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heightmap for gazebo

I'm experimenting with using a heightmap in gazebo to produce some nice rolling terrain. So far I have found that it works wonderfully until I add a LIDAR sensor. When I add such a sensor to the robot I find that the simulation runs smoothly until an object enters the robots field of view. Adding any such object slows down the sim almost to a standstill.

I read the answer about improving performance in Gazebo adn tried improving the speed by reducing the number of LIDAR rays to 10 and chopping back the physics rate to 100Hz. With these changes the simulation runs at about 1/5th normal speed.

Is there any way of making the heightmap geom more gazebo friendly? failing that is it possible to import mesh based terrain? I have found at least one project that used both heightmaps and LIDAR under gazebo