NEW ZEALAND: PART 5: ROTORUA AND TAUPO (NORTH ISLAND)

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The next stop on my journey was the central plateau of the North Island. I flew into Rotorua (ROT), the main airport in this area. The region has some of New Zealand’s most fertile land, beautiful scenery, and great lakes. The two premier resort destinations in this area are Rotorua and Taupo. Rotorua has been a hub of Maori culture for centuries. Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, is known for its world-class fishing.

This stretch of New Zealand is also a center of volcanic activity, with geysers, geothermal vents, hot springs, and boiling mud pools. In fact, the country’s only active volcano, White Island, is 30 miles off the coast. As you can imagine, the region also offers a wide range of outdoor activities –especially fishing, hiking, skydiving, rafting, and mountain biking.

While in Taupo, hike the Tongariro National Park, mountain bike on the Ohakune Old Coach Road, kayak on Lake Taupo, or zip down the Waikato river on a jet boat.

In Rotorua, marvel at geysers and bubbling mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland, enjoy a Maori concert or feast, soak in a hot spring, walk on suspended bridges at the Redwood Forest, or hike around Blue Lake or Lake Tarawera.

Where to stay in Taupo: I recommend Huka Lodge and The Kinloch Club, both Signature Partner resorts and members of the Luxury Lodges of NZ.

Huka Lodge is perhaps New Zealand’s oldest and best-known luxury resort. The property was founded almost 100 years ago on a superb location on the Waikato River, right above Huka falls. The resort’s 17 manicured acres, exceptional service, cozy and elegant accommodations have a loyal following of repeat guests – including Queen Elizabeth II, who has stayed here four times! Enjoy the property’s swimming pools, tennis courts, and fine dining during your stay. Tip: Request dinner at one of the property’s 20 romantic dining venues throughout the estate – including a private deck on the river (My favorite!).

Accommodations: The lodge offers 18 junior suites and 1 suite (double bed or twin share). For families or friends traveling together, stay at the 4-bedroom Owners’ Cottage, or the 2-bedroom Alan Pyle Cottage.

The Kinloch Club, opened 3 years ago, is located on a hill overlooking Lake Taupo. The resort is the sister property of Treetops Lodge, which I will cover in the Rotorua sectio below. Kinloch is Jack Nicklaus’ only 18-hole golf course in New Zealand and has been voted #1 in the country by PGA professionals.  The lodge has a modern, bold design, with floor to ceiling glass, great views, and spacious public areas, including a Whiskey and Champagne bar, two restaurants, and a large main lounge.

Accommodations: Kinloch Club has 10 luxury villas with junior suite,  one and two-bedroom configurations. Villas are very spacious, offering over 1,000 square feet of space. 

Where to stay in Rotorua: I recommend Treetops Lodge & Estate and Solitaire Lodge, both Signature Partner resorts and members of Luxury Lodges of New Zealand.

Treetops, opened seventeen years ago, is set within an enormous 2,500-acre estate of old native forest. The property has seven streams running through it, on-site trout fishing, four lakes, 35 miles of hiking trails, and many activities. The main lodge was built with estate-sourced materials and has large living and dining areas. The property also has a spa and its own helipad – convenient for adventures near and far. Dining is a highlight, with menus offering produce sourced from the estate. Don’t miss the hike to bridal veil falls (you can also arrange to have a picnic at the base of the waterfall), and the 4WD safari that tours the entire estate during your stay. 

Accommodations: There are 4 spacious suites in the main building, and 8 free-standing villas, nestled in the estate’s lush vegetation. Suites are well-appointed and offer over 500 sq. ft. of space and villas are quite large – with over 1,000 sq. ft. of space and generous living and sleeping quarters. All suites and villas have terraces. 

Solitaire Lodge, one of the first luxury lodges of New Zealand, is located at the tip of a peninsula on Lake Tarawera. This cozy, intimate lodge has a tranquil and understated feel to it, and you feel immediately at home the minute you arrive. The setting is wonderful, as you are surrounded by water on three sides. The property has its own helipad, as well as a pier on the lake – perfect for swimming and kayaking. The lodge is known for its service and the quality of the resort’s fine dining, serving contemporary New Zealand menus.

Accommodations: Solitaire offers 9 well-appointed suites, all featuring terraces and views of the lake.  

Ultimate Experience – White Island (Whakaari) 

Although there are dozens of great experiences in Rotorua and Taupo, the star attraction is a visit to White Island, an unforgettable destination. The island, New Zealand’s most active volcano, is located off the Whakatane coast. The landscape is like visiting another planet – with hissing vents spewing out sulfur, multi-colored rocks on your path, volcanic cones, and a large caldera at the main crater.

You can visit by van + boat, which most travelers opt for. My advice is to visit with a scenic helicopter flight, which will give you panoramic views of the countryside, coast, mountains, and White Island. If the winds cooperate, request landing on top of Tarawera volcano on your way back, for fantastic 360-degree views of lakes and countryside.

Courtesy of Ignacio Maza from Signature Travel Network

Next stop: Bay of Islands and Kauri Cliffs