Road trips: Whakatane to Rotorua

It’s easy enough on SH33, from Whakatane to Rotorua, to skirt the shores of Lake Rotoiti, but there is more to this Siamese twin to the better-known Lake Rotorua than meets the eye. Rotoiti is no little sister. It is deeper than Rotorua and is 17km long from end to end. The Ngati Pikiao people once made good use of the waterways for trade and warfare activities, and much of the lake’s borders are still Maori-owned forests and farmland with significant Maori burial grounds and sacred caves. Much of the action today takes place around Okere, on the northeastern bank of the lake. Close to the road, for instance, are the Okere Falls on the outlet Kaituna River. Throughout the year rafters and canoeists hurl themselves along the river’s gurgling rapids and on plunges down a seven-metre-high waterfall. This is said to be the highest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world. If you feel inclined to take the plunge, there are several rafting/kayaking/canoeing companies to choose from. From the bridge across the Kaituna River, a well-formed, 30-minute walk through a scenic reserve of thick bush follows the river and passes several viewing platforms. It ends at the deep Trout Pool, which, true to its name, is a popular angling spot. The river was an important source of food for early Mãori and fiercely fought over at times. Behind the waterfalls are caves where women and children hid from invading tribes. Back across State Highway 33 is the hub of Lake Rotoiti. As well as local and international fare, the Okere Falls Store sells coffee, simple lunches, and takeaway meals. Rustic tables are set on the verandah and in the beer gardens at the back of the store and there is plenty of parking. If you happen to be close by in October you could catch the German Beer Festival, which is held over Labour Weekend – plenty of beer and sausages served to the thumping rhythms of genuine oompah bands. Another festival that has put the lake on the where-to-go map of late is the annual Lake Rotoiti Classic & Wooden Boat Parade held every year in February. On the south side of the lake are some rather different hot pools set right on the edge of the water. All the pools are fed from a natural hot spring. The downside is that the Manupirua Springs can only be reached by boat. Hire a canoe from River Rats near the Ohau Channel or catch a ride with Kawarau Jet from Rotorua. These cross Lake Rotorua to Lake Rotoiti via the Ohau Channel. Drive north along the side of Lake Rotorua to Hamurana Springs where a lovely walk through a towering redwood forest will take you to the amazing 15m-deep, cold spring which pumps out 4,000,000 litres of crystal-clear water an hour. Roadtrip _article _tile
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