Let’s not beat around the bush here – much as we Aussies hate to admit it, NZ has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Of all the possible choices in our mountainous, lush green neighbour, Rotorua has twice been voted the most beautiful city in the country. A pretty good recommendation, hey bru?
So what makes it so special? Rotorua is a veritable smorgasbord of the most amazing, naturally occurring phenomena you’re ever likely to experience. We’re talking steaming-hot springs, pools of bubbling mud, exploding geysers, crystal-clear springs, volatile volcanos and much more, all set amongst scenery so picturesque you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen into the set of The Sound of Music.
And if the scenery doesn’t take your breath away, the range of extreme sports on offer will. In adventure-loving New Zealand, adrenaline junkies are a dime a dozen, and Rotorua has enough activities to make you scream four-letter words in pure terror.
Throw in a rich Maori heritage and culture, a cosy but vibrant nightlife and some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever meet, and Rotorua might just make it to the top of your favourite places list.
But if the thought of lavishing too much praise on Rotorua makes you uncomfortable, just stop and take a whiff. The cost of all the natural phenomena is a strong smell of sulphur, which resembles rotten eggs.
At least, that’s what the Kiwis say it is.
Rotorua’s Top 10
10. Skydiving If you’ve got the guts, a Rotorua skydive will be something you’ll never, ever forget.
5. Waitomo Glowworm Cave Watch this subterranean wonderland illuminate with these amazing, little critters.
9. Museum of Art & History Gaze at traditional art and educate yourself on the city’s history via inspiring exhibits.
4. Hangi You’ve got to experience a traditional hangi dinner when you’re travelling NZ – no excuses.
8. Whitewater rafting This city is one of the best places to go rafting. Hang on tight!
3. Hamurana Springs Stunning and crystal-clear, you’d be hard pressed to find anything this beautiful anywhere else.
7. Waimangu Volcanic Valley Another amazing geothermal hotspot.
2. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland A stack of geothermal spots to explore at this place. ‘Wonderland’ is a worthy title.
6. Buried Village Come and see Te Wairoa, the village that was buried by an avalanche of lava when Mount Tarawera erupted.
1. Whakarewarewa A spiritual and sacred thermal village that’ll positively wow you.
- Buried Village of Te Wairoa – Site of the eruption of Mt Tarawera, this village was completely preserved at the time of the eruption.
- Pig & Whistle Historic Pub – A popular pub located in a historic 1940s building, making it a local landmark.
- Old Post Office – Built in 1914, this Rotorua building contains a memorial town clock.
- Prince’s Gate Archway – Built in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York’s visit in 1901, this archway represents the crown.
- Blue Baths – Opened in 1885, these blue baths are filled with hot alkaline water from nearby mineral springs.
Rotorua Art & Culture
- Ohinemutu – A Maori village that provides information on how European and Maori life progressed.
- Rotorua Museum of Art & History – Located in a mock-Tudor building, this was once a spa retreat.
- Whakarewarewa Thermal Village – A living village where the Maori still live in the manner of their ancestors.
- Tamaki Maori Village - Enjoy a twilight tour of the village and partake in a traditional hangi.
- Mitai Maori Village – Enjoy an evening concert or take a bushwalk through glow worms at this Maori village.
- Raukura/Red Feather Gallery – Contains many Maori handicrafts, including clothing and woodworks.
- Out of New Zealand – Stocks New Zealand-made goods, including jewellery and ceramics.
- Jade Factory – One of the best stores for high-quality, handcrafted greenstone (jade) items.
- Rotorua Central Mall – Most international and national chain stores are located in this mall found in the CBD.
- Toi Te Aranga – The place to stop for contemporary and traditional Maori artwork.
Gay & Lesbian Rotorua
- Jack & Di’s Lake Road Lodge – Gay-friendly accommodations in the city centre.
- Seismic Gastrobar – A bar that embraces good food and drinks.
- Brew – A Rotorua pub that specializes in craft beer, offering tasting platters and pub food.
- Fuze City Bar - Open late from Tuesday through Saturday and offering gourmet pizza, tapas and evening drinks.
- Base Hot Rock Lava Bar – A popular spot for backpackers and those on a budget.
- Mokoia Island – Situated in the middle of Lake Rotorua, this island easily can be reached by boat.
- Kuirau Park – A volcanic park that is open to the public free of charge and contains a crater lake, boiling mud pools and mineral baths.
- Te Puia – Visit the most famous, spectacular geysers in the entire Rotorua area and explore the rest of this park.
- Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust – Learn about the falcon, owl and hawk, three endangered NZ birds, at this conservation park
- Rainbow Springs Nature Park – Explore this large nature park and make sure to visit the kiwi encounter.
- Play cricket on the bowling greens found in the Government Gardens outside Rotorua Museum.
- Walk along any of the numerous tracks around Rotorua, such as the Northern Tarawera track or Western Okataina Walkway.
- For outdoor enthusiasts, go white-water rafting along the Kaituna River with its Grade V rapids.
- Rent a kayak from Adventure Kayaking and spend the day paddling Lake Rotorua or the nearby rivers.
- Bike through the Whakarewarewa forest with some of the best mountain bike trails in New Zealand.
Rotorua’s hub has a number of spots to hit during your NZ adventure. The Museum of Art & History (half museum and half art gallery) is a great starting point and will help you to learn about the city’s great history and culture. Next on the itinerary should be the sacred and spiritual Mitai Maori Village, where you’ll find Rainbow Spring, spot locals decked out in traditional Maori dress and, if you’re lucky, enjoy a traditional hangi meal.
Once you’ve eaten like a Maori (no mean feat, have you seen some of those All Blacks?), get on a bus and head over to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a mere 15 minutes away. Here you’ll find a stack of erupting geysers, hot springs, naturally coloured pools, mammoth volcanic craters and a hell of a lot of bubbling mud. On your way back to the CBD, make sure to pay Kuirau Park a visit as it’s also got a range of geothermal attractions and lovely walking trails.
Rotorua’s thermal village is the home of the Tuhourangi people (they’ve been there for centuries), as well as hot and steamy springs, exploding geysers and boiling mud pools. Make sure to catch a cultural performance (held twice a day) and then take a guided-tour to get the most out of your experience.
This fun-size, vibrant village is just 10 mins out of Rotorua and is quite the little gem.
It may sound odd, but make sure you check out the Ngongotaha Trout Hatchery (it’s free!) for lovely landscapes and to learn about trout. Not a fish fan? Visit Ohinemutu, the original settlement for the Ngati Whakaue (Maori tribe). Here you can enjoy the beautiful Lake Rotorua, explore more geothermal spots and learn about Maori culture and it’s beautiful traditions.
Want something pretty? Hamurana Spring is famous for the clearest springs you’ll ever see. Not even kidding, guys – you can see right to the bottom without needing to squint. It’s also famous for picturesque walking tracks and the fresh, crisp air, so make sure you explore. Heaven.
Rotorua Eat & Drink
Capers Epicurean Fresh, gourmet eats at this deli-café. Grab a table outside and soak up the sun while you munch on some lunch. Ereura Street
Fat Dog It may seem a little dingy from the outside, but it’s a Rotorua icon for good reason. The food is great and the prices are even better. Arawa Street
Relish This place has a whopping menu filled with everything you could ever want. Tutanekai Street
Ciccio This is a local fave for lovers of Italian food. The mains are good, but the tiramisu is off the charts. Fenton Street
Abracadabra Café A chilled, Moroccan-themed café/bar that’s fun and does a great dinner. Amohia Street
Cobb & Co. Mouth-watering food here. Truly. Try the specialty steaks and ribs. Hinemoa Street
Bistro 1284 This quaint and very charming restaurant serves wonderful Euro-style meals. Ereura Street
Pig & Whistle This historic icon of a pub has a warm atmosphere and delicious grub and drinks. Tutanekai Street
Zanelli’s Affordable, home-style Italian at this cosy place. Lasagne, please. Amohia Street
Seismic Gastrobar This place is pricey but the last word in cool. Get the posh duck confit and pair it with a rich local wine. Whakaue Street
If you’re up for a challenge and don’t mind getting dirty, why not enter the annual Waikato Draught Tough Guy and Gal Challenge in August? This event is one of the biggest in Rotorua and sees competitors running through swamps, burrowing under barbed wire, climbing, hiking and practically swimming through mud. If you’re not up for it, you can always watch – and there is a wicked afterparty.
Fabulous fashion more your thing? Wearable Creationzshowcases the immense talent of Rotorua’s youth every August. The show itself is all about wearable art, style and fashion, but there’s also an art exhibit/competition, too.
When To Go
Rotorua enjoys pleasant temperatures all year round, even in winter. That said, mid-June to mid-August sees quite a bit of rain.
- Summer average: 21ºC (70ºF)
- Autumn average: 14ºC (57ºF)
- Winter average: 10ºC (50ºF)
- Spring average: 16ºC (61ºF)
What To Miss
Respect rules, signs and barriers around the thermal springs, geysers and mud pools – they’re there for a reason. Ignore them and risk getting really hurt, or worse. Not fun.
If you have an ultra-sensitive nose, make sure you take along some sort of mask or some Vick’s Vapour Rub to smear under your nose. The city has a sulphurous, rotten-egg-like smell that can’t be escaped.
There are stacks of Cityride Rotorua buses, rental car services and coaches running the streets of this city. Bus fares vary depending on where you’re going. You can also hire a bike or take advantage of the fact that Rotorua is eminently walkable.
Ask any New Zealander what comes to mind when they think of Rotorua and they’ll probably say the smell. Most visitors, however, won’t even remember the powerful pungent odour – the captivating cultural experiences and electrifying activities are enough to make you forget that a place so visually stunning can be so whiffy.
The cause of Rotorua’s stench is sulphur, since the small North Island city is situated in the crater of an ancient volcano. Hell’s Gate is the smelliest part of all – and aptly named as a result. To take your mind off it, take a raft trip down the Kaituna River (exercising particular caution at Okere Falls) or make a stop at the Thermal Brewing Company for a glass of stout. If there’s one thing Kiwis do better than leaping off cliffs and waterfalls, it’s drinking beer!
More Info on Rotorua's Top 10
10. Frying Pan Lake The world’s largest hot-water spring isn’t for a relaxing dip – the temperature reaches 200ºC (392ºF) at its deepest point.
5. Mitai Provides an authentic introduction to Maori culture. Just don’t get so enthralled that you miss the glowworms.
9. Te Puia The boiling waters of Pohutu Geyser pull in the crowds, although a few are probably just here for the delicious Maori kai.
4. Buried Village of Te Wairoa New Zealand’s Pompeii, destroyed when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886. Don’t miss the nearby waterfall, especially after heavy rain.
8. Polynesian Spa Rejuvenate body and mind with thermal mud wraps and coconut oil massages.
3. Agrodome If a sheep show and interactive cow milking don’t do it for you, try your hand at Agrojet, zorbing, Freefall Xtreme, Shweed or Hellipro – you don’t have to know what they are to know they’re thrilling.
7. Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park This natural spring is home to some of the country’s most unique animals, including a long-finned eel that has lived in the park for over 60 years.
2. Waimangu Volcanic Valley Whether you’re an experienced hiker or have a hip replacement, Waimangu has a stunning geothermal walk you’ll love.
6. Rotorua Museum It’s simple, but provides a good rundown of Rotorua’s thermal history. The café food is a real bonus.
1. Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland Mud pools, geysers and teaming volcanic lakes mark Rotorua’s most-popular tourist attraction.
More Info on Events
Singing on the marae doesn’t usually take the form of opera, but then January’s Opera in the Pa is a uniquely Rotorua event.
Over 1,000 walkers descend on Rotorua’s forests, lakes and historic Maori settlements for the International Two-Day Walk in March, broken up with singing and dancing.
Slightly more challenging is April’s Rotorua Marathon, but it proves popular nonetheless.
November’s International Trout Fishing Competition is a three-day tournament of fishing for some of NZ’s tastiest sea life.
Rotorua isn’t exactly known for its thriving nightlife, but it makes up for this at New Year’s Eve Mardi Gras. Top performers help welcome in the new year on the lakefront.
When To Go
• Rororua’s altitude means it enjoys a temperate climate, with highs of 27ºC (81ºF) in summer and rarely dropping below freezing in winter.
• With more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, summer is bright and winter is crisp and fresh.
• Winter is only moderately wet, with the city averaging around 140mm (5.5in) of rain a year.
The Bay of Plenty region in New Zealand is one of rapid growth and currently home to just over a quarter of a million people. If recent trends are any indication, that number is sure to climb as more and more people discover the inherent charms of Rotorua. The North Island city on the shores of Lake Rotorua has twice won the country's "Most Beautiful City" award, a major triumph when you consider the stiff competition throughout the rest of scenic New Zealand.
As a hub of geothermal activity however, Rotorua is special. The distinct smell of sulphur hits visitors when they first enter the city limits and signals the irrefutable presence of geysers. Rotorua has a slew of them, in addition to hot thermal mud pools in areas like Kuirau Park. The city is also a notable hub for outdoor recreation, with myriad mountain bike trails in dense Whakarewarewa Forest and over a dozen lakes in the region ideal for watersports.
More Info on Getting Around
- Rotorua has a well-developed public transport system and travelling time is minimal.
- To explore the outer environs and lakes, rent a car.
- Save the walking for Rotorua’s hiking trails – there’s not much to see between attractions.
Attractions & Activities
- Rotorua Museum of Art & History
- Kuirau Park
- Geysers of Whakarewarewa
- Mitai Maori Village
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
- Jambalaya Festival
- Rhapsody Rotorua Festival
- Mountain Biking
Restaurant & Nightlife
- Bistro 1284
- Lime Caffeteria
- You and Me
- The Pig & Whistle City Bar
- Fuze City Bar
- O'Malley's Irish Bar
- The Mezz Bar
- Lava Bar
Rotorua experiences four seasons, with mild winters and warm summers. Rainfall is heavy between June and October.
- Winter (June to August) 3-13°C
- Spring (September to October) 6-17°C
- Summer (November to March) 10-23°C
- Fall (April to May) 6-18°C
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