First thoughts of Rotorua are often of touristy Maori displays, bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Rotorua - like Queenstown - is one of those spots considered to be geared more to international tourists, but as we discovered it has all sorts of hidden charms for a very Kiwi romantic escape.
Pulling up outside the Princes Gate Hotel will definitely win any man brownie points – as the oldest hotel in Rotorua and one of the oldest hotels in the country it has Victorian charm and elegance wrapped up in every single inch of it.
The hotel is divided into two parts – the original hotel and the Mayfair Apartments.
We stayed in the Marvelly suite – a set of grandly appointed rooms entered into from their own doorway off the terrace and up a set of sweeping stairs. With a large overtly draped bedroom, white tiled bathroom and full lounge we were set for the weekend and with the hotels own set of three thermal pools right outside the door we were hard pushed to find a reason to leave.
Hells Gate and Wai Ora Spa
Leave we did though, venturing out of the comfort of our superb room and with the theme of our weekend firmly set around rest and relaxation we gave the luge a wide berth and headed to Hells Gate for the infamous mud bath.
The staff are incredibly friendly – and in that genuine way (not the ‘I’m paid to chat up tourists way’) and carefully explain the ins and outs of the sludge. We are then left alone to submerge ourselves in a private mud pool.
Twenty minutes of mud and then it’s a freezing rinse off (the staff make no apologies for the coldness!) and into the thermal pool to soak for as long as you like.
My skin did feel incredible for days afterwards – the one down side is the mud smell does seem to have a fairly lingering effect on clothes,even after a few washes! And a warning - if you have silver jewellery leave it a couple of days before you put it back on as the sulphur tarnishes the silver!
Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort
We dragged our blissed out bodies out of the pool into the car and down the road to the Wai Ora Lakeside Spa and Resort, run by the same people as Hells Gate.
We each had a traditional Maori massage – to be honest, felt a lot like most other massages….which is absolutely fantastic!
Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort is described as Rotorua’s first and only destination Spa Resort offering eight private treatment rooms, some of which have a private dining area and spa pool and a full range of unique Spa Therapies – including the Maori Massages we had. All signature treatments are based on traditional Maori techniques and use a range of natural spa products exclusive to the Wai Ora group.
A famous Auckland chef recently said that the best time to enjoy a great meal is after a massage – you are in a truly relaxed state and the flavours take on extra life.
We had our doubts as our recently massaged bodies wandered out from the spa and across to the restaurant, but we were soon to discover he was right.
The Mokoia Restaurant has all the trimmings and sophistication of an Auckland fine dining eatery and the food is excellent.
We won’t pretend that we are great food critics but we had quail and prawns for entrees and the lamb and duck for our mains – and it was all beautifully presented and tasted excellent. The staff were quietly attentive and we lucked on an excellent bottle of Kiwi red that become our favourite for the weekend.
Back at the magnificent Princes Gate for Saturday night and we were booked in for the only ‘dinner and show’ experience in Rotorua. The Princes Gate put on their own cabaret every Saturday where the likes of Tina Cross have entertained diners there.
I was excited, the boy a little less as the All Blacks were playing – fortunately the bar adjoining the dining room had a TV and the whole room developed that familiar game ‘camaraderie’ as guys took turns popping out to check the score and passing it around the room.
The meal started off with on a slight down note as a family of ants has made a home on our table. They were quickly disposed of though and we had great time sipping on champagne, singing along with the show tunes and getting teary eyed over the couple who were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.
As we headed back to Auckland on Sunday (with a quick stop at Paradise Valley – definitely worth a stop as you get to feed all the animals by hand) it was decided, Rotorua should definitely not be a place only for internationals. It earns topmarks as a Chelsey ‘romantic escape’ weekend destination.
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