221km (137 miles) SE of Auckland; 86km (53 miles) S of Tauranga
You'll smell Rotorua long before you see it. The sulfuric aroma in the air is an unmistakable prelude to geothermal things to come. This natural wonderland and the 11 major lakes in the area are the draw for visitors. In fact, Travel & Leisure readers voted Rotorua 10th in the 1996 poll of the Top 10 Cities in the World. Rotorua has long had a reputation for being too touristy, but recent city beautification and heaps of new adventures, accommodations, and attractions have given it a whole new lease on life. And if you're interested in Maori culture, this is the most accessible place to find it. A third of the population of 70,000 is Maori; that's the highest percentage of any city in the country. I love the place. It may attract a lot of visitors but unlike Queenstown, its attractions are spread wide and you seldom have to jostle with others. There's plenty of room for everyone. My only criticism is its lack of decent restaurants and the rather flexible approach to service.