Nestled just a short drive from the bustling city of Rotorua, Whakarewarewa Forest stands as a testament to nature's grandeur and the rich cultural tapestry of New Zealand. Often referred to as "The Redwoods," this forest is not just a haven for nature enthusiasts but also a significant landmark that holds immense importance for the Maori people.
What is Whakarewarewa Forest?
Whakarewarewa Forest, commonly known as ‘The Redwoods’, spans over a massive 55,000ha. It's not just the size but the blend of towering Californian Redwoods, lush native forest, and exotic trees that make it a sight to behold.
Beyond its verdant expanses, the forest is a hotspot for geothermal activity. The trails weave through native ferns beneath the soaring canopies of various trees like Redwood, Radiata, and Douglas Fir. Once you ascend above the canopy, panoramic views of Rotorua’s lakes, geothermal wonders, and the majestic Mt. Tarawera await.
The forest holds a special place in the hearts of the Maori people. It's not just a natural wonder but a land that carries stories, traditions, and a deep-rooted connection to their ancestors.
Things to do in Whakarewarewa Forest
Hiking and Mountain Biking
Rotorua, where Whakarewarewa Forest is located, is often referred to as the mountain biking capital of New Zealand. The forest itself boasts over 160km of world-class mountain biking trails. These trails cater to all skill levels, from novices to seasoned professionals.
Some of the trails have been crafted in collaboration with international trail designers, ensuring a top-notch experience. The forest's terrain, combined with its breathtaking views, makes it a must-visit for biking enthusiasts. For those who prefer to explore on foot, there are numerous hiking trails that weave through the forest, offering serene views of the towering redwoods and other native flora.
Visiting the Redwoods Treewalk
The Redwoods Treewalk is a unique experience that allows visitors to traverse the forest from an elevated perspective. Suspended high above the ground, this series of bridges offers unparalleled views of the majestic Californian Coastal Redwoods.
The treewalk is especially magical at night when it's illuminated by lanterns, creating a surreal, fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
Learning about Maori Culture at Te Puia
Te Puia is not just a place to learn about Maori culture; it's an experience. Here, visitors can witness the traditional Maori way of life, their art, and their deep connection to the land and forest.
The Maori people have lived in harmony with nature for centuries, and their knowledge and respect for the land are evident in their traditions and stories.
Soaking in a Geothermal Pool
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, and after a day of hiking or biking, there's no better way to relax than by soaking in a natural geothermal pool. These pools are naturally heated by the earth's internal heat, providing therapeutic benefits and relaxation.
Camping and Picnics
For those who truly want to immerse themselves in the beauty of Whakarewarewa Forest, camping is an ideal option. Imagine waking up to the sounds of native birds and the sight of towering redwoods right outside your tent. And if you're looking for a more comfortable camping experience, consider renting a campervan.
What to Wear and Bring
- Comfortable Footwear: Given the forest's vast expanse and varying terrains, it's essential to wear comfortable shoes, preferably hiking boots or sturdy sneakers, to ensure a smooth trekking experience.
- Protection Against the Sun: The New Zealand sun can be quite harsh. Always wear a hat and apply sunscreen generously to protect against UV rays. Sunglasses can also be beneficial.
- Hydration: Trekking and exploring can be dehydrating. Always carry a refillable water bottle. There are several spots in the forest where you can refill it.
When to Visit
Whakarewarewa Forest is a beauty throughout the year. However, the spring and autumn seasons are particularly delightful. During these times, the weather is mild, making it perfect for outdoor activities. The forest also showcases a burst of colors, with blossoming flowers in spring and golden hues in autumn.
How to Get Around the Forest
- Guided Tours: For those unfamiliar with the forest or looking for a more informative experience, guided tours are available. These tours often provide insights into the forest's history, its significance to the Maori people, and its unique flora and fauna.
- Self-Exploration: If you're the adventurous type, you can explore the forest at your own pace. There are several well-marked trails suitable for both beginners and experienced trekkers.
How to Get to Whakarewarewa Forest
The forest is located just 5 km southeast of Rotorua city center. If you're heading from Rotorua, follow the signposts as if heading to the Rotorua airport. You'll be traveling on Te Ngae Road.
Turn right onto Tarawera Road at the Redwoods Shopping Centre lights, then right onto Titokorangi Drive (Long Mile Road). The Redwoods Visitor Centre is about 1km from the corner and is the only building on this road.
The Cityride bus service operates from Monday to Sunday, except public holidays. Take bus route three: Owhata, from the main bus stop on Arawa Street in the city center. They leave every half an hour from 6:50 am. Get off at the bus stop on Tarawera Road near the corner of Titokorangi Drive (Long Mile Road). It's about a 1km walk from the corner to The Redwoods Visitor Centre.
By Taxi or Ride-sharing App
For a more direct route, consider taking a taxi or using a ride-sharing app. It's a quick and convenient way to reach the forest, especially if you're carrying equipment or camping gear.
In conclusion, Whakarewarewa Forest is more than just a forest; it's a blend of nature, culture, and adventure. Whether you're a thrill-seeker, a nature lover, or someone looking to dive deep into New Zealand's Maori culture, this forest has something for everyone. So, pack your bags, rent that campervan, and embark on a journey of a lifetime!