New Zealand | Rotorua

July 15, 2011

One of our guidebooks mentioned that Rotorua was the “Las Vegas of New Zealand.” It made me wonder how a town in the geothermic heartland of NZ could really make that sort of claim. The guidebook was right. Of all the towns we visited, Rotorua was the most built-up in a Vegas/theme park sort of way. The town consisted almost entirely of huge hotels and commercialized natural wonders that you could view if you were willing to part with a hundred bucks. I’m almost positive that any prepackaged tour of NZ that stops in this part of the North Island, comes to Rotorua. All we saw were tour buses, large tour groups (of mostly Europeans or retirees), and families.  Maybe the area outside of the city was amazing – we read about all kinds of secret hot springs, geysers, spas and thermal pools that were awesome and free – but we didn’t spend enough time here to find out. From what we experienced, unless you were on a tour, retired, or with kids, this would be a pretty annoying place to visit. For those people, guides, guidebooks, etc. who suggested this place to us: you suck.

The main reason we stopped in Rotorua was to experience the Maori Hangi, or feast. Similar to a luau, at a hangi, there’s dancing, singing, challenges, lots of fake acting, and a huge buffet of food cooked on stones from a deep hole in the ground. If you find it fun to be on a bus with a large group of Eastern Europeans, being prompted by the bus driver to pretend you are on a canoe, then you might enjoy a tour like this. Also, if you like things that involve ‘audience participation,’ introducing yourself to everyone else, eating at large buffet tables across from people you don’t know, watching cruise-ship level entertainment being performed half-heartedly, pushing through crowds to eat average, yet overly priced, buffet food, then this is perfect.

I found the entire thing to be extremely awkward – from the shuttle bus to the hangi (where the bus driver tried to get us to ‘paddle the canoe’), to the people laughing while the Maoris were sticking out their tongues (an ancient and serious tradition), to the odd sensation that the Maoris were being exploited/exploiting themselves, to the awkward silence of eating at a table of people you didn’t really know (didn’t expect that). You would need to be either extremely drunk, extremely bored, or extremely young to enjoy this. We did our best to make the most of it, and ended up befriending the cute elderly couple that sat across from us. That was the best part of the evening. The bus ride home, however, almost made me lose it. The same Eastern Euros from the ride over got drunk during dinner. The entire way home, we had to listen to them singing Polish folk songs…over…and over…and over…Shoot me.


Sly was chosen to partake in a Maori game where the last person holding the stick, won the game. Sly won.


Above: The highlights of our tour. Below…um, yeah. (B + JJ: Protection)

Boris NosocksP1020035Euro stylin’P1020037Audience participation is confusing to most

You must be over 65 to enter


P1020039We endured hours of this


A cry for help.


The verdict is still out as to if this entire tour experience was awesomely bad, or just plain bad. Probably a little of both.

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  • JJ February 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    I got to the part where you called out protection to me and B, and then started cry-laughing.

    • veronika February 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Did you end up going?

      • JJ February 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        Only to a free site outside the city where there were splattering mud pits, and a geothermal walk that was closer to Lake Taupo. Also stopped by Huka Falls – was going to do a rapid jet boat there until I realized it wouldn’t actually go into the rapids/falls, and a bungy there. Turns out that bungy was the best in North Island because the tallest one elsewhere in North Island was temporarily closed :(. Almost decided to check out the creepy city park in Rotorua – geothermal oddities right next to swings and see-saws. But then decided to go on our way, especially since I wasn’t fond of the sulfur smell anyway.

        How many days did you spend in NZ total? 3 weeks?

        • veronika February 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm

          Yeah close to 3wks I think, or maybe just under and still wasn’t enough time. I want to go back and explore the North more.

      • JJ February 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm

        Oh and also went to 24/7 free hot springs in Lake Taupo.

        • veronika February 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

          Was the book good?

          • JJ February 21, 2017 at 2:12 pm

            The book was AMAZING. Totally winged it and used/read that book. Two sites we couldn’t do because of tide times but there is so much more to see that can’t be fit in one week.

            Also didn’t have an issue with sand flies so much in the north thankfully. Did you? Just some mosquitos.

          • veronika February 21, 2017 at 5:36 pm

            Awesome. Wish he had the S.Island one when we visited. Maybe the sand flies also have something to do with time of year? They were horrific in the South. Like our windows were black bc they were covered with flies trying to get in. Gross.

      • JJ February 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

        Thanks for the tip to avoid the Roto-Vegas.

        • veronika February 21, 2017 at 1:28 pm

          Haha what, that didn’t sound fun to you?

          • JJ February 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm

            I read the whole essay on Rotorua vs RotoVegas in that book. Only drove around the town a little (already smelled like rotten eggs) to get to the mud pits I think.

          • veronika February 21, 2017 at 5:37 pm

            Haha RotoVegas. Basically. I really don’t get why people like that place. Maybe if you had kids?

          • JJ February 21, 2017 at 2:15 pm

            Your tip was especially, “Do not do ANYTHING organized in Rotorua!”

        • veronika February 21, 2017 at 1:29 pm

          Did you end up driving thru town? No bueno.