If you’re wondering if Rotorua is worth visiting then it’s a very simple answer- definitely. Stunning natural scenery, buckets of history and culture, all kinds of outdoor adventures, and some of the best R&R spots in New Zealand make Rotorua a must-see stop on New Zealand’s North Island.
The city of Rotorua sits on the southern end of Lake Rotorua, the second-largest lake on the North Island. Lake Rotorua was formed by a volcanic eruption and the whole region is part of a volcanic zone. Rotorua’s geothermal waters as well as its huge array of stunning scenic beauty are a huge draw for visitors today.
In fact, the city and the wider region are both major tourist destinations. Besides its dramatic volcanic landscape, Rotorua is the adventure capital of New Zealand’s North Island. Rotorua is the place to come for a white-knuckle, heart-pumping dose of adrenaline. If you’d prefer to relax in the lap of luxury you’ll find plenty of places for pampering too. In case anyone is still on the fence, here are seven reasons why Rotorua is worth visiting.
Rotorua’s volcanic scenery is out of this world
Rotorua sits slap bang in the middle of one of a very large and still highly active volcanic zone. The current landscape of the whole area around Rotorua was formed by a massive surge of volcanic activity 240,000 years ago. That eruption created the awesome Rotorua Caldera and the beautiful Lake Rotorua that sits in the heart of it today.
Thankfully there hasn’t been an eruption here since, but the highly charged volcanic earth around Rotorua continues to create a magnificent otherworldly landscape. Rotorua is famous for its sulphuric geothermal waters, active geysers and bubbling mud pools. The whole town and surrounding region is constantly hissing and steaming and squirting its very eggy sulfur into the atmosphere. Witnessing such a dramatic landscape alone makes Rotorua worth visiting.
You don’t have to go far to find the city’s geothermal roots. Inside the Government Gardens and Kuirau Park right in the heart of the city are a number of steaming mud pools as well as hot springs that you can dip your feet into. Of Rotorua’s many geysers the most famous is Pohutu Geyser located in Whakarewarewa (more on this in a minute). Pohutu Geyser is the largest in New Zealand spurting streams of water up to 30 meters high multiple times a day.
Learn all about Maori history and culture
Rotorua has been home to Maori people for close to 700 years and the area is steeped in Maori history and tradition. The town’s name comes from Maori, meaning ‘second lake’ in the indigenous language and Rotorua is one of the best places in New Zealand to learn more about the Maori culture.
There are several places to learn more about Rotorua’s long Maori history, and perhaps the best is at the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village. Located around a massive rural landscape including hundreds of hot springs and dozens of geysers, Maori tribes have lived at Whakarewarewa for centuries. Incredibly they’ve also been welcoming visitors for over 200 years, teaching about their history and culture since as far back as the early 1800s.
To get the most out of a visit to Whakarewarewa be sure to book a hugely entertaining guided village tour, which will cover everything you need to know about Maori life. The tours also include the chance to see Pohutu Geyser as well as a traditional Maori performance and you’ll also see how the Maori have put Rotorua’s geothermal waters to good use for hundreds of years, particularly for cleaning and cooking. Whilst here don’t miss the walking trails that take you through some of Rotorua’s most surreal and spectacular volcanic landscapes.
Rotorua is perfect for an adrenaline rush
Rotorua is the place to come on New Zealand’s north island if you’re looking to crank up the heart rate. Much like Queensland on the South Island, Rotorua is packed with wild rides and all kinds of outdoor adventures. Whatever it is that gets your heart rate pumping then its more than likely that you’ll be able to do it in Rotorua.
Mountain biking is probably the one outdoor pursuit most associated with Rotorua. Rotorua is regularly voted as one of the best mountain biking regions in the world and various global mountain bike events are held in and around Rotorua. Inside Whakarewareawa forest alone there’s close to 200 kilometers of mountain bike trails to tackle. Tracks range from gentle trails for kids and beginners to extreme and challenging downhill rides for professional bikers.
Besides biking there are plenty of other options for those looking for extreme excitement in Rotorua. As its name suggests, Velocity City Adrenaline Park will more than satisfy those looking for white-knuckle thrills. The adventure park is packed with everything from bungee jumps, 100 kilometer an hour boat rides, and a human swing that launches its victims from 40 meters above the ground.
Elsewhere there are zip lines and cliff walks through the forest at Rotorua Canopy Tours and white-water rafting down waterfalls on Kaituna River. Plus there are a selection of off-road 4×4 courses, the chance to paraglide over Lake Rotorua and if you’re feeling particularly brave you can even take a skydive at Lake Taupo.
Relax in Rotorua’s geothermal waters
If all of that sounds far too strenuous then you can choose to pamper yourself silly in any of Rotorua’s many spas and wellness resorts instead. Rotorua’s geothermal waters and mud pools are high in healing minerals and have been used for their restorative powers for centuries. They remain a huge draw and many people still visit Rotorua just to relax in the area’s soothing magical waters. There are countless spas in Rotorua that offer all kinds of relaxing and invigorating treatments to make you feel on top of the world.
Rotorua’s most famous spa resort is probably the Polynesian Spa, regularly voted one of the best in the world. Pretty much in the center of town, Polynesian Spa has several hot mineral pools and spas that have sensational views over Lake Rotorua. Alternatively you can take the plunge into Rotorua’s healing hot mud at Hell’s Gate, New Zealand’s only mud baths. A soak in the geothermal mud has a number of health benefits and is very good for your skin. It’s also said to help with a variety of ailments, including conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism.
Enjoy great views of nature
There’s much more to Rotorua’s phenomenal natural scenery than just geysers and volcanic waters. Next to the Living Maori Village is Whakarewarewa Forest, a gorgeous green space filled with walking trails, bike tracks, and stunning views. Though you shouldn’t have any problems, you may want to keep an eye out for some of New Zealand’s nastier spiders whilst you’re heading through the forest.
The Whakarewarewa Forest is most well-known for its collection of majestic Californian Redwood trees which can be explored on the excellent Redwoods Treewalk. A network of elevated rope bridges connects several of the trees together to give an incredible bird’s eye view of the Redwoods and the surrounding forest. For even more fantastic views be sure to head to the lower Whaka lookout on the Pohaturoa walking track where there’s a breathtaking panorama of Rotorua and the massive Pohutu Geyser.
Some of the best views of Rotorua’s natural beauty can be found by taking a ride on the Skyline gondola. The Skyline climbs to a height of 900 meters above Rotorua towards Mount Ngongotaha and takes in breathtaking views of the city, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding landscape. This being Rotorua there’s a zipline, a mountain bike park, a skyswing and luge tracks waiting at the top, as well as a café, a bar and a restaurant.
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water
Though Lake Rotorua is the most famous lake in the area, it’s far from the only lake around here. In fact there are 18 lakes in and around Rotorua, including Lake Tikitapu, Lake Tarawera and Lake Rotoiti. There’s a whole host of activities and adventures that can be had in Rotorua’s waters too. As well as a number of places to swim in the lakes there are plenty of fishing spots too. Tour operators take fishing boats out onto the lakes where there’s a variety of fresh trout to catch.
There are a number of tour operators who take scenic boat trips out across Lake Rotorua, including sightseeing trips with Duck Tours, the repurposed amphibious World War Two vehicles. There’s also the chance to paddleboard, canoe or kayak on the water, including night time tours to see glow worms.
As you’d expect there are plenty of high-octane activities available too. Besides whitewater rafting on the Kaituna River there are several high speed jet boat tours that take in some of the region’s most secluded and beautiful locations, such as Mokoia Island in the centre of Lake Rotorua.
Take a trip to Hobbiton
New Zealand’s breathtaking beauty was used as the stunning backdrop throughout the record-breaking Lord of the Rings films. Directed by a Kiwi, Peter Jackson, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. The set of Hobbiton in Middle-earth, a central location in the films, was created specifically for the Lord of the Rings near Matamata, about an hour’s drive from Rotorua.
Originally dismantled after filming for The Lord of the Rings was completed the whole set was later rebuilt to be reused in The Hobbit trilogy, also directed by Jackson. Once the filming of The Hobbit was finished the decision was made to keep the Hobbiton set as it was and open the site as a tourist attraction to the millions of the Lord of the Rings fans. Nearly a million people have visited Hobbiton since it opened and it has gone on to become one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations.
Though it’s not technically in Rotorua, a visit to the Hobbiton movie set from the city is a popular day trip. Situated on a working farm in the middle of some of New Zealand’s most beautiful rural landscapes, visits to Hobbiton are via two hour guided tours. The tours take in some of the most famous locations in the Lord of the Rings films, including a number of Hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn. If you’re a fan of all things Middle-earth a trip to the Lord of the Rings set from Rotorua is a great day out.