With my bags spread across my bed as I rummaged through draws to find my best threads for shredding the dirt, hitting the rapids and dancing the night away, I readied myself for my trip to Quee…..ROTORUA?!? In classic cartoon fashion I had to double take as I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I mean, I had heard that Rotorua was the only mountain bike destination that Red Bull even rate in the Southern Hemisphere, and when it comes to things like that Red Bull just seem to know…. I know they have the “real luge” there too…. Throw in some people who poke their tongues out at you and I haven’t even mentioned the Maori culture yet…. But Adventure?!? Now, more than anything, I’m curious.
Once an exclusive experience for those who stand high on the pillars of social hierarchy, taking to the skies really is a beautiful way to travel. I never really realised just how close Rotorua was to everything, but from up high you get really good perspective. I counted almost 20 lakes in the region as we started our final approach as I took in the amazing views of White Island and the Pacific Ocean. We circled around the surprisingly circular Lake Rotorua with Mokoia island standing proudly in the middle. I can’t take the credit for knowing the name of the island, I was told this by my new friend and travel buddy Scotty, who had the pleasure of my showered company for this short flight from Auckland.
I was more than surprised to see a bloody great big jet that had plonked itself next to the main terminal as I landed at what is now the Rotorua International Airport. International?!? Rotorua?!? Am I in a classic Star Trek movie, caught in an alternate reality? My new friend Scotty also tells me that Rotorua now has scheduled flights from Australia. Boy have things changed. Being a wealth of knowledge I asked Scotty what the other plane next to that was. “We get those private planes all the time bro, all those rich fullas and movie stars keep coming here. Apparently they reckon it’s a really choice place to hang out”. My curiosity just turned to excitement as I get the feeling
that I’m about to see Rotorua as I’ve never seen it before.
Stepping in to the sunshine as I disembark with the sun glistening off the lake I look forward to meeting yet another new friend who can enjoy my superb levels of personal hygiene. I was given a brief description of my host and he fit the bill perfectly; “You’ll be meeting Jordy, good looking chap with blonde dreads and always makes you smile”. They weren’t wrong. One of the loveliest and most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, the Rotorua born and bred local oozes personality and is instantly likeable, by both guys and apparently the ladies too. We collect my bags and head outside, I see a few nice looking vans (this is already promising) and I ask which way. He points at the Range Rover. I thought Jordy was joking but sure enough, we are riding with bling today.
As we cruise along, Jordy tells me stories of his escapades as a private guide specialising in Adventure and Cultural tourism. We talk about hosting Royalty, Hollywood Royalty and all sorts of people who, let’s say, are probably the other half that are so commonly talked about. Jordy seems to have guided people from almost every walk of life although now with Multi-Day Adventures he seems to mostly take care of the “luxury” clientele.
“I love it, the people are cool and are here to have a good time. They love it here too because the people are real and the adventure is awesome, we never get bored around here”, tells Jordy.
It’s a big statement so I’m interested to see what our first adventure is. It’s pretty late on a Saturday afternoon so I had assumed we’d just be getting ready for tomorrow. Instead we drive just 10mins away from the airport to the Okere River. Apparently today we start at the top with some whitewater rafting action. As Jordy explains something about safety, in typical male fashion I pick up every third word or so. He doesn’t manage to string a full sentence together that really perks my ears up. I’m not the most confident around water but I do enjoy it. However as Jordy so eloquently describes “Tutea Falls, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world with a 7 metre vertical drop”, I feel the pulsation of certain muscles that can’t be described in this sort of publication. Yes, I’m excited, and maybe a tad nervous. It turns out I’m better than I gave myself credit for. I managed to get down the whole river without going upside down. This seems quite a feat for my first time rafting and when one in five rafts go upside on the big falls I can only assume it’s my skill that keeps us upright. I’m pretty sure that scream as we came down was Jordy’s, surely not mine.
As we finish up the sun starts to tuck itself in after another wonderful day in paradise. Jordy lives close by to the river and says we should stop in to his local for a drink before heading to the hotel. Not one to be rude and turn down the offer of an ale, I oblige. Okere Falls Store is a humble place that wouldn’t be known to many, but it is popular with those in the know. We bypass the very cool looking eco-store café that makes up the front half of the Store and continue out back. We arrive to the most amazing little beer garden I’ve ever seen in New Zealand. With a band playing right next to the outdoor bar with two serveries of some of Germanys and our very own finest brews, I may have just found my new favourite chill out spot. Jordy opts for a Rotorua craft beer and “Beer of the Year” winning brew, Crouchers, while I decide to try another local brand to keep in theme, Volcanic Hills Wine. We sit back, relax, listen to music and even manage to meet some very lovely, both socially and on the eye, locals.
Jordy’s friends seem to be bred in to the Red Bull world. All local to Rotorua and based here, one is a professional kayaker and was rated as one of the hottest athletes of the last Olympics. She is accompanied by an entourage of equally over achieving friends; a 3 times world champion extreme kayaker, a professional downhill mountain biker, a 5 times world rafting champion, 2 other Olympians and me. The worst part, they were all so nice.
After feeling humbled without even lifting a finger, Jordy thinks it’s time for us to “make tracks” and get me to my accommodation to rest before dinner. I check in to the hotel, a boutique 5 star joint in the middle of town, and am surprised at the design. It is stunning and seems like the perfect setting to later come back to and try a cocktail or two in the bar. I relax in my room for a bit before I wander down to meet Jordy. He’s in the bar chatting to yet another person. Is there anyone he doesn’t know?
The aptly named “Eat Streat” is a new feature for the city. Just around the corner from a number of hotels, this inner city entertainment area is bustling with people merrily eating, drinking and enjoying the live music. The covered walkway which lights up with stunning colours and links the two blocks of restaurants, cafes and bars together is a hive of activity. I’m even told that the concrete floor is heated in the winter time to make those June alfresco dining nights comfortable. Jordy leads the way to a very popular pub, Brew. It turns out this is the anchor point for the ever increasingly growing Crouchers Craft Beer brand. Judging by the number of overly happy people here, it must be good. We are joined by more of Jordy’s work mates; Brothers Tak and Tu who own a group of companies in Rotorua including Multi-Day Adventures, the lovely Laura who also has a knack for this rafting and mountain biking thing (she is one of the Multi-Day Adventure guides), Melissa from OGO (apparently I’m meeting her later, to OGO of course), Adrian (all round nice guy and apparently a whizz at organizing events) and Julie with her partner Joe (both work for Mountain Bike Rotorua and are those sort of people who are instantly likable).
The next morning I feel surprisingly good. A wonderful jog around the lake front area and a delicious breakfast at one of the many cafes that now seem to fill the Rotorua CBD, I’m ready for my next
adventure, Mountain Biking.
This really is a bike mad place and it’s no wonder. Once Rotorua’s best kept secret, I’ve just seen why this is considered the mecca of mountain biking. The trails are superb and there are just so many of them, 140kms of purpose built riding tracks, and only 5 minutes driving from the CBD. I’m falling in love with this place.
I’m pretty pumped afterwards so we keep the buzz going and make our way to see Melissa from OGO. It’s globing time… So much fun you giggle like a little school girl, just fantastic. Jordy has something special lined up afterwards too. All of a sudden, as I sit in the hot tub at the OGO site watching others roll their way down the hill distant thumping of the twirling rotor blades of a helicopter get ever increasingly louder. “Time to go my matey” says Jordy as Danielle touches down. She’ll be flying us today and I’m quite excited. It isn’t my first time in a helicopter but I still love that feeling of taking off and having the ground disappear underneath you as you climb to hover effortlessly in the air. We are on our way to White Island.
We travel in tandem with another one of the Volcanic Air tours as we make our way out to the island. The active volcano is other worldy and gives me visions of Neil Armstrong taking those first few steps. I may have uttered the cliché as I stepped out of the helicopter too. We explore the hissing rocks and bright beautiful colours that make up the landscape and I’m in awe of the fact that I’m standing on one of mother natures most epic creations. Very cool stuff.
The day isn’t finished though as we land at Lake Rotoiti, just 15 minutes from Rotorua, and meet our next hosts and all round nice guys, the team from Pure Cruise. It’s an impressive sight landing on the lake edge next to a 52 foot luxury catamaran. Jordy has taken the liberty of inviting a few of the folks I met in the beer garden yesterday to join us for a wonderful sailing on the lake, and it couldn’t be any more perfect. Matt, the owner and skipper of Pure Cruise, invites me on board and introduces his lovely first
mate, Louise. She offers a glass of bubbles, I say yes. She offers a bean bag to sit on the bow (I’m adpadting to my environment but for those who don’t know, this is the front), I say ok. She then offers canape’s, how can I say no. Yup, life is tough.
We cruise on the lake sharing stories of past lives, taking turns at the helm as we explore the beautiful surroundings. We soon arrive at Manupirua Hot Spings, a tribally owned natural geothermal hot pool only accessible by boat. That’s right, no driving in or walking access, just those who make the journey from one side of the lake to the other. This place is magic, lake edge thermal pools where you can either sit and relax or make the plunge of the end of the wharf in to the lake before heading back to the pools to warm up. Yup, life is tough.
Eventually tearing ourselves away from the relaxing thermal springs we hop back aboard our boat and enjoy a delicious gourmet BBQ dinner before disembarking and heading back to the hotel to chill. One last day in Vegas to go.
It is Rotorua after all and it would be rude to not go and luge. Jordy along with some of his work mates and I make our way up the hill before my early afternoon flight. As I sit in the gondola, lazing our way up the side of Mt Ngongotaha, I look out and realise that there’s a reason I loved this place as a kid. Now as an adult, it seems like Rotorua has grown up with me, and that there is in fact a more mature side to it that still captures that essence of fun and adventure I remember as a kid visiting this place. Even the luge has changed, in a good way, and I feel like I’m in a place that can capture anybody who visits. I’ve dived a little deeper in to Rotorua and it really has delivered. I’m not just talking about the amazing activities either. Don’t get me wrong, that really is the best mountain biking in New Zealand, by far, and the most fun rafting trip I’ve ever done anywhere in the world. More than that though, this place is real. Real people, real personalities and real experiences. Rotorua, I heart you.