The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand

Bay of Plenty

  • Walk on the moon-like surface of White Island.
  • Rotorua is one of the primary Maori settlement hotspots and there are stacks of cultural shows and experiences to choose from. The young and enthusiastic members of 'Mitai' run the most authentic and energetic show.
  • Rotorua's natural hot spas and thermal parks will bring out the budding geologist in you. The area is one big colourful volcanic playground.
  • Cruise over to Mokia, the Sacred Island at the heart of Lake Rotorua. The site is bursting with Maori history and is an ecological sanctuary.
  • Zorb down a hill. See 'Zorb Rotorua.'
  • Head to 'The Mount' for sun, sand, sea, surf, scuba-diving and seafood. The upbeat small town of Mt. Maunganui lies at the foot of its hiking-friendly mountain and makes a great day trip.
  • Follow the Katikati mural trail where picture-painted buildings are all the rage.

Geothermal Rotorua and Mt. Tarawera's Big Bang.

Rotorua is renowned for its lively geothermal activity. You will be easily distracted from the eggy odour of the sulphur by the sight of billowing springs, sputtering geysers, bubbling mud and simmering puddles. It was the vibrant colours that took me by surprise. lime green lakes, ever-changing bright orange and yellow residue and turquoise waters. The thermal parks can be relatively commercial but are still definitely worth a look. Waiotapu Thermal Park is the most colourful geothermal area and houses the Lady Knox geyser who blows her stack daily at around 10am. Freebie parks include the mud-bubbling Kuirau Park (the boiling lake emits continual clouds of steam that roll out over the highway) and Craters of the Moon on the way into Taupo.

On June 10th 1886 Mt. Tarawera erupted in a violent shower of red-hot volcanic bombs and buried the Maori villages of Te Ariki and Te Wairoa under 20m of mud. The noise of the explosion was so loud it was heard in Christchurch. The Pink and White Silica Terraces, a fan-like geological marvel considered the eighth wonder of the world, were completely annihilated. You can visit the buried village of Te Wairoa, learn more about the 1886 eruption and wander the park and excavation sites.

White Island

The lunar landscape of White Island that looms above the surface of the sea is something I've only ever touched upon in fantasy or science fiction novels. Here, vivid beds of yellow and white sulphur crystals grow alongside effervescent fumeroles and towering crater walls shelter a spectacular lake.

Aside from being a site of continual scientific intrigue the volcanic peak was previously farmed for sulphur. In 1914 part of the western crater rim collapsed creating a lahar that killed all 10 workers. Supposedly only Peter the Great, the camp cat, survived. The ruin of the old factory can still be seen on the island. White Island may be moody, but the level of volcanic activity is always closely monitored. The opportunity to don a hard-hat and gas mask and tentatively step into such a surreal landscape is a one-off. PeeJays run a superb guided tour from Whakatane to White Island's highly protected shores. They provide all safety gear, in-depth knowledge and lunch aboard the PeeJay herself. You'll need a full day and a good camera. They also have a great café back at base where you can exchange the lingering hint of sulphur for a far more pleasurable smell of coffee and freshly-made snacks. Dolphins and other marine life flourish in the surrounding fertile waters (which are incredible for fishing and diving) so keep your peepers open on the boat trip over.

PeeJays White Island Tours: 15 the Strand East, Whakatane. www.whiteisland.co.nz. Tel: 07-308-9588 or freephone 0800-733-529, Fax: 07-308-0303.

Another excellent way to see White Island is by air. Enquire about scenic flights with Air Discovery (224 Aerodrome Road, Whakatane Airport 07-308-9558).

Kiwi Fruit

Kiwi fruit became an all-out marketing success in the 1930s when a chap called Jim McLoughlin planted the first orchard in Te Puke and sold the fruit at the local market. Previous to McLoughlin's success, kiwis were known as Chinese gooseberries, but their presence grew so rapidly in the New Zealand market (many farmers became instant millionaires from the plants flourishing success in the Bay of Plenty region) that they have now become a New Zealand icon. Make sure you sample both the traditional emerald green Hayward variety and the more recent gold-fleshed Zespri variety. Both are delicious and as fresh as you can find.

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