Soak up the charms of Kiwi hotspot
FOLLOWING last December's tragic eruption on White Island, it was with some trepidation that I contemplated tackling New Zealand's latest great walk.
The 15km Tarawera Trail near Rotorua ends in the shadows of active volcano Mt Tarawera, responsible for the country's most devastating eruption in 1886.
It took the lives of more than 100 locals - completely burying a nearby village - with ash spread across 15,000sq km and the accompanying roar heard almost 1000km away in Christchurch.
But with history showing the average space between eruptions is about 1500 years, and zero recent sign of activity, my partner and I set off justifiably confident that this sleeping giant is unlikely to reawaken any time soon.
The free walk starts on the shores of Lake Tarawera, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Rotorua in the North Island, and winds its way around the lake with picnic and toilet facilities along the way.
While some choose to make a full day of the picturesque undulating return walk from the Te Wairoa carpark to Te Rata Bay (Hot Water Beach), we decided to spend a leisurely five hours on the one-way trip.
That still allowed time for a well-earned relax in the heated lake waters at journey's end before a 15-minute water taxi ride provided a rapid return to our starting point.
On arrival at Hot Water Beach you're greeted by plumes of steam spiralling invitingly upwards as boiling water from thermal springs creates a naturally heated shoreside spa.
Along the preceding path, short climbs and descents alternate as you work your way from pumice-strewn lakeside beaches to elevated vantage points among the native ferns so famously replicated on the jerseys of New Zealand sporting teams.
The Kiwis are justifiably proud of the renowned beauty of their country and we deliberately took our time to stop regularly and take it all in.
We encountered just a few fellow hikers on our walk and of course the trail has been even quieter in the past few months with New Zealanders locked down during a highly successful response to contain the COVID-19 virus that has decimated other parts of the world.
But the hope is that with both Australia and New Zealand having standout success in managing the virus, country borders will soon open to allow trans-Tasman travel.
When that happens, I highly recommend you grab the chance to venture across "the ditch" and enjoy all our near neighbours have to offer - and as a bonus be able to do it in relative peace as the rest of the world remains locked out and watching on in envy.
Rotorua itself is New Zealand's cultural tourism capital and staying a night either side of your Tarawera walk opens up many exciting opportunities.
Maybe take a mountain bike ride in the vast forestry areas, stroll through the awe-inspiring Redwood Memorial Grove, and ride the gondola to the top of Mt Ngongotaha to take in panoramic views of Rotorua and surrounds.
And if Hot Water Beach has you hooked on the soothing qualities of a dip in steaming water, drop into the newly reopened Secret Spot Hot Tubs.
Fully submerge yourself in the soothing, healing waters, or choose to just soak your feet while enjoying a glass or two of your favourite beverage.