About 1 hour from Taupo is Rotorua where I took a boat trip to the private Mokoia Island. This island is sacred to the Te Arawa people and located in the heart of Lake Rotorua. The landmark dates back to 1350 AD and upon arrival I was welcomed by the Maori people with a Maori show featuring dance and music. Also found on the island is a cultural spa which promotes healing and wellness through a “Wai Ora” massage which is based on traditional Maori massage techniques called” Miri Miri.” The massage uses all natural elements from the earth that has been carried on for centuries.
Rotorua is in the center of many thermal areas and forms an excellent base for touring. The surrounding thermal areas sit right on the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” For my thermal adventure, I took a float plane through Volcanic Air Safaris over the Crater Lakes District and volcanic rift of Mt. Tarawera then headed south to visit Waimangu and Waiotapu thermal areas landing at Hidden Valley of Orakel Korako. Orakei Korako has a good range of thermal features and a pleasant walk past bubbling mud so it is ranked as a popular tourist spot for thermals along with Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu. I took my first dip into the thermal mud at Hell’s Gate.
Next I flew to the South Island which is larger than the North and called the “mainland” by the kiwis. The South Island has fewer people but 10 of the 14 national parks of New Zealand are located there. I landed in Queenstown, a resort town found in the south-west. It is built around an inlet on Lake Wakatipu, a long thin z- shaped lake formed by glaciers, and has marvelous views of nearby mountains.
The South Island is very scenic and also New Zealand’s fastest growing wine region. I spent an afternoon wine tasting in the areas of Cromwell and Bannockburn, heart of pinot noir country and learned that the grapes develop their sweetness and flavor because of the hot days and cold nights of the region. The soil of this area of New Zealand produces great wine because of its high mineral content but wines were only introduced here 30 years ago so the industry is still young. It almost doesn’t look right seeing , but makes it one of the most picturesque places in the world.