Rotorua is the center of the geothermal activity of New Zealand. Located in the middle of the Northern island, it’s a perfect starting point for exploring not only Rotorua itself, but also its surroundings. There is so much to do! In this article I’ll give you 10 tips on what to do in and around Rotorua.
1. See the geothermal wonders at Wai-O-Tapu or Waimangu
When visiting Rotorua, it’s actually a must to pay a visit to Wai-O-Tapu or/and Waimangu: two of the thermal parks of the city. They’re both worth a visit and have their own uniqueness. In my opinion, Wai-O-Tapu is more diverse in its geothermal features (spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools and colourful sinter terraces). Waimangu Volcanic Valley offers this too, but is more unique in its beautiful nature in the environment. At Waimangu you can also make a Lake Rotomahana boat cruise as additional tour. At the photos above you can see Wai-O-Tapu on the left and Waimangu on the right.
The two parks are practically located next to each other, on the South side of Rotorua (it’s at approximately half an hour driving distance). The entrance fee for Wai-O-Tapu is NZD 32,50 per adult and NZD 11,- per child (look at the official website for the latest updates). If you’d like to have the full Waimangu experience (walk through the park and the boat cruise) the costs are NZD 85,- per adult and NZD 28,- per child. Of course you can also chose just for an entrance to the park (without boat cruise) or the other way around (without the hiking option). For these prices and for the latest updates you can take a look on the official website.
2. Visit one of the Maori villages
Besides being the center of the geothermal activity, Rotorua also is one of the best places to get to know more about the Maori culture. There are several Maori villages in the city which you can visit. During this visit, you’ll most of the time get a tour around the village, will experience the Haka (the traditional Maori dance) and enjoy a traditional dinner (Hangi). I’d recommend to take a look at the website of Whakarewarewa or the Mitai Maori Village.
3. Have dinner or a drink in Eat Streat
Personally I don’t find the city center of Rotorua very interesting. It’s more interesting to explore the surroundings of the center. However, if you’re looking for a nice place to eat or drink something, you should definitely go to Eat Streat! There’s a very good atmosphere and lots of good places to have a nice night out. I really liked the restaurant Atticus Finch, as it serves delicious food which are meant to share. Deifnitely a recommendation!
4. Go to Skyline Rotorua for a real life Mario Kart experience
Just outside the city center of Rotorua, you can find Skyline Rotorua. With a gondola you’ll go up the hill, where you can enjoy a magnificent view over Lake Rotorua, the city and surroundings. On top of the hill, you can find a restaurant and bar. Here you can have lunch or dinner.
The most exciting thing about the Skyline is the fact that you can go luging! That means you can cross downwards the hill with some kind of ‘Mario Kart’ cart. How awesome is that? I loved it! It gives so much of an adrenaline rush. Besides luging you can also go ziplining or on the skyswing. To make sure you’ll be able to enter and join, it’s recommended to book your tickets online beforehand.
5. Go for a hike or mountainbike trip to The Redwoods (Whakarewarewa Forest)
The Redwoods is a very popular place for mountainbikers and hikers. Of course it’s not that popular without a reason: it’s a beautiful nature forest where you can find huge trees which are magnificent to see. There are many hiking trails in the Redwoods, short and long, but one of the most popular ones is the Redwoods Treewalk. This trail is not that long, around half a kilometer, and consists out of 23 bridges traversing the gaps between 22 majestic 100-year old Redwood trees. Take into account that you need to pay a fee to enter this trail (price on June 25th 2020 is NZD 30,- per adult).
6. Go kayaking over Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti
Are you into kayaking? It’s a great way to explore more of the environment of Rotorua, as the city provides several lakes. There are a few organisations which offer kayak rental or kayak tours. You’ll, most of the time, start on Lake Rotorua from where you’ll kayak through the channel to Lake Rotoiti. If you book a guided kayak tour, it’s recommended to book one in the evening. You’ll then kayak over Lake Rotoiti all the way to the Manupirua Hot Pools. On the way back you can enjoy a beautiful sunset and will visit the glowworm caves.
7. Hike to the Tarawera Falls
On the East side of Rotorua you can find Tarawera Forest with Mount Tarawera. A beautiful trail to hike is the one to the Tarawera Falls, with spectacular views when you arrive at the waterfalls. It’s an easy trail, as it only takes 20 minutes one way.
Take into account that when you’d like to enter Tarawera Forest, you’ll need an Access Permit. A Access Permit costs NZD 10,- per vehicle and can be bought online or at the office.
8. Go to Te Urewera National Park
Te Urewera National Park is probably one of the most beautiful national parks of New Zealand. This biggest national park of the Northern Island consists out of magnificent forests, rivers, lakes and lots of bird species. The best way to discover Te Urewera is by foot.
One of the highlights of Te Urewera is Lake Waikaremoana: a 243 meter deep, clear blue lake which is perfect for fishing, swimming, kayaking or taking a boat trip. There is also a possibility to hike a trail around the lake, named the Lake Waikaremoana Track. This track is in total around 50 kilometers long and takes three to four days to hike the whole track. Although the track is perfect for everyone with a normal condition, you also need to have the time for the whole track. Of course it’s also possible to walk a part of the Lake Waikaremoana Track.
The Lake Waikaremoana Track probably is one of the most popular tracks in Te Urewera, but there are many more hiking trails varying from an hour to several days.
9. Pay a visit to the Huka Falls
Around an hour driving distance Southwards from Rotorua, you can find the Huka Falls. It’s a magnificent waterfall located in a beautiful environment. Why is it so ‘magnificent’? I quote from the website:
You’ll hear the Huka Falls well before you see them – it’s the sound of nearly a quarter of a million litres of water per second erupting from a natural gorge and thundering 11m into the Waikato River below. This incredible waterfall is the most-visited natural attraction in New Zealand – it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the endless, mesmerising torrent.
It’s caused by the Waikato River, normally 100m wide, being forced to narrow to just 15m wide as it passes through a hard volcanic canyon. This increases the flow pressure immensely, causing the water to burst out with great force as the gorge ends.
There are all kinds of activities you can do around the Huka Falls: from hiking to biking and from taking a jet boat trip to taking a river cruise.
10. See the movie set of Hobbiton
The Hobbiton movie set is also at around a driving distance of one hour from Rotorua. This movie set is, of course, well-known from The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit film trilogies and a must-visit for fans! Two-hour guided tours are offered five times a day. It’s definitely recommended to buy a ticket beforehand, because it can be very busy in high season (December – February). During the tour, you’ll see Hobbit Holes, the Green Dragon Inn, The Mill, double arched bridge and other structures and gardens built for the films.
A two-hour guided tour costs NZD 89,- per adult and NZD 44,- for youth (9 – 16 years). Children under the age of 9 years old can purchase a ticket for free (prices as on June 25th 2020). For the latest updates you can take a look on the official website.