Rotorua - A Bucket List Destination!

Mud Bath Rotorua

Find out why Rotorua is a Bucket List Destination

Nestled by the shore of its namesake lake, Rotorua is a gem of a city in the central North Island, packed with things to see and do. It’s one of our top recommendations to add to your New Zealand North Island itinerary. Rotorua is home to volcanic landscapes, soothing thermal pools and ancient redwood forests.


Map of Rotorua

1) Explore alien landscapes… without leaving Planet Earth

Imagine wandering through volcanic lands as warm clouds of steam float by. Each time the steam clears, there’s a new wonder to behold: gurgling mud pools, geysers spouting high in the air, acid green pools and bright orange terraces.

Did you wake up on another planet? It will certainly feel like it. Rotorua is called a “geothermal wonderland” for very good reasons. As well as being visually stunning, these Geothermal Features have great spiritual, historical and geological significance. They even help to provide
New Zealand’s power.

There are around 1200 geothermal features in Rotorua, many of which are open to the public to explore. With names like Champagne Pool, Artist’s Palette and Devil’s Bath, it’s hard to resist checking out as many as possible. To find them, follow your nose - the eggy smell of sulphur will let you know you’re getting close! There are special geothermal parks where you can pay to see some of the more famous attractions, but there are plenty of free spots too.


2) Immerse yourself in New Zealand’s proud Maori culture

Rotorua is the Maori cultural capital of New Zealand, and is home to many tribes and sub-tribes. New Zealand’s original settlers are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage and generously invite international visitors to experience their legendary hospitality and learn about their world.

A show to remember
A great way to experience many facets of Maori culture is to attend one of the Cultural Performances offered by local iwi (tribes). Local Maori will take you on a journey through their history, beliefs, legends, and traditions. You’re in for a special evening of song and dance, storytelling and celebration, and the best way to top it off is with a traditional hangi feast.

Banish hunger with a delicious Hangi
A traditional Maori hangi involves steaming meats, fish, root vegetables and even desserts on top of hot stones in an underground oven pit. After several hours, you have a tender and aromatic dinner waiting for you.

The unforgettable Haka
If you’ve seen a New Zealand All Blacks rugby match on TV you will be familiar with the haka performed before kick-off. But there’s no substitute for seeing a haka in front of your eyes. It’s a powerful and raw show of strength and honour that will likely send chills down your spine.

Maori Culture Rotorua

3) Choose Your Own Adventure

Whatever your adrenalin level, there’s adventure to be found here on land, in water or high in the treetops of the ancient forests.

Scramble down the crater of a dormant volcano
When Mount Tarawera last erupted in 1886, the blast could be heard as far away as Blenheim in the South Island. To really get the blood pumping, take a half day hike to a dormant volcano, and dash down the scree-covered slopes to the very heart of the crater below. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with 360-degree views to die for.

Paddle your way through paradise
With many rivers in and around the area, White Water Rafting is hugely popular here. There's something for everyne, from leisurely paddles to hair-raising rapids that will take your breath away. For the daredevils, Rotorua is home to 7-metre Tutea Falls, the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world.

Ride among towering redwoods
Rotorua is heaven for mountain bikers from beginner to expert. It’s home to some of the world’s best-loved mountain bike venues, from the redwoods of Whakarewarewa Forest to the lift assisted Skyline MTB Park. if you’d prefer to watch from afar, time your visit to coincide with Crankworx or the Enduro World Series, when the world’s best riders come to town. Reward
yourself with some local award-winning craft beer after a hard day on the trail!

Soar through the treetops on a zipline canopy tour
There’s no better way to experience the magic of Rotorua’s ancient native forests than to weave your way through them on a zipline tour high above the ground. With experts guiding you along ziplines, swing bridges and treetop platforms, you’ll learn all about the dedicated efforts to conserve this beautiful area, even while you’re screaming.

Beautiful New Zealand Forest

4) Relax and Unwind

Adrenalin activities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and we all deserve to spoil ourselves a little. Visitors have been coming to Rotorua for over two hundred years to take advantage of the abundant thermal pools and spas here. We recommend taking advantage of the many thermal pools and healing mineral waters abundant in this part of the world…

Soak your cares away
A short drive from town there’s a great spot where a hot thermal stream and a cold freshwater stream meet and mingle together. The “hot and cold pools” are Rotorua’s worst-kept secret, loved by locals and visitors alike. Simply wade in, pick your perfect temperature and soak your cares away.

In the city, the award-winning Polynesian Spa boasts 28 hot mineral pools ranging from public baths to deluxe private pools with panoramic lake views. Or for the ultimate romantic evening, you could sail out to Manupira Bay on the shores of Lake Rotoiti to soak in a natural thermal pool under the stars.

Catch your own gourmet supper
Fly-fishing is another great way to unwind, with sixteen lakes to choose from and an abundance of trout waiting for you. There are many tours and fishing guides available to take you to the very best spots to catch your dinner.

Geothermal golfing
Rotorua boasts New Zealand’s only Geothermal Golf Course, so come and play a round or two in a most unusual and intriguing setting. Avoiding the steam vents, craters and mud pools is a sure-fire way to improve your accuracy!

Soaking in a Spa in Rotorua

5) Family fun for the young ones… and the young at heart

With a vast range of attractions for all ages, Rotorua is a great place to keep the whole family entertained.

Step into the Shire from “Lord of the Rings”
We couldn’t talk about Rotorua without mentioning Hobbiton, forty minutes down the road in Matamata. This iconic Lord of the Rings set, with its gorgeously crafted wooden hobbit houses under the lush green hills, is a fantastic place to visit even if you haven’t seen the movie. It’s a great place to meander, and to enjoy a beef and ale pie at the Green Dragon Inn afterwards (the
portions are not hobbit-sized, we promise).

Ride a cable car up the mountain and luge your way down
For a bird’s-eye view of the area, take the Skyline Gondola (cable car) to the top of the Mount Ngongotaha and take your pick from the many awesome activities available. Race your family around the world’s longest luge track, grab dinner with a view, take a stargazing tour or brave the Skyswing chairlift's 150kph drop!

Tumble down the hillside in an air-cushioned ball
Rolling down the lush green hills in a giant water-filled inflatable ball is super-popular way to spend a sunny afternoon! Slipping and sliding, bouncing and tumbling as the puzzled sheep watch from afar, it might sound strange but it’s heaps of fun.

Catch sight of a kiwi
Get up close to some friendly New Zealand natives at one of the many wildlife attractions. You can check out the sheep shearing at a local Farm Show, milk a cow and feed cuddly baby lambs. Marvel at the birds, beasts and bugs at a local Nature Park, including our beloved endangered national bird, the kiwi.

Giant Redwood Forest

Some final hints...

Rotorua is laid out in a compact grid, and it only takes around 20 minutes to walk across it. Many attractions are within walking distance, and the further-out attractions can often pick you up from your hotel.

• There’s a vast array of accommodation options. Stay overnight at a local Marae (Maori village), pick your perfect hotel or B&B, or treat yourself to the luxury of a boutique woodland lodge.

• Attractions such as Lake Taupo, Waitomo Caves, Mt Maunganui and the Coromandel are only a couple of hours away. Instead of repacking your suitcases every day, why not base yourselves in Rotorua for a few nights?

• If you’re short on time, you can choose one or two favourite Rotorua attractions and enjoy a day trip from Auckland.

At First Light Travel we know that planning your perfect trip can take more time and energy than you have available. Take advantage of our free planning service and insider knowledge - we would love to work closely with you to bring your New Zealand dream tour to life. We’ll make it easy for you by designing an itinerary to your exact specifications. We can even take care of all bookings and arrangements both before and during your trip - Feel free to leave an Enquiry

Marianne Davies
: 18 May 2018 (Last updated: 18 May 2021)

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