|Rotorua’s Black Swan Boutique Hotel.|
When Robin Williams died, one of the best stories to come through to my Newstalk ZB radio show was from a Kiwi couple who’d once bumped into the actor in Rotorua. They were riding their mountain bikes through the city’s famed Redwood Forest (5600ha, officially named Whakarewarewa Forest) and had taken a breather at the foot of one of the giant Californian imports. Also admiring the view was a fellow mountain-biker, all decked out in the right gear. And from underneath the helmet, they soon realised this wasn’t just your regular American tourist.
Or maybe he was. Robin Williams told the couple he loved coming to New Zealand and that the Redwood Forest of Rotorua was one of his most treasured places in the world. As in, he’d been there before and had returned. Not only that, he apparently said that the forest held a certain spiritual calm for him. He was friendly and chatty and then cycled away. That was a few years before he died in 2014.
On a travel writing assignment for Let’s Travel Magazine (NZ’s #1 travel mag – click here for more details) and Rotorua’s Black Swan Boutique Hotel just before Christmas, I made sure the Redwood Forest was near the top of my list of must-do activities. Choosing to walk rather than ride, I was thinking of Robin Williams as I intentionally got semi-lost strolling the many miles of trails the forest contains. The combination of enormous Californian redwoods and oversized native ferns made me agree completely with Robin’s sentiments. How awesome it would’ve been for that couple to bump into someone like him. And how sad to think this man who’d given so much happiness to so many was no longer alive.
|The Redwood Forest, Rotorua.|
There will be more about the redwoods in my upcoming Let’s Travel article and I thought it special that in this most touristy of towns, the free attraction that is the Redwood Forest is still arguably the best thing to do. That said, it has a rival with another beautiful Rotorua Forest I was lucky enough to explore. The Mamuku Forest is only 500ha but is significant in that it is a tract of New Zealand native forest that has never been logged. And alongside an increasingly successful pest-eradication program that is returning birdsong to the forest, there’s also an eco-friendly zip-lining operation getting rave reviews.
The Rotorua Canopy Tours took me and a varied group of 10 tourists on a 1.2 kilometre flying tour of untouched New Zealand forest. The party included the most relentlessly happy American Mom, Dad and two teenage kids I’ve ever met with the teens not remotely embarrassed when their parents started doing bird calls and flapping their arms while riding the lines. New Zealand kids would never be like this!
The longest line was 220 metres and to think we were flying through native trees for more than twice the length of a rugby field was a cool realisation – click here for more info about why this company is attracting such positive feedback from tourists.
As you’ll read in my upcoming Let’s Travel article, I also found time to explore several of Rotorua’s celebrated thermal areas as well as the highly photogenic Lake Tarawera and Blue Lake: “How did you get my hometown to look like Hawaii!?” asked one friend who hails from Rotorua who’d seen my photos on Facebook.
I swear no skullduggery with the photos, more the wonders of taking pictures of pretty places in perfect weather. And perhaps knowing your way around Apple’s iPhoto program… But when it comes to the Blue Lake on a blue sky day, I think it’s hard to take a bad shot.
|Zip-lining with Rotorua Canopy Tours through the Mamuku Forest.|
Regarding where to stay in the North Island’s tourist capital, my Let’s Travel article will delve into why the Black Swan Boutique Hotel is a great choice if you want to splash out on modern and private lakeside luxury. Private in the sense there are only eight suites and while they aren’t large, they are handsomely appointed in the striking blues, purples, blacks and whites that dominate the property.
What sets the Black Swan Boutique Hotel apart – beyond being right on the lake with its own secluded beach and helicopter pad – are the gardens. Lush hedges and Roman-style stone walls give way to manicured lawns, flowers and gorgeous sun lounges. The two spa pools sit amidst the stone walls and look down to the swimming pool, the lake and the mountains in the distance and are potentially the Black Swan’s greatest asset. There aren’t too many hotel spa pools I’ve been in with quite this setting and ambience.