Rotorua is known as the adventures capital of the North Island, with Queenstown being the capital of the South (obviously). There is an abundance of things to do in Rotorua, which is why it is an epic place to add to your New Zealand bucket list.
Rotorua has easy access to lakes, hikes, geothermal valleys, hot springs and mountains – it’s hard not to make this a stop on your NZ road trip. Rotorua is the perfect getaway for a weekend trip from Auckland, as a stop on your road trip or as an extended getaway.
This was my first time visiting Rotorua and I can definitely say it will not be my last. I only spent 3 days in the area, which I can say was not enough time! I got to tick off a few bucket list items, but would absolutely love to spend more time exploring here.
Table of Contents
1. Explore the wonders of Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu is the best geothermal area that I visited in Rotorua and it’s well worth going! The Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne springs and devil’s pool, were the stand outs for me. The walk around the area is very pleasant and will only take you a few hours to complete. Afterwards, take yourself to the café to enjoy a meal or a cake and some coffee (they make a good vanilla slice).
2. Self-walk or boat tour in Waimangu volcanic valley
This is the youngest geothermal reserve in New Zealand and has a very interesting history. Take a boat tour or a self-guided hike around the park. I highly recommend you take a boat tour, as you get to explore parts of the reserve which you can’t on foot. The walk around the reserve is pleasant, however if you choose to only go to one geothermal reserve in the are – I’d recommend Wai-O-Tapu.
3.Get muddy at Hells gate
Now this is an experience that you should do! Treat yourself to a glorious mud bath and finish it off by soaking in some sulphur baths. This is a great experience for friends, family, and solo travellers. I’d recommend booking to full Hell’s Gate Experience but if you are on a budget, defiantly make sure you get yourself muddy in the baths. The mud is also said to have healing prosperities and help with your skin’s complexion.
4. Visit the Redwoods
There are a few things you can do at the Redwoods. Take a self-guided walk amongst these giants. There are short, half, and full day hikes available. OR if you are up for a bit of adventure, you can book the tree walk. The tree walk sits at 20 metres above the forest floor, with no harnesses, you can explore at your own pace.
5. Bath in the hot springs
There are 3 hot springs that you can indulge in around the Rotorua area.
- Waikitie Valley Thermal Springs: Located roughly 30mins from Rotorua. Here you have the choice of 6 different pools and some of them have beautiful views. You can also opt for a private hot spring if you are looking for something a little more private. You can read my full review of Waikitie Valley Thermal Springs here.
- Polynesian Spa: These are New Zealand’s original geothermal springs, which have exclusive access to both acidic and alkaline natural mineral springs. You can treat yourself to a spa retreat package, which can include massages, facials, mud wraps and more.
- Secret Hot Tubs: or should I say the not-so-secret hot tubs. Here you can relax in your own cedar hot tub, surround by the beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest and Puarenga Stream. There is also a bar and café, so you can treat yourself to a beer and a meal after your nice relaxing soak.
6. Take a hike
Like most parts of New Zealand, of course there are some incredible hikes you can do around the area. These walks range from easy to difficult, something for everyone. I highly recommend you check out the Rainbow Mountain, Kuirau Park, Blue Lake Wake, Okere Falls and Hamurana Springs.
7. Take a Scenic Flight
Take a scenic flight of the geothermal valleys and Mt Tarawera via seaplane or helicopter. These flights range from 30mins to 1hr and would be an epic experience if you have a bit of money to spare!
8. Roll down a hill in a ZORB
This is great one for adults or kids. Roll down Mt Ngongotaha in a giant plastic ball, filled with 40 litres of fresh water. You are not in it, don’t worry! A single ride will cost you $40 NZD per person, or you can choose other deals that start at $90 NZD. This is the only place in New Zealand where you can partake in this experience.
9. Race your friends on the luge
A luge is part go-cart, part-toboggan and fully fuelled by gravity. Don’t worry the driver is still in complete control of speed, direction and breaking. This world-famous experience opened in 1986 and Skyline Rotorua continues to lead the way with Luge Technology. This an experience which I can guarantee you will have fun doing, no matter what age!
10. Mountain bike through the Whakarewarewa Forest
This network of nearly 200 kilometres of purpose-built mountain biking trails is world famous. It even received the Gold Status by the International Mountain Biking Association. A bike rental will cost you anywhere between $39 to $120 NZD per person/per day.
11. Kayak tour
Kayak your way through geothermal valleys or glow worm caves! The geothermal valley kayak tours take place in the Waimangu Valley and take anywhere between 2.5-4hrs. The glow worm caves kayak tour, leads you along the shores during dusk to a small cavern which is home to a constellation of glow worms. Once the sunsets the cavern lights up with thousands of glow worms. I mean you’ve got to see the glow worms at least once while in New Zealand, right?
12. Learn Māori culture
Rotorua is home to some incredible Māori experiences, and I think its important to learn a little about the culture of the country you are visiting. Some places worth visiting include Te Pa Tiu, Mitai Maori Village, Te puia and Whakarewarewa Maori Living Village. Here you can witness traditional ceremonies, taste classic Māori food, and take part in some woodcarving or weaving.
13. Go swimming a natural hot creek
Kerosene Creek is a beautiful free activity which you can do while in the Rotorua area. This creek is located roughly 25mins from Rotorua, and only a 5min walk from the car park. The road getting to the creek isn’t too well maintained, so make sure you drive slowly. Once you are at the creek, there are plenty of spots to stop and have a soak. I recommend you walk past the first waterfall to the second one, which is much larger. If you are a photographer and want to capture some great shots, I recommend visiting early in the morning. Actually, I recommend visiting between 6-9am, whether you are a photographer or not. There will be less crowds, but also a lovely steam coming off the stream. You will also miss the tour buses at this time!
14. Go rafting
Looking for a adrenaline pumping experience? Go white water rafting on the Kaituna River! Travel down three waterfalls, including Tutea Falls which is 7m high! This has been ranked and the best white water rafting experience in the world. Another bonus? Kaituna River is one of the warmest rivers in New Zealand, so it would even be a great activity on those cold NZ days!
15. Bungy swing
Not really into jumping face first off, a platform? Then this might be the activity for you. This swing is suspended from 40 metres above the ground (11 stories), where you are strapped into a body bag. The swing swoops you from 0 to 130kmph in 1 second! Sounds epic right? If you are too scared to do this activity alone, don’t worry you can drag your friends along too.
Where to stay in Rotorua?
- Favourite Camping option: Lake Okareka DOC Campsite
- For an actual caravan park: Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Best Value: Rose Apartments
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