YOU can pay a fortune to visit one of Rotorua's thermal parks to walk between bubbling mud and steaming pools. Or you can take a lovely walk around the lakefront and see some for free.
The trail from the playground at the Lake Front Reserve to the Polynesia Spa is more low key than the tourist parks, but it doesn't take much thermal activity to impress youngsters. And quite apart from that, this is a peaceful track with beautiful views over the lake that's just the right length for a morning jog, or end-of-day walk before dinner.
The easy path starts just east of the playground and takes you first through a bush strip between the golf course and the lake. Through the trees you catch views down the boating part of the lake towards Mokoia Island, and the hills beyond. In the late afternoon, with the sun sparkling off the deep blue water, this outlook is stunning.
The track comes out at a boat launch area at Motutara Point, and then drifts south into manuka. Here you look across the steaming milky waters of Sulphur Bay, home to hundreds of birds that pick their way through crusty outcrops.
Soon you enter a more open thermal area where boardwalks guide you from steaming pool to bubbling mud hole, with information panels at key spots that tell stories about the area's history and geography.
Everywhere are wide and beautiful views over the lake ... and the smell of sulphur.
When you emerge near the Polynesian Spa you could head in for a soak or a massage, or double back through the manicured Government Gardens and experience the more historic surroundings of the restored Blue Baths.
Rotorua Museum is just across the lawn in another stunningly restored building, the original Bath House, which looks out over the gardens. You can explore the building from the former mud bath in the basement to the viewing platform at the top.
It was once known as the Great South Seas Spa, and was visited by people from all over the world for its famed, and sometimes bizarre treatments, which included bathing in "electrifying currents".
The museum presents all this history, plus information about Rotorua's culture and landscape, through exhibitions, cinema viewings, tours and activities.
Wander back through the beautiful gardens to their grand entrance where Arawa St meets Hinemaru St. Opposite you'll see the historic Princes Gate Hotel, the perfect spot to head for a drink or dinner at the end of your walk.
This boutique hotel dates back to 1897 and its decor reflects its elegant heritage. With deep leather couches on plush carpet in front of roaring fires, retreating here as the day cools down is the ultimate way to wind down and enjoy a bit of luxury.
The hotel has good value dinner deals perfect for families, or you could make a night of it with one of the cabaret dinner shows.