Updated: 9/1/2018 | September 1st, 2018
Rotorua is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island. This city is the launching ground for nature walks, Maori cultural experiences, trips to smelly geysers, and luxury spas. Besides being known for its hordes of tourists, this city is famous for its smell. The sulfur springs emit a funky odor that can be smelled all over the city.
The city was founded by the Maori in the 14th century. Europeans didn’t make their first appearance until the 1820’s when missionaries were exploring the continent.
Like most of the towns I’ve seen in New Zealand, Rotorua is pretty small. There are around 70,000 people in Rotorua, and everything is centrally located on a few streets. Not surprisingly, there really isn’t much to do in town beside visiting the few bars, restaurants, and shops. The real draw is all the activities around the city that people can do. You can easily fill a few days here if you plan to see all that Rotorua has to offer.
Things to Do in Rotorua
Visit the Thermal Reserve. If you like geysers, then the thermal reserve is a good place to see some as well as learn about the natural history and geology of the area. While it’s not free to get into, the guided tours are free. The reserve is split into two parts, with the more touristy one, Te Puia, closest to town.
17 Tryon St., +64 7-349-3463, whakarewarewa.com. Open daily from 8:30am-5pm. Tickets are around 40 NZD for adults, with discounts available for children.
Head Out into 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…and trust me, it’s a quick 7 minutes!
Walk the City. Rotorua has a great museum that gives you a look at this town’s history. It’s been a tourist town for over 250 years, though tourism was a bit more difficult back in the beginning. The Government Gardens are pretty nice to look at too. I found walking around the city was quite charming and a good way to spend about an hour. (It’s a small city).
Catch a Maori Cultural Show. Rotorua has one of the largest population of Maoris in New Zealand and is the center of cultural experience tours. Many of them are a bit like Disney World and pretty cheesy. But they are a good chance to learn about the Maoris, see some of their dances, and eat a huge meal at the end. Just make sure you get on a good tour. The better ones cost more money but the extra price is worth a more authentic experience. I went to Tamaki Maori Village during my visit.
>1220 Hinemaru St., +64 7-349-2999, tamakimaorivillage.co.nz. Open daily from 9am-7pm. Prices start at 117 NZD for adults, with discounts available for children, students, seniors, and families.
Going Zorbing. This is a popular activity among 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 through so I didn’t do it. You also have the option to add water into your ball, which is probably really like being in a washing machine.
Corner Western Road & State Highway 5, +64 7-357-5100, zorb.com. Open daily from 9am-5pm. Rides are 45 NZD per person.
Relax in a Hot Bath. All the sulfurous springs in the area means that there are lots of hot springs to relax in. 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 is the way to go. I spent a good afternoon in the Polynesian Spa and I felt like a new man.
Hinemoa St., +64 7-348-1328, polynesianspa.co.nz. Open daily from 8am-11pm. A basic pool will be 20 NZD per person, with deluxe options costing upwards of 100 NZD each.
Go ziplining. If you haven’t already had a chance do a canopy, Rotorua is a great place to try it out. The trips are three-hours long and take you through a forest on zip lines and swing bridges. There are 1,000-year-old trees in the forest, and you’ll learn about the local bird and plant life along the way. Expect to pay around 150 NZD per person.
Visit the buried village. This village was enveloped in ash Mt. Tarawera erupted in 1886. The eruption killed 153 people and the thick ash essentially forced the village to be abandoned. During a visit here, you’ll get to see the remnants of the village while learning about the eruption and the history of the area. Admission is 30 NZD for adults, with discounts available for families and children.
Hike Mount Tarawera. Mount Tarawera is known for its violent 1886 volcanic eruption that killed dozens of locals and buried a nearby village. The area belongs to the local Maori tribe, which means you’ll need to hire a local guide. There are crater walks and geothermal tours available, and you can expect to pay around 164 NZD for a tour. If you don’t want to pay for a guide, you can walk the Tarawera Falls trail instead. This trail leads to the stunning waterfalls in the Bay of Plenty which is definitely worth the hike!
How to Visit Rotorua
Rotorua is located 230km south of Auckland. It takes just over 4 hours and costs around 25 NZD per person each way. From Wellington, Rotorua is around 450km away with one-way bus tickets from Wellington costing around 35 NZD per person.
Book Your Trip to Rotorua: Logistical Tips and Tricks
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