Cuisine editor Kelli Brett unpacks effortlessly warm Rotorua hospitality within a diverse foodie landscape.
It’s a city that heaves with cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars, so the opportunity to take a deep dive into the local food culture of Rotorua was one I took very seriously. Here are a few spots for you to conquer when visiting this dazzling region where an overwhelming spirit of manaakitanga (hospitality and kindness) abounds.
Regent of Rotorua provides an eclectic mix of accommodation and dining in a central city location that will give you 100% with regards to warmth and welcome. Manager Christine McDonald runs a superb team at this boutique gem. Make sure you dine in and not just for breakfast. Chef Alan Haslem serves up an exquisite dégustation menu and also delivers some innovative plant-based options and a delightful high tea. If you are lucky you will meet Monica Muzzoli who multi-skills across front of house and has some mighty wine knowledge that she imparts along with hilarious tales of past and present. Out-of-towners really should book the gourmet package which includes a five-course dégustation with matching wines, one night in a suite and breakfast. regentrotorua.co.nz
A coffee was all I had intended to grab until I stepped through the door of Social Club and into its super-cute space. So many choices to suit your mood from booths, sofas, long tables or a stool at the bar. The more adventurous can pull up a chair and eat off the back of a renovated ute and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t come much more Instagramable than that! It has free-range meat and eggs and plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. If you time it right you can hang out with manager and host Bruna Wende and be social. social-club.co.nz
You can’t be in Rotorua without a walk through Eat Street where you’ll discover pub fare to tapas and everything in between. My pick for your place to find a table would be Atticus Finch. Here you will meet a bunch of really good people pushing out more than just a meal. Owners Cherry Te Kiri and Kay Thompson have created a spot that is hard to leave with its playful plates and thoughtful cocktails using housemade syrups. Restaurant manager Sean Kelly is ably assisted by Aroha Butler while head chef Imtiyas Mohamed pumps out food with the Atticus Finch trademark of fresh, bold flavours. Take a peek at the current menu at atticusfinch.co.nz.
The Pullman is an option for a comfortable stay with a great in-house restaurant. Barrel and Co. is brasserie-styled in an intimate space where you can watch the team in their open kitchen. As we went to print, head chef Isabel Ronquillo had just arrived and this woman is a powerhouse. I think The Pullman might have scored themselves a keeper by hiring Izzy who hails from Treetops Lodge. I’m excited to see our hotel restaurants stepping up their game like this. Check the new menu and pop in to say hello to Isabel and her team. pullmanrotorua.com
If you are only to eat one meal in Rotorua central (and that would be a crying shame) then I’d suggest it be at Terrace Kitchen. With a very cool dining room, an upstairs bar and an enclosed courtyard, this light and fresh space is owned by Jo Romanes who is a master at creating ‘the experience’. Executive chef Timo Dicker creates high-quality food that is interesting without being exhausting. By day you have the obligatory breakfast and lunch menus with a Dicker twist, by night you will choose from a menu that is just a little bit edgier than most of the local offerings, but still seriously approachable food. terrace.kitchen
For the big RotoVegas finish, catch one of the gondola cabins up the 900m-long Doppelmayr cableway system to the Skyline complex. Next, hit the clever little tasting room with its serious views over Lake Rotorua where Volcanic Hills Winery provides wines made in Rotorua using its personal selection of the right grapes for the right wine, from all over New Zealand. Send the kids off to the luge and settle in for a cheeseboard and a tasting. Co-owner Brent Park reckons this is the perfect spot to chat to visitors about the winemaking scene in New Zealand and boy can he do the chat. Brent will gently challenge your previous notions about what you think you like to drink and you will leave with a commitment to great grape horizons. volcanichills.co.nz
I’m a bit jealous because I think Ann Gregor-Greene, manager of Peppers on the Point, might have a better job than mine, although I’d concede that she has put in some extremely hard yards recently having to turn a 90% international-facing business into an offer to entice locals to the table. But turn it she has and it is wonderful to see this special space with its gorgeous artworks and carefully considered nooks and crannies now becoming more accessible to all. The original homestead was built in 1903 with the current incarnation being transformed into a lodge by Ron and Jamie Main in 1977. In-house restaurant The Mains serves breakfast, brunch and dinner using produce from its garden, eggs from its own chickens and local products. Chef William Foote heads the operation assisted by head chef Ali Wakefield and Mirai Sato and Syvelle Toyer. Together they deliver a menu that is a tremendous showcase for New Zealand flavour. Keep an eye out for a range of special events created by Ann that promise to be outstanding and might give you the opportunity you need to take a sneak peek inside this grand old mansion. themainsatpeppers.co.nz
I hadn’t truly considered the weight of the words ‘estate to plate’ until I visited Treetops Lodge. This elegant lodge and its 1000 hectares of private native forest and pristine wilderness is really something quite unique. Yes, it is opulent, but somehow it is suffused with the essence of home. A very beautiful, rustic, larger than life, ridiculously expensive home. The villas are nestled in peaceful seclusion and surrounded by magnificent birdsong, the rooms in the heart of the lodge are surrounded by lush lawns. Rusa, sambar and sika deer, buffalo, feral pigs, pheasants and peacocks roam the estate and you can hit the trails and experience everything this wildlife wonderland has to offer on foot, by mountainbike, on horseback or 4WD. What was sold as a short early morning stroll to Bridal Veil Falls had me a little hot and bothered until I reached the pinnacle and just stared at that pristine and unbelievably beautiful water cascading in all of its glory just for me. Suitably humbled, my trip back down was not so hard because breakfast and the spa beckoned. Of course, as would be expected, the spectacular sun-dappled kitchen is the hub where everyone gathers while chef Felipe Ponce enthusiastically prepares an ever-changing menu for his guests; a menu that pays great tribute to the all- important estate-to-plate philosophy. Delwyn Namulo is the consummate host and sommelier Ashwin Thomas is a joy. Summer packages now on offer at treetops.co.nz.
You can’t miss the Prince’s Arch and Gateway on Queens Drive Entrance. The surrounding Government Gardens are very much worth a wander.
GIVE YOURSELF A TREAT at the original and iconic geothermal hot springs at the Polynesian Spa. The slightly acidic Priest Spring waters relieve tired muscles, aches and pains while the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring nourish the skin. polynesianspa.co.nz
OKERE FALLS STORE is a great place for foodie gifts and perhaps a little something for yourself as well. A popular spot for families with a rustic menu that features all of the good stuff: breakfast bowls, tostadas, hotcakes and much more. okerefallsstore.co.nz
WALK HIGH among the treetops of the majestic redwoods and feel the spirit of these 120-year-old giants at Redwoods Treewalk. A truly magical 30-minute ecological walk. treewalk.co.nz
A GEOTHERMAL public park with a crater lake, mud pools and hot springs, Kuirau Park is free to visit and located within an easy walk of the city centre. rotoruanz.com
TE PUIA offers a cultural food and beverage offering while overlooking the magnificent Pōhutu Geyser. A wonderland of Māori carvers and weavers, bush walks, bubbling mud pools and bird watching. tepuia.com
The best the region has to offer in arts, crafts, produce and food stalls happens every Thursday evening at the Rotorua Night Market on Tutanekai Street. Follow their facebook page for updates. @rotoruanightmarket