to See and Do in Rotorua
Key information for the intending
Alternating scenes of
unworldly geothermal activity interleaved with unspoiled native bush make
a bizarre but beautiful contrast in Rotorua, the center of
New Zealand's geothermal activity.
of a series on travel to and in New Zealand -
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When you enter Rotorua, you
immediately sense you're entering a part of the planet entirely
unlike any other. The smells, sights, and sounds of its
geothermal activity all combine to convince you of Rotorua's
But, alongside the 'surface of
the moon' landscapes you'll find unspoiled native bush and
forest, gorgeous waterfalls, sweeping vistas, and native Maori
culture; all interwoven in a rich tourist tapestry to make
Rotorua a 'must visit' part of your travels in New Zealand.
Getting to and from Rotorua
Rotorua is located less than three hours drive southeast of
Auckland. Most people are either coming from (or
subsequently going to) Auckland.
You can get to Rotorua by rental car, scheduled
inter-city bus service, by air, or as part of a tour - either a
formal tour of NZ or a short mini-tour taking you only to
Rotorua. Train service used to run from Auckland to
Rotorua, but that was discontinued a few years ago and alas is
not expected to be revived any time soon.
If you're driving yourself, we recommend your journey between
Auckland and Rotorua include a detour to the
These caves have glow-worms that form a blue/green carpet of
the tops of the caves. After visiting some of the regular
caves, you journey through the glow-worm populated caves on a
boat (there's a river running through them) in silence and
darkness, interrupted only by the glow-worms above.
An amazing sight.
If traveling between Rotorua and the southern parts of NZ's
North Island, you could easily do the journey all the way
to/from Wellington and Rotorua in a day, but if time allows you
should include time in Hawkes Bay on the east coast as
If you're on a short tour of New Zealand, you might choose to
fly between Rotorua (airport code ROT) and Queenstown, saving you several days of
travel time between the two top tourism spots in the country. Both
Air New Zealand operate
several flights a day between these tourist Meccas; generally
the flights include a quick stop en route.
On a clear day,
the flight shows you the beauty of New Zealand from the air, and
you'll be able to see all across the country from the Tasman Sea
on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. Be sure to
ask for a window seat, and try to select a 737 jet service (ie
with Qantas) that will fly over the sometimes turbulent weather
en route rather than a smaller regional plane (more likely with
Air NZ) that would have to fly through it.
Where to Stay in Rotorua
Rotorua offers a wide range of accommodation styles, ranging
from back-packer hostels to deluxe fishing lodges.
If you're staying just for a night or two, then perhaps one of
the centrally located hotels would be a convenient choice.
The Lake Plaza Hotel is Rotorua's largest hotel, centrally
located, and of good quality, especially in their recently
renovated rooms. The hotel also has an excellent buffet
breakfast, and often has discounted rates available directly
from its website.
Another good central hotel is
Royal Lakeside Resort, and if you have a car, the
Regal Geyserland Hotel up at Whakarewarewa can offer
stunning views over the adjacent geothermal areas if you request
and obtain a room on that side (rather than the less appealing
road side) of the hotel.
If you'd like to treat yourself to an exclusive lodge a bit out
of town, then
Solitaire Lodge would be your best choice. Not quite
so luxurious - and not nearly so expensive - is the still lovely
Consider motel choices
If you're staying a bit longer, consider staying in a
motel, the same way most New Zealanders do.
New Zealand are not the cheap and sleazy places with rooms rented by
the hour that Americans often associate with the word 'motel'. Instead they are usually of a high standard, and
offer some cooking facilities and possibly separate bedroom(s)
as well as a living area. A motel typically doesn't have
an on-site restaurant, although some motels will bring you
breakfast in the morning to your room.
Motels are great if you want to spread out in a more spacious
unit, and if you would like to be able to store and serve some
Rotorua has a vast number of motels to choose from, most of
which being close to the center of the small central shopping
Motels are generally less expensive, per night, than hotels, and
offer more living space in their units.
Many motels belong to a national rating system called 'Qualmark'.
Look for a motel with a Qualmark rating of at least four stars
as an indicator of good quality.
Mineral Spa Pools
Wherever you choose to stay, and whether it be hotel or motel, you should ensure it offers natural
hot water spa pools direct from a geothermal bore.
spa pools are very common in Rotorua, and give you a personal
and private opportunity to soak in the mineral rich waters fresh
from the depths of the earth.
Some people believe the waters have curative powers; others
impute the same values to some of the boiling mud, using it for
body or facial mud packs. Whether or not any of this this
is true is subject to debate, but for sure you'll definitely
find a mineral spa experience a memorable and distinctive part
of your Rotorua stay.
For best enjoyment, select a hotel or motel with private spa
pools rather than one with a larger communal pool. Most
properties offer these private pool facilities free to their
How Long to Stay in Rotorua
We recommend three nights as the minimum time to stay in
Rotorua. The first night would be the day you arrive into
Rotorua, probably latish in the day after traveling from
The second night gives you a full day to sightsee around the
region, and the third night gives you a second full day of
sightseeing, prior to departing the next morning and traveling
on to your next NZ destination.
If you're staying for three or more weeks, you could consider
adding another night to your time in Rotorua. And if
you're on a short 7 - 10 day tour, you could cut back to only
What to See and Do in Rotorua
Rotorua is bursting with many different things to see and do.
The problem is not finding things to do, but choosing which
things to do from the vast range of different activities
The following list represents activities that we have on our own
personal 'must do' list, and which other people have generally
found to be high quality experiences, too. Use this as a
suggested starting point for planning your own time.
The Whakarewarewa area, close to the city center, has long been
the best known place to visit and see both some Maori culture
and some geothermal activity.
Several years ago the complex split into two separate parts.
The top area, including most of the geothermal park and the Arts
and Crafts Center, is now known as
Te Puia. As well
as these two major attractions, there is also a Kiwi house in
which you can see one or two of NZ's national birds.
Guided tours run hourly at no extra charge and can make your
experience more interesting. Allow a couple of hours to
visit Te Puia, and perhaps ten minutes for the roundtrip drive
The other part of the original
Whakarewarewa is the Maori village down the bottom of the
hill. This retains the original name, and gives you an
experience more focused on the lives of the local Maoris and how
they live in the geothermal area and use the steam and heat.
Some/most of the guides are very personable and make your
experience much more enjoyable. A guided tour is included
in the admission fee.
You can also see across to some of the most distinctive parts of
what is know known as Te Puia, immediately adjacent.
Allow 90 minutes to tour around Whakarewarewa, and perhaps ten
minutes for the roundtrip drive from downtown.
The Buried Village
In 1886 a massive eruption of a nearby volcano (Mt Tarawera) and
the ash and mud which followed obliterated much of the nearby
surroundings, including the small settlement then known as Te
Today it is possible to tour around the partially excavated
ruins of what can be considered New Zealand's equivalent to
Pompeii, at the place now simply referred to as the
You first have a chance to walk through a well presented museum,
then you can tour around the open air remains of the former
village. But don't then turn around and walk back.
Instead, continue down along the lovely trout stream, and take
the path down to the base of an impressive 100' waterfall and
enjoy the walk back up the other side. This is a lovely
bush walk and gives a very different added dimension to the
Allow an hour to an hour and a half at the Buried Village, and
half an hour for the lovely drive to/from the center of the
city. Perhaps extend your time a bit further with a stop
at the Blue and Green Lakes en route - there is a viewing point
between these two lakes where you can observe the blue color of
one lake and the green color of the other lake.
You might also choose to drive a few miles further to Lake
Tarawera, where there are some lovely picnic stops to look out
over the lake and to the remains of Mt Tarawera itself (a lot of
the mountain disappeared in the 1886 eruption, which was many
times greater than the Mt St Helens eruption in the US in the
Allow 60 - 90 minutes at the Buried Village, and 45 minutes
roundtrip traveling time to and from.
Eighteen miles south of Rotorua is the
Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area. Billing itself as NZ's
most colorful geothermal area, this site does indeed have
several pools of intensely colored water, plus a wide variety of
other sights, including a large geyser that erupts every day at
10.15am, large silica terraces, and lovely walks alternating
between bush and geothermal sights.
Note that the Lady Knox geyser is actually situated a short
distance away from the rest of the area. You probably will
choose to drive back to the geyser site after buying your
tickets at the main entrance facility.
If time allows, take the longest of the three walk options.
Plan on two hours for this, and possibly more if you're not in a
hurry and want to savor every sight along the way, plus about 45
minutes travel time roundtrip between Wai-O-Tapu and downtown
This should be high on the list of places you visit.
Depending on who tells the story, there are anywhere between
about 18 and 22 different breeds of sheep in New Zealand.
Some are bred for wool, others for meat; some for high country,
some for warmer areas.
Agrodome you'll see just about every type of sheep there is
(19 different breeds), plus the amazing sheep dogs that are
tasked with controlling the sheep. An entertaining show
tells you about this vital part of NZ's agricultural economy,
and you even see a sheep completely shorn of its fleece.
Audience members have a chance to milk a cow and feed lambs on
There are typically three performances each day. Allow 60
- 75 minutes for your visit, plus half an hour to get there and
back from town.
Tamaki Maori Village
Most of the larger hotels offer Maori hangi feasts and concerts
in their hotels. Don't waste your time and money attending
one of these very artificial events. Instead, you
absolutely must include an evening visit to the
Tamaki Maori Village
as part of your Rotorua experience.
This is an evening tour. You'll be collected from your
accommodation at about 7pm and returned back at about 10.30pm.
You're driven out to their village, about 15 - 20 minutes out of
Rotorua, where a traditional welcoming ceremony greets you.
You then walk through the village - an atmospheric recreation of
a Maori village prior to the arrival of European settlers,
nestled in among the trees of the forest. Local Maoris
demonstrate traditional crafts as you walk through.
Next you're invited in to their meeting house where a concert is
presented. And then the part of the evening you've
probably been waiting for - a Maori hangi feast. A hangi
is prepared by placing food in an earthen oven with white hot
stones at the bottom providing heat, and damp mats over the
layers of food providing steam and temperature control. A
range of meats and vegetables are offered, buffet style, and
you're welcome to eat as much as you like. Lovely desserts
complete the meal.
After some free time in the village, a closing farewell ceremony
ends the experience and you're driven back to your
accommodation. All in all, a marvelous and complete Maori
Other Sights and Attractions
Rotorua is full of geothermal areas. As you drive around
the city, you'll see wisps of steam coming out of drains by the
side of the road, from people's back-yards, and just about
everywhere else. Kuirau Park is a lovely nature preserve
close to the city center which has pockets of geothermal
activity all the way through. Further out of the city are
places such as
Gate (with some communal mud baths) and
Waimangu, both of which are worth a visit if you have extra
The historic (but modernized)
Polynesian Spa offers a range of health and beauty
treatments using the geothermal muds and waters from the area.
It has been rated one of the top ten spas in the world, two
years in a row (2004 and 2005) by Conde Nast Traveller magazine.
Rotorua is a
fisherman's delight, with 15 fishable lakes in the immediate
Many other activities and sights can be found around the Rotorua
area. A luge ride down the slope of a hill, flightseeing,
water sports, fine dining, and bizarre things such as the
Zorb are all
there to tempt you.
For more information
this website - the official Rotorua Tourism website - for
more information about Rotorua.
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11 Nov 2005, last update
19 Dec 2013