221km (137 miles) SE of Auckland; 86km (53 miles) S of Tauranga

You'll smell Rotorua long before you see it. The sulfuric aroma in the air is an unmistakable prelude to geothermal things to come. This natural wonderland and the 16 major lakes in the area are the draw for visitors. In fact, Rotorua has long had a reputation for being too touristy, but recent city beautification and heaps of new adventures, accommodations, and attractions have given it a whole new lease on life.

If you're interested in Maori culture, this is the most accessible place to find it. A third of the population of 68,000 is Maori; that's the highest percentage of any city in the country. Rotorua may attract a lot of visitors (2.9 million annually), but unlike Queenstown, its attractions are spread wide and you seldom have to jostle with others. There's plenty of room for everyone. And if you're keen to support sustainable initiatives, the Rotorua Sustainable Tourism Charter (www.sustainableNZ.com) has identified a group of tourism operators committed to protecting and enhancing the natural environment. Members are assessed and their operations carry the charter logo. You can find out who they are and what role they are playing at the Rotorua i--SITE Visitor Centre & Travel Office.