A lot of visitors to New Zealand’s North Island go to Rotorua, known as the country’s geothermal headquarters. Centrally located with so many attractions, it’s a few hours south of Auckland and a big part of North Island itineraries. Known as “Sulphur City” for the smell produced by the geothermals, we spent a couple of days there ourselves, which is about the right amount of time. Here are our top things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Rotorua, pronounced Row – tuh – roo – uh, is a couple of hours south of Auckland, in the heart of the North Island’s volcanic valley. The Maori meaning is ‘Two” or “second” lake, and is named for the adjacent lake.
It reminded me of Iceland, with the bubbling hot springs, geysers, and colorful volcanic walkways. Rotorua felt like a cross between an adventure town and a family fun zone. So many of the tourists we saw there were with children. And a lot of the activities in Rotorua, like zip lines and mini golf, seemed catered to families. But there’s still a lot of cool things to do in Rotorua for adults without kids. Here are our favorites.
Mountain Bike Park
One of our top things to do in Rotorua is spend time at the mountain bike park. This place is amazing, and these two North Americans were shocked that it was completely free. We spent hours with our two dinky bikes on the easy trails, often being passed by tiny children on big wheeled mountain bikes, and we had a ball. Our bodies were sore the next day, but we’re always happy to get on our bikes and explore new places.
We bought a campervan! One of our goals in New Zealand is to drive the whole country, north and south, and freedom camping is the way to go. We bought the campervan, a Toyota Hiace, within a week of arriving. It’s a little old so Brian did a lot of work sprucing up our campervan in New Zealand.
We haven’t gone campervanning since Iceland so this is going to be an adventure! But before we really hit the road, here’s details on our campervan in New Zealand.
Buying a Campervan in New Zealand
Yes, we could have rented a campervan, but bought instead because we will be using it for months. We want to drive all over the north and south islands over a few months, so buying seemed more practical and hopefully economical as we want to sell it when we’re done.
Because so many people want to drive around the country, there are lots of campervans here. When people arrive, they buy, and when they leave the country, they sell. As a result, there are many ways to find a campervan to buy in New Zealand. We found ours at the weekly Auckland car market. Other ways of finding cars and campervans are through numerous Facebook groups and Trademe.com.
We were lucky to spend a year in French Polynesia, a beautiful and widespread collection of islands and atolls. While we didn’t improve our French language skills, we loved the excellent diving, hiking, and culture. From the Marquesas to the Tuamotus and the Society Islands, these are our best of French Polynesia.
About French Polynesia
French Polynesia has several island groups, but many visitors only go to the Society Islands. You’ve probably heard of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. If you can, I recommend exploring the ones you haven’t heard about. The more remote archipelagos of the Marquesas and the Tuamotus are unforgettable. These island chains couldn’t be more different: the Marquesas are lush, mountainous, and full of vegetation. Conversely, the Tuamotus are arid atolls with limited land life and clear waters. We didn’t even make it to other parts of French Polynesia like The Gambiers and Australs. Read on for which locales we think offer the best of French Polynesia.
Two islands in French Polynesia are our favorites for hiking. If you want to go hiking, visit Ua Pou or Moorea. Nuku Hiva also offers a good variety of hikes.
Some islands are just bad for hiking, full of private land and no paths for independent hikers, or they’re flat and featureless. In good news, most of The Marquesas islands have at least one or two hikes that are worth doing.
Ua Pou is good for hiking independantly, but for the big hike, hire a guide. All the hikes involve altitude, and everyone we know who did the cross-island hike alone got lost. The hills are high and the views are stunning, but there’s not much civilization so packing lots of water is a must for any of these treks.
Discovering a truly special place is one of my favorite aspects of this nomadic seafaring life. We recently sailed from French Polynesia to the compact island nation of Niue, spent five nights in Niue and loved every minute of our short visit there!
I hadn’t even heard of Niue a few months ago, and that’s not surprising. Most of its visitors and many of its residents hail from New Zealand. However small, Niue is an impressive country. It left its mark on us!
Niue, which means “Behold the Coconut,” is pronounced Nyoo-Ay.
Niue is a ruggedly beautiful country in the South Pacific Ocean. Itis defined by dramatic high cliffs, which we could see as we approached by boat. This explains why Niue is also known as the Rock of Polynesia.
For sailors, Niue has one safe bay on the western side of the island near the town of Alofi. The bay is very deep almost right next to shore (the cliffs), so Niue’s yacht club installed moorings for boats to tie to for their stay. We were one of the first boats there after several years of Covid lockdowns, so it was exciting for us and the people of Niue!
French Polynesia covers a vast area in the South Pacific with 5 island groups spreading over more than 2000 kilometers. People often compare it to the size of Europe. Unlike the wide diversity of land animals in Colombia and Panama, French Polynesia has only a few and they’re primarily domesticated. The real action is in the water. In our year there, we had amazing marine encounters in French Polynesia. This post features our best videos and tips of where to spot marine life from The Marquesas to the Society Islands.
Fun with Marine Animals
One of the highlights of living on a sailboat traveling around the world is getting up close with marine animals. After over four years on board, spotting these animals in their natural habitat still gives us a thrill! Turtles, sharks, and dolphins have been regular sights since the beginning, and rays and whales are more common since we’ve hit the Pacific. The South Pacific, so far, seems more untouched than much of the Caribbean. We love spotting marine life in French Polynesia just as much as everywhere else and here are some highlights.