No visit to New Zealand’s North Island would be complete without spending a few days in Rotorua, a hub for Maori culture and one of the most geothermally active regions in the country. Whether you’re interested in high-adrenaline adventures, cultural history, or scenic nature excursions, there’s an activity in Rotorua for you.
Visit Te Puia to Learn about Maori Culture
Learn all about New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori, at Te Puia, a cultural center that’s home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, a national school dedicated to preserving ancient artisanal skills, like carving and weaving. Experience traditional Maori performances, see live Kiwi birds, and witness the explosive geothermal power of the Pohutu geyser and its boiling mud pools. Te Puia is located just five minutes from Rotorua’s city center.
Go Flightseeing to Get a Real Lay of the Land
While New Zealand’s landscapes look beautiful from the ground, there’s nothing quite like seeing them from the air—especially in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, where Rotorua is located. Take off on a seaplane from Lake Rotorua and soar past volcanoes like Mount Tarawera, which famously destroyed New Zealand’s iconic Pink and White Terraces in a massive eruption in 1886, or White Island, the country’s only permanently active volcano. You can also helicopter to these destinations and land on them to get really up close and personal. While in the air, keep an eye out for fumaroles, emerald green lakes, and, of course, Rotorua. Check out Volcanic Air for a wide range of scenic flight itineraries.
Stroll Through the Government Gardens and Visit the Rotorua Museum
This 50-acre public park, known initially as Paepaekumana, was gifted by the Maori to the British Crown in the late 1800s. It surrounds the Rotorua Museum (Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa), which sits in a former Tudor-style bathhouse built in 1908. As of June 2020, the museum is closed to the public as its architecture is updated to modern earthquake safety standards, though it is still offering programming, like free guided tours through the park every day of the week.
Roll Down a Hill in a Giant Inflatable Ball
You might have heard of “zorbing,” the action sport where you dive into a water-filled inflatable ball and roll down a large hill. Well, that was invented right here in Rotorua. The original site is run by OGO Rotorua, which now has four different tracks for guests to try out, from the traditional straight shot to a sidewinder. They also have a dry version of the balls that are better suited for wintertime, though hot tubs and heat lamps keep you warm should you decide to go for the splashier ride (which we highly recommend).
Careen Over the World’s Largest Commercially Rafted Waterfall
Get your adrenaline pumping as you raft the class-five rapids of the Kaituna River, just a 30-minute drive outside of Rotorua. You’ll have to brave three waterfalls, including Tutea Falls, a 23-foot cascade that’s the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. (Some daredevils might go rogue and tackle larger ones, but if you want to hit some falls safely with a reputable tour company, this is the place to do it.) Several companies offer rafting excursions from Rotorua, including Raftabout, Rotorua Rafting, and Kaituna Cascades Rafting.
Walk Above the Forest Floor at the Redwoods Treewalk
California’s not the only place to find giant redwoods. Rotoroa is home to the Redwood forest, whose trees are a cousin of California’s sequoias. Opened in 2015, the Redwoods Treewalk is a series of 28 suspension bridges hung in a non-invasive manner from the leafy giants. Learn all about the ecology of the forest—and the ways people are working to preserve it—as you marvel at the trees. Visit at night to see the forest illuminated by 30 giant lanterns by designer David Trubridge and other light installations.
Soak in the Mud Baths at Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate might not sound like the most appealing spot for a soak, but the geothermally heated mud baths here are ideal for relaxation. The alien-looking geothermal site, also known as Tikitere, was once used by Maori warriors, who soaked in the nutrient-packed bubbling waters and mud to soothe their bodies—that same mud is used in the spa baths today. It received its ominous moniker from playwright George Bernard Shaw, who visited the site in 1934 and reportedly said it looked like the gates of hell. Take a tour through the steamy, rocky landscape before dipping into the mud yourself.
Go Luging Through a Forest
Adults and kids alike will enjoy weaving their way down a forested hillside on a luge at Skyline Rotorua, a family-friendly adventure park. Take the scenic gondola to the top of the hill, then grab a helmet and hop on a luge—pick one of three tracks (scenic, intermediate, and advanced) to match your skill level. Enjoy scenic views over Lake Rotorua as you pop in and out of the redwood forest. You can take a chair lift back to the top to do it all over again!
Zip Down the Waikato River on a Jet Boat
For adrenaline fans who aren’t sold on the idea of an extreme sport like bungee jumping or skydiving, there are the high-octane jet boats that skim across the surface of a river. If you’re in Rotorua, you can hop aboard NZ Riverjet on the Waikato River, located just 40 minutes from the city. Get your high-speed thrills while taking in the scenery around the river, including the Tutukau Gorge.
Discover the Best Cuisine on Eat Streat
While many of Rotorua’s activities focus on nature, there’s still an urban scene to be explored, notably on Eat Streat, a pedestrian strip lined with bars and restaurants serving global cuisine. The main walkway has a retractable roof, allowing diners and drinkers to be outdoors no matter the weather. (There are plenty of heaters and blankets for when it gets cold!)
Given the hills and the redwood forests across Rotorua, it should come as little surprise that ziplining is a popular activity in town. Ride the lines at Rotorua Canopy Tours, where guides introduce you to the measures they’re taking to preserve the forests and rid them of harmful invasive pests like rats. Adrenaline and ecology are essential to New Zealand, and they meet on the ziplines of Rotorua.
Hit the Mountain Biking Trails
Rotorua is famous for its many mountain biking trails, which cater to all levels of riders. You’ll find trails throughout the hills, volcanoes, and forests surrounding Rotorua. There are dozens of sites to choose from, from the Redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest to the hillside Skyline Rotorua trails. Head into a local bike shop to inquire about the best ones for your trip.