Mountain Bike Mecca, Lake Lover’s Paradise, Geothermal wonderland. Those are three descriptive phrases that describe Rotorua and the surrounding area and just three reasons Rotorua is a major destination for domestic and international tourists. The city is surrounded by mountains, rivers, native forests and eighteen freshwater lakes, which comprise The Lakes of Rotorua. Read on to learn about the best things to do in Rotorua.
1. Lake Rotorua
Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake on the North Island of New Zealand and lies in a caldera. It was formed from the crater of a large volcano and the geothermal activity continues below and around the lake which sends clouds of steam around the shore. The water has a high sulfur content which gives the lake a mystical green-blue coloration. The shallow depth of Lake Rotorua makes it prone to discoloration, especially from sediment following the windy weather. That shallowness makes the lake a popular spot for fishermen, but less popular for water sports.
2. Volcanic Hills Winery
Take a ride on the Skyline Gondola for stupendous views of Lake Rotorua and the city and then stop by the Volcanic Hills Winery for a wine tasting, tour and maybe a bite to eat while overlooking the town and lake. Their winery is at the base of the gondola and has arguably the best view of Rotorua. The winery opened in 2009 and produces five wines sourced from iconic New Zealand wine areas including Marlborough, Martinborough, Central Otago and Hawkes Bay. There are several menus and tasting options, some with a return gondola ride included.
3. Government Gardens
Government Gardens by Lake Rotorua was built by the government (hence the name) as a tourist attraction and remains a major tourist destination in New Zealand. The gardens consist of a public park, partly laid out as gardens. In 1908, the New Zealand government opened an elaborate Elizabethan Tudor style bath house. Today, the building houses The Rotorua Museum, which overlooks the gardens and has an award-winning exhibit on when people came from all over the world to ‘take the waters.’ In the early 1930s, a second building, the Blue Baths, was constructed in an ornate Mediterranean style.
4. Polynesian Spa
Nestled on the shores of Lake Rotorua and near the Government Gardens lies Polynesian Spa, a geothermal bathing retreat that is recognized as one of the top ten spas in the world. The spa’s geothermal mineral waters are sourced from two natural springs that feed 28 hot mineral pools. Acidic pools relieve aches and pains while alkaline pools nourish the skin. The retreat at the spa offers a wide range of therapies from Aix spa therapies to body wraps, massages, and facials.
5. Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village
Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village offers visitors a hands-on opportunity to experience traditional Maori culture. The village itself is set amid a landscape of erupting geothermal activity, making it the only living geothermal Māori village. There are several cultural events designed to introduce visitors to the Maori culture. Twice daily, there are Maori cultural performances of the song and dance of the Maori people. Visitors have a chance to interact with local artists and learn how to make a Harakeke (flax) fabric or have a private session with their resident Taa Moko (Maori tattoo) artist to make a design on a laminated sheet.
6. Te Puia
Te Puia is an all encompassing experience of Maori culture and demonstrates the importance of the geothermal activity to the Maori people. You have the opportunity to get close to geothermal phenomena such as bubbling mud, pools of boiling water still used for cooking, and stunning geysers. You will see four geysers, Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, Papakura, Te Horu (“the Caldron”), and Te Tohu, Ngararatuatara (hot pools used for cooking and washing), as well as two mud pools.
There are day tour and evening tour options. The day tour takes you to the Whakarewarewa geothermal valley, a visit with Kiwi birds, and an opportunity to learn about Maori history and culture. The evening tour combines highlights of the day tour, but also includes a Maori feast and a trip to the geothermal valley under lights.
7. Kuirau Park
Kuirau Park is New Zealand’s only geothermal public park. Walking tracks lead to numerous areas of vigorous geothermal activity, including hot springs, a crater lake and mud pools. New eruptions do occur from time to time. In 2001, mud and rocks the size of footballs were suddenly hurled 10 meters (33 feet) into the air as a new steam vent appeared.
Two years later, similar eruptions provided a real bonus for lucky visitors. There is a paddling pool for children. Next to the paddling pool are two-foot (0.6-meter) pools and next to the children’s playground is the main thermal foot pool which is roofed and closed in on three sides.
8. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has been called “one of the 20 most surreal places in the world” and is considered to be New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Waiotapu, a Māori term for “sacred waters,” is an active geothermal area in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. The area has many hot springs known for their colorful appearance that you can view from any of the different walking tracks of varying lengths that lead visitors to volcanic vistas. Popular areas are the Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Pool, Artist’s Palette, Primrose Terrace and the Mud Pool. There are picnic facilities available on site.
9. Glow worm SUP tour on Rotorua Lake
In a city well known for picturesque lakes, stand-up paddle boarding (sup) is a common activity that can be learned and enjoyed by many. What makes this excursion by Adrenaline Hunter different is that they have managed to up your Rotorua nature experience by giving you first: amazing sunset that reflects through the clear lake waters, then as night falls, leading you into a secret cave that will reveal curious rock formations before discovering an amazing blanket of glow worms! It’s a little like a starry night trip except with an added twist of being on a “sup” position. So for those looking for a romantic activity that will surely bring in a lot of memories, be sure to look and book for glow worm sup tour on Rotorua Lake.
10. Grade 5 white water rafting on the Kaituna River
Looking for a refreshing and thrilling activity in New Zealand? Good news for adrenaline junkies, because you’re in for a white water rafting ride! Whether you’re into rafting or just a beginner, professional guides will let you enjoy the Kaituna River and three of its waterfalls that will be your playground for a memorable adventure. Among these 3 is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – the Tutea Falls, which stands at 7 meters (23 feet). The activity lasts for about an hour and the whole excursion including travel time would take about three hours. No worries though, since New Zealand is known for its beautiful landscape so the trip won’t be boring before you reach the waters. Make sure to tag your friends along because there will be discounts for groups of more than eight!
11. Jet boating excursion in Manupirua Hot Springs
Jet boating is a common activity in environment-rich New Zealand. But doing the same thing in hot spring waters? That’s twice the fun! This is why most people traveling to Rotorua opt to experience this unique excursion and be able to take a dip in Manupirua Hot Springs. Participants will depart from the city lakefront, and from there, you will enjoy a total of 45 minutes blast across Lake Rotorua, through Ohau Channel, onto Lake Rotoiti and finally the hot springs. Now after the exciting jet boating, there’s even more to do as you enjoy the views, plunge into the lake, down the water slide, or savor a cup of coffee in their small café. There are also changing rooms available if you want to freshen up. A true value for money activity that can be enjoyed by everyone from age 5, make the most of your New Zealand trip by bookmarking this excursion!
12. Canopy tour
Canopy touring is one of the best ways to experience the diverse nature of New Zealand. But if you think this is just leisurely walking over a rich forest – ziplines, reptiles, suspended cliff walkways, and swing bridges will definitely make you think twice. All of these you will get to experience at Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, 3.5-hour drive away from Auckland. The reserve is home to a variety of flora and fauna species and this makes it a perfect location to do canopy touring 25 meters (82 feet) through ancient Rimu trees from the ground and overlooking famous silver ferns. Did we mention zip lines and reptiles earlier? There’s no need to worry since the place is secured and a guide will assist every step of the way while letting you explore the surroundings at your own pace. The tour is quite lengthy – lasting for either 3 or 3.5 hours, depending on your chosen route but one thing is for sure: this is definitely going to be one of the most memorable walks in your lifetime!
13. The ‘Swoop’
Found yourself in Rotorua and looking for an activity that will swing your world – literally? Try “The Swoop”, a unique twist to bungee jumping that will take you and up to two more of your friends to a swinging experience like you’ve never experienced it before! You will first be lifted at 40 meters (131 feet) before going down from 0 to 130 kilometers per hour (81 miles per hour) in only 1 second, and be swung while being suspended in the air! So if you’re in for some adrenaline rush surprise and are prepared for your friends’ screams (or yours), gear up for a “swoop” to remember!
The magic of Rotorua
The area around Rotorua is a cauldron of steam, shooting geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. Almost at any time of day, you can see white billows of steam shooting upwards. All that geothermal activity is what makes Rotorua one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand.