Review: Rotorua’s Black Swan Hotel & the extraordinary Whirinaki Forest

Location: The Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel is on the shores of Lake Rotorua in the Rotorua suburb of Kawaha Point.

How big is the hotel? Think of it as a mansion converted into a boutique hotel, in this case, a 9-bedroom luxury property on a finely manicured 1 acre section.

What sets the Black Swan apart? The gardens and stoneworks reminded me of gorgeous boutique hotels in the South of France. Add to that sweeping lawns, a swimming pool, secret grotto, private beach and jetty, and you start to get the idea.

Tell us about the room: I was in one of the Lakefront Suites with a King bed, private balcony, bathtub, and separate living area with a fireplace.

What else is in the mansion? You can’t talk about the Black Swan without mentioning the conservatory and library with its all-weather views over the lake. Then there are the huge cooked breakfasts, the 1st floor wraparound balcony, and the flamboyance of the artworks and chandeliers.

Favourite spot: Without doubt, gazing through a stone archway while hot steam rises from the two spa tubs that overlook the garden and the lake. The perfect place to reflect on the day’s adventures.

What took you to Rotorua? Speaking of adventures, Rotorua isn’t short of them, but it was one in particular that drew me here this time: to explore the internationally significant, almost Singapore-sized, long-forgotten Whirinaki Forest.

Where’s Whirinaki? About 75-minutes from Rotorua and 90-minutes from Whakatane lies one of the world’s great remaining lowland rainforests, the 56,000-hectare Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane. Officially part of the Whakatane district, the Black Swan is an excellent base for exploring this remarkable swathe of 1000-year old, 65m-high rimu, mataī, kahikatea, miro and tōtara trees.

How come I haven’t heard of Whirinaki? Until a few years ago, neither had I! A forest that once dominated headlines when it was in danger of being lost to loggers in the 70s and 80s has now slipped well and truly under the radar. Realising a country as small as New Zealand could hide something as huge as this was a large part of its appeal.

But why isn’t Whirinaki a household name? Probably because it’s a decent drive from either Rotorua or Whakatane, and that the nearest village and town – Minginui and Murupara respectively – have struggled for decades economically and aren’t flashy tourist stops by any stretch. But the potential for positive, regenerative eco-tourism is immense.

Any recommendations for Whirinaki walks and hikes? As I wrote in a recent NZ Herald article, “there are 175km of trails within the conservation park. Everything from one-hour excursions like the Sanctuary Track, right the way through to the five-day, 79.2km Te Pua-A-Tane Circuit. If you’re like me and have only one full day in the park, leave Rotorua (or Whakatane) before sunrise, giving yourself plenty of daylight to do two essential walks: the 11km Whirinaki Waterfall Loop Track, and the 5.5km (return) Arohaki Lagoon Track”.

What else is nearby the Black Swan? The world famous Whakarewarewa Forest (colloquially known as The Redwoods) are a 15-minute drive away, the luge and gondola at Skyline is just 5-minutes, while the restaurant hub of Eat Street in the central city is 8-minutes.

Would I return to the Black Swan? I already have in that this was my second stay here after first visiting in 2016. And given there’s so much to experience in Rotorua for a nature-lover like me, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Plus, I’ve only just scratched the surface of Whirinaki.

Cost: Depending on season and availability, but at the time of writing (October 2022), the Black Swan has rooms starting from $494 per night.

Website: blackswanhotel.co.nz

Want to see more properties like the Black Swan? Please check out boutiquehotels.co.nz.

Further reading about Whirinaki: Click here for my NZ Herald feature about Whirinaki, published August 7 2022.

Need to know: Ngāti Whare are the active kaitiaki or guardians of Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park. Working alongside the Department of Conservation, they protect the natural, cultural, and historic resources of the forest. See more at whakatane.com.

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