Dinner at Sabroso (Rotorua, NZ)

For diners wanting a taste of food from across the ocean, Sabroso offers Latin American cuisine, which not only includes Mexican food but entrées from South America, too. An American ex-pat and his Venezuelan wife own the place. It gets consistently great reviews on the standard NZ food/travel sites. Inside, the space is modest with Latin decoration. For sale, there are bottles of their own homemade hot sauces on each table, a green and two reds.

Our Mexican food craving was satisfied by pork verde, succulent shreds of slow roasted pork, served with black beans, white rice, and a small salad, the verde sauce tasting of tomatillos, onions and garlic.

Pork verde

Perfectly cooked shrimp highlighted Brazilian shrimp stew combined with a tomato sauce tempered by coconut milk, accompanied by white rice and flour tortilla. A tasty dish.

Brazilian shrimp stew

Homemade hot sauces

1184 Haupapa Street
Rotorua, New Zealand
07 349 0591

Snack at Bathhouse Café (Rotorua, NZ)

New Zealand seems to have a café attached to every kind of business or public building. When we were in Christchurch two years ago, the public library near Sydenham had one. Coffee and snack were served right to your table in the reading room. The local community center where my grandson takes swimming lessons also has a café. Public places rarely have these in the U.S.

Museums in America have restaurants to be sure, but I doubt that they all consistently serve the quality we’ve experienced here in Kiwi country. Take Bathhouse Café at the Rotorua Museum. After looking at exhibits for a while, we were in need of refreshment. The display of desserts behind the glass counter was mouth-watering. But, the beverage that caught my wife’s eye was a juice from feijoa, a fruit that grows plentifully in this island nation. The juice was the essence of the fruit—flavors of apple and pear with a hint of the tropics (banana) and slightly tart. We doubt if we’ll ever find this when we get back home.

Feijoa juice

Chocolate and butterscotch brownie with hazelnuts and raspberries

Bathhouse Café
Rotorua Museum
Oruawhata Drive, Government Gardens
Queens Drive
Rotorua, NZ

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (Rotorua, NZ)

The full name is Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, or Whaka for short.

A thermal reserve, Whaka is a showcase for geothermal activity—hot springs, mud pools and geysers. The most famous and largest geyser in NZ, Pohutu, which can reach heights of 40m (130ft), can be seen at a distance from an observation point, but a better vantage would be gained on a visit to neighboring Te Puia instead, though more costly. On our Whaka visit, there was so much steam activity from the intervening pool and inclement weather that the eruption was partially obscured.

Pohutu geyser erupts, obscured by steam and drizzly weather.

It was a drizzly day with periods of showers, so it wasn’t an ideal day for appreciating the sights. Still, our guide gave us a fascinating tour, focusing more on the day-to-day living of the residents. These included bathing and cooking, the latter employing steam to cook, a variation of traditional pit hangi cooking. Food prepared in this way is available at Ned’s Cafe on site. But because we dropped in close to 3pm, the selection was sparse, so we left.

Our guide removed the lid from a steam hangi box

Part of admission included a traditional Maori performance.

A 30-minute Maori cultural performance was held at the performance center.

The interesting thing about Whaka is that Maori (specifically, the Tuhourangi and Ngati Wahiao iwis) still live there, much as the Navajo live in two of America’s Southwest attractions: Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. On the glum side, there may be evidence that long-term exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulphide gas could have serious health consequences.

In Maori, the “wh” phoneme is pronounced like an “f”. So, while it is always correct to use the “f” sound, one of the exceptions is Whaka, where the “wh” sound is used instead for polite reasons.

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Breakfast at Lime Caffeteria (Rotorua, NZ)

One of the recommended places to have breakfast in Rotorua is the Lime Caffeteria, only a few blocks from the Rotorua Museum. The interior is sleek, slightly retro. There is an upscale ambience but not stuffy. The wait staff is very friendly, helpful when you have questions.

The coffee here is stellar, served in a stainless steel French press with enough for two servings. It also came with a small square of chocolate fudge, presumably to mix into the coffee if I chose. I popped it into my mouth instead. My wife had her favorite NZ beverage, a flat white.

French press coffee

Flat white

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Rotorua (NZ)

Steam and sulphur fumes rising from hot springs at Whakarewarewa

The smell gets to you after a while.

Not only is it an assault on the nostrils but, if you’re trying to recover from a cold (like we were), it leaves you wheezy and congested. Rotorua reeks of hydrogen sulfide spewed out by the area’s mud pools and hot springs. The city literally sits on a massive caldera and is ever venting steam, looking like pockets of billowing white smoke all around. Rotorua is also home to the Maori Te Arawa iwi, fully one-third of the population. The hot springs make it possible for them to practice a special kind of hangi cooking using steam, guaranteeing that food will gently cook in its own juices and never dry out.

When we first arrived in the area, we didn’t notice the odor. Our accommodation was on Lake Rotorua (Marama Resort, WorldMark) some 18km from the town center. It wasn’t until we approached the city the next day that the sulphur smell became quite obvious.

Lake Rotorua is the by-product of a collapsed magma chamber. The resulting caldera filled with water, making it the second largest lake on the North Island. Only Lake Taupo to the southwest is bigger. The most popular recreational sport is trout fishing where the fish can often reach impressive sizes, some of the largest in the world, where ten percent of the catch routinely exceed 10 lbs. On the walls of the resort cafe, a fishing club has mounted their most impressive specimens. The size and quality of the trout is characteristic of all the lakes in this part of NZ.