When you think of a weekend filled with gourmet food, horse riding, boating on a sparkling lake, wine tasting and luxury hot tubs, Rotorua might not be the first place that comes to mind.
It's known for its adventure tourism, loved by thrill-seekers and kiddos alike. It's also made a name (or smell) for itself for being a geothermal paradise. There's a lot to like, but maybe not a lot to suggest it should be top of your list when planning a gal's weekend.
Here's the thing though - it should be! It's way more affordable than classic girl's trip locations like Queenstown or Matakana, and it's closer to the middle of the country if you've got people coming from all over.
I was lucky enough to get to take two of my best gals Victoria and Ellen on a 48hr whirlwind tour of the city thanks to RotoruaNZ tourism, where we found out there's a helluva lot more going on than just zorbs and mud.
Here's our guide to spending a beaut 48 hours in the Sulphur City:
We were coming from Auckland, so we hopped in the car after work and zoomed down to Rotorua. It took just under three hours, which is enough time to justify many gas station treats and a strong Spotify playlist, but not long enough to make everyone hate each other.
We pulled straight in to the Secret Spot Hot Tubs, which aren't so secret anymore after being recognised at the World Luxury Spa Awards last year. This is the perfect introduction to Rotorua, especially after a drive or a flight.
We arrived and had a delish Hawker Roll and a bevat the on-site food truck, before being shown to our private freshwater cedar hot tub overlooking the Whakarewarewa Forest. As if it couldn't feel any more luxe, we ordered extra drinks with the push of a BUTTON, prompting one of the brothers who own the place to appear with a tray of their gin and tonic that's ON TAP.
Sorry for yelling, it was just really great.
That night, we checked in to our rooms at The Pullman Rotorua which is perfectly placed to explore. It's five-star accom without feeling pretentious, and you get all the robes, bougie bedding and mini bathroom products you expect from a hotel stay.
My one warning is about the toilet situation in the twin rooms. There's…how do you say…not a lot of privacy. Ok, the toilet cubicle walls stop short of the roof. That means if you're sharing a room, you're sharing…sounds and potentially smells.
Ok sorry! That was gross, but I had to be the one to tell you. I know you're close with your gals, but maybe not that close.
We started our day with the breakfast buffet at the Pullman and it slayed. You can't beat a buffet when it comes to loading up before a big day, and I needed those five breakfast saussies because we were about to get outdoorsy.
Next stop was Horse Trekking at Lake Okareka, where we lived out our Saddle Club dreams. The environment is super relaxed, as is the one-hour bush trek we opted for. We meandered through beautiful scenery and got some stunning views while yarning with the guides and the other people on the trek.
Of course, we totally fell in love with our horses Peanut, Jerry and Keeper, and our cups were so filled by the experience that we immediately googled 'pony clubs for beginners in Auckland' on our drive out of there. Is that not the most JAFA thing you've ever heard?
Obviously seasoned cowgirls need to soak their weary bones, so we were off in search of more hot water. We found it tucked away in the hidden Hot Pools of Lake Rotoiti - AKA the Manupirua Springs, which are only accessible by boat or seaplane. *Spoiler alert*, we didn't commandeer a seaplane, but we did cruise over on a lovely water taxi while taking in the sights.
The hot pools are the kind of old school, slightly run-down and stupidly beautiful attraction small town New Zealand does best. There are no frills here, but who needs 'em when you're sitting in one of the eight mineral pools watching the crystal waters of the lake in front of you?
We weren't quite brave enough to plunge into the lake like some other guests, but we did grab an ice cream and a beer from the cafe to cool down instead. Our water taxi picked us up after about an hour, but you could easily spend a whole afternoon here.
After decompressing at the hotel (robes on, airdropping eachother pics and spending an hour on TikTok ofc) we were ready for a feed, and we trotted off to Poco Tapas and Wine.
This place is blink-and-you'll-miss-it, hidden upstairs in Rotorua's central dining precinct, and it was pumping when we arrived for dinner around 7pm. Their sharing plates were delish, and there were lots of good options for our resident veggie, Ellen.
In saying that, we also had a big beef sirloin which was out the gate. The cocktails and the atmosphere were on point. No notes, except leave more room for dessert than we did - we basically rolled ourselves out of there.
I'd like to say we weren't a bit dusty on this day, but after wine-ing and dining the way we did, that would be a lie. Thankfully, we had the best cure lined up - a wee stroll in nature rewarded with a wood-fired BREAKFAST PIZZA. Yes, that's a thing, yes, it's glorious. You'll find it at the very groovy Eastwood Cafe, which is inside the Scion Research Center on the edge of the Whakarewarewa forest.
We took the scenic route to the cafe (I'm gonna be honest, that was more due to our hungover navigation skills than anything else) which sees you weave through the giant Californian Coastal Redwoods for about 10 mins.
If you're lucky, you'll get to yell "radical dude!" at some embarrassed teenagers who are doing impressive tricks on the mountain biking trails.
Feeling refreshed and refuelled, we were ready for a little hair of the dog before wrapping up our weekend. Rotorua isn't known for its vineyards, but there's one place you can go for a unique cellar-door wine-tasting experience, and it's up 778 meters above the city at Volcanic Hills Tasting Room.
It's only $50 for a return ride on the Skyline Gondola and a tasting of five wines, and even if you're scared of heights like my mate Vic and get clammy hands on the way up, it's still worth it. The views are stunning and the wines are delish, and you'll probably end up learning something.
For example, Brent and Larissa, who started the place, explained that blush-coloured rosé does not necessarily mean a dry rosé, which is a myth I've been living my whole life by until now. Fair warning, Brent comes in HOT with the wine info and a few personal insults for good measure, but it's all a bit of fun if you're in the mood to roll with it.
And with that, it was time to head home, and even Vic, who had to sit through the wine tasting as the designated sober driver, was leaving in high spirits.
"I love it here," she said as we drove out of the city. "Even the smell?" I asked.
"It's like a lovely egg salad," she said.
Mon and her friends Vic and Ellen travelled to Rotorua and enjoyed the above activities as guests of RotoruaNZ.