Things to Do in Rotorua
Te Puia, located in the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley at the edge of Rotorua features Pohutu Geyser and is home to the impressive New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Visitors can tour the bubbling mud pools with a local Maori guide and choose from among myriad activities.
The Rotorua area boasts dozens of lakes, but Lake Rotorua is larger, deeper, and older than its neighbors. Geologists believe that Rotorua, the second-largest lake on the North Island, dates back more than 200,000 years, while most of the region’s other waterways were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886.
The Government Gardens in central Rotorua are so bountiful, they resemble an old picture postcard from the English countryside. If not for the telltale scent of sulfur from the nearby thermal springs at Sulphur Point, visitors might forget where they’re standing, given the Edwardian architecture and dignified landscape.
Mt. Tarawera’s claim to fame is its historic 1866 eruption that destroyed the iconic Pink and White Terraces. Today it is the center of a geothermal wonderland and a compelling attraction in its own right. Take a guided tour to the mountain’s peak, or visit the many valleys and lakes carved out and altered by the 19th-century eruption.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland showcases New Zealand’s geothermal topography at its most dramatic and colorful. Located along the Reporoa Caldera within the Taupo Volcanic Zone, the park’s lava-sculpted landscapes are punctuated by hissing geysers, swirling sulfur lakes, and bubbling mud pools.
Visit Tamaki Maori Village to experience Maori culture and society as it existed in pre-European New Zealand. Through performing arts, you’ll see, hear, and feel the Tamaki brothers’ vision for an immersive tour into the traditional Maori way of life. Live the stories, travels, battles, and rituals of the Maori as New Zealand was settled.
Every morning, a rocky grey vent called the Lady Knox Geyser spews water for a captive audience. Far from a strange local ritual, the geyser is one of the star geothermal attractions at Rotorua’s Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It erupts without fail—after being induced with soap—to heights of 30 to 65 feet (9 to 20 meters).
Travelers don’t need to venture all the way to the bush for a taste of traditional New Zealand life thanks to the conveniently located Mitai Maori Village. This authentic cultural destination showcases the famed warriors in traditional attire and grants visitors unlimited access to their unique ways of life.
From hand-carved canoe rides to an evening hike through a glowworm forest, to a stop at a sacred freshwater spring a Mitai Maori Village trip features all the highlights in a single evening of fun. Travelers can sample a hangi meal cooked in the earth and enjoy a night of entertainment that includes poi dancing, hand-to-hand combat performances and traditional ta moko tattooing.
Rotorua is a place of geysers, mud pools, Maori villages, and lakes, but it’s also rung by Redwood forests that house some of the world’s best mountain biking. Here in the Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa, just minutes from the center of town, visitors will find a network of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding that weave through towering Redwoods. Though the area was planted for commercial forestry, it’s also become a favorite spot for outdoor recreation, where mountain bikers fly thousands of miles for the chance to experience the trails.
You don’t have to be a pro biker, however, to enjoy Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa; the network of trails has options that cater to all different levels of riders, and one of the best ways to experience the forest is on a guided mountain bike tour. You can also just simply stroll through the forest, enjoying the sights and smells. At just 1.5 miles, the Redwood Grove Memorial track has the largest collection of Redwoods, and can be extended to over 2 miles by following the Waitawa Walk Loop.
Experience Rotorua’s indigenous history and culture at Whakarewarewa, the Living Maori Village. Built around Te Whakarewarewa Valley’s geysers and hot pools, the Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao tribe have welcomed visitors for more than 200 years. Enjoy hangi, a meal cooked in the valley’s thermal vents, and traditional song and dance (waiata and haka).
More Things to Do in Rotorua
It’s rare to see New Zealand’s ground-dwelling kiwi birds in the wild. Yet at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Rotorua, you can observe kiwis in their natural habitat and learn about conservation efforts to reintroduce them to the native bush. The Kiwi Encounter, a nocturnal enclosure, allows for easy viewing of this elusive national icon.
The Rotorua region is steeped in New Zealand's history, from the days of the Maori settlers to the advent of European explorers. At the Rotorua Museum(Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa), you'll get an in-depth view of the city's past, seen through cinema, galleries and historic locales.
Spend some time in the Te Arawa and Tarawera galleries, the former of which houses an extensive collection of ancient Maori art and artifacts, as well as treasured antique photographs from the European colonial era. The latter is dedicated to the eruption of Mt. Tarawera and the destruction wreaked in 1886.
After you've explored the galleries, check out the Bath House, an architectural icon of yesteryear known for its supposed curative therapies. Guests were once encourage to bathe here in various types of mineral waters during the health craze of the early 20th century.
Please note: The Rotorua Museum is currently closed for earthquake assessment.
Lake Okareka is a local favorite for swimming, fishing, and boating. Children splash in refreshing water, surrounded by green hills, and anglers fish for rainbow trout, smelt, and long-finned eels. The lake is also popular with bird-watchers; visitors scan the shoreline for swans, coots, ducks, shags, pukeko, gulls, and stilts.
The Waimangu Volcanic Valley, on the North Island of New Zealand, offers one of Rotorua’s largest zones for exploring geothermal phenomena. Called “the world’s youngest geothermal valley,” Waimangu features boiling lakes, bubbling mud pools, and mountains bathed in steam. The surrounding beauty of the native bushland is just a bonus.
Treat yourself to a day at the luxurious, award-winning Polynesian Spa in the North Island town of Rotorua, known for its bubbling mud pools and spurting geysers. With more than 20 pools fed by natural springs, the spa offers a menu of treatments designed to address various health and wellness needs.
The Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (Te Puia) was established in the 1920s to protect the traditional arts of carving and weaving. Today Te Puia is a thriving educational institute and a unique experience of Maori culture: here you can watch students learn their craft, enjoy traditional cultural performances, and explore a rugged geothermal valley.
There are plenty of places in Rotorua to find bubbling mud and steam vents, but the geothermal activity at Hell's Gate Geothermal Park is the most pronounced. Explore the landscape in this valley and you’ll notice that the steam is a bit thicker; the mud gurgles, a bit louder. The earth here is powerfully raw, which is precisely what makes the attraction so alluring.
Lake Rotoiti is the boutique cousin to the larger Lake Rotorua. Though Rotoiti is connected to its massive neighbor by the narrow Ohau Channel, it has its own relaxed feel. Sunsets on Lake Rotoiti are beautiful, and the trout fishing here is some of the best on the North Island.
It’s tough to decide which is more beautiful: the cobalt hue of the aptly named Blue Lake sparkling in the midday sun, or the deep green of the Whakarewarewa Forest that hugs the shore of the lake. Either way, the natural beauty is what makes Lake Tikitapu an ideal place to connect with nature.
Take a short drive out of Rotorua and explore a village trapped in time. The Buried Village of Te Wairoa is a remarkable relic of Victorian-era New Zealand, preserved by volcanic ash from the 1886 Mt. Tarawera eruption. Walk around the village and marvel at this portal to the past, nestled in the Bay of Plenty forest.
The ornate Blue Baths on the shores of Lake Rotorua, blend history, leisure, and high society. This building, which fuses art deco and Spanish mission styles, has been restored to its original splendor from 1933, when the thermally heated baths became New Zealand’s first place for “mixed bathing.”
The first thing you notice when you arrive in Rotorua isn’t the natural beauty; it’s the smell. A note of Sulphur is evident all across town, and it is strongest at the sands of Sulphur Point. This constantly shifting geothermal wetland is home to 60 species of birds, which somehow survive the warm waters and boiling, earthy minerals.
New Zealand has the world’s highest sheep-to-human ratio, with an industry that is estimated to include 30 million sheep. At the Rotorua Agrodome—a 350-acre (142-hectare) working sheep farm just outside of town—visitors can help to shear sheep, tour the mill, and observe well-trained sheepdogs as they follow commands.
Though it’s right next to the wildly popular Blue Lake, the Green Lake—or Rotokakahi—is a privately owned lake that isn’t open to swimming, fishing, or boating. It is sacred to the Te Arawaiwi (tribe), who are the area’s original Maori inhabitants, because the lake was the site of important battles and numerous sacred burial grounds.
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