In the late morning I packed my backpack, made some coffee and began the drive to my first stop, Mount Maunganui. It's situated in the city of Tauranga in a region called Bay of Plenty. I made sure to fill up my tank before heading too far outside of Whitianga, where I had stayed for the night. The hospitable hotel owner told me that frequent road closures in the area may mean I could get stranded if I ran out of gas.
I made it to Tauranga about 2.5 hours later. Before proceeding to Mount Maunganui I stopped by a local Burger Fuel restaurant. I had seen a few of these in Auckland. It was here that I had first spotted something called kumara chips on the menu, which I later learned are just sweet potato fries.
After the quick meal I parked along the water and explored the waterfront. I got lucky with the weather and the sun was out in full force with only a few scattered clouds.
I stopped at a coffee shop called The Coffee Club for a much needed cappuccino before embarking on a hike to the summit of Mt Maunganui.
I made it to the summit of Mount Maunganui after a 40 minute hike. It was absolutely gorgeous up there. Definitely worth the hike.
One by one people came up to this edge to reap the reward of their strenuous trek on this hot day before turning back.
After wrapping up in Tauranga I drove an hour to Rotorua where I had a hotel booked for the night. It was almost evening by now so I checked in, took a shower and relaxed for a few moments before figuring out the dinner situation.
Rotorua is a bit smaller than Tauranga with a population of roughly 70,000 residents. It's known for being the heartland of Maori culture as well as being known for its pristine gardens and geothermal activity.
Millennium Hotel & Spa1270 Hinemaru St, Rotorua
One of the more upscale and larger hotels in Rotorua but rooms felt dated.
I came across Bistro 1284 after a quick search for some of the best restaurants in Rotorua and it was just a short walk away. Fortunately, they had same night availability for one — one of the best parts about traveling solo, you can get reservations to any restaurant no problem.
Bistro 12841284 Eruera St, Rotorua
Fantastic meal (got the NZ roasted lamb rack), great ambiance and a cozy spot.
After a good night's rest — and doing a bit of laundry in the hotel sink — I checked out of the hotel and walked around downtown Rotorua. Lake Rotorua was few steps from the hotel where I ventured briefly to take a gander at some of the lake's bubbling geothermal activity. It also has a very high sulphur content so anywhere near the lake or other geothermal activity smells like rotten eggs.
I continued down the Rotorua Walkway, eventually finding the exceptionally well-maintained Government Gardens public park and Rotorua Museum.
After my stroll I drove to Skyline Rotorua to get a scenic view from high up on Mount Ngongotaha.
And now for the main reason I visited Rotorua: the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. I went on a short walk around some colorful natural volcanic and geothermal areas. Similar to Lake Rotorua, everything here was high in sulphur content, smelly and bubbling.
Near the end of the track there was a ridiculously vibrant sulphur pond named "Devil's Bath" that's in a crater formed from a volcanic eruption.
By this point it was the middle of the afternoon and more than a bit hot outside. After hydrating and scarfing down a snack I went back to the car to start the drive to Taupo, where I had accommodations booked for two nights.