New Zealand’s volcanic activity is most notable with the steamy geothermal landscape of Rotorua.
A tourism hub on the North Island, Rotorua has so much to offer in terms of cultural, natural and action sports experiences and in some ways could be considered a mini Queenstown if you can’t make it down to the South Island.
Don’t let the sulphur smell deter you, you will get used to it (sort of). It’s all part of the experience that makes Rotorua a unique and intriguing destination to visit.
Did you know that zorbing was invented in Rotorua? At least commercially it was.
While no longer unique to New Zealand, Zorb Rotorua is still the home to the original zorbing experience which you can try for yourself.
If you are not familiar, zorbing typically consists of rolling downhill inside an orb made from transparent plastic. Just watch the videos, it’s a lot of fun!
I would really recommend at least one run down the Straight track to get you started and then another on the twisty Sidewinder track to get the full experience.
Just make sure you take a swimsuit and towel with you, you’ll definitely need them. They also have hot tubs there to keep you warm between runs.
If you are looking to get a really good insight into everything that Rotorua has to offer then Te Puia is for you.
Part geothermal park, Kiwi reserve and home to the Maori Arts and Crafts Insitute, Te Puia will give you a very good overview and history of this region of New Zealand.
Te Puia operates both day and night offering two distinctly different experiences.
By day you can explore the geothermal park which includes the Pohutu Geyser which erupts roughly once an hour as well as watch live Kiwi’s in the new state of the art Kiwi Conservation Centre.
But its the Maori cultural experiences that really makes Te Puia stand out. Particularly the traditional carving and weaving demonstrations and the pre-European settlement Maori village. You can also witness a traditional 45-minute cultural performance (Haka) if you are willing to pay a little extra.
By night the experience changes completely with a traditional Hangi style Maori meal and cultural performances as well as a motorised tour through part of the geothermal valley, which is lit up.
Definitely worth a visit for the Maori experiences.
Much like its counterpart in Queenstown, Skyline Rotorua lives up the action sports experience many visitors to New Zealand have come to expect!
In fact, I think that while the view isn’t quite as dramatic and spectacular as Queenstown’s, Skyline Rotorua makes up for it with a lot more experiences on offer.
You will have to take the Gondola to the top which offers great views out over the city and Lake Rotorua, but once you get to the top is where the real fun begins.
I can’t recommend the Luge highly enough, its a lot of fun. Take the scenic track first then hit up the advanced one.
You can also fly through the treetops on the Zoom Ziplines or for a proper rush try the Skyswing.
Honestly, the only issue is how much money you’ve got to spend so keep an eye out for the package deal specials.
If mountain biking is more your thing Skyline Rotorua also has that covered with a special lift pass to access their 12 kilometres of trails catering for intermediates through to pro’s as well as a pump track.
Rainbow Springs Nature Park
Located right next door to Skyline Rotorua, Rainbow Springs Nature Park is a fantastic insight to New Zealand’s native wildlife and unique flora and fauna.
The guided tour is really informative and well worth the time to take in. But its the Kiwi Burrow & Nocturnal House and National Kiwi Hatchery Tour that really makes Rainbow Springs worthwhile visiting.
One of New Zealand’s national emblems, the Kiwi is a nocturnal flightless bird that is very rarely seen in the wild due to its declining population.
The National Kiwi Hatchery at Rainbow Springs Nature Park is the countries leading breeding facility, and the behind the scenes tour is a great way to really appreciate not only the unique animal, but the work going into building back up the population.
They also offer the Taonga Experience showcasing Maori artefacts and a Big Splash water ride to mix things up.
Rotorua Museum & Government Garden
Despite the Museum being closed currently while repairs and strengthening work is undertaken to the building following an earthquake in 2016. The architecture of the iconic building and its associated gardens make it worthwhile a quick visit while you are in Rotorua.
Rotorua’s geothermal activity means that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to relaxing in any number of natural thermal pools.
The real question becomes what sort of thermal pool experience are you looking for?…
If you just want to dip your feet in so to speak then in the center of town (next to the hospital) is Kuirau Park, New Zealand’s only free access geothermal park. Kuirau Park includes public access to a couple of thermal foot baths just bring a towel, the seat can get quite wet and people step in and out.
Alternatively, if you are feeling really adventurous just outside Rotorua, near Wai-O-Tapu, there are several natural thermal pools including Kerosene Creek, Waterfall Spout Bath and the aptly named The Secret Spot that you’ll need to get off the beaten path to find. But they free to access if you get there.
For something a little more relaxed then Waikite Valley Thermal Pools might be a better option. You do have to pay an admission fee, but it is quite reasonable and you will get access to all six of its pools for the one fee. They also have private pools available for an additional fee.
And if you really want to go all out, then the Polynesian Spa offers the deluxe experience where you can combine variety spa treatments and thermal pool options, all with stunning views out over Lake Rotorua. If you want to showcase your best life on Instagram, this is the one for you.
Nature has featured pretty heavily in this Rotorua list, and when you get there you’ll understand why.
But one experience very different to everything else I’ve already mentioned is the Redwood Treewalk.
This experience will allow you to climb 20-metres above the forest along a series of 28 suspension bridges amongst century-old Redwood trees. Giving you the opportunity to get a birds-eye view of the forest including another New Zealand icon, the Silver Fern.
If that’s not a magical enough experience for you, the forest is lit up at night (Redwood Nightlights) where you can do it all again with and get a very different perspective. My suggestion is to try to pick up a deal to do both for the one ticket price (they do offer that occasionally).
Kaituna River White Water Rafting
Ever wanted to go white water rafting over a waterfall… And live to tell the tale, obviously… Well, you’re in luck. Rotorua is home to the biggest commercially operated white water rafting waterfall drop.
Kaituna River is where you will find the 7-meter high Tutea Falls, and because in New Zealand it makes perfect sense to take things to the extreme, you can white water raft down the river’s rapids and plummet over the waterfall.
You’ve got a good choice of operators to choose from including Kaituna Cascades Rafting, River Rats and Kaitiaki Adventures, but my best advice for you is to look at what other tours and activities they offer to see what else you’d like to do and see if you can bundle them together to save yourself some money.
Famous for its eruption in 1886, the largest in New Zealand’s recorded history, Mount Tarawera and in particular its crater, a gaping 6-kilometre long ravine, is the ultimate showcase of the regions volcanic activity.
Mount Tarawera is still very much an active volcano, although it only erupts once every 700-3000 years apparently. There are several ways to see the spectacular landscape created out of the destruction for yourself.
Being a Maori site, a guided tour is your best bet (actually I think it’s your only bet). Kaitiaki Adventures offer half-day guided tours (4.5 hours) that will take you on a hike around and into the crater to allow you to take in the stunning views as well as inform you about the history of the area including the Pink and White terraces were buried during the eruption.
For a different perspective, Volcanic Air offers scenic flights (both helicopter and seaplane) out of Rotorua. Including one that lands alongside the crater to give you the full experience.
Rotorua is home to numerous lakes born out of ancient volcanoes, with Lake Rotorua being the largest in the immediate Bay of Plenty area.
Fun Fact: Lake Taupo is the largest lake in all of New Zealand, located in the neighbouring Waikato region over an hour drive away from Rotorua.
Lake Rotorua is better known for its trout fishing and boating more so than other water activities. The sulphur content and occasional algal blooms make it less appealing for swimming.
That said I would recommend taking Rotorua Duck Tours City and Lakes tour as a great way get a good broad overview of both the city of Rotorua and a couple of the lakes in the region including Lake Rotorua. Really informative and really fun.
Otherwise there are several other cruise, sailing, jet boat and sea plane options. Have a look and see what grabs your interest.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland/Lady Knox Geyser
Ok, so not technically in Rotorua, but the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Lady Knox Geyser is the best example of the geothermal activity that the region is famous for.
Wai-O-Tapu, or Waiotapu as it is also spelt, is Maori for “Sacred Waters” and once you get there, you’ll understand why.
Located a 30-minute drive south of Rotorua, you will want to get there early to see the eruption of Lady Knox Geyser (in my opinion more impressive than the Pohutu Geyser) which happens once daily at 10:15am.
I would really recommend aiming to be there no later than 9:30am to allow yourself to find a parking spot and get a good vantage point to see the geyser in action. It does get quite busy with tourists flocking in every day.
Pro Tip: Grab one of the front row benches, otherwise all you’ll see is a sea of arms and selfie sticks trying to get a photo. Just work out which way the wind is blowing to avoid being in the splash zone.
Once you’ve seen the Lady Knox Geyser, which can erupt for up to an hour, then make your way back to the main park to explore the rest of the unique geothermal lakes which you need to see to believe. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore and follow the trails throughout the park (just make sure you have sturdy footwear).
On your way out of the park make sure that your stop in at the Mud Pool, the largest in New Zealand, for another different way that the volcanic activity in the region has affected the landscape.
The whole experience is definitely worth the trip even if you have seen some of the other geothermal sites in Rotorua.
I know I included this as a bonus in my Auckland list as well, but if you are a Lord of the Rings fan Hobbiton is only an hour outside of Rotorua. So I thought I better include it here as well, just in case you don’t plan on spending time in Auckland. Better yet stop in at Hobbiton if you plan on driving between Auckland and Rotorua.
If you’d like to get some more information to help in planning your trip to New Zealand… I’ve got a whole series of blog posts with all sorts of tips and advice to you.
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