centre of the park was much cooler & was known as Taokahu. Legend tells us that a beautiful young woman named Kuiarau was bathing in the waters when a taniwha (dragon) dragged her to his lair below the lake. The gods above were infuriated & made the lake boil so that the Taniwha would be destroyed forever. From that time on, the bubbling lake and the steaming land around it have been known by the name of the lost woman, although the spelling has changed a little from Kuiarau to ‘Kuirau’

Walking tracks lead to numerous areas of vigorous geothermal activity. Provided you stay on the cool side of the safety fences, visitors are generally quite safe!!

New eruptions do occur from time to time, so it pays to err on the side of caution. In 2001 mud and rocks the size of footballs were suddenly hurled 10 metres into the air as a new steam vent spontaneously announced its arrival. Two years later, similar eruptions provided a real bonus for delighted visitors

13. Follow the paths through the park & steam (at times it was quite thick) to arrive at the rather splendid foot baths

Needless to say…it had to be done & it was wonderfully warm & therapeutic

14. Suitably refreshed, it’s time to move on. Exit the park & cross into Punuatua Street & then left into Amohia Street…

At the end, opposite the school, turn right down Arawa Street & then first left into Rangiuru Street. Opposite is Rotorua Citizens Club which is affiliated to Clubs of New Zealand & Clubs Australia, & offers accommodation, restaurant & other facilities to members. This club dates back to 1926

15. After approximately 100 yards take a right turn along Whakaue Street…

…& then right again into, what’s probably Rotorua’s most famous area, Tutanekai Street, this end of which is also known as ‘Eat Streat’

Eat Streat has numerous excellent restaurants, cafes & bars & the covered central walkway with retractable roofing means that it’s vibrant all year round entertainment. They also make excellent use of the city’s hot springs as the footpath is thermally heated!!

16. Carry straight on down Tutaznekai Street. There’s plenty of shops to stop & explore if you so wish

There’s also several bars to stop & try. The Pig & Whistle looks quite like a British pub! Located in a 1940s building that was once the city’s police station before it closed in 1969. It’s been a pub since 1993

17. Rotorua, like many city’s & towns, is a place where you need to keep looking up as, whilst many of the lower facias of the buildings may have changed, the upper parts retain their original looks. One such is Graeffs Building, to the side of which is a small structure which was the local bakery

Another is the Central Chambers, which was obviously built in 1930 & housed the local hardware store

18. At the junction with Hinemoa Street’s an interesting piece of art with Maori carvings…

19. Turn left along Hinemoa Street where there’s more restaurants etc…

You’ve got to give this one credit for the most applicable restaurant name in the city!

20. Cross over Fenton Street & Hinemaru Street to arrive at Rotorua Arts Village which is home to over 30 arts & cultural groups. It opened in 2002 & provides a venue for exhibitions, talks, & arts networking events & a variety of art classes for both adults & children

21. Continue along the side of the Arts Village to enter the Government Gardens

We’ll have a look at these in more detail shortly as this part is the car park. The building directly ahead though is the Polynesian Spa. People have been coming to this spa since the 1800s to bathe in the water which is supposed to have healing & therapeutic properties

Waters from two natural springs are fed into the 28 mineral pools, each with a different property. Polynesian Spa is recognised as one of the top 10 spas in the world

22. Walk through into the Government Gardens themselves. It’s a lovely relaxing part of the city. Originally known as Paepaekumana, the Government Gardens are of legendary & historical importance to local Maori people, as many battles took place here. In the late 1800s, the Maori people gifted 50 acres of this land to the crown “for the benefit of the people of the world”. The land was a scrub-covered geothermal area with several therapeutic pools. The scrub was cleared & formal gardens planted. Realising the opportunity to create a South Pacific spa attraction, in 1908 the New Zealand government opened a large and elaborate bath house, built in the Elizabethan Tudor style of architecture

The building houses a museum but the whole building’s been closed since the earthquake on 14th November 2016. Spend some time walking round the park as it is delightful…

23. Come out of the Gardens into Hinemaru Street. Directly ahead’s the local Government buildings. Turn right & walk to the junction with Arawa Street. Across the road’s the colonial looking Princes Gate Hotel, which stands next to another entrance into the Gardens called Princes Gate Archway…

Continue along Arawa Street to arrive back at the Information Centre where we started this walk

So that’s our short look at this compact, fascinating & smelly city. The one thing we really took away from it was the traditions & amazing welcome of the Maori people – it was overwhelming

If you do visit the city then we recommend a ‘must visit’ to ‘Te Puia’ which is a thermal reserve & Maori cultural centre featuring more than 500 springs, including ‘Pohutu’ (Big Splash) which erupts up to 20 times a day, sending water up to 30 metres high. Check out our videos below…

It’s an incredible place, so…

Go Walk!

PS…if you want to know how to do the Haka…