One thing that many New Zealanders and visitors share is a love-hate relationship with Rotorua (ro-to-roo-ah), but every year thousands of local and overseas visitors either brave or ignore the vibe to enjoy what is a vacationer's haven. (Some call it Rotovegas.) This unashamedly touristy town has capitalized on nature's gifts to become one of the country's most famous spots. The "Great South Seas Spa," as Rotorua was known, was among the earliest spa ventures in the country—dating as far back as the 1860s.

The city's Māori ori community traces its ancestry to the great Polynesian migration of the 14th century through the Arawa tribe, whose ancestral home is Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua. The whole area is steeped in Māori history and legend—for hundreds of years, the Māori have settled by the lake and harnessed the geological phenomena, cooking and bathing in the hot pools.

For stunning scenery and idyllic picnic spots, drive around Lake Rotorua. About halfway around the lake look for Hamurana Springs, a large area of land with free public access where crystal-clear water bubbles from springs forming a river that flows into the lake. Walking through this area you will see birdlife and pass through several groves of magnificent redwood trees.

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