48 hours in Waikato: Rotorua & Waitomo, NZ

You know you’re a powerlifter when you get off work at 1:00pm to avoid weekend traffic, but insist on training before leaving town. Then end up in rush hour at 4:30pm anyway.

Or at least that’s how things go when Brett and I plan a road trip.

After driving 7 hours North of Wellington (including traffic halts), Brett and I checked into our AirBNB (a lovely place called Tui Rest at a fantastic price of $65NZD/night). Regardless of our bedtime, we only had a weekend away and woke up early on Saturday to check out the tourist town of Rotorua in the Waikato region of New Zealand.

Fun fact: Wellington City only has one Starbucks, so I’m not ashamed to say that we made a beeline for Rotorua’s Starbucks on Saturday morning.

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Kuirau Park, Rotorua

Near the shops is Kuirau Park, which looks like a Jurassic Park movie set with its steaming vents and bubbling ponds. I think this is the best thing about Rotorua – only slightly ruined when you get the occasional whiff of sulfur gas.

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Skyline Rotorua

Brett and his family vacationed in Rotorua when he was a kid. And although the pungent smell of rotten eggs didn’t rustle up any childhood memories for me – our visit to Skyline Rotorua did the trick.

Skyline Rotorua is essentially an outdoor “Fun Park” (I made that word up). After a gondola ride to the top, there’s a luge track, swing, zip line and petting zoo (in case you still haven’t seen enough sheep – because I know I sure haven’t!). Oh, and there’s also a massive mountain bike park, if you’re into that crazy stuff.

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We tackled the luge and the swing – both of which were terrifying for a risk-averse person like myself.

Despite my reservations, I went flying (or as Brett would say, “rode the brakes” – I’ll leave you to believe who’s more accurate) down the luge track anyway. I do these things for Brett.

And for the record: If you push the handlebars all the way forward, they essentially act as an Emergency Break. Trust me on this one.

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I’m still laughing at the people who messaged Brett on Instagram asking how long he was in Las Vegas for.

The “swing” was something else. Perhaps it’s best that I didn’t know what was going to happen before I got strapped in, hauled to the top of a giant slingshot, and pulled the cord. I’ve never screamed so much in my life – but I’d do it again!

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This baby goes 150km/hr and swings out over the cliff, overlooking Rotorua below.

After the risky adventures, we made our way back into town, ate some of the worst sushi I’ve ever had, and made a pit stop at the liquor store before heading back to the AirBNB for a mid-afternoon beer and lounging session.

Sulfur Springs: Kerosene Creek

Around 6:00pm we made the decision not to go to Hell’s Gate (mud and sulfur pools), which I had dreamed about since we decided to move to New Zealand in March 2016. But, as usual, Brett made a good observation: We were about to pay $100 to sit in a mud pool with dozens of other people, then going into a giant sulfur bathtub with a dozen more.

So instead, we experienced the “giant bathtub” scenario free-of-charge by making our way to Kerosene Creek, located about 25 minutes from Rotorua (easily searchable on Google Maps).

I didn’t take any photos, but I did enjoy the hot springs and even more so relished in the fact that I experienced bathing with the masses for free.

Waitomo: Ruakuri Cave

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I will no longer go out of my way to do “Bucket List” items that I’m not actually keen on. And when I saw a photo on TripAdvisor of dozens of tourists crammed into wooden boats like sardines in a dark cave – that was the end of my desire for the Waitomo Glowworm Cave tour.

HOWEVER. Upon further (highly technical) online research, I determined that Ruakuri Cave would best fulfill our desires. So on Sunday morning, we hopped in the car and drove 2.5 hours to Waitomo – a very ‘scenic’ route for heading back to Wellington.

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Caffeine pit stop at the Rotorua Farmers’ Market before leaving town.

Unlike the traditional glowworm tour, the Ruakuri Cave is a 90-minute walking tour. And although there are only a few glowworms to be seen, I was seriously impressed by the cave formations, the history of the cave, and the level of care taken to create such an incredible experience. Also a bonus: This tour has a max capacity of 18 people, and allows cameras (just don’t be annoying and blind your fellow tourists with the flash).

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Glowworm threads! Cool but gross.

Arriving at the destination is slightly underwhelming, but I can guarantee that when you leave the parking lot, you won’t stop thinking about the hidden caves you’re passing by on the drive home.

Our tour guide also pointed out the Ruakuri Cave Trail, which is *free*, located directly next to the tour parking lot, and allows you to see more of the caves in the area. I’ll definitely plan for a more thorough exploration the next time we’re in the area.

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In summary, if you only have 48 hours to spare, there’s no reason not to take a quick road trip across the North Island, fly through the air at 150km/hr, chill out in a natural hot spring, and peruse through an ominous cave in the middle of nowhere.

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And we always make time for photos with a giant kiwi bird.