Three million visitors a year can’t be wrong. Located near the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, the incredible city of Rotorua lays upon one of the most active geothermal areas on earth. With its barrage of stunning natural attractions, choosing the best things to do in Rotorua is never an easy task.
Sitting near the western edge of the Bay of Plenty region, Rotorua boasts colourful lakes of boiling hot water, splendid geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools. Hanging over it all is the pungent pong of sulphur, serving as a reminder of the powerful play of plate tectonics.
The top attractions in Rotorua are unique and varied. They include cultural encounters, relaxing spas, heart-stopping adventures, and some of the best outdoor escapades you’ll find anywhere on the globe.
Unsure of where to go in Rotorua, New Zealand? Start planning your trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Rotorua…
What to see & do in Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, and when it comes to weird and wonderful landscapes, there are tons of choices. One of most spectacular things to see in Rotorua is, without doubt, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
At this popular Rotorua attraction, vibrant orange and neon-green pools create landscapes that look like something from another planet.
Make sure you’re at the geothermal park in good time to take in the daily show at the Lady Knox Geyser. At 10:15am, the world-famous geyser blows its top and propels steam and hot water 20 metres into the air for a spectacular demonstration of nature’s power.
The best want to experience Waiotapu is to wander through at your own pace, using the displayed maps to plan your route. It’s an easy walk along the wooden walkways, meandering past smoke-filled craters, neon pools, and a huge bubbling mud pool formed by a collapsed mud volcano.
Depending on the route you choose you’ll need between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half to complete a circuit. Even if you have just one day in Rotorua, you can easily fit this amazing landmark into your itinerary.
Tight for time? Te Puia offers a convenient alternative to Wai-O-Tapu. The park is located in the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, close to the Rotorua city centre.
Highlights at Te Puia include the Pohutu Geyser, Maori cultural shows, and bird sanctuary for the Kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird. Take the opportunity to stopover at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre and try your hand at traditional Maori weaving or wood carving. There’s also a 45-minute boat ride that’ll take you to the (alleged) former site of the Pink and White Terraces.
Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
It would be sacrilege to travel to the geothermal playground of Rotorua and fail to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of its warm, relaxing waters.
The Waikite Valley Thermal Pools all boast such healing waters, making it one of the best Rotorua activities for rejuvenation. It’s the perfect place to enjoy nature and live in the moment. You can choose to forget your worries in a wide range of spas from individual hot pools with their own temperature controls to a full Polynesian spa experience.
The outdoor hot pools look over the picturesque nature of the Waikite Valley. When you’ve had enough hot spring spa time, embark on the eco-trail to the beautiful Te Manaroa Spring.
Build up an appetite and finish off with a light meal on the covered outdoor deck and enjoy more views of the surrounding valley.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Dubbed as the world’s youngest geothermal area, Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a sight to behold. Within the valley, you’ll experience awe-inspiring volcanic formations, hot springs, and steamy technicolour ponds that are among the coolest things to see on North Island.
There’s a handful of shorter and longer walks & hikes in Waimangu Volcanic Valley catering to all fitness levels. For a relaxing end to a day of hiking through the geothermal paradise, enjoy one of the boat tours of Lake Rotomahana and float past the steamy vents and geysers along the shorelines.
Tamaki Maori Village
Rotorua is home to the Te Arawa people who’ve been living there for more than 600 years. Today, the city still has one of the biggest Maori populations in New Zealand.
This makes Rotorua one of the best places to get to know more about the lifestyle and the culture of New Zealand’s indigenous people. There are several Maori Villages around Rotorua (including the Mitai Maori Village and Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village), but lunch at the Tamaki Maori Village is one of the best interactive Maori experiences you’ll find in this part of the world.
Your experience will start at 12:30pm with a traditional Whakatau welcome. Next, you’ll knead and roll dough in preparation for making your own traditional fried bread for lunch. While your bread is baking, the meat will be sizzling on the barbecue, ready to combine for a fresh & delicious burger lunch.
As you sip your drinks with the smell of barbecued meat wafting by, your Maori hosts will introduce you to the culture & lifestyle of the village. They’ll regale you with stories of past pursuits and tales from Maori mythology.
As an alternative, you could choose to spend an evening at the Maori culture village and join the villagers for a dinner feast.
Kaituna River White-Water Rafting
If you’re up for a few hours of adventure as you explore Rotorua, white-water rafting is a must. The stint will take you about three hours to complete, but with landscapes as spectacular as those around this area, you’ll want to do it all over again.
The exhilarating ride winds through canyons and rain forests—and even over a waterfall! At seven metres, it’s the world’s highest waterfall that can support rafting.
And if hurling over a waterfall’s not enough to get your adrenaline pumping, you can also opt for the cliff-diving experience. All equipment is provided.
Also known as Whakarewarewa Forest, the Redwood Forest outside of Rotorua offers plenty of action for visitors. Of course, you can simply choose to walk or cycle through the various trails weaving through the forest. But, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, one of the best activities in Rotorua is to catch spectacular views of the forest from above on the Redwoods Treewalk.
On the 700-metre-long Redwoods Treewalk, twenty-one suspension bridges sway in and above the over-a-century-old Canadian redwoods. Experiencing the magnificent trees and unusual birdlife make this adventure one of Rotorua’s top tourist attractions & activities.
When you’re done with testing your fear of heights, hit the trails below for a hike or a mountain bike ride. The forest’s main mountain biking trails are particularly popular these days after receiving Red Bull’s accolade as the best mountain biking trail in the Southern Hemisphere.
Occupying a turn-of-the-century Bath House in the Government Gardens, Rotorua Museum is among the city’s top points of interest and must-see for history buffs.
The lovely Tudor-style building overlooks Lake Rotorua and houses artifacts that tell the tale of the area before, during & after Europeans hit the shores of New Zealand. Besides the exhibits, be sure to check out the museum’s terrace for spectacular views over the lake.
Unfortunately, the Rotorua Museum is currently closed for earthquake-retrofitting renovations for the foreseeable future. You can find more information about the closure and re-opening on the official website.
At 79.8 square kilometres, Lake Rotorua is the second-largest in New Zealand North Island. Whether you’re looking to go kayaking, trout fishing, or paddling, a day out on the waters of Lake Rotorua is a great addition to your New Zealand trip.
On your visit, you may want to take a cruise to Mokoia Island in the centre of the lake. It’s a sanctuary for many of New Zealand’s endangered birdlife. and a sacred place in Maori culture. Your guide will explain why and show you how the Maoris use the island’s plants for cooking and to heal the sick.
If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings and need more ideas for what to do in Rotorua, don’t miss a trip to Hobbiton. Located just outside Matamata about an hour from town, the family-friendly Hobbiton Movie Set is one of the best day trips from Rotorua and a must-visit New Zealand attraction for film buffs and fans of the fantasy genre.
The atmospheric hobbit village was created as the fantastical setting for The Shire in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Visit the village to whisk yourself away on a trip into Middle-earth along with a knowledgeable guide to point out all the highlights.
Hobbiton is also surrounded by beautiful tranquil landscapes and excellent walking & hiking trails. If you spend more than a day in Matamata, be sure to explore the area.
Need a quick adrenaline boost as you tour Rotorua? Look no further than Skyline Rotorua, home to some of the top Rotorua attractions for adventure-seekers.
First, get an incredible view of the Rotorua skyline on a ride to the top of Mount Ngongotaha with Skyline Gondola. Once you reach the summit, there’s plenty of other things to do.
Activities at Skyline Rotorua include soaring through a magnificent redwood forest on the Zoom Zipline, testing your fear of heights on the Skyswing, and screaming down the hill on the park’s famous Luge.
The Skyline Luge is a gravity-driven cart, hurtling down the mountainside along one of the world’s longest luge track. When you get to the base, take the gondola back to the top and replay.
If you prefer more tranquil pursuits, a wine-tasting or a trip through the galaxies with Skyline Rotorua Stargazing may be more to your taste. Alternatively, you can hire a bike and make your way back down one of the many trails crisscrossing the mountainside.
If you’re looking for even more adventure on your trip to New Zealand, Velocity Valley Rotorua is another absolute must-visit for adrenaline junkies. It offers a full smorgasbord of adventure activities from bungee jumping to sky walking to freefalling through the only wind tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere.
The big claim to fame at Velocity Valley is the Shweeb Racer. It’s the only attraction of its kind in the world, where you’ll race your way along a monorail against an opponent using nothing but your own legs. Pedal hard enough and you can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour!
Other hair-raising attractions at the adventure park including the Agrojet boat sprint and the Swoop, a 40-metre-high bungy swing hitting speeds up to 130 kilometres per hour.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
No New Zealand North Island trip itinerary is complete without a visit to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Located about two hours from Rotorua in the direction of North Island’s west coast, Waitomo is now among the most famous destinations in New Zealand for what lies beneath more than above.
If you’re looking start experiencing all the coolest places to visit in Waitomo, hitch onto a boat tour through the cavernous Waitomo Caves. The walls and ceilings of the subterranean network of caves are covered with hundreds of thousands of glow worms, lighting the way like stars in the sky as you drift along. It’s among the most interesting sights in the entire South Pacific region!
Above ground, there’s also a variety of great hikes & walks around Waitomo including the popular Ruakuri Bush Walk. Book yourself onto one of the area’s guided hiking tours to get the full scoop on the flora, fauna, and geology of this fascinating nook of New Zealand.
The Rotorua Agrodome is world-famous and one of the must-see Rotorua attractions. This enormous farm lies ten minutes outside of the city and its a great family-friendly half-day trip if you’re visiting Rotorua with kids.
Thousands of people have visited the Rotorua Agrodome over the years, many to take part in the Farm Show in which you get to star with the farm animals. There’s also a farm tour that includes a visit to the animal nursery.
Leave some time at the end of your visit to roam around the dome’s Sheep Shearing Museum and Wooden Mill.
Paradise Springs Wildlife Park
If you’re interested in checking out wildlife on your trip to Rotorua, head over the family-friendly Paradise Springs Wildlife Park. Nestled within native bush 10 kilometres west of town, this New Zealand wildlife reserve features a variety of wild & domesticated animals including deer, wallabies, sheep, donkeys, alpacas, and even a pride of African lions.
After you’ve spent time spotting the reserve’s animal & bird life, seek out the Rainforest Treetops Walk. Perched as high as 6 metres above the forest floor in the tree canopy, this forest walkway swings past centuries-old Tawa trees as you stroll to the soothing sounds of birdsong.
The Buried Village of Te Wairoa
The most-visited archeological site in New Zealand, The Buried Village of Te Wairoa weaves together a haunting narrative of the devastating 1886 eruption of nearby Mount Tarawera.
The 12-acre site features an award-winning museum detailing the eruption’s path including destroying the 8th Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terrace. There’s also over a kilometre of archeological excavations of the former Maori village.
This family-friendly site is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm.