On our first trip to New Zealand’s hottest spot (well, most geothermal) we only had a single day before we had to dash off to do other things. We naturally vowed to return as quickly as possible to see more of the town behind the veil of steam and sulphur… On our return we spent four days in and around the main town, camping in some beautiful spots and cramming in as many activities and sights as we could. Drawing on our experiences, these are my top 10 awesome things to do in Rotorua!
1. KUIRAU PARK
This is a surreal way to experience Rotorua’s geothermal activity simply due to its location. In contrast to Wai-O-Tapu, which is secluded away on its own and costs to enter, Kuirau Park is right in the middle of town and free to visit! Admittedly the sights here are just simmering mud and shrouds of steam (no brightly-hued mineral deposits or pools), but these definitely have their own otherworldly beauty. I loved seeing the steam drift through shafts of sunlight and rise up through the trees just a stone’s throw away from the road and the rest of a busy town.
2. LAKE ROTORUA
While there are activities that can be done on the lake, we only admired it from the shore. Even from this distant perspective I’d highly recommend it. One of my favourite camping experiences in New Zealand so far was camping right by Lake Rotorua and waking up to the most extraordinary sunrise.
3. ROTORUA CANOPY TOURS (ZIP LINING)
This one was my choice and, while quite pricey for what you get, was nevertheless highly (!) enjoyable and a unique way to appreciate take in the breathtaking native forest. Even walking around the forest is wonderful – the air is so clean and refreshing. Our guides were both lovely and supportive too, which elevated the whole experience and put those with any fear of heights at ease. .
4. TE WAIROA BURIED VILLAGE
The elevator pitch for Te Wairoa sounds so intriguing. The village was the gateway to the eighth wonder of the natural world (the glistening, scalloped hot springs of the Pink and White Terraces) and was struck by tragedy with the 1886 eruption of nearby Mt. Tarawera. Sadly there’s very little of the village itself left to see (much of what is visible is just reconstruction), but there are some poignant accounts of people affected by the eruption and intriguing, mud-caked objects on display in the museum.
5. BLUE AND GREEN LAKES (LAKE ROTOKAKAHI AND LAKE TIKITAPU)
Our brief glimpse at these two neighbouring lakes involved us parking up, walking to a viewing spot, taking pictures and then returning to our car. As much as I’m glad we got a fleeting look at these jewel-toned beauties, I feel we did them a complete injustice by not staying longer! They’d be an ideal spot for a bit of walking and/or picnicking.
6. RIVER RAFTING
We went with RiverRats, and overall I’d recommend them – the staff were clear with their instructions and expectations but also really enthusiastic and encouraging. Not only do you get rafting for the price, but also the opportunity to be a little more adventurous. We jumped off a small ledge, floated down a rapid on our backs and were treated to quite the dunking under a smaller rapid!
7. HAMURANA SPRINGS
We owe a huge debt to our rafting guide for recommending this spot to us. Perhaps one of the few places in Rotorua without any geothermal heritage, Hamurana Springs is just the most magical, idyllic place for a stroll among nature. I’ve never seen anywhere quite like it before. The redwoods are monumental and gorgeous, of course, but it’s the water you’ll really want to see. The stream is the most mesmerising blue and set off beautifully by the lush green weeds and mosses in and around it.
The springs are pretty great too! My personal favourite was Kauaenui or ‘Dancing Sands’ spring, with clusters of sand bubbling up and ‘dancing’ beneath the sun-dappled water, but Te Puna-a-Hangurua Spring is probably the most famous. The deepest spring on the North Island, it expels enough water to fill two Olympic swimming pools every hour. Impressive, right?
8. SKYLINE LUGE
The Skyline is expensive and a bit busy, but we’d heard good things and honestly I was just fascinated to try out luging! Their website puts it best when describing it as “part go-kart, part toboggan”. You set off from a height and speed down hill through winding and branching tracks to the finish, where you hitch a ride back up to the top on a chairlift and start the process all over again.
It was definitely a lot of fun, until I crashed into a barrier and got myself rather scraped up! (Don’t worry, you control the speed, so you can be as daring as you like. I was just a little too daring.)
9. WAIKITE VALLEY THERMAL POOLS
Generally we like our camping as cheap minimal as possible, but we made an exception here. The couple from whom we bought our beloved car/camper van had singled out Waikite Valley as a ‘must visit’ campsite due to the after hours pool access that comes in the camping price.
It really is a unique experience as far as camping goes and for a pretty reasonable fee (I think it was around $22). The pools are filled with fresh geothermally-heated water every day and there are a variety of different temperatures, views and sizes. There’s also a hot spring only a short walk away from the main site, which is interesting to see. All in all, worthwhile as a one off expense!
Tip: Be sure to book by phone at least a day in advance as this is understandably popular. And if you want the pools to yourself, go early in the morning (just as soon as the pools are filled) rather than in the evening.
10. WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND
It would be remiss of me to omit the marvellous Wai-O-Tapu from this list. I found it so epic that I wrote a whole post dedicated to extolling its virtues! If you have any interest at all in geothermal activity or just want to experience a visual feast of rainbow-coloured pools, I would wholeheartedly encourage a visit!