Rotorua, a geothermal wonderland and the North Island’s adventure capital, is a place you need to visit on your New Zealand travels.
Situated between Tauranga and Taupo, Rotorua is a popular tourist destination for both local and international visitors. On top of free volcanic parks, hot springs and a remarkable redwood forest, it’s home to numerous mountain biking trails, lakes and family-friendly activities.
Volcanic activity up close
One frequently shared fact about Rotorua is that it smells, and it does thanks to all the geothermal activity in the area. For those wanting to get a close peek of the bubbling, boiling waters, here’s where to head.
- Kuirau Park, located in the middle of downtown Rotorua, is free and only a short walk from town. It’s wheelchair/stroller friendly and it has numerous paths around areas of volcanic activity. Pop down for sunrise or sunset to catch the golden light shining through the steam.
- Stay in the city and head over towards the Rotorua Museum to check out Sulphur Point and Rachel Spring, more geothermal sights.
- Our favourite spot for viewing the mineral-rich colourful pools is at Wai-o-tapu Park. Take your time strolling around this thermal wonderland and see electric colours that are otherworldly.
And regarding the smell, don’t worry, you’ll get used to it quickly.
Fun for the family
Rotorua is the perfect destination for families of all ages. My family and I have visited numerous times, enjoying new activities every visit. Here are our recommendations:
- Just outside of town is Whakarewarewa, the Redwood Forest with a range of trails and an incredible tree canopy walk. The Treewalk is suitable for all ages and even offers a buggy seat for the little ones. Cross 28 suspension trees amongst 100+ year old redwoods and learn about the flora and fauna of the region. Book a night ticket to see this magical forest lit up.
- Reach a sweeping view of the Bay of Plenty region without breaking a sweat on the Skyline Rotoura. Ride the gondola up, grab refreshments at the skyline restaurant and take the luge down for an exhilarating ride (family prices available).
- For thrill-seeking families, test your fear of heights on a Rotorua Canopy Tour and spend your day ziplining through the native forests (ages 6 years old and above).
Choose one of many interactive Māoricultural tours to learn more about the history and traditions of New Zealand’s indigenous people. Book a tour with a hangi, an ancient celebratory meal still used today.
Get off the grid with a trip to Lake Waikaremoana after your Rotorua adventure.
For the outdoor enthusiasts
This kiwi town is never short of adventure. It’s made for mountain bikers, zip liners, trail runners, waterfall seekers and hiking lovers.
- On our latest trip, we hiked to the top of Rainbow Mountain for a 360-degree view of the Bay of Plenty. It’s a fairly easy walk that takes around three hours round trip. Stop by the turquoise blue Crater Lake just 15 minutes into the hike.
- Mountain biking is a passion in Rotorua. With organised tours or rental options, it’s possible for any level of experience regardless if you own a bike or not. Take a lesson or hire an electric bike to cruise around the scenic lakes.
- Willing to get wet? Experience the thrill of white water rafting down one of the local rivers. Jump in one of NZ’s famous jet boats for a spin around Lake Rotorua or for a more peaceful journey, try out paddle boarding or a scenic kayak trip.
- Although a bit of a mission to get to, Tarawera Falls is an impressive sight. Visitors must obtain a permit ($10 per vehicle) before entering. Check out what the DOC says on where to purchase yours.
Use your Campermate app to find accommodation options around the city.
Need to relax?
Great for post-adventure soaks or simply the need for a blissful holiday, Rotorua is teeming with spa and hot pool options.
- Situated in the middle of town is the popular Polynesian Spa. It offers a range of hot pools including private options with scenic lakefront views (also incredible on a clear starry night).
- On a budget? Drive over to Kerosene Creek just outside of town to hang out in a natural hot spring with its own hot waterfall. Bring a picnic and stay awhile.
- Check into a local spa for mud wraps, massages and more.
- Choose an accommodation provider with thermal pools on site to soak whenever you want (Aura and Prince’s Gate are two of many options around town).
Check your Campermate app for reviews on the best campsites in Rotorua. If you’re looking to wake up with fresh air and stunning views of Lake Tikitapu, I highly suggest staying at Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park. Self-contained vehicles can stay at Hinemoa Street Carpark or at Lake Rotorua (only 3 designated spots) for free, both of which are located in downtown Rotorua. Tent-goers will find a few cheap DOC sites in the area including Lake Okareka and Boyes Beach campgrounds. For those without a campervan, select from a range of budget hostels to high-end boutique hotels.
Rotorua is truly a destination for all. If you want to explore more of the densely wooded areas, I highly recommend visiting the lakes. Watch the sunrise at Lake Tarawera, go for a stroll on the Lake Okareka boardwalk and take a dip in Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake). Countless trails for walking, hiking and biking continue around this lake-filled region making it easy to fill your days with free nature adventures.
Can’t do it all? Make sure to check out the geothermal activity, go for a walk in the redwoods and have a soak in a hot pool, you won’t be disappointed.