Impressive geysers, natural hot springs and bubbling mud pools are part of the otherworldly landscape of Rotorua, a place where New Zealand's position on the Pacific Ring of Fire is visibly demonstrated.
This is one of the world's most concentrated and accessible geothermal areas and the light but constant whiff of sulphur that hangs in the air is a reminder of the forces of nature in action. You can see mineral pools of deep green and bright orange, hear the sound of hissing steam escaping from roadside vents, and soak in geothermally fed hot tubs at local hotels and public spas. The volcanic landscape around Rotorua also provides the backdrop for a range of adventure activities, from mountain biking and trout fishing, to white-water rafting and zorbing (rolling down a hill inside a translucent giant inflatable ball).
Rotorua has welcomed tourists since the mid-1800s and nowadays draws three million holidaymakers a year. Its continued popularity has earned it a nickname as ‘Roto-Vegas'.
Its natural wonders are just a part of its appeal. Alongside geysers and hot pools, Rotorua is also known for its Maori culture and history. Here, on the shores of Lake Rotorua, lived the Te Arawa, one of the country's larger Maori tribes - ever since, as legend would have it, a Maori leader called Ihenga discovered the lake while hunting with his dogs. The Maori who settled here used the hot pools for cooking and bathing, and built their whare (houses) on warm ground in order to make them cosier in the winter. They revered this place, naming one of the most spectacular springs Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters).
Today, more than a third of Rotorua's population is Maori, many of them of Te Arawa descent, and there are few better ways to learn about Maori values, legends, music and dance than at a concert and hangi (Maori feast) evening in the town.