What to do in Rotorua
While travelling around New Zealand, there is nearly always a tale tell sign you are approaching one of the country’s top destinations. Whether that be the snow capped peaks rising from the horizon in Queenstown, the cityscape emerging from the clouds in Wellington or the sound of the waves brushing the shore in the Coromandel. However when it comes to Rotorua, its not your eyes or ears that give the game away, but rather your nose! When your inner bloodhound detects a whiff of sulphur in the air, you know this unique city is just around the corner.
This is a city which is bubbling (quite literally) with an array of activities, from kayaking beautiful lakes and hiking various nature trails to simply relaxing in its unbeatable thermal spas. It is also a popular cultural hub with a fascinating Maori history. With so much to do, it can be hard to choose. So we’ve created the ultimate list of things to do in Rotorua to make it just that little bit easier! Take a look below…
1. Enjoy a ride on the Skyline Luge Rotorua
Originating in Switzerland the luge has proved popular in Scandinavia since the first the first World Championships in the sport were held in Oslo in 1955. Its slow growing popularity eventually spread outside of Europe, yet it remained very much a winter sport due to its need for snow. Thats where the Rotorua Skyline Luge came in. Morphing a traditional luge with what is essentially an engineless go-cart in 1985, the world’s first year-round luge was born! This is one of the most popular adventure attractions in Rotorua, and Skyline Luge now operate all over the world. It’s a great hit for people of all ages due to the brilliant views seen as you descend down the mountain. Yet it’s especially loved by the kids, making it the perfect family activity. First you will enjoy a gondola ride up the mountain. Once you’ve reached the top you’ll be kitted out with a helmet before being given a brief safety tutorial. Next is the exhilarating race to the bottom. At the end of the track, simply ride the chairlift back to the start-line, and enjoy it all over again!
2. Soak away the day at the Polynesian Spa
The Polynesian Spa’s natural hot springs are a must do while you’re in the area. There is a range of hot water pools here all with varying pH levels. Those which are slightly more acidic are particularly good for treating deep muscle pain while the alkaline hot pools are better for nourishing and cleansing the skin. There’s also an extensive menu of spa treatments which will have you feeling utterly pampered and refreshed. The Spa is truly the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
3. Visit the famous Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu is arguably the most famous activity in Rotorua. Known all over the world as a geothermal wonderland. A natural spectacle of both vibrant colour and unique geological elements which have been carved out by thousands of years of volcanic activity. The best hot pools found here is the beautiful Champagne Pool pictured above, while the Lady Knox Geyser is the true show stopper – erupting daily and forcing water to shoot 20 metres up into the air, sometimes for nearly an hour.
3. Kayak Lake Rotoehu
The smallest of the lakes found to the northeast of Lake Rotorua, Lake Rotoehu is naturally more secluded. With less people and less noise you can enjoy more lake to yourselves – and what better way to enjoy the lake than by kayak! Glide through the blue waters and absorb the tranquility of the area. Because of its comparative seclusion, this lake makes a great setting for a digital detox. Yet you’ll still be within convenient riving distance to the other adventurous activities of the Rotorua Lakes region when you feel like increasing the tempo.
4. Discover New Zealand’s national birds of prey
Head over to New Zealand’s national bird of prey centre, Wingspan. A top Rotorua attraction, here you can take a tour around the breeding and research centre to discover a fascinating range of birds. One such bird – the New Zealand Falcon, a national bird which is sadly even more endangered than the Kiwi – is undoubtedly the star of the show. Every day at 2pm they perform tricks in return for treats in the bird show, alongside other birds of prey. This is a fun and exhilarating show where falcons famously swoop over your heads, just when you least expect it!
5. Enjoy water activities on Lake Rotoiti
Found next to Lake Rotorua, Lake Rotoiti has plentiful activities on offer making this fresh-water lake an ideal place to visit on your holiday to Rotorua. Here you can enjoy some water-skiing, biscuiting and fishing. Although, if you prefer to remain on land, there is always the incredible Okere Falls track nearby. Book a lakeside bach to wake up to unbeatable views before heading out onto the water.
6. Discover Maori culture at Te Puia
Te Puia is home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, which was founded in the 1920s with the aim to encourage the protection and development of traditional Maori culture in New Zealand. Here you can discover traditional art such as carving and weaving, as well as cultural performances made not only to entertain but to educate. Performances include traditional dance and song as well as story telling. While those with an interest in architecture are sure to find the contemporary structure Heketanga-ā-Rangi a fascinating find.
7. Visit bubbling mud pools
There are two famous mud pools to visit on your trip to Rotorua, one is found nearby the famous Wai-O-Tapu, while one is found in Te Puia. Both of these mud pools are a fascinating find. Walk through the eery mist made from the mud pool’s steam and watch patiently as the pools simmer away. You’ll soon witness the mud dramatically shooting out of the ground as geothermal heat beneath them builds. For keen photographers these pools prove quite a challenge to keep up with. The unpredictable nature of the explosive pools may leave you with one too many photos of plain old mud – but thats all part of the fun!
8. Walk the Lake Tarawera Trail
One of the biggest lakes in the country, Lake Tarawera is well known for the great sightseeing and bush walk adventures it offers. The lake is found close to the Pink and White Terraces, a geological phenomenon which were once considered one of the eight wonders of the world. However the best activity here is undoubtedly the Tarawera Trail, which is probably best known for the Tarawera Trail Marathon that is held in November each year. This trail stretches around the lake’s edge making a 15 kilometre walk that takes approximately 5 hours to complete. Filled with pristine lake views for its entirety, for those who love getting stuck into the great outdoors, this is not one to be missed!
What to do in Rotorua when it rains
Rotorua gets an average of 1,400 millimeters of rain a year. But don’t let that put you off! Even on a rainy day, there are still plenty of things to do in Rotorua on a rainy day. You might prefer staying indoors and playing laser tag, or you might want to embrace the water theme and go whitewater rafting.
1. Go Zorbing
The Zorb is a Rortura invention. This giant inflated ball rolls down a custom track. Rain or shine, the experience is sure to delight. Up to three people can fit in a single Zorb, and it’s a perfect activity for all ages. Instead of being buckled in, you will wear your bathing suit and be sloshed around in warm water. The Zorb experience might be even more attractive in cool, damp weather. Since you are inside the ball, you won’t get rained on during the adventure. Heated changing rooms and hot tubs at the beginning and end of the track ensure you won’t ever get cold and miserable.
2. Pet a Cat at Fancy Meow Cat Cafe
This is another indoor activity that the whole family will enjoy. Will you be glared at by a grumpy cat or cuddled by a sweet kitty? Fancy Meow Cat Cafe has about 25 cats in residence, and they are sure to delight you with their different personalities. The cafe has refreshments and ice cream for the humans. If you need a massage after a long hike, you’ll appreciate the row of massage chairs. It’s easy to see why this spot is one of the most popular diversions in Rotorua.
3. Rotorua Rail Cruising
This is a great way to get outside and enjoy the scenery while staying dry. The Rail Cruiser is an automated self-driving railway vehicle that follows an old railway track. Each four-seat car has waterproof sides and cozy blankets so you’ll stay warm and dry. The 10-kilometer trip travels through a 1,000-year-old native forest, rolling hills, and Lake Rotorua views.
4. Ride the Gondola at Skyline Rotorua
The 900-meter long cable car system will transport your gondola up to the Skyline Rotorua complex. Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of Lake Rotorua, thermal pools, and Rotorua. You’ll stay safe and dry in the enclosed gondola. Once at the top, you can stay dry while experiencing a wine tasting or dinner. If you want to get outside regardless of the rain, you can experience the thrill of the luge.
5. Volcanic Hills Wine Tasting
Take Skyline Rotorua’s gondola to the top and settle into the Volcanic Hill’s Tasting Room. The view of Rotorua town and lake from the tasting room is spectacular, even in the rain. You’ll be warm and cozy in the well-appointed tasting room. Hosts are on hand to discuss the different wines.
Volcanic Hills Wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Blanc de Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and a seasonal Rosé. The grapes are grown in New Zealand’s wine regions and crafted in the Volcanic Hills Winery.
If you just want a quick tour, try the 15-30 minute three wine tasting. For the full experience, choose the five-wine tasting and spend 30-45 minutes. If it’s still raining, guests are more than welcome to spend all afternoon enjoying the views, snacking on a fabulous platter, and sipping wine.
6. Paradise Valley Springs
Paradise Valley Springs is a haven for various animals that live in this park-like tree and bush-covered setting.
Hand-feed animals such as deer, wallabies, alpacas, and sheep. Paradise Valley Springs also has an aviary. Meet the Kea, New Zealand’s favorite annoying parrot!
The stars of Paradise Valley Springs are the pride of African lions that live here. The lions are fed every afternoon; this is a great time to see the lions when they are most active.
Visit the stream and pools to feed and watch rainbow and brown trout. The whole family will enjoy this day out.
7. Visit the Rotorua Library
There’s nothing quite so cliché as spending a rainy morning at a library, but there’s nothing more enjoyable either. This modern, multi-level library has an astounding collection of books and an on-site café. Choose a book, sip on a hot beverage, and enjoy the library ambiance.
8. Eat Street
Eat Street is exactly what it sounds like; a street where you can eat! What makes this destination unique is the central covered walkway. This allows diners to enjoy outdoor dining, even in the rain.
A thermally heated footpath and vibrant lighting add to the attraction of this fun destination. A variety of restaurants serve diverse delights, such as ice cream, Italian, Indian, and pub grub.
Do It In The Rain Anyway
If you’re feeling cooped up and a bit sick of quietly sipping a hot drink indoors, head outside and let the rain enhance your day out.
9. Get Drenched While Whitewater Rafting
You’re going to get drenched to the bone from the river, so why not add a little sprinkle from the sky to the mix? Rafting excursions are available on either the Kaituna River or Rangitaiki River. Raft through beautiful scenery and experience the thrill of whitewater. The Kaituna River features three waterfalls and is appropriate for adventurous souls. Rangitaiki River is excellent for families and provides a solid introduction to whitewater rafting.
10. Stroll through Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest
The Whakarewarewa Redwood forest has a stand of California Coastal Redwoods. These impressive trees stand as tall as 67 meters. The tree canopy will protect you from the rain, and you’ll get a chance to stretch your legs. You can choose from various marked trails, which range from 30 minutes to an all-day excursion. Along your walk, you’ll see both native and exotic trees and appreciate vistas with panoramic views.
11. Walk Around Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake)
The 5.5-kilometer trail around Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) is a must-do in Rotorua. Why not enjoy this one-and-a-half-hour walk in the rain? The lake’s bottom consists of pumice and rhyolite, making the lake look turquoise in the sun. There are several beaches and swim areas if you’re inclined to get even wetter. The trail also goes through Whakarewarewa Forest, providing a nice variety of vistas.
12. Take a Noctural Adventure Glow Worm Tour
Instead of driving two hours to the more popular Waitomo Caves, check out the much closer glow worm caves available in Rotorua. A tour will take you into the forest, past streams, waterfall, and the glowworm’s grotto.
The worms are partial to inclement weather, so why not add a little extra drama to an already electrifying excursion? Finish off with a hot chocolate, and you’ll be glowing too.
Over to You…
Do you have any favourite Rotorua activities? Any secret spots or memorable experiences? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear it!