Mike Yardley: Forest frolics in Rotorua’s Redwoods

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Tue, 8 Sep 2020, 12:22PM

Mike Yardley: Forest frolics in Rotorua’s Redwoods

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Tue, 8 Sep 2020, 12:22PM

They could well be regarded as the lungs of Rotorua, the tall trees of The Redwoods and the wider Whakarewarewa Forest. First planted in 1901 as part of a timber production experiment, this majestic grove of towering Californian redwoods, spanning 6 hectares, has been lovingly safeguarded as a sublime recreational reserve. The rich volcanic soil and higher rainfall than their native homeland has subsequently seen these trees grow faster than in coastal California, reaching over 70 metres height in the space a century. Just five minutes from downtown Rotorua, this tantalising forest beckons as a perennial playground – and I found myself returning again and again for more tall timbered escapism. If it’s your first fling with the forest, the Redwoods Treewalk is the essential introduction.

Spanning 700 metres, 28 bridges are strung across the forest, creating the world’s longest suspended forest walkway. 22 living decks stud the experience with information panels extolling the virtues of the forest, its back-story and inhabitants. Twelve metres above the ground, you really do get a bird’s eye perspective of the canopy. There’s no rush, it’s just nature and you. I headed back to the Redwoods Treewalk at twilight to experience the Nightlights spectacle, which truly transforms the forest finery into a state of enchantment. Chandeliered with David Trubridge’s illuminated artworks, it’s the designer Christmas tree experience of your dreams. As a passionate environmentalist, David’s wooden sculptural lanterns ingeniously reflect the patterns and rhythms of nature. It’s a sigh-inducing spectacle that treads softly on the environment, but will stir your imagination.

The latest jewel in the Redwoods crown is Altitude, which takes you far higher into the canopy than the original treewalk.  Stitched together by 25 jungle-style bridges and 3 flying foxes, I’d sum up the ensuing experience of Indiana Jones meeting Tarzan. Fully guided, the 2 hour experience will give you a greater appreciation of the forest and the region, as you sling you across the forest. The Redwoods Altitude experience opened at the start of the year and true to its award-winning sustainability ethos, the adventure attraction has been constructed without the use of a single nail, screw or bolt going into the trees. If you have a head for heights, enjoy abseiling and zip-lining, Altitude is for you.

My runaway highlight within the Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest was to hit the mountain bike tracks. Rotorua’s stature is unrivalled, with one of the oldest mountain bike networks in New Zealand, largely pioneered in counter-culture style by passionate enthusiasts. Country. What is the secret of Rotorua’s success?  Master crafted trails, unbeatable riding surfaces, well-draining volcanic soils, varying topography and captivating scenery. All of my mountain biking friends consider Whakarewarewa as the gold-standard in New Zealand, so I was keen to check it out and rock some forest trails. I met up with Marcello Ojero, senior guide at Mountain Bike Rotorua. Suitably kitted out with hire gear, I was jumping onboard a fabulous Giant Trance mountain bike, which has the most spectacular suspension.

With around 140km of continually evolving trails, all riding levels are catered for, from beginners and family groups through to experts looking for extreme action. Despite some overnight rain, the trails appeared bone-dry and as solid as concrete. Marcello confirmed that the rock hard pumice base is really what sets Whakarewarewa Forest apart, because you’ll never strike a boggy trail. What also swept me up about the forest trails is the scenic splendour. It’s one thing to be riding at the foot of those reverential tall trees, but it’s the finery and denseness of the ferns of the forest that make Whakarewarewa so unstoppably picturesque. We stuck to the beginner, easy and intermediate tracks, but my favourite trail was The Dipper, which is like a relentlessly undulating roller-coaster bike ride. The fact that you are just minutes from the centre of Rotorua, within this vast domain of two-wheeled adventure, is virtually beyond belief. No wonder Rotorua’s mountain bike offerings are so revered. Check-in with Marcello and the friendly team at Mountain Bike Rotorua for a winning ride in the woods. www.mtbrotorua.co.nz

Rotorua’s culinary credentials are well established, exemplified by the parade of temptations along Eat Street. I really enjoyed the Pig and Whistle, at the southern end of the street, which was formerly the city’s police station. Whether the restaurant was irreverently named in reference to the building’s past life is wide open to conjecture. The place was absolutely cranking on a Sunday night when I called in to dine. Many devotees claim the Pig and Whistle serves up New Zealand’s best pigtail fries, I loved their lamb salad and their Kiwiana cocktails like the Kiwi Bach are superb.

Where to stay? The city’s oldest hotel is the Prince’s Gate, overlooking Government Gardens, a superb double-decker delight, cleaved out of kauri and rimu, with sweeping verandahs. The Prince’s Gate was first assembled in Waihi in 1897, but relocated to Rotorua to cater to the tourist boom, after serving as hospital during the Spanish Flu pandemic.  This grand old dame will celebrate its Rotorua centenary next year, radiating hushed old-world elegance. It’s so stylish, a triumph of affordable luxury, brimming with history and individually designed rooms and suites, where stylish artworks and furnishings twinkle beneath chandeliers and high studded ceilings. I love the bar ambience, with its leather chairs, rimu floors and century-old leadlight windows. Whether you’re after breakfast, lunch or dinner, the hotel offers excellent dining at Duke’s Bar & Restaurant. Amenities include laundry facilities, free wi-fi, geothermal hot pools, a sauna and ample parking. www.princesgate.co.nz

From geothermal wonders, hot pools and Maori culture to world-beating mountain biking, historic draws and lakeside dining, Rotorua is power-packed for adventure-seekers. For more trip inspiration and constantly updated destination insights, jump to www.rotoruanz.com

I picked up a rental car from Avis at fabulous Rotorua airport to free-roam the region. Rotorua Airport is a cutting-edge user-friendly facility, with a brand new and free to use business hub. The Avis Safety Pledge has been deployed across all of its New Zealand locations, allowing customers to pick up and drop off vehicles with minimal contact. This has been complemented with the recent launch of the Digital Check In option. You can also plan ahead with risk-free bookings by selecting the Pay at Counter option. Avis has a range of sizzling rental deals including complimentary upgrades and score the fourth day free when booking for three. www.avis.co.nz

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.