Things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand
With its geothermal activity and spas, Māori history and location in the central North Island of New Zealand, Rotorua is a destination in its own right, a stopping-off point, but also a great base for exploring the beautiful & varied lakes, the lush forests, and the native bush of the region.
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Rotorua is also known as “Sulphur City” because of the geothermal activity and emissions that give the city its distinctive smell. Did you know that geothermal energy is used to heat local people’s homes (my in-laws included)?
Every visit should start at the Rotorua Museum, The museum is housed in a beautiful Elizabethan Revival building that was formerly a bath house and is located in the Government gardens. Historically, this was a sanatorium where people used to go for therapeutic mud baths.
Waiotapu - A beautiful and aromatic park offering visitors the chance to get close (but not too close) to geysers and geothermal pools (the champagne pool is my personal favorite) and learn more about the geothermal activity of the region.
Waimangu - Not just a park but a volcanic valley, it is easy to spend a few hours here hiking from one geothermal pool to another and finishing with a boat tour of Lake Rotomahana. A shuttle bus is available to make the hike a little easier.
The Polynesian spa in town features several thermal pools of different temperatures, as well as spa treatments. It is very popular with tourists and can get very busy. I like the shop onsite for buying skincare products to take home.
Waikite Valley Hot Pools - Located 30 mins away from Rotorua, these hot pools are popular with the locals, less touristy, and my personal favorite. Really relaxing in the evening when it’s quiet.
Secret Spot Hot Tubs - Cedar hot tubs surrounded by lush green ferns. There’s a cafe on site serving hot & cold drinks and food.
Hell’s Gate Mud Pools - If you want to immerse yourself (literally & figuratively) in mud, this is a place worth visiting. You’ll be glowing afterwards (speaking from personal experience).
Ta Puia offers a variety of experiences and opportunities to learn about Māori culture. It combines a geothermal park, the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a restaurant. To really get the most out of your time here, I recommend a guided tour to understand Te Puia’s history and lineage, watching a traditional performance of the songs, Poi, and the Haka - watching this in person is a “must” for anyone visiting New Zealand. The energy will give you goosebumps - followed by Hāngī Buffet Dinner.
Redwood Grove - These Redwoods are not native to New Zealand, but they were brought over from California, planted by American servicemen. There is a tree-top walk that gives you a different perspective, but for anyone afraid of heights, it’s possible to walk around and enjoy the view from the ground. There are different paths signposted at ground level for different activities. Great for walking or running. It’s located on the edge of town and I used to run there and back when I was visiting.
There are many beautiful lakes in the area, each with its own characteristics and beauty. A few I have been to and would visit again: Lake Tarawera with its ancient Māori cave paintings, Lake Okataina, Lake Rotoiti and more.
Mount Tarawera Crater Walks - A very special way of learning more about Māori culture all the while admiring the unique landscape of Mount Tarawera and its crater.
ZORB - Imagine rolling down a hill inside a massive transparent ball. There are four different tracks available to choose from, guaranteed to make you have a great time.
Skyline Rotorua Luge - Another gravity-fueled activity for the whole family, though some height restrictions apply for some rides.
Agrodome is a working farm offering farm tours and experiences, including the opportunity to see different farm animals, including rare sheep breeds.
The National Kiwi Hatchery is also located in the Agrodome Rotorua. A unique experience to take part in an immersive journey to learn about the Kiwi and efforts being made to conserve this iconic bird and New Zealand’s national icon.
Restaurants & Cafes
Zippy Central Bar & Cafe near the Night Market. This is popular with mountain bikers.
The Fat Dog Cafe & Bar - A casual and quirky place that has been around for almost 30 years.
Capers Cafe & Store - Good whether you’re eating in or looking for food to go.
The Landing at Tarawera - A casual and affordable cafe overlooking the beautiful Lake Tarawera.
Need to Know
Rotorua, located in the central North Island of New Zealand, has a lot to offer and is popular with international and domestic visitors. Surrounded by lakes and geothermal valleys, it’s a great and relaxing way to end a visit in New Zealand, exploring nature for a few days, enjoying the thermal baths, and learning more about the Māori culture. There are also activities for those with energy to burn and feeling more adventurous.
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