I stepped out of my rental car in the city of Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand and sniffed. A faint but unmistakable odor of sulfur drifted in the air. I wasn’t a bit surprised: Rotorua lies in the midst of a major geothermal area that astounds visitors with its bizarre landscapes of boiling hot springs, pools of water with surreal colors, volcanic craters, bubbling mud pots, and erupting geysers — some of the reasons why I had traveled halfway around the world on a lengthy vacation.
The next thing I noticed was the big, white, furball of a dog lolling supine on the front lawn of the bed and breakfast where I would be staying, all four legs lazily swiping the air in an uncoordinated fashion. This gentle husky barely acknowledged me as I passed through the gate and across the well-trimmed grass to the front door. What a beautiful animal, I thought, and what a completely ineffective watchdog!
John, the owner of the Robertson House, greeted me and introduced me to Loki, who didn’t seem even remotely interested in interrupting his play and making my acquaintance. There would be opportunity for that later.
In the meantime, John escorted me to my room—a wonderful space with a queen-size sleigh bed, bay window, fireplace, high ceiling, and large and spotless bathroom with panels of green stained glass and a claw-foot tub. That would suit me just fine, and when I returned from dinner—just a 10-minute walk to the city center—I enjoyed my first night of peaceful slumber.
As my host served me breakfast the next morning, he shared the story of the B&B. Edwin Robertson, the biggest private employer in the area during the early 1900s, ran a company that held a near monopoly on the coaching runs and mail services to and from the city. He had accumulated enough wealth to build this house for himself in 1903 (it’s one of the oldest buildings in the city), but he sold it shortly after to a family who remained there for about three decades. It was then converted into a boarding house for students at the high school across the street before returning to private owners and eventually evolving into the present B&B.
The building retains most of its original features, including Union Jack x’s on the balustrade, intricate fretwork decorations around the veranda posts and over the bay windows, brackets under the eaves, and two corbelled brick chimneys.
John proved not only to be knowledgeable about the house and the area but also extremely helpful in a crisis. When I discovered that I had neglected to pack my battery charger for my camera and still had more than two weeks of vacation left in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, he was quick to recommend a camera shop in town that he knew would be able to assist me. He also offered me his laptop on numerous occasions for whatever he anticipated I might need to investigate.
On my last evening in town, I spent a couple of hours at the Polynesian Spa. After a one-hour soak in a 100° outdoor hot pool (one of four pools of varying temperatures) on a perfect evening, I melted away under the skilled hands of a Kiwi masseuse—a 75-minute massage and 15-minute facial, the latter of which, frankly, made me a little nauseated from the five layers of floral goop being lathered onto my skin. Nevertheless, the entire treatment resulted in total relaxation, and my amble home afterwards took significantly longer than usual, as my rubbery limbs felt a little disconnected from the signals my brain was sending them, like a partially drugged performer in a production of River Dance.
When I finally arrived, I found Loki lying prone on the veranda. Ironically named for the trickster god of Norse mythology, Loki excelled at being idle during the entire time I was there, any thoughts of mischief not once entering his consciousness. I plopped down next to him and we kept each other company for a while. About 15 minutes later, he made his first move by raising his head and looking toward the entrance gate, but nothing was there, so he heaved a big sigh, as if to say, “OK, that’s enough for today,” and rested his head on his paws again. Shortly after, John joined us and we swapped travel stories for a while, and he provided further recommendations for things he thought I might find interesting in his country before I retired to my room for one final night of pampered comfort.
As I bid farewell the following morning, I not-so-secretly wanted to dog-nap Loki, but common sense got the upper hand over my intended crime. Sadly, Loki has moved on to doggie heaven since I stayed here. Even though you won’t have the pleasure of his company should you choose to book a few nights at the Robertson House (and you definitely should), you’re still guaranteed to have a terrific stay at a charming B&B run by a thoughtful, friendly and helpful host.