Rotorua, New Zealand is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island. (UN)Affectionately called Rotorvegas, 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 tourist, this city is famous for its smell. The sulfur springs emit a funky odor that can be smelt all over the city. Yet whatever smell people walk away complaining about, I didn’t notice so Rotorua is a good in my book. Maybe the sulfur smell just stays with them from the geyser. I don’t know.
Like most of the towns I’ve seen in New Zealand, Rotorua is pretty small. (New Zealand: 5 million people, 30 million sheep!) Everything is centrally located around a few streets. There is really not much to do in town- a few bars and a handful of 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. Here are some of the big things to fill those days:
Visit the Whaka Thermal Reserve If you like geysers, than 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, closet to town.
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.
Going 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 though 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.
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 has 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.
If you are traveling around New Zealand, you’ll probably stop here. I wouldn’t say that Rotorua will be remembered as one of my highlights but it’s definitely a cool place to spend a few days.