Rotorua is like no other place on earth. Bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers and a stunning geothermal landscape make the area feel mysterious and elemental. Visitors can explore active volcanoes, test their limits with adventure activities and enjoy the unspoilt native forests that cloak the land.
Maori culture is strong in Rotorua, the tribal home of Te Arawa. Maori legend has it that Te Arawa are the guardians of the geothermal region of New Zealand, as the volcanic fires of Hawaiki were brought to Aotearoa when their ancestor Ngatoroirangi, dying of cold during his ascent of Tongariro, called for help. Rotorua has been a tourist destination since the 1880s, and there is a long history of well-known Maori tour guides, concert groups, cultural displays and manaakitanga - hospitality. About one third of the people living in Rotorua today are Maori.
There are 14 publicly accessible lakes dotted throughout the region, sparkling and brimming with trout. Lake Rotorua is the largest lake in the district, with windsurfing, kayaking and trout fishing popular pastimes. There are paddleboats and a great playground on the waterfront. Lake Rotoiti is connected to Lake Rotorua by the Ohau Channel and is popular for boating. Lakes such as Tikitapu and Okareka are used for the swim or kayak section of multisport events.
In the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley visitors can see New Zealand’s largest geyser, Pohutu (which can spout up to 30m), the Prince of Wales; Feathers geyser, boiling mud pools and silica terraces. At Whakarewarewa Thermal Village there are carving and weaving schools where visitors can watch traditional craftspeople at work. Waimangu is a great place to walk or take a boat trip to explore the steaming valley created by the Tarawera Eruption of 10 June 1886.
Mountain-biking Whakarewarewa and beyond
Rotorua also offers adventurous horse treks, scenic walks and hikes, and some of the best mountain biking in the world. The Whakarewarewa Forest, with its beautiful trails through redwoods, native bush and pines, is a mecca for trail running and biking. For mountain-biking, we suggest going into the forest from the Waipa State Mill entrance and asking the friendly folk at Mountain Bike Rotorua for trail advice. You can rent a bike there if you need one. There’s a shuttle pick up point, so take some cash and you can get a lift up to the top and ride down on glorious trails such as Split Enz. The Waipa Store Cafe is right there too; set up in an artfully decorated shipping container, it has great food and coffee - very welcome after a big ride. There is also a new downhill trail network accessible by gondola, through Skyline Rotorua.
White water rafting and kayaking
Get completely wet and exhilarated, and try exploring the rivers around Rotorua on a white water rafting or kayaking trip. River Rats offers rafting, sledging and kayaking trips, ranging from a gentle and scenic kayak paddle across Lake Rotoiti to the natural hot spring pools, to the full adrenaline rush of rafting down the grade 5 Kaituna river, and over a 7 metre high waterfall.
Hot Pools and Spas
Hot pools are all about in Rotorua, perfect for relaxing and soothing tired muscles. The Polynesian Spa is very popular, with views of the lake. The Blue Baths in Government Garden originally opened in 1933, and have a charming Art Deco feel to them. There is a large open air pool, which never seems too busy, and two hotter little pools to soak in. About 30kms from Rotorua are the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. It’s a pleasant drive, and the outdoor pools are great if you have small children and feel like a pool with a view; ferns, rocks and green fields give a tranquil feel.
Where to stay
What to do
- Go mountain biking through native forest
- Fly to the summit of Mt Tarawera
- Explore the geothermal landscape of boiling mud and geysers
- Soak in a hot pool, be it spa or natural spring
- Check out Rotorua Museum of Art & History
- Try the Big Splash at Rainbow Springs
- www.rotoruanz.com - Tourism Rotorua
- www.rotoruamuseum.co.nz - Rotorua Museum
- www.waimangu.co.nz - Waimangu Volcanic Valley
- www.hotpools.co.nz - Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
- www.rainbowsprings.co.nz - Rainbow Springs - The Big Splash
- www.rotoruanz.com - Mountain biking Rotorua
- www.skyline.co.nz - Skyline Rotorua - gondola assisted mountain biking
- www.riverrats.co.nz - River Rats: rafting and kayaking