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Strolling among the coastal redwoods of Rotorua and a visit to Rainbow Springs to find out more about the national symbol of New Zealand the odd little kiwis

1. THE REDWOODS OF WHAKAREWAREWA STATE FOREST 

When we got up this morning the weather looked less than promising! It had rained overnight and the sky was grey and threatened more of the wet stuff. We grabbed some breakfast and it was still day so we decided to head out to the nearby Whakarenwarewa Forest, where there was reportedly a Redwood grove. We were not disappointed as the rumours proved to be true. The redwoods are not natural to New Zealand, in fact, these are imported Californian Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). This particular grove was planted in 1901 as an experiment to provide a local source of timber

Unfortunately, the redwood trees grow quickly in the New Zealand climate which results in large cores of soft, brittle, low-density wood – making them useless for lumber. The lumber man’s loss was our gain as we took a long walk through these magnificent trees. The shade provided by these giants has provided ideal conditions for large fern trees to thrive and the combination of the redwoods, tree ferns and misty dampness of the day created a primordial atmosphere. After a bit of debate on whether we took the 30 minute or 90-minute walk – Emily lost the vote – and we ended up taking the long walk. 

The final part of the trail took us through the Redwoods, but from there we climbed upwards through more native vegetation. Whilst it was overcast it was hot and humid and we soon worked up quite a sweat, but the view through the openings at the top of the hill made it all worthwhile. The good thing was the second half of the walk was downhill!.

The Redwoods of Whakarewarewa State Forest
Impressive ferns in the Whakarewarewa State Forest

2. RAINBOW SPRINGS NATURE PARK

The weather stubbornly refused to improve, in fact, it deteriorated further! After our trek through the forest, we decided to head out to Rainbow Springs Nature Park, to find out more about Kiwis. This park is small but perfectly formed and we decided to upgrade our entry fee to include a guided tour of the Kiwi enclosures. The Kiwi is a strange creature, although it is considered to be a bird it has quite a few features that are more mammalian in nature. Whilst it has feathers and a beak, the rest of its features are more akin to an animal. The beak is flexible and is actually an extension of its skull. The beak is poked into the ground and is used to ferret out bugs which are the staple of its diet. One other unusual features of the Kiwi are:

  • Its body temperature is the same as mammals
  • It has heavy bones filled with marrow (they are never going to fly!).

The Kiwi is about the size of a large chicken. They mate for life and have one of the largest egg to body weight ratios of any bird; the egg averages 15% of the female’s body weight (compared to 2% for the ostrich). Enough to make your eyes water!

Location:192 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015
Website:https://www.rainbowsprings.co.nz/
Hours:8:30 am to 2:30 pm (hatchery tours)
Admission: (Hatchery Tours)Adult: NZ$30, Child (5-15yrs) NZ$15, Family NZ$75
The now extinct moa was a large flightless bird
This is not a life-sized kiwi - they are significantly smaller
An amazing statue of a kiwi

Before the arrival of man, birds had the run of New Zealand. The only animals around were bats. With no need to fly away from danger a number of birds decided to hug the ground and became flightless, and with no predators, they flourished. The largest of these birds was the Moa which reached a whopping 3.7m (12ft) in height. Sadly, these birds were hunted into extinction by the Maori. The arrival of man also bought mammals. The rabbit was introduced as a food source, and they bred at an astronomical rate and there were no predators to keep the population in check and so they soon became a pest. To counter this pestilence the stoat and weasel were introduced which helped control the rabbits but they blighted the native bird population. At one time the kiwi population would have numbered tens of millions, now they are an endangered species.

Luckily centres like Rainbow Springs have been established to try and help out the ailing kiwis. The Centre’s staff go out into the wild and collect the eggs, bring them back and incubate them. Once the chicks are hatched they are kept in the sanctuary for 18 months before being released back into the wild. This eliminates the danger period in the wild of the egg to the hatchling.

Our tour took us into the hatcheries where we were shown the eggs being processed and incubated. Then we were taken to the viewing area. Kiwis are nocturnal so the lighting was dimmed, but we did get to see a couple of these amazing birds scuttling around looking for food. We immediately fell in love with the kiwi!

Whilst Rainbow Springs is focused on kiwis it does have beautiful grounds and a host of other creatures; from native birds to domesticated animals to see. The weather was still not playing ball, so whilst we walked around the heavens opened and we got thoroughly soaked. This did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm to explore the park.

After exploring everywhere, including the splendid gift shop, we headed back to the hostel to dry out. Jack and Emily decided to hang back at the hostel, which gave me and Karen some grown-up time – which we used to spend at the Polynesian Spa, one of the many hot springs around Rotorua. Whilst the weather continued to be crappy it was still very nice to spend some time chilling out in the hot pools.

Our final mission of the day was to return to Rainbow Springs after dark. Some kiwis were put out into enclosures with shin-high fences; they can’t fly or even jump, so there was no danger of them escaping. We were able to get up close to observe these plump and cuddly birds, further cementing our love affair with them.

A cormorant
Eating fish
A lizard
The gardens are stunning at Rainbow Springs Nature Park
Feeding the hog

Planning your visit to Lake Rotorua

Getting to Rotorua

Rotorua is centrally located in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, about a 3 ½ hours’ drive from Auckland and a 4 ½ hours’ drive from Wellington.

Rotorua is within a two-hour drive of Waitomo Caves to the west, Hamilton to the north, Tauranga to the east and Ruapehu to the south.

Rotorua Airport handles daily flights from Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown and Christchurch. There are twice-weekly flights from Sydney. Departing passengers on domestic flights are required to pay an Airport Development Levy prior to boarding their flights.

Baybus is the public bus service that runs regular services throughout the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua region.

A number of nationwide coach operators travel to Rotorua, including guided tour options that drop you off at your accommodation after visiting the attractions. GreatSights and Grayline Tours operate both single and return tours to Rotorua. There is also the option of a guided tour of Rotorua departing from Auckland and Rotorua including FlexiToursNZ.

 

Best time to visit Rotorua

One can visit Rotorua all throughout the year but most people prefer to visit during the summer making it the peak season here. While the long hours of sunlight make summer the best time to visit Rotorua for sightseeing and outdoor explorations, spring brings great weather to Rotorua with the least crowds around.

Other places to visit near Rotorua

1. LAKE ROTORUA & MAORI CARVINGS

Lake Taupo. is located in the North Island of New Zealand. It is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano. With a surface area of 616 square kilometres (238 sq mi), it is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, and the second-largest freshwater lake by surface area in Oceania

Taupo is about 80km south of Rotorua.

2. ROTORUA – RAINBOW SPRINGS

Rainbow Springs nature park is a great place to visit to find out more about the flora and fauna of New Zealand. Here you can get close up and personal with the local animals, birds and plants that make this country unique. You can wander the park on your own or join a self-guided tour.

The park is also home to the Kiwi (the national bird of New Zealand) National Hatchery. The shy and increasingly rare birds are nocturnal so seeing them in the wild is not likely. Here you will get a chance to observe these very unusual birds and get an insight into the role the hatchery is playing in their conservation.

3. WAITOMO CAVES

Waitomo caves lay about 2-hours west of Taupo. The original caves are famous for their glowworms. Here you will float on boats through the cave and marvel at the stunning display they put on. There are other caves to enjoy on foot, but there are no glowworms here just the splendour of the caves themselves.

For adrenalin junkies, there are blackwater rafting experiences here you’ll don wetsuits and float down underground rivers in tubes, with some rapids and waterfalls thrown in. The adventure known as the abyss has you abseiling into the cave, ziplining in the dark and climbing waterfalls. Sounds fun eh!

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Where to stay near Rotorua

1. PEPPERS ON THE POINT LAKE ROTORUA

Peppers on the Point Lake Rotorua is an upscale resort surrounded by Lake Rotorua, Peppers on the Point is a luxury retreat featuring spectacular views towards Mokoia Island. Guests can enjoy fine dining in the restaurant or indulge in a massage or treatment at the day spa.

The resort is a 15-minute drive from Whakarewarewa Thermal Village and 10-minutes from the Museum of Art and History. 

Each room includes under-floor heating, air conditioning and a private bathroom with a spa bath and shower with massage jets. 

2. AURA ACCOMMODATIONS

Aura Accommodations is centrally located, a 3-minute walk from the lakefront, 4 minutes walk from the famous Eat Streat and 9 minutes’ walk from both Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum.

Guests can enjoy summer, bathing in the large outdoor geothermal heated swimming pool. The property is within walking distance of all the central city attractions and local markets on offer.

The fully equipped units have stovetops, microwaves and free unlimited WiFi.

3. YHA ROTORUA

YHA Rotorua offers budget backpacker accommodation right beside Kuirau Park, Rotorua’s free geothermal attraction, and only two minutes’ walk from shops, cafes, restaurants and the beautiful Lake Rotorua. This Rotorua hostel has a choice of indoor or outdoor dining with a spacious modern kitchen as well a large outdoor deck and BBQ. Communal backpacker facilities include a comfortable separate lounge and TV room with lots of DVDs to watch and a coin-operated laundry service.

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