What to do in Rotorua - New Zealand
How can a place so smelly be so awesome? From relaxing hot pools to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, from exploring thermal parks and experiencing interesting Maori culture to walking high up in the trees. Rotorua has a lot to offer, and once you’ve gotten used to the smell of sulphur you’ll want to stay to experience it all.
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Let’s start with where that smell comes from. Rotorua is located in a geothermal area. The heat and sulphur gasses come through the earth’s crust which heats up the ground, lakes, and streams and causes the smell of sulphur (smells a bit like rotten eggs). Luckily the big upside to this is that these geothermal features look awesome. Below are the best places to see these alien landscapes.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland - This big park is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Witness the Lady Knox Geyser erupt to heights of 20 meters and take insta-worthy shots at the Champagne Pool. The Geyser erupts every day at 10:15 am and if you don’t mind missing out on it, this is the best time to have the rest of the park all to yourself. Don’t worry about it too much though, the park is big and never gets very crowded.
Kuirau Park - On a tight budget or don’t feel like spending money? Then go to Kuirau Park in Rotorua town. Entrance to the park is completely free and you’ll see plenty of bubbly mud pools and steamy lakes here.
Another big plus of the geothermal activity is the natural hot springs it creates. What better way to spend a cold and dreary day than by sitting in a warm outdoor bath? We suggest checking out one of the following options.
Polynesian spa - This iconic spa overlooking Lake Rotorua has everything you need to indulge in a day of rest and relaxation. Perfect if you want to splurge a little because it isn’t cheap.
Hell’s Gate - Don’t let the name put you off, this unique spa takes mudbaths to a whole new level.
Waikite Valley Thermal Pools - Thermal pools with an attached campsite where you can stay for an additional $5. Perfect if you’re traveling around in a van and still need a place camp for the night!
Kerosine Creek - The free option. Navigate to Kerosine Creek and walk a few minutes from the carpark to find a naturally heated stream that cascades into little hot pools. Don’t forget to bring a towel.
The Māori people were the first to settle in Rotorua and it is still the country’s heartland of Māori culture. There are multiple Māori villages that you can visit here and they all offer an interesting cultural experience. We went to the Tamaki Māori Village which was voted the 7th best experience in the world by TripAdvisor in 2018. After an invigorating welcome (if you’re lucky you might be chosen as your tribe’s chief like Tom was), you’ll be shown around the village. Here you’ll learn about arts & crafts like their face tattoos, partake in traditions like the world-famous haka and play Māori games. After the tour through the village, they will put on an incredible show. The evening ends with arguably the best part; a delicious hangi dinner.
How does rafting off a 7-meter high waterfall sound to you? Awesome? Scary? Both? Rotorua is home to the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall and if going down it wasn’t on your bucket list yet, you should add it now. There are multiple rafting tour companies to choose from and we really liked going with Kaituna Cascades. After instructions and a safety briefing, you’ll experience a 50-minute ride down 14 rapids and ultimately the big waterfall. There is no guarantee that your raft won’t flip over while going down but if you ask us, that just adds to the excitement! Don’t worry, it is perfectly safe (said Tom while flying out of the raft).
On the outskirts of Rotorua, you’ll find the Whakarewarewa Forest. Within this forest, 6 hectares of Californian Redwood trees were planted over 100 years ago. Now, these trees have grown to heights of 75 meters and you can walk among them high above the ground. Redwoods Treewalk created a walkway up in the trees consisting of platforms connected by 28 swing bridges to show you the forest from a whole new perspective. In the evening the whole walk is illuminated and lanterns light up the forest to make it look truly magical.
All this wild and unspoiled nature make Rotorua great for another thing; mountain biking! With over 350 km of mountain biking trails, there is plenty to keep you riding for a while and some of the trails are considered to be world-class. The Redwood Forest track was voted best mountain biking track on the Southern Hemisphere by RedBull, and those guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to extreme sports.
Still haven’t got your adrenalin pumping? Then visit Velocity Valley. This adventure park has everything to still your hunger for action. Take a ride on a jet boat, feel the rush of a bungy jump, swing over the valley in the super swing, or go shweeb racing; pedal-powered monorail pods that go up to 50 km/h. If all of that isn’t enough, then we don’t know what is.
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Worth it? Definitely!
Even though the first thing you usually hear when people talk about Rotorua is the smell, it is easy to see why it belongs in every New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary.
Have you been to Rotorua already? Let us know what your favourite thing to do was in the comments below. Haven’t been to Rotorua yet? Make sure to spend at least a couple of days here as we truly believe a trip around New Zealand isn’t complete without it! PS. check out this New Zealand Travel Budget Calculator to better budget for your trip.
Where to eat
There are quite a few places to eat & drink in Rotorua and most of them are located on Tutanekai Street and on Eat Street, the food court at the end of the same street. Most of these places are low key and don't require a reservation. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier then check out Stratosfare Restaurant at the top of the Skyline gondola overlooking Rotorua.
Where to stay
Rotorua Central Backpackers - For budget travelers hostels are usually your best bet. Rotorua Central Backpackers is one of the best rated but still cheapest hostels in Rotorua.
Prince’s Gate Hotel - For some more privacy and still reasonably priced. This boutique hotel has a lot of character and is located in the center of Rotorua.
Jet Park Hotel Rotorua - Also centrally located and similarly priced to the Prince’s Gate Hotel, but more modern.
Karanda BnB - If you have a bit more to spend you’ll love Karanda BnB for a more luxurious stay with a view.
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