As well as being known for its thermal activity, Rotorua also has an adventurous side which we were keen to discover for ourselves. First up was a white water rafting trip on the Kaituna River, which Rachael’s parents Paul and Lorraine had arranged for us as a Christmas present.
The 50 minute, Grade 5 trip was booked with the highly recommended Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company. We arrived at the meeting point early, both very excited to get going. After a short safety briefing, we were separated into groups of six and each given helmets, lifejackets and paddles. As we waited for our equipment, it was difficult to ignore all of the photos dotted around the walls of capsized rafts from previous trips.
Our journey down the river began with some smaller rapids, allowing us a chance to get used to the raft and paddling as a team, although our guide was clear that this was very much the calm before the storm.
We continued down the tight canyon, gathering speed as the rapids gradually became larger. Finally we reached the tour’s star attraction, the famous 7m Tutea Falls which is is the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall.
We nervously paddled towards the falls before plummeting over the edge, with the entire raft submerged under the water. Thankfully after a few seconds we emerged unscathed, all cheering as we checked that the whole crew was still aboard the raft. As the first raft down the falls, we then got to watch as each of the remaining rafts plummeted down just a few metres in front of us.
At the next rapids we all jumped out of the raft and swam through the white water, before rejoining our guide at the bottom. This made it even more apparent how powerful the water was, and we were pleased to climb back aboard the raft.
Arriving at the bottom of the rapids and the end of our trip, we all climbed out before carrying the raft to a waiting trailer. This ended what had been a brilliant experience, and with the adrenaline still pumping we could have happily done it all over again!
The next activity on our list for Rotorua was mountain biking in the Whakarewarewa Forest, or the Redwoods as it is more commonly know. The vast forest stretches across over 5,600 hectares, and is home to a huge number of walking and biking trails.
We hired bikes from Planet Bike, with two hours costing us $35 (£19) each. After being provided with a map of the many trails to choose from, we rode along a short gravel track which took us into the forest.
Our route took us along several Grade 2 intermediate trails, including the Dipper and the Tahi track. We soon found that confidence is key to successful mountain biking. Overconfidence on the other hand is definitely not as I soon discovered, flying over one of the many mounds far too quickly and landing on a tree stump before falling into a ditch.
With a freshly grazed elbow but no serious damage, I climbed back on my bike and we continued along the trails. Soon we found ourselves completely lost within the labyrinth of trails, having to ask for directions back to the entrance. We finally made our way back to the car park, although this was along a track so steep that neither of us dared to ride down it.
While in the forest we also took a far more relaxing stroll along one of the many walking trails, which started nearby at the main Visitor Centre.
The Californian Redwoods that give the forest its name were planted in 1901, due to their widely regarded reputation as excellent timber. The trees now tower above the ground, making us feel incredibly small, with the largest in the forest having reached a height of 72m.
Just a short drive further south from the town we found the neighbouring lakes of Tikitapu and Rotokakahi. More commonly known as the Blue and Green Lakes, as the name would suggest, despite sitting side by side they are completely different colours.
After a coffee at the very cool Airstream cafe, we began along a walking trail which took us around the Blue Lake, before climbing to a viewpoint where both lakes were visible. With such a small distance between them, the difference in water colour was striking
We followed the trail further around the lake, with this section being used as part of the route for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon. Although there are several different events, the main race is a mind blowing 100 mile loop which begins and ends in Rotorua’s Government Gardens. It made us tired just watching as the exhausted runners slowly overtook us and continued along the narrow trail.
It had been a great, action-packed few days in Rotorua, and we left with lots of great memories, as well as one or two bumps and bruises!