Rotorua, best known for its geothermal activity and relaxing hot tubs, is one of the top destinations in New Zealand’s North Island. In fact, this is the New Zealand region with one of the most active geothermal activity in the world. And the amount of activities to do in Rotorua are endless. Planning a trip to New Zealand? You have to add Rotorua to your itinerary.
Mountains, lakes, volcanoes, rivers, Rotorua has it all! Between culture, relaxation and adventure, everyone would find something they enjoy.
After I spent the past two weekend exploring this place (which clearly wasn’t enough), I’ve put together the best things to do in Rotorua to help you plan the perfect Rotorua adventure.
14 must-do activities in Rotorua
Visit some amazing geothermal wonderlands
One of the main reasons to visit Rotorua is undoubtedly to discover the unique and astonishing landscape that geothermal activities created. There are lots of geothermal parks available for you to visit in Rotorua. So, let’s make a quick list of some of my favourites:
- Wai-O-Tapu is one of the most popular geothermal parks and the most visited. Located 30km from central Rotorua, this park includes the famous Champagne Pool and its incredible colours as well as the famous Lady Knox Geyser presented daily at 10.15 am. This geyser can reach up to 10-20 metres in heights. This Park is currently under renovation and is closed to visitors. I’ll update this blog post once this one will re-opens.
- Te Puia is a great place if you wish to combine geothermal activity and Māori culture. Indeed, the experience at Te Puia will be unique as you can see the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere, Pohutu Geyser, which can reach up to 30 metres as well as the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. You can join a guided tour at 10.30 am and 1.30 pm to discover the geothermal valley, Māori culture and the Kiwi Conservation Centre. You can also discover the Geyser By Night or taste the original traditional meal called Hangi. Starting price from $39 for an Adult Day pass.
- Kuirau Park – You’d like to discover geothermal activity in Rotorua for free? Head to Kuirau Park. When you arrive in Rotorua, you probably won’t miss the fumarole and steams coming from this park. Take time to stroll around to spot natural bubbling pools, hot springs, crater lakes and mud pools. You can even enjoy a free thermal foot bath in this geothermal wonderland.
Explore Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Waimangu Volcanic Valley one is also one of my favourite geothermal parks in the Rotorua region, located near Wai-O-Tapu. However, this one is so unique that it deserves its own mention (and needs to be added to your activities in Rotorua if not yet).
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the world’s youngest geothermal valley. By visiting this place, you go back in time to learn the stories of the Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption and the resulting unique geothermal landscape that been created.
A self-guided eco-tour allows you to discover some world geothermal features including the famous Frying Pan Lake, Inferno Lake and many others. The distance of this walk goes from 1.5km to 4km for the full walk. This walk would take around 1h30. Complimentary shuttles are also available between stops.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is also home to the world-famous Pink and White Terraces. When Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, these terraces, considered the 8th Wonder of the World, were buried. When you visit Waimangu, you can hop on a boat cruise on the Lake Rotomahana, otherwise known as the final resting place of the Pink and White Terraces. This boat cruise is included in the Full Waimangu Experience.
Find more about this place: https://www.waimangu.co.nz/
Discover the stunning lakes around Rotorua
Did you know Rotorua is also the perfect place to enjoy water activities? Indeed, Rotorua is well known for its 18 lakes and three major rivers. You can enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking/paddleboarding or just picnicking in front of these many lakes.
The three most famous lakes, and the ones that I visited, are:
- Lake Rotorua, which is the 2nd largest lake on the North Island of New Zealand. This is also this lake that gave its name to the city. In the middle of this lake, Mokoia Island is a wildlife sanctuary for native birds. If you are looking for adrenaline activity, you can do a 1h jet boat tour on this lake.
- Lake Tarawera is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand and is known as the birthplace of New Zealand tourism due to its closed location with the Pink and White Terraces before the eruption of Mt Tarawera. You can learn about this event at the archaeological site Buried Village of Te Wairoa. There is also plenty of walking tracks to discover the area.
- Lake Tikitapu, also called Blue Lake, is popular for swimming, fishing or water sports and include great facilities such as a playground, barbecues, picnic tables and toilets. There is a beautiful lookout point right between Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi (called Green Lake) where you can see the contrasting colours of the two lakes.
Take a scenic flight or jump on board to a gondola cabin up to Skyline Rotorua
If you’d like to see how Rotorua and its geothermal landscape looks from a bird’s eye view, hop on a scenic flight via helicopter or floatplane with the local operator, Volcanic Air.
You can also enjoy a spectacular view from the top of Skyline Rotorua that you can reach by gondola.
Rejuvenate your body with a mud and sulphur spa
You won’t find a better place in New Zealand than Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve & Spa to soak in a mud pool and deeply exfoliate your skin.
A short drive away from Rotorua central will bring you to the most active geothermal reserve which is also famous for its rejuvenating mud and water rich in nutrient and therapeutic qualities.
Different experiences are available for your visit but I highly recommend choosing the Full Hell’s Gate Experience. This allows you to, first, walk around the geothermal reserve (you can choose between a 1-1h30 guided or self-guided tour) before enjoying a relaxing time in the mud pool and the sulphur spa.
Find out more: https://www.hellsgate.co.nz
Or indulge in a hot pool with a view
How could you say that you visited Rotorua without a soak in a hot pool?
The geothermally heated water of Rotorua is known for its healing properties and many options are available in the area. The most popular being the Polynesian Spa, located right in front of Lake Rotorua.
Your experience at Polynesian Spa will give you exclusive access to acidic and alkaline hot mineral springs. And you can also treat yourself with spa therapies. There is a range of pools options (lake view/sky view private pools, deluxe lake spa, pavilions pools, family pools) for you to make the most of your relaxing time there.
Embrace the Māori culture and try a hangi dinner
Māori Culture is highly present in Rotorua because of the numerous Māori villages, still inhabited, that, for some of them, can be visited. There is no better place in New Zealand where you can learn more about this culture.
Visit one of the Māori villages, such as Te Puia, Tamaki Village or Whakarewarewa, and see Māori habits, traditional dances and eat the original meal called Hangi ; food which is cooked in the ground with the help of heated rock
Are you more into adventurous/thrilled activities, these next ones are for you:
Rafting over a 7m waterfall
One of the most thrilling tourist activities in Rotorua: white water rafting through 14 rapids graded 4 or 5 on the Kaituna River and ending this one-hour guided expedition by rafting in the highest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand, Tutea Falls 7m high.
Hike the volcano Mt Tarawera
At Mount Tarawera, which erupted in 1886 and created the unique landscape of Waimangu Volcanic Valley, you can take a hike to the summit and walk around the crater.
This volcano, being on private Maori land, is only accessible with a guided tour. You will learn a lot about the legends of the area as well as the Māori culture. At the summit, the panoramic view is absolutely incredible with a view of the entire valley.
More about this guided tour: Mount Tarawera Volcanic Crater Guided Experience
Head to Rotorua adventure park, Velocity Valley, for an adrenaline day. Lots of thrilling activities are available and this is also the ONLY place in Rotorua to experience Bungy Jumping, at 43m high.
Book your bungy jumping here
Hang out in the Whakarewarewa Forest with Redwoods Treewalk and the Redwoods Nightlight
The Whakarewarewa Forest is one of the oldest exotic forests in New Zealand and is composed of giant 118-years-old redwood trees. There are plenty of local forest walks and tracks to wander around. However, if you are looking for a unique walk experience to remember, check Redwoods Treewalk and its world’s longest-living tree walk experience they created. Suspended high above the floor, you’ll meet the tall redwoods as you cross 28 eco-suspended bridges and 27 platforms on 700 metres walk. You can reach up to 20m high. A unique experience to discover the forest from a bird’s eye perspective.
And at night, the Redwoods Forest comes to life with 30 lanterns designed by the renowned designer, David Trubridge. These nightlights are turned on each night at dusk. An enchanting moment to experience in nature.
These two walks take around 40 minutes to complete are suitable for all ages.
Find out more about these walk adventures: https://treewalk.co.nz/
Or zipline through the Redwoods Forest
And if you wish to explore the forest even higher than the Treewalk, hop on the Redwoods Altitude walk for a thrilling adventure up to 25 m high between 25 jungle bridges, 3 flying foxes and 2 spirals.
This guided walk used a continuous safety system and professional guide to lead you around. Allow 2-hours for this experience.
The Whakarewarewa Forest is also world’s famous for its nearly 200 km of mountain bike trails. These have even been voted the best mountain biking in the Southern Hemisphere by Red Bull. These tracks suit everyone, from beginners to competitors, and any ages and fitness level.
Enjoy a drink in a hot tub
Last but not least! What would be the best place to relax and enjoy a drink with friends after an adventurous mountain biking day? Soaking in a hot tub of course! And I know the best spot for that: Secret Spot
Secret Spot Hot Tubs is located in the heart of the forest, close to the “Waipa” Mountain Bike Car park. You can book an 45-minutes of secluded hot tub soak with a view of the tree ferns and forest.
And do you want to know the best feature of the hot tub? There is a button you can press to order your drink. No need to get up, bar service from the hot tub! How cool is that?
How to get there?
Rotorua is easily accessible from Auckland with a 3-hour drive. This means that it’s a perfect getaway for a weekend.
If you are not a big fan of driving, non-stop flights are also available from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with connections across the domestic network.
Where to stay in Rotorua?
Travelling with your campervan? Rotorua is RV-friendly and you’ll find a great free camp right in the centre of Rotorua. Download the apps Wkicamp or Campermate to find the nearest free camps from your location.
For budget travellers, YHA Rotorua will be the best option in town. Amazing location close to the CBD and opposite Kuirau park, where you can discover for free some geothermal activities. YHA offers a good range of rooms from dorms to Deluxe Double Ensuite. And the facilities are spacious and clean: kitchen refurbished with dining area, a lounge area with pool table, cleaned shared bathrooms, WiFi and Free onsite parking to name just a few.
Check the surrounding near Rotorua
Looking to explore the surrounding of Rotorua? There is still HEAPS to do at just a one-hour drive from Rotorua!!!
- Taupo and its lake – Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and many water activities can be done. The must do is to take a boat trip or hire a kayak to discover the impressive 14 metre Maori Sculpture: Maori Rock Carving. You can also admire the power of the Huka Falls or watch the Aratiatia Dam release.
- Tauranga – By going this way you’ll reach the coast of the bay of plenty. There are beautiful beaches around Mt Maunganui up to Whakatane where you can spot dolphins. You can also climb the Mount or enjoy the surf breaks of the region.
- Matamata is home to a very famous village, Hobbiton. If you are a fan of LOTR, you can’t miss this place. New Zealand is known as home to Middle-earth, you can visit the village of hobbits and discover the enchanted and mystical scenery of your favourite movies. The guided tour will tell you more about the history of this place and some secrets about the filming before bringing you to the Green Dragon Tavern for a drink.
What do you think about these activities in Rotorua ? Did I convinced you to visit this incredible town yet?
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Amazing pictures and a very well written blog covering almost everything that Rotorua has to offer. We are travelling to South Island this year but when we do travel the north. This blog is our itinerary. Thank you for sharing
I am so glad your liked it. And that you will use it for your north island itinerary. Where are you now ? Make sure to subscribe at the Newsletter and follow me on Instagram @justinejehanno for more NZ inspiration and tips.