Top things to do in Rotorua

Browse and book a range of great Rotorua experiences in New Zealand including tours, skydiving and more at cheap prices online here!

Top things to do in Rotorua

Browse and book a range of great Rotorua experiences in New Zealand including tours, skydiving and more at cheap prices online here!

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Top 10 Things to do Rotorua

The highly popular Rotorua region at the heart of New Zealand's north island is a geothermal hot spot that offers a great example of all the best of the country's major highlights in a single, interesting and visually impressive location unlike few other places in NZ.

Famed for its volcanic landscape, the region has been shaped by millions of years worth of activity that have given it its distinctive character.

Rotorua is teeming with Maori history and culture that blends seamlessly alongside wonderfully scenic lakes while also providing opportunities for adventure and adrenaline for those wanting to kick things up a notch all while surrounded by its famously active geothermal features.

The region is constantly steaming in many locations, with thermal reserves showcasing its various bubbling mud pools, hot springs and spouting geysers which make for some of the most surreal vistas in New Zealand. Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Hells Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Spa plus the Polynesian Spa rate highly as some of the top things to do in Rotorua.

For a little bit of adventure you could always have a go and the blackwater rafting, Rotorua Canopy Tours or zorbing while more gentle Rotorua activities such as the Skyline Gondola, a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour to "Middle Earth" and a Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour from Rotorua are great activities that the whole family can enjoy.

If you're planning to visit this rich and steamy cultural wonderland, here are our recommendations for 10 of the top things to do in Rotorua, NZ and its surrounding areas.

1. Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Location: Waiotapu Loop Road, Rotorua, NZ

Capping off the list of all-things-geo that is Rotorua is Wai-o-Tapu, an incredibly colourful grouping of hot springs, geysers and pools each with their own distinct character, shape and texture formed solely by nature itself which sits around 20 minutes south of Rotorua city.

This is the place that you've most likely seen in postcards or promotional material promoting Rotorua as a travel destination, and with good cause; it's the most colourful volcanic area in the country and allows visitors some great angles for photos as you're able to basically step right up to – or in some cases, walk directly through – some of the most striking hot pools you're ever likely to see.

Wai-o-Tapu also combines the three essential sights of any geothermal hot spot (prominent geysers, naturally boiling mud pools and volcanic vistas) in a single location, making for a comprehensive experience.

The area is broken up into three separate tracks coded by colour, each of which emphasize a different aspect of the grounds and none of which are difficult and which will take you roughly 3 hours to complete, all set within a lush green valley bordered by forest and farms.

Wai-o-Tapu is an incredibly colourful grouping of hot springs, geysers and pools each with their own distinct character, shape and texture formed solely by nature itself which sits around 20 minutes south of Rotorua city.

One thing you'll soon notice upon embarking on your walk is the smell; the gases which contribute to all the activity here aren't just visual thing, and for some the sulphur and various other oxides can be uncomfortable if not overpowering, and are a necessary ingredient in what makes the place tick.

Perhaps Wai-o-Tapu's most famous highlight is its Champagne Pool – a bubbling hot spring around 65 metres wide with a mix of elements such as arsenic and sulfide that give its border a bright orange colour and contrasts beautifully with the water contained within.

The Lady Knox Geyser, meanwhile, is another must-see that spouts regularly at 10:15am but which now requires human aid to reach its full spout-y potential, and which lasts for around 30 minutes; crowds quickly gather before eruption time, so be sure to get there early if you're wanting an unobstructed view.

Various other colourful natural characters round out the locale including the Artist's Palette (which you can cross via a wooden bridge), Devil's Bath, and other similar creatively-named highlights. Home to everything a traveller could want out of a natural Rotorua experience, Wai-o-Tapu is well worth the price of admission and then some.


2. Maori Cultural Villages

Location: Hinemaru Street and Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua, NZ

Culture plays a huge role in making Rotorua what it is, and while it's hard to gain a true appreciation of such a deep and traditional one as that of Maori while only visiting on holiday, Rotorua's “Maori Villages” attempt to do their best to provide a distilled, tourist-friendly version of it to interested visitors.

Rotorua has two such attractions – the Tamaki and Mitai Maori Villages - both of which are highly regarded and incorporate a blend of ceremonies, music, storytelling, dance and dining into a single package that's as entertaining as it is informative.

Each of these also puts a premium on audience interaction and participation, and both aim to be as authentic to their roots as can be while still providing entertainment to visitors from all over the globe.

Tamaki Maori Village, which can be found on the outskirts of the town near Lake Rotorua and the Rotorua Museum (mentioned in greater detail below) offers a substantial 3+ hour experience in the midst of Rotorua's ancient Tawa forest.

Visitors who attend can take time to explore the village, listen to various stories on both history and legend, witness rituals and art, and view song and dance performances all culminating in a traditionally-prepared Hangi dinner by the attraction's Maori hosts.

Step back in time and explore the Maori way of life with a visit to a cultural village. Listen to the stories, watch dance performances and taste a traditional Hangi dinner prepared by your Maori hosts.

Step back in time – before the days of European settlement - and explore the Maori way of life, including the small dwellings, the arts and the songs; watch the women weaving, see the warriors training with traditional weapons and openly talk with the villagers about their heritage.

It's one of the best value culture-based experiences in New Zealand when you factor in that you're getting dinner and accommodation transfers as well, and a great way to spend an evening in Rotorua if you're looking to fill out your itinerary.

Alternatively you can find Mitai Maori Village located just 5 minutes drive from Central Rotorua offering you an authentic cultural evening incorporating a traditional earth cooked Hangi Feast.

Mitai Maori village is a 100% family owned operation and with the village standing on traditional Maori land, they are people of the land.

Witness warriors in traditional dress paddle in an ancient canoe. Be captivated by the displays of weaponry, Haka, coupled with the grace of the poi dance.

Here you will learn about traditional carvings and ta moko (tattoo art). There is also time to marvel at the sacred Fairy Spring flowing from earth and see glow worms in their natural habitat.

Mixing a blend of seriousness and lighthearted humour while still providing historical insight is a difficult thing to do, but Mitai handles it well, incorporating guided explanations and Q&A sessions that answer any queries on the techniques or history that guests may have, as well as a walk through the rainforest and a canoe piloted by costumed staff which adds to the overall atmosphere.

It's smaller and more intimate than Tamaki, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on what you're looking for.

While the Maori culture stretches back a long time into the past, both of these villages aim to break as much of it up as possible into a bite-sized morsel that will at least give visitors an overview.


3. Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Location: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata New Zealand

The Hobbiton and Lord of the Rings series helped introduce the world to the beauty of New Zealand and now you can see where all the magic happens for yourself on a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour from Rotorua.

4. Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Location: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata New Zealand

Head underground to explore a series of awe-inspiring glowworm grottos that are home to thousands of critters who light up the caves with their bright tails. A Waitomo Glowworm Tour is one of the top things to do in Rotorua.

5. Blackwater Rafting

Location: 585 Waitomo Caves Rd, Waitomo, New Zealand

If you crave more adrenaline then you can explore the Waitomo Gloworm Caves on a thrilling underwater blackwater rafting tour leading you over tumbling waterfalls and onto flying foxes through the abyss.

6. Skyline Gondola

Location:Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua, NZ

The ideal starting point for any trip to Rotorua begins with a trip on Rotorua's Skyline Gondola which takes guests up the side of the city's Mount Ngongotaha to the activity-filled Skyline complex which sits atop the mount.

It's likely one of the first things you'll want to do when you get to the city as travelling up the mountainside not only gives you great 180 degree views of the panorama of Rotorua, its lake, Mokoia Island and further off into the distance, but will allow you to get a sense of how the area is laid out and help orientate yourself for the rest of your time in the region.

While the gondolas seat up to 8 people, if you're travelling with less then it's a good idea to try and sit with your back facing the mountain as the ride up is fairly brief and you'll want to gain the best possible views of the outlook on offer while you can. In all, if offers a quick, comfortable and convenient way to get to the peak.

Once you've reached the top, you'll not only get a great view of Rotorua and surrounds (aim for a clear day if possible), but also be presented with a variety of other activities and facilities to take advantage of during your time there.

In terms of facilities, there's a high quality restaurant with smorgasbord/buffet style food that allows you to experience some decent dining while taking in amazing views from its spacious viewing windows, a well-equipped cafe that provides substantial meals and decent drinks in its own right, and well-maintained toilets so you'll never have to simply “hold it in” like at many other lesser-equipped lookout points.

The ideal starting point for any trip to Rotorua begins with a trip on Rotorua's Skyline Gondola which takes guests up the side of the city's Mount Ngongotaha to the activity-filled Skyline complex which sits atop the mount.

On the activity side of the equation, the entertainment keeps coming as there are a range of popular things to take part in – perhaps the most obvious of these is the Skyline Luge. This fun ride allows visitors of all ages hop on their own purpose-built luge cart and then make their winding way down tracks which slope down the hillside.

There are a choice of tracks on offer, with the “Scenic” route being more of a leisurely sightseeing experience as you'll get a range of vantage points to look out and admire the Rotorua scenery on the way down, while the other advanced track is much more of a thrill-based experience.

It's a good idea to take the scenic track first, soak in the views and test your confidence levels on the vehicles and then step it up a notch by moving to the advanced track. Likely to be of special interest to those travelling to Rotorua with kids, it's one of the more unique experiences in the region – no snow required for this luge, friends – and buying a multi-ride pass will allow you to get a taste of each at a decent price.

Kicking it up a notch from the luge is the sky swing, which takes participants on a thrilling ride 50m above the ground at speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour; think bungy jumping in reverse. Not for the faint of heart nor weak of bowel, it's nonetheless a great way to get a rush as you're thrown into the sky, while garnering one of the best views of Rotorua and beyond available – assuming you can keep your eyes open.

The swing is able to accommodate up to three passengers, and kids are welcome to join in as long as they are above 110cm (3 ft 7). If you're interested in doing the swing, gondola and luge, combined tickets are available that can help cut down on costs.

In all, it's well worth investing the money in making a day of your trip up the top of the Skyline Rotorua facility, with plenty to entertain both adults and families alike.


7. Hells Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Spa

Location: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata New Zealand

Explore the Southern Hemisphere’s largest and most active geothermal park and then settle in for a little bit of pampering at Hells’ Gate Geothermal Mud Spa. It’s good for the body and the soul.

8. Rotorua Canopy Tours

Location: Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua, NZ

This relatively new experience on the Rotorua tourism scene has done an excellent job of filling somewhat of an "adventure gap" on New Zealand's north island - since its inception in 2012, Rotorua Canopy Tours has won numerous well-deserved awards for walking the fine line between conservation and tourism.

A multi-hour experience that sees visitors navigating an enjoyable, mixed web of around 1.2km worth of bridges, flying foxes, ziplines and platforms above a slice of extremely verdant native forest, the company offers the chance for an entirely different look at the wilderness that surrounds Rotorua.

Visitors join their friendly and patient guides, receive detailed safety briefings, then harness up in small groups of a maximum of 10 people. Once prepared, guests embark on an adventure that sees them soaring through treetops at heights of over 20m above the forest floor, weaving between a mixture of chirping rainforest bird life and trees up to 1000 years old.

It's a delightful balance between education, tourism and conservation working hand in hand to achieve stellar results - the company is entirely eco-friendly and makes concerted efforts to contribute towards the conservation of the forest as well as its inhabiting animals. Such efforts have included trapping threats to native plants and animals; a key reason why the quantity of birdlife is much higher in recent years.

Rotoroua Canopy Tours is an experience that sees visitors navigating a mixed web of bridges, flying foxes, ziplines and platforms above a slice of extremely verdant native forest with birds chirping and thousand-year-old trees.

Participants can choose between two main experience types - the Original and Ultimate Canopy Tours that each offer a blend of sub-experiences, albeit on a different scale. Standard visitors may want to stick to the Original itinerary, as it provides a solid cross-section of bridges and ziplining, while those with an extra adventurous bent can opt for the Ultimate version.

This sees everything ramped up a notch - it's higher, longer (400m longest zipline as opposed to 200m on the Original tour), and includes a spot of cliff walking and abseil-type activity. The resultant views are even more breathtaking in return for your efforts, however, so it's definitely worth considering if you're the "outdoorsy" type.

Regardless of your choice of itineraries, the team at Rotorua Canopy Tours do a great job of placing an emphasis on safety while still keeping you feeling comfortable. Likewise, elements of education are also incorporated throughout, however they're delivered in a fun, upbeat and "non-preachy" fashion.

If you've ever wanted to explore a slice of pristine rainforest and feel as close to a bird yourself, this experience in Rotorua is one of the closest things to it - and one all ages can partake in and appreciate.


9. Polynesian Spa

Location: 1000 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua, New Zealand

The Polynesian Spa is one of New Zealand’s best relaxation and wellness experiences. Guests will have 28 pools to choose from and a dedicated child-free zone for an extra slice of serenity.

10. Zorbing

Location: 525 Ngongotaha Road, Fairy Springs, New Zealand

Prepare for an almighty splash and dash as you enter the large inflatable balls for a mad roll down the hill. It’s zorbing and its one of the top things to do in Rotorua with a variety of runs to choose from.
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