New Zealand is jam-packed with unique nature spots, but the best volcanic landscapes are found in Rotorua, which can be attributed to its location on the Pacific Rim of Fire. The city is known as ‘Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific’, and if there is one place that perfectly combines adventure and relaxation, it’s Rotorua.
We spent three nights exploring bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and mystic forests, and soaking in natural hot springs. It was the ideal and rejuvenating way to kick off our second year of travel and we cannot recommend enough that you add Rotorua to your bucket list. To help you have an unforgettable experience, we’ve compiled the best Rotorua tourist attractions you should visit.
1. Explore Geothermal Parks
The number one thing Rotorua, New Zealand is famous for is its geothermal areas. The surroundings steam, fizzle, and gurgle. Sometimes, you can catch a whiff of sulfur wafting through the city. The 10 geothermal areas in the district generate about 17% of New Zealand’s electricity. Many are made accessible for visitors, so you have a variety of beautiful geothermal parks to choose from during your stay.
The park we visited is Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, and we highly recommend it, especially for first-time visitors. At Wai-O-Tapu you can feast on incredible colors of aptly named pools like the Artist’s Palette, Devil’s, and Champagne Pools. You can get up close and personal with bubbling mud pools by walking over them. And Lady Knox Geyser steals the show when she erupts every day at 10:15 am. But not without help, of course. The park employees stimulate her with soap to give a punctual performance.
Being the most popular geothermal attraction in Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu can get quite busy. We recommend arriving early or checking out other parks in the area, like Hells Gate, where you can enjoy a mud spa and take a dip in sulfur pools. Or Te Puia geothermal area, which boasts the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.
Please bring enough water, especially if you are visiting in the hotter months, and ensure to only walk on marked paths. While you can’t swim in these pools because they are up to 100 degrees hot and some are acidic, you can soak in the health benefits at a spa with more acceptable temperatures.
2. Pamper Yourself at the Rotorua Polynesian Spa
A visit to the Rotorua Polynesian Spa is exactly the type of experience our bodies have been craving and the dose of luxury we deserve. The spa is split into two sections, the Pavilion Pools and the Deluxe Lake Spa, which is the option we went with because it offers stunning views over North Island’s second-largest lake, Lake Rotorua.
We loved hopping in an out of hot mineral pools of varying temperatures and mixing it up with an occasional ice-cold plunge. The water is sourced from natural hot springs that have muscle pain-relieving and skin-rejuvenating properties. If you would like to elevate your experience, book a private pool or pamper yourself with a massage or mud treatment but we recommend booking these services in advance. The Rotorua Polynesian Spa is not something you will soon forget.
3. Hike the Redwood Forest Trail and Tree Walk
Admiring the Redwood trees is one of the most magical experiences we’ve had in Rotorua, New Zealand. You sure do feel tiny with 75-meter trees towering above you. There are two ways you can explore the forest and admire the giants: a trail on the ground or one suspended 20 meters in the air.
The 700-meter-long tree walk consists of 27 suspended bridges, traversing between 120-year-old Redwood Trees. Your inner child will be extremely happy. And you will probably end up prolonging the 40 minutes it takes to do the walk by gawking at the trees and genius ecological engineering. The Tree Top walk is also open at night and offers an even more immersive and magical experience with light installations.
For those afraid of heights, you can enjoy the giant trees from the ground on a free 2km hike. Whichever way you choose to experience the humbling Redwood trees, follow it up with a relaxing one because it’s likely your neck will be sore from all the upward looking.
4. Relax at the Kerosene Creek
Amid a luscious forest lies a geothermally heated creek full of cascades and bathing ponds. The water is so perfectly warm you’ll never want to get out. Just like the other nature spots in Rotorua, Kerosene Creek is a popular attraction, so it’s best to go earlier in the day to avoid crowds. But even so, it is easily one of the best things to do around Rotorua. Explore the pools upstream and downstream, though we thought downstream pools and cascades were much more suitable for a relaxing soak. Just keep in mind that it’s not recommended to put your head underwater.
5. Enjoy an Exclusive Brew at the Hobbiton Movie Set
Regardless of whether you are a fan or have never even heard of the books and films, a visit to Hobbiton Movie Set is an entertaining experience for all. For an afternoon, you get to see what it’s like to live in quirky and colorful hobbit holes set among rolling green hills. And you can even enjoy a beer exclusive to the Hobbiton Movie set! Non-fans might be rolling their eyes at us saying “what’s the attraction…” But trust us when we say that the thought that went into all the detail of this hobbit village will blow you away. And that is quite something to appreciate over their very special brew. If this sounds like an activity for you, we recommend booking well in advance because some serious fans come to New Zealand just for this experience.
6. Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The rural community of Waitomo has become a popular tourist attraction thanks to magical inhabitants living in the ancient caves. Exploring the caves in search of its bioluminescent residents is the best underground adventure you can have in Rotorua. The strung-together glowworms resemble glimmering Christmas lights and are a sight to behold. When you join a tour, not only do you get to see the Waitomo Glowworms in action but also learn Maori legends of the discovery of the caves.
7. Visit Mitai Maori Village in Rotorua for Dinner and a Show
Purchase tickets at the Mitai Rotorua Maori Village to learn more about the Maori culture. We were so impressed with the entire evening. The host was informative and gracious. The show was entertaining and enlightening. We even experienced a walk in the forest to view glowworms after dinner. By the way, the meal was prepared for hours before our arrival and the enjoyment of a slow cooked meal over a buried fire was delicious. We really can’t say enough about the entire night!
8. Embark on a Culinary Adventure
When choosing where to eat in Rotorua, New Zealand, there is just one name you need to remember, and it also happens to be one of the best city attractions: Eat Streat. It’s a vibrant central walkway lined with Rotorua’s best cafes, restaurants, bars, and even ice cream parlors. Take your pick and enjoy al fresco dining in a unique atmosphere, surrounded by beautiful lights and a thermally heated footpath. We especially loved The Regent, which serves contemporary New Zealand cuisine in an elegant setting.
9. Stay in a Tree-Top Hotel
One of our favorite stays of the year was in the te Whare – Lake Tarawera Tree Top Nest. Our host was absolutely lovely and the views were incredible. Check out the picture at the top of the page. This was our view every morning. It was fabulous!
Mostly known as New Zealand’s hub of geothermal activity, Rotorua obviously has so much more to offer. It’s the perfect stop on a road trip adventure or a destination in and of itself. You can spend three days discovering the best attractions like we did or dedicate an entire week exploring all the breathtaking hiking trails, waterfalls, and lakes. No matter which option you choose, just make sure to add Rotorua to your New Zealand itinerary and let us know how many years younger you feel after the mud baths.