There are a few spots you can’t miss when visiting the North Island of New Zealand, and Rotorua is one of them. At just over 2 hours drive from Auckland and close to other major tourist sites like Waitomo or Hobbiton, it’s easy to access and it has plenty of activities that will fill 3 or 4 days of your journey.
What to do in Rotorua?
1. Explore Kuirau Park: free volcanic city park
There are many cities with incredible city parks, though not many can say theirs is a volcanic park! This green area is just a 5 minutes walk from the CBD (city centre) and it will blow your mind, quite literally. Expect steamy sulphur pools, thick bubbling mud ponds & colours (and smells) you’ve never seen before. Cost: free!
2. Encounter the Maori
What makes New Zealand different is not only its incredible landscapes, though the Maori legacy. The islands were discovered by these fascinating people, coming from other pacific islands and establishing themselves in Aotearoa (‘long, white cloud’- in Maori), a.k.a New Zealand.
You can’t leave New Zealand without getting close to the Maori culture, the best way to do this is by visiting a Maori village in Rotorua (below). Expect intimidating ritual dances, cultural performances, Hangi (traditional Maori meal) and to walk away with a whole new perspective. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be designated chief of your tribe, with the honour of saluting the Maori chief in the traditional Hongi (nose to nose salute). Cost: from £60/$130NZ, two options below:
- Tamaki Village: Simply the best Maori experience you can have, rated the best cultural attraction in New Zealand. It’s a fascinating & immersive experience, they do a great job of making sure it doesn’t feel like a show. I got my tickets here
- Te Puia: As well as a similar Maori village experience, this option also includes a visit to one of the best geysers and thermal lands in Rotorua city. If your’e short on time this is a good option to combine activities. You can book tickets here.
3. Take on the world’s biggest drop at Kaituna river whitewater rafting
One for the adrenaline junkies and actually, after doing it this is suitable for so many people! With the worlds highest commercially rafted waterfall at 7meters, Kaituna river is a challenge you can’t leave Rotorua without taking on. The company we booked with were great & made us feel so at ease, allowing us to enjoy it rather than being paranoid we were going to certain death! We’re happy to say it was completely fine and so much fun! We go our tickets here.
4. Admire the colossal Redwoods Rotorua
Another of the many Rotorua attractions that you can do for free! Back in the 60s, people in Rotorua decided to plant loads of redwoods for business purposes (it’s one of the best timber on the market). The result of that decision is an incredibly beautiful forest that you can explore by yourself following one of the three well-signed treks or even go on the skyline walk, a series of hanging bridges on the top trees. Getting there is easy: a short bus ride on bus #3 or a 40 min walk from the town centre. Once there, you can decide if you want to add in the the stunning (though pricey) tree top walk. Cost: free trek, Treewalk from £15/$29NZ.
5. Wai-O-Tapu volcanic land
If you’ve previously visited volcanic landscapes you’ll know how surreal they can be. Well, go to Wai-O-Tapu and you’ll find another level of surreal views. Tapu is sacred in Maori, a clear hint of what to expect there: dozens of steaming holes, springs, mud pools, steaming lakes and the phenomenal Champagne pool & it’s relative, the arsenic pool. A great day out! Get your tickets with transfer from/to Rotorua here
6. Sulphur point on Lake Rotorua
This is one of those less known, underrated things to do in Rotorua. It’s understandable that after visiting a few thermal areas, you may leave this till the very last spot on your to do list, though I’d recommend going, it’s well worth it! You’ll enjoy a nice stroll along the water side accompanied by rare black swans. Once you reach the sulphur point you’ll see how chemics work… including the mixing of the water from the lake with the high acid levels of the thermal hot springs. A strangely calming show you can’t miss. Cost: free.
7. Visit a traditional Jade factory
Remember Moana’s neckless? You can have your own made from real jade in Rotorua. If you don’t to pay for that, I still recommend you visit the JADE workshop, where they explain the whole process from rock extraction to finished product. It’s something very interesting and so closely related to Maori culture, you’ll learn more than you think. Cost: free guided tour.
8. Hell’s Gate spa: enjoy the thermal waters and volcanic mud bath
You can’t leave Rotorua without trying one of the dozens of hot springs in the area. The top rated one is Hell’s Gate, a spa that utilises the healing and relaxation qualities of its natural springs, sulphur waters and mud baths for visitors. It’s a bit out of the main town, though they offer free shuttles from your accommodation. Book your tickets here
9. Waimangu: Trek the volcanic valley
At just 20 minutes drive from Rotorua, this is a great day trek you can do on itself or as a combined day trip with Wai-O-Tapu. It’s the youngest volcanic valley in the world, meaning that it’s alive! You’ll enjoy incredible landscapes and sights of unique features like the Frying Pan Lake or Inferno Crater Lake. The admission fee is $40NZ, you can get your tickets here.
10. Enjoy the town’s resort feel
This quaint town has a resort feel to it, specially having the beautiful lake. You’ll find plenty of cafes to chill after a day full of adventure activities or you can chill in the spa of your accommodation (most hotels have thermal pools!). All in all, Rotorua town deserves a few hours of your time, and if you happen to be there on a Thursday they have a street market to visit.
If you need any other tips or info, leave a comment below and we’ll help you out!
Iban & Shay