Rotorua is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island. Tourists have been visiting here since the 19th century, flocking to the region to bathe in the geothermal hot springs. The dynamic geothermal landscape makes for exciting nature walks, Maori cultural experiences, trips to smelly geysers, and soaks in luxury spas.
Everything from restaurants to accommodations is centrally located around a few streets as Rotorua is a small town. Since it’s a small place, you only really need a couple of nights here to get your fun in. I didn’t feel the need to stay and linger. See everything and then head out!
This travel guide to Rotorua can help you get the most out of your visit and save some money along the way.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Rotorua
1. See the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve
2. Get to know Maori culture
3. Go Zorbing
4. Explore Whakarewarewa Forest
5. Visit the Rotorua Museum
Other Things to See and Do in Rotorua
1. Bathe at the Polynesian Spa
Soaking in the therapeutic waters of Rotorua has attracted tourists to the area for more than 200 years. There are 28 different pools to enjoy at the spa, including private sky view pools, public pools, family pools, and a full range of spa services. Admission starts at 32 NZD.
2. Visit the Buried Village
This village, founded by Europeans and Maori in 1848 is a 20-minute drive from Rotorua. It was swamped with ash when the nearby Mt. Tarawera erupted in 1886, killing 153 people. Here you can explore the remains of the village, see artifacts that survived, and learn about the history and the eruption. Admission is 25 NZD.
3. Wander through the Government Gardens
This is a beautiful public park near the Sportsdrome (a sports arena) and is an important place for the local Maori. The Maori people gave 50 acres of the land here to the Crown, which has been turned into a large garden and nursery. It’s also home to the Blue Baths, an elaborate Elizabethan Tudor style bathhouse that has been around for over a century which now hosts local weddings and events. You can enjoy the ornate geothermal baths there daily (unless there is an event going on) starting at 11 NZD per person.
4. Do a canopy tour
These three-hour tours take you on zip lines and swing bridges through the nearby forest (which is home to 1,000-year old trees). You’ll learn about the native birds and plant life found in the forest along the way. Groups are always fewer than ten people. Expect to pay around 199 NZD per person.
5. Hike around Mount Tarawera
Mount Tarawera is an awe-inspiring mountain, known for its violent 1886 volcanic eruption. Nowadays, the sleepy mountain and its lake serve as a getaway for people looking to hike or kayak. Because the Maori consider the mountain a sacred site, you’ll have to book a tour with Kaitiaki Adventures as they are the only company allowed to drive up the mountain. Their crater walks and geothermal tours start at 185 NZD for a five-hour tour.
6. See Velocity Valley Adventure Park
Get your adrenaline rush at Velocity Valley, home to the world’s only human-powered monorail racetrack where you can race your friends. You can also try the Rotorua Bungy, hop aboard the Agrojet for the fastest jet boat experience in the country, or free-fall in the wind tunnel at Freefall Xtreme. Tickets start at 55 NZD.
7. Relax in Kuirau Park
Kuirau Park is at the northern end of Rotorua and is New Zealand’s only public geothermal park. Follow the walking trails leading down to bubbling, steaming pools of geothermal activity, and observe nature at work from behind the safety of the security fences. Take advantage of the free Kuirau Park Footbaths while you’re here.
8. Raft the Kaituna
Just outside Rotorua, the raging Kaituna River offers Grade 5 white water rafting. Thrill-seekers can hurtle over the seven-meter Kaituna waterfall, the tallest rafted waterfall in the world. There are a variety of rafting companies to choose from with excursions starting at 105 NZD per person.
9. Enjoy the lakes of Rotorua
While Lake Rotorua is the largest in the area, there are 14 scenic lakes surrounding it making for lots of aquatic adventures. Hop aboard a traditional paddle steamer and cruise around Lake Rotorua (tickets for an hour-long cruise on the Lakeland Queen start at 19 NZD). Swim, relax, and barbecue with friends on Lake Tikitapu, a small circular lake known for its vivid blue color a 15-minute drive from Rotorua. You can enjoy the hot water beach and geothermal pools at Lake Tarawera on Te Rata Bay beach by hiking the trail from Buried Village.
For more information on other destinations in New Zealand, check out these guides:
Rotorua Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a 6-8-bed dorm costs 22-27 NZD per night. You can find some larger dorms (with 10-12 beds) for 18-20 NZD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have kitchens so you can cook your own food. Private rooms start at 55 NZD per night.
For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds in the area. You’ll pay at least 15 NZD per night for a basic plot without electricity (with room for two people).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start around 135 NZD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard a few hotels include breakfast.
Airbnb is widely available in Rotorua with private rooms starting at 70 NZD per night (though they average double that). For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 125 NZD.
Average cost of food – Eating out is not cheap in New Zealand and Rotorua is no exception. Maori Hangi (a traditional meal cooked underground) is served at all the Maori shows, with prices starting at around 110 NZD for a meal and performance.
Most restaurant meals here cuisine costs between 18-20 NZD. For a three-course meal with a drink, expect to pay around 40 NZD.
You can find sandwiches and meat pies for around 8-10 NZD and, even in a small place like Rotorua, there are lots of inexpensive Chinese, Thai, and sushi restaurants ranging from 11-15 NZD. Fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs around 14 NZD.
A beer out at the bar will cost you around 8 NZD, a cappuccino or latte costs around 4 NZD, and bottled water is 2 NZD.
If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend between 70-85 NZD per week on basic groceries like pasta, rice, vegetables, eggs, and chicken.
Backpacking Rotorua Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking in Rotorua, expect to spend 65-75 NZD per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public transportation, cooking your own food, a drink or two, and one or two paid attractions during your visit. If you Couchsurf and cut out drinking altogether, you can lower this further.
On a mid-range budget of about 180-200 NZD per day, you can stay in an Airbnb or private hostel rooms, eat out for most meals, enjoy a few drinks at the bar, see more paid attractions, and take the occasional taxi to get around. If you want to stay in a budget hotel, add 30 NZD per day.
On a “luxury” budget of about 420 NZD or more per day, you can get a hotel, eat out for all your meals, enjoy drinks as often as you want, see lots of attractions (including a Maori cultural show), and rent a car to get around. This is just the ground-floor for luxury — the sky is the limit here!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in NZD.
Rotorua Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Like the rest of New Zealand, costs can rack up quickly in Rotorua. Activities and eating out will be your two biggest expenses here. Here are a few ways to save money when you visit:
- 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.
- Cook your own food – Restaurants in New Zealand are not cheap. If you want to save your budget cook your own meals.
- Stay with a local – While there are not many Couchsurfing hosts available in the area there are still some. Try staying with a local to cut down on your accommodation costs. You’ll also get some valuable insight into the area from a local — and that is priceless!
- Stay in a campervan – Exploring New Zealand via campervan is a popular way to save money and Rotorua is very motorhome friendly. Download the Campermates app to find campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be higher during the summer months (from December through February) so avoid peak tourist season if you can!
- WWOOF it – WWOOFing is a great way to work for your accommodation and food. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free food and board. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you stay in a place cheaper and longer. You can do it for a few days or a few months. Keep in mind, most farms will require you to have some experience, as too many inexperienced workers have caused trouble in the past.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – Tap water is safe in New Zealand so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic consumption. For extra security, use a LifeStraw bottle as it has a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe.
Where To Stay in Rotorua
There are only a few hostels in Rotorua since it’s a small town. If you’re not into hostels, you’ll find a plenty of budget hotels here too. Here are my recommended places to stay:
How to Get Around Rotorua
Rotorua is small and can be walked easily (it takes about 20 minutes to walk from end to end). Here’s how to get around while you’re here:
Bus – The bus system is called the Rotorua Urban. It has 11 bus routes that run seven days a week. A one-way fare cost 2.80 NZD. With a Bee Card (a prepaid card you can purchase for 5 NZD) you can lower your fares to 2.24 NZD. Day passes are 7 NZD.
Taxis – Taxis here are super expensive. Rides start at 8 NZD and go up 5 NZD per kilometer. Avoid them!
Ridesharing – Uber is now in Rotorua and it’s much cheaper than taxis. Use them if you need a private lift. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Bike rental – Bike rentals are available for 60 NZD per day.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is easy in Wanaka, and it’s one of the main ways to get around. There are plenty of people who will pick you up. Additionally, you can just ask around any hostel for a ride — everyone is doing the same circuit. Check out these apps:
When to Go to Rotorua
Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, peak season (summer) happens during the months of December-February. During this time, the average daily temperature is between 68-77°F (20-25°C). Kiwis also take their vacations during these months so some adventure activities might book up in Rotorua. Velocity Valley Adventure Park will be particularly busy.
Winter is from June-August and the best time to visit if you’re into snow sports. In the winter, Rotorua’s temperatures hover between 48°F-60°F (9°C -16°C).
The most pleasant time of year to visit is March through May when the crowds have lessened. That said, because of New Zealand’s temperate climate and the consistent heat of the hot springs, there is never a bad time to visit Rotorua!
How to Stay Safe in Rotorua
On the whole, New Zealand is a very safe place to backpack and travel and Rotorua is no exception. The town is quiet even on Saturday night so even solo female travelers will feel safe. The crime rate is low in the country with a great healthcare system.
That said it is always best to trust your instincts when it comes to safe travel. Take normal precautions as you would at home like being aware of your personal belongings at all times. Make copies of your important documents, like your passport. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you have a rental vehicle, don’t leave any valuables in it. Break-ins are rare but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re going hiking, be sure to check the weather in advance. Always bring water and sunscreen as well.
The emergency number is 111.
Overall, you’re unlikely to encounter anything problematic here but always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. If that driver picking you up seems weird, don’t get in the car!
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in New Zealand. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Rotorua Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Rotorua. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around New Zealand, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- bookme.co.nz – You’ll get some really good last minute deals and discounts on this website! Just select what area you’re traveling in, and see what activities are on sale.
- treatme.co.nz – The locals use this website to find discount hotels, restaurants, and tours. You can save up to 50% off things like catamaran sailing lessons or three-course dinners.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Rotorua Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Rotorua Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Joan Druett
Auckland Island, located 285 miles south of New Zealand, is a place with year-round freezing rain, wind, and little food (but apparently a lot of seals). Simply put, it’s not a place you want to get shipwrecked on. Yet in 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew did just that — and a few months later, on the opposite side of the island, so did the crew of the Scottish ship Invercauld. This well-written account of how the two crews survived (and didn’t survive) offers wonderful insight into leadership, camaraderie, and coming together in a crisis.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning book is a parody of the 19th-century novel that is considered a modern classic. The year is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to New Zealand to get involved in the gold rush. When he arrives, he happens upon 12 men who have met in secret to talk about several mysterious events, including the disappearance of a wealthy man and a prostitute’s attempt to end her life. Moody is drawn into the circle, and the book soon turns into a thrilling page-turner that will keep you hooked the whole way through.
Squashed Possums: Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand, by Jonathan Tindale
This one is a fun, humorous travelogue that will get you super excited about your trip. In Squashed Possums, Tindale shares his adventures (and misadventures) from a year spent exploring the lesser-explored areas of New Zealand. He makes himself a home in an abandoned caravan, and then lives out four seasons getting acquainted with the terrain – including the coldest winter in decades.
A Land of Two Halves, by Joe Bennett
After having spent ten years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett decides to figure out why he’s still living there. A notorious restless traveler, Bennett finds himself examining all the reasons why these two islands have captivated him for a decade — so he packs his bags and heads out on a hitchhiking adventure around the North and South Islands. His encounters along the way are an enlightening look at life in New Zealand!
Rotorua Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Rotorua travel and continue planning your trip: