Rotorua is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island. Rotorua is the launching ground for nature walks, Maori cultural experiences, trips to smelly geysers, and luxury spas. Everything is centrally located around a few streets as it is a small town. There is really not much to do in town other than a few bars and a handful of restaurants and shops. The real fun is all the activities you can do from the city.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms cost $18-27 USD per night while private rooms cost around $55-65 USD for a double.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start around $60 USD per night for a double room, but average closer to $80 USD.
Average cost of food – A typical restaurant meal with cost you about $13 USD or more. If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend about $40-50 USD per week. You can find sandwiches around for $5 USD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs between $5-8 USD.
Transportation costs – The city is really small and can be walked around very easily. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from end to end. There are some two-hour walks that include the lake and nearby hot springs.
Money Saving Tips
See the free geysers – A lot of people go visit Te Puia but while the hot springs and geysers there are nice, you can walk around town and see plenty for free. Save your money for a Maori show.
Top Things to See and Do
See the Whaka Thermal Reserve – If you like geysers, then the thermal reserve is a good place to see some as well as to learn about the natural history and geology of the area. While the entrance isn’t free, the guided tours are included in the price. The reserve is split into two parts, with the more touristy one, Te Puia, closest to town.
Marvel at the lake – Rotorua sits right on a lake. There’s even an island in the middle. A good way to spend a beautiful afternoon is cruising along the lake and hiking around the island. Just wear sunscreen. The burn time here in NZ is 7 minutes.
Go Zorbing – This is a popular activity with backpackers. You get put into a giant see-through ball and rolled down a hill. I picture it very much like what being in a washing machine would be like. It’s pretty expensive for the 5 seconds you get. You also have the option to add water into your ball, which is probably really like being in a washing machine.
Soak in the hot baths – All the sulfurous springs in the area means that there are lots of hot springs in which to relax. There is the big Polynesian Spa where you pay for all-day access and drinks. The Blue Baths also have a heated pool. If you just want a lazy day relaxing, a heated pool/spa day is the way to go.
Get to know Maori culture – There are a variety of cultural shows and educational tours in the area. If you are going to learn about Maoris, this area would be the easiest in which to do so. The cultural tours all are similar (some are smaller, some have better food, some are different length) and you learn and see a lot of the same stuff. The Tamaki Maori Village tour is highly recommended.
Explore Whakarewarewa Forest – A 15 acre grove of majestic redwoods is filled with spectacular walks, mountain bike tracks (over 37 mile in total) and riding trails. It’s a good way to get away from the stinkiness of the city (which comes from the sulfur).
Visit the Buried Village – Self-descriptive, the village was swamped with ash by the nearby Mt. Tarawera in the massive 1886 eruption which killed 153 people. You can see the remains at this historic site.
Wander through the Government Gardens – This is a beautiful park, near the Sportsdome and a golf course. The Blue Baths can be found here as well as the city museum. This is a great place to walk around and experience the thermal atmosphere at an inexpensive rate.
Check out the Agrodome – This is an agricultural park, complete with farm animals and rural New Zealand living. There are a few shows to check out in addition to a tour of the farm and a Freefall Experience simulator or, if you are crazing more adrenaline, the highest bungee jump of the north islands is here.
See the lakes – There are 14 scenic lakes throughout the area. There is a cheap 90-minute tour which traces along the edge of several of them. If that isn’t your idea of a lake trip, rent a car and visit them one by one so you can spend more time at each of them. Fishing is a big attraction here.
Visit Rotorua Museum – If you get rained in, why not spend the afternoon at Rotorua Museum? Located inside the beautiful old bath house building, this museum has exhibits on the culture and history of the area, and houses many Maori artifacts. Entrance is $16 USD.
Do a canopy tour – If you haven’t had a chance to do one elsewhere, consider going on a canopy tour. These three-hour tours take you on ziplines and swing bridges through a forest with 500-year old trees. Groups are small, always fewer than ten people. Expect to pay around $110 USD.