Rotorua - Thermal Wonderland
The small city of Rotorua is situated in the middle of the geothermal area of New Zealand's north island. Should you be uncertain if you have found the right spot, just wind down your window - you will know.
The Taupo Volcanic Zone that Rotorua is part of is a highly active volcanic area that spans some 350 by 50 kilometers across. It is named after lake Taupo, which is at it's center, although the term "lake" might not be the most appropriate one. It is actually the caldera of the largest volcano in the area, it just so happens to be filled with water.
For some obscure reason this city is widely referred to as "Rotovegas" by the local Kiwi population. I could never quite understand why and no one could explain it to me: Bright lights, loud music and casinos - that is everything that Rotorua is not. When I turned to Nikki for an explanation, the reply I got was: "What do you mean? It's Rotovegas!". I silently looked at her for a couple of seconds. Then I decided to let it go.
But all naming conventions aside, Rotorua is as touristy as things will get in New Zealand and that for good reason. There is a huge variety of activities you can do here, ranging from hot pools and SPA resorts to quad biking, mountain biking, rafting or zip lining. You can even roll downhill in a gigantic ZORB ball filled with water, if that should tickle your fancy. But keep in mind that everything here is relatively pricy, and it will leave quite a dent in your wallet, especially if you're in season (December-February). If you're backpacking and on a tight budget, Rotorua might not be the right place for you (Taupo is a slightly cheaper alternative).
What makes this place really special however is the geothermal activity that is visible everywhere in and around the city. Waiotapu, Waimangu, Orakei, Craters of the moon, all those places are just as interesting as they sound and well worth their money. If you don't want to spend too much, we suggest you pick the places you want to visit in the order stated above (Waiotapu is definitely the best pick, Craters of the moon might be considered as the "worst"). The views you will see here are quite unique: volcanic lakes, geysers, sulphur caves, mud pools, craters and other strange formations. Names like "Artist's Palette" or "Champagne Pool" will stick with you for a while as they are very fitting and well deserved.
Our last visit to Rotorua was after we did a 3 days hike of Lake Waikaremoana. We didn't really plan it, but after those 3 days of camping and grinding we decided to book one night in a hotel in "Rotovegas" and spend the next day in the Polynesian hot pools. By "we decided" I mean Nikki did. It definitely was worth it though.