I wanted to know what there was to do in Rotorua, New Zealand that was accessible by foot and public transport, and something that was cheap, or even better, free. A helicopter ride over to the White Island was out of my budget, I couldn’t get out to the Rainbow Mountain and its spectacular crater lakes and I didn’t fancy going to the Polynesian Spa alone (although I did hear that after you’ve paid the $22 entry you can stay in all day and leave a wrinkled prune).
And then my CouchSurf host told me about the Whakarewarewa Forest. I love forests: the smell, the calm and the twitter of birds. I was sold.
Taking the bus out of Rotorua to Long Mile Road, the driver pointed me in the direction of the Redwoods Visitor Centre, a further kilometre down a tree lined avenue where I felt so small next to these tall, grand trees.
The forest is set up with a number of clear routes laid out for mountain bikers and walkers. I had decided on the Pohaturoa track after doing a bit of reading up on the trail: a 2 hour hike through a varied landscape that would give me views down over the city and the possibility of seeing the Pohutu Geyser in action.
The first ten minutes took me into the redwood forest along a dirt pathway and on towards more boggy stretches, across wooden walkways and by crystal clear pools.
For a short while I joined a tarmacked road on the outskirts of the forest, sharing the space with mountain bikers and dog walkers. I stopped one woman. ‘What’s the emergency number in New Zealand?’ I asked, realising suddenly that if I got stuck at any point I had no clue of who to contact. ‘111’, she told me, ‘but you’ll be fine, there are a few people out today’.
The next section took me back into the forest for half an hour up a mud track where there was sparser planting of trees and ferns. A final little climb and I arrived at the Upper Lookout, a red, gravelly area with wide-reaching views. I stopped for a picnic in a cooling breeze, and took in the scenery spread out below me: gaps in the thick covering of bushy trees out of which thick, white puffs of steam rose up into a dull sky and drifted off into nothing; the main road leading down towards the lake with a steady trickle of traffic both ways; a little mountain and the White Island out on Lake Rotorua, both covered in a heavy blanket of foliage; and the city itself, a spacious place full of parks and fields and greenery.
I had been walking for nearly two hours and was starting to descend along wider mud tracks with pretty scatterings of flowers when the path literally dropped off into a mass of water. Dead end. I looked for another option and found a second pathway, a wooden walkway, but again it was sunken way below water level.
I didn’t want to back track the entire route so I decided to do a bit of off-road scrambling up muddy banks and through overgrowth and clusters of trees until I finally hit a mountain bike track. Signs clearly stated: no walkers. Well tough. What else was I meant to do?
Having already walked so far, the end of the trail would surely be imminent, right? But no, it took a further hour before I arrived back at the Redwoods Visitor Centre, and back to the bus stop on Long Mile Road. Mini adventure completed.
Buses run each way every half an hour. The No. 3 bus leaves from Pukuatua Street and is the bus headed for Owhata. Tickets cost $2.40 each way. The Whakarewarewa Forest has walks that last from one hour to a full day, and dedicated mountain bike trails for all levels of ability.