New Zealand Travel

Rotorua: What We Packed Into Nine Days

By on August 18, 2016

We left Kakahi well rested and eager to meet our couch surfing hostess, Emm Cee, in Rotorua, New Zealand. Rotorua is a major tourist destination and is mostly known for its geothermal activity and Maori tradition.  We noticed as we drove into town and started looking for Emm Cee’s apartment that there’s a lot going on in this town.  We’re so glad we got to experience it from an amazingly friendly local’s perspective.

Seems Like We’ve Met Before

Emm Cee had responded to our post on the KiwiBurn Facebook group and invited us to stay at her place.  We didn’t expect to spend as much time as we did in Rotorua.  But there’s just something about this town and our new friends Emm Cee and Jeep that made us want to stick around and then return a second time while we were in New Zealand.  We spent a total of nine days in Rotorua.  We saw a lot, but we missed a lot.  We’ll be back.

Upon our arrival at her apartment, Emm Cee immediately hugged us like she’s known us for years. She had a chickpea curry dish and a pasta dish waiting on the stove.  She wasn’t sure which dish we’d prefer, so she made both.  They were both delicious!

These Guys are Full of Life

Emm Cee is a funny, vibrant, gorgeous mother of two brilliant and loving kids, Dakin and Delta.  Her third child is now on the way, and we are so happy for her and her family.  Emm Cee introduced us to Jeep (Jean Phillipe), who recently moved to Rotorua from his hometown of Lyon, France.  Jeep is a very laid-back, attentive and active guy.  We immediately felt at home in Rotorua.

That first Sunday night in Rotorua, we enjoyed lively conversation and tarot card readings from Emm Cee, as well as tambourine and juggling lessons from Jeep, and we got to meet some of Emm Cee’s other friends who stopped by.  We’d meet Dakin and Delta the next day.

Lava Bar or Emm Cee’s Place:  Easy Decision

We ended the festivities that first night at Lava Bar.  We’d read about this bar in Let’s Go:  New Zealand, which we’d borrowed back home and had been carrying with us since we left the U.S. to embark upon our RTW a couple of months prior.  From what we’d read, we weren’t sure whether it would be our kind of place, but we decided to find out.  A friend of Emm Cee’s who hadn’t had anything to drink was our designated driver.

We didn’t stay at Lava Bar for very long.  Right when we sat down inside the bar, someone ordered a round of shots.  Bev looked at hers and couldn’t bring herself to down it.  Surely, neither the nice bottle of wine that Jeep had brought over from France, nor Emm Cee’s vodka concoctions, nor the smell inside that bar had anything to do with it.  We headed back to Emm Cee’s and crashed out on her very comfortable futon.  Thanks for making it so cozy and for looking after us, Emm Cee!

She Wanted to Show Us All the Good Places in Rotorua

There were so many great places, way better than Lava Bar, that Emm Cee introduced us to.  She’s a gem, and she wanted to show us everything cool in Rotorua.  Of course, our favorite moments there were when we were relaxing at her or (her friends) the Dawsons’ home for a pot luck or barbeque.  She has some of the most genuine, down-to-earth friends we’ve met.  We really enjoyed those times, and we will always cherish them.

Here’s what else we enjoyed in and around Rotorua, in chronological order:

Cafe Baraco

Cafe Baraco was our go-to place for breakfast and our “office” while we were in Rotorua.  Yes, we do work while we travel.  Some days more than others.  We prepared for our Young Living Essential Oils presentation here.  We also hung out here for a good, affordable breakfast or an afternoon snack on several occasions.

Hot ‘n’ Cold

Hot ‘n’ Cold”, aka “The Secret Spot,” is about 30 minutes from Rotorua. It’s a place on the Wai-O-Tapu Stream where the water mixes with the water from a hot spring that flows into it. You can move around and find just the right spot for the water temperature that suits you. This is where we met Chris and Sally, a young traveling couple from London who were near the end of a six month trip. When we met them, they were traveling through New Zealand in a van and mostly camping out. Being the gracious and generous hostess that she is, Emm Cee invited them to join us for a barbeque later at Blue Lake.  She also invited them to “camp” their van at her apartment, so they would have bathroom and kitchen facilities to use.

Te Papaaiour

Touring the Maori sites called Te Papaaiour in Rotorua.  We won’t do the area justice if we try to describe it, but we had a nice walk around town with Emm Cee as our tour guide.  There are actually places where the ground is so hot from the thermal activity that you see backpackers heating up pots of water to boil water for their dinner or drinks.

Blue Lake

Located just outside of Rotorua, Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) is a beautiful clear lake that’s popular for swimming and picnicking. It gets its name from the rhyolite and pumice on the lake bed. We fired up the grill and played a little softball of sorts — a game that Dakin came up with and that the adults liked because we didn’t have to run very much. After the game, Delta led us on a short hike along the lake, so she could show us a dark hollow where the glow worms hang out.  She’s a natural leader, that little Delta.  (She also makes a scrumptious berry crumble, by the way!)  She kept tabs on everyone in the group to make sure we were keeping up and learning something during her tour.

Pure Bliss

Bev finally got her hair done for the first time since before we left the U.S. at Pure Bliss Salon & Spa.  Emm was working there at the time as a massage therapist and esthetician. That pampering felt amazing!  The stylist, a lovely young woman recommended by Emm Cee, worked magic.  Guess who will be back to Pure Bliss?

Okere Falls

While Emm Cee was at work at Pure Bliss (and after Bev’s hair appointment), Jeep went with us to check out Okere Falls on the Kaituna River. It’s a popular river for rafting and kayaking, and we got some great shots of people running some of the falls. Dirk really wanted to do some paddling on it as well, but his pesky cracked rib from our sailing trip wasn’t healed enough for that to happen.  Rats!


We didn’t expect it, but Emm Cee treated us to a sushi dinner at this awesome Japanese restaurant called Yamato on the last night of our first visit to Rotorua.  I don’t think she believed that we’d be back, so we reckon this was sort of a farewell/not farewell dinner.  And we loved it.  (The food was great, too!)  Dakin’s self-taught Japanese is really coming along.  He’s such a cool kid.  We liked Yamato enough to visit it a second time.  It was just as good then.

Abracadabra Cafe & Bar

We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Abracadabra Cafe & Bar on our way out of town the first time here.  It was delicious!  If you visit Rotorua, make sure you try the kombucha at this place.

Ponsonby Rd.

One night we participated in a pot luck gathering at Emm Cee’s.  That’s when we met Bruce, Jev, and Dee, who are all really cool friends of Emm Cee’s.  After the pot luck, we went with Dee and Jeep to Ponsonby Rd., located in an area called Eat Streat (correct spelling).  We had a great time dancing to the tunes of White Chapel Jak, a very fun, high energy cover band that had us on the dance floor the whole time we were there.

Eat Streat

Eat Streat is a covered central walkway with retractable roofing that claims to be one of Rotorua’s “coolest hot spots.”  It also has a thermally heated footpath, which we didn’t really notice since we were there in the summertime.  One day we hung out there with Jeep and enjoyed snacking and drinking at Brew, Atticus Finch and Cafe Ephesus.  Jeep is so easy-going and fun to be with.  This venue was relaxing and just right for us on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon.

Rotorua Farmer’s Market

On our second trip to Rotorua, we stopped at the Rotorua Farmer’s Market on our way out of town.  You might think “healthy” when you think of a farmer’s market.  We arrived kind of late, so a lot of items were sold out.  And we were heading out towards Wellington, so we didn’t want to carry too much.  So we followed Emm Cee’s recommendation and tried the fry bread, a traditional Maori recipe that is their version of the donut.  We needed those like a (donut) hole in the head, but they were a nice treat.  Thanks for the recommendation, Emm Cee!

Picnic Cafe

Jeep had just been hired at Picnic Cafe, which is also located in the Eat Streat area, when we were in Rotorua.  He hadn’t yet had his first day there. He needed to speak to the owner about some paperwork, so we stopped in.  We’d just eaten fry bread at the farmer’s market, so we only ordered coffee and tea.  But, with Jeep working here, we have no doubts that the food at Picnic is delicious, too!  We’re quite certain that this will be our new hangout when we return to Rotorua.

Life is Full of Surprises!

There were a couple of wonderful surprises that came out of the time we spent in Rotorua. We’ll reveal those another time.  As much as we did and saw when we were there, and as many wonderful new friends as we made, we left lots of stones unturned.  For now, suffice it to say that we’re sure we’ll be spending more time here in the future.  And we can’t wait.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Emm Cee


Hot 'n' Cold, Rotorua

Hot ‘n’ Cold on the Wai-O-Tapu Stream near Rotorua


Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua


Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua


Maori Meetinghouse, Ohinemutu Village, Rotorua, New Zealand,

Maori Meetinghouse, Ohinemutu Village


Blue Lake - Rotorua, New Zealand

Blue Lake


Blue Lake - Rotorua, New Zealand

Blue Lake


Okere Falls - Kaituna River - Rotorua, New Zealand

Okere Falls – Kaituna River


Okere Falls - Kaituna River - Rotorua, New Zealand

Okere Falls – Kaituna River


Tutea Falls - Kaituna River

Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River near Rotorua


Trout Pool Falls - Kaituna River

With Jeep at Trout Pool Falls on the Kaituna River


Emm Cee Feeding the Horse

Emm Cee feeding the horse near her apartment


Abracadabra Restaurant in Rotorua

With Jeep and Emm Cee at Abracadabra Restaurant in Rotorua


Bicycle Christmas Tree Sculpture - Rotorua, New Zealand

Bicycle Christmas tree sculpture near downtown Rotorua



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