Seeing as I’m a (proud) local, I’m frequently contacted and asked about the top things to do in Rotorua. Many people are interested after going on other experiences for vacations from providers like Global Basecamps and similar groups. Ahead of an influx of visitors over the upcoming holidays, here’s my personal list of Top Things to Do in Rotorua. There’s a mix of freebie activities here as well as paid favourites: I’m mindful a visit to this gorgeous town could require a second mortgage, but that doesn’t need to be the case – so I’ve mixed it up!
Lastly, a disclaimer, I haven’t visited all of the local attractions and activities we have on our doorstep so apologies if there’s a Must Do I’ve inadvertently missed off… Isn’t that often the case, we can be a bit ‘rats’ at exploring our own backyard?! Feel free to leave a comment with your Top Tips though, help a visitor out.
Redwoods Tree walk
I’ve written a whole blog post on the Redwoods Tree Walk, the elevated walkway through Rotorua’s iconic Redwood Forest. Since I wrote the post, I’ve been back and visited this attraction four times – and I’ll go again, happily: It’s that good.
Our local forest was already stunning and somewhat magical before some clever buggers put in an elevated walkway. Now, in the form of a suspended 30 minute ecological walk, you get a stunning birds eye perspective of this gorgeous forest. Geez, talk about take the forest to the Next Level! When’s the best time to do the walk? Day or night? Tricky one: Both are good for their own reasons. That said, a walk at night-time is uniquely spectacular as there’s lit up David Trubridge lanterns scattered throughout the forest, as well as a magical light display. My tip is: Go before sunset, kid bedtime allowing, to get the best of both worlds.
Stroll in the Redwoods
If, like my Mum, heights aren’t your thing, bypass the tree walk and at the very least go for a wander in the Redwoods. It’ll cost you naught and you’ll love it. Pop in and see the friendly folk at the iSite/Visitor Centre and nab a map. If you’ve got little humans in tow who can spoil the fun by their inability to walk far, yet allow you to have extra fun, somehow all at the same time: The Mokopuna track or Waitawa tracks will keep the kids happy. Locals tip: Look out for RotoRocks. These are rocks that have been hand painted and scattered throughout the forest. Collect them and hide them for the people behind you. Tremendous fun for all.
Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village
No visit to Rotorua is complete without experiencing Maori culture and Rotorua’s geothermal wonders. Luckily, there’s several different options here. However, my favourite, hands down, is Whakarewarewa The Living Maori Village. At this point, I must mention that yes, I do work here, but I’ll have you know this was on my Top Things to Do List before I joined the team!
Whakarewarewa offers a fun and authentic Maori cultural experience and you get to see geothermal wonders at the same time. You see, Whakarewarewa is home of the beautiful Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people, who happen to live right on top of a stunning geothermal plateau which has hot pools, boiling mud, mineral pools and geysers. Imagine, just imagine having that in your own backyard. Wowsers.
The entry fee for the base package (the Cultural Experience) includes:
- A guided tour and I recommend you definitely do this, you get so many more insights and it’s tremendous fun – see below for timings.
- A Maori cultural performance – see below for timings
- Access to the geothermal nature trails
During your visit check out the neat little gift shops and food options. Having a corn on the cob cooked in Parekohuru mineral pool is a must – as is the Hangi Pies: You can only get Hangi Pies at Whaka #priceless
- Guided Tours, which are approx an hour in duration, are scheduled throughout the day.
- Make sure your visit coincides with the entertaining and powerful cultural show. Over Easter the shows are on at 11.15am, 12.30pm* and 2.00pm and last half an hour (all ages will love this – I always get the eye sweats too!).
- You can join the guided tour straight after the concert, easy.
- Book online and save 10% (it all helps).
*Noting after Easter, the 12.30pm show drops off for winter.
Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) – Visit or Walk
This lakes is just so damned pretty and picturesque, I take all visitors here. We love the 5km walk which goes around the lake circumference. It’s fine with kids, my buddy and I have done it several times with her five year old who has a short attention span. The abundance of RotoRocks scattered along the walk here keeps the midgets motivated and entertained. Ice cream afterwards purchased from the Top 10 Holiday Park is always good as a bribery option. I’m a fan of the coffee courtesy of the Airstream Cafe.
Who hasn’t heard of Skyline Rotorua? In my mind this is top notch family entertainment. Just Gondala up and Luge down (preferably fast – and make sure you buy at least three luge rides). Not into adrenaline stuff? Browse the neat gift store, or get a sugar hit at the Jelly Belly store. Hell, just have a wine! I love our local wine by Volcanic Hills (their Rose and Pinot Gris – yeah boi).
I reckon allow half a day for a visit to Skyline Rotorua – making sure of course, you are cashed up: It’s not an inexpensive day out by any means, that said, I reckon it’s worth it: We always have a tonne of fun and come home with a skip in our step. Note, if you are on the hunt for dinner, the buffet at Stratosphere is the best buffet in town: We go there on special occasions. In fact we had Christmas Dinner 2017 here and it was so fantastic we will probably do it again this year.
Our local Forest (mentioned previously above twice!) is one of the many reasons we moved back to Rotorua from the Hawke’s Bay. It’s glorious. I’ve recently invested in a mountain bike and am now wondering why I held out for so long, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I am even considering buying a bike rack for pickup truck bed in order to protect it! If you are already a seasoned mountain bike rider then I have one word for you: Shuttles. My mate Jeff’s biz Southstar Shuttles will have you up the top of the hill in no time and there’ll be no swearing required going uphill.
If you can’t/don’t bring your bikes with you to Rotorua, have no fear, – or hire them when you get here – get a map of the tracks – and get mountain biking. It’s the bomb. If you don’t want to go too hard, or hills, like me, are your arch nemesis, just do the Mokopuna track in the Redwoods (also a walking track).
Need to hire bikes? Easy as. You can hire bikes in Rotorua for all ages and there’s an abundance of places to hire them from. I’d head into Cyclezone on Fenton Street (my fave bike shop) or you can hire them at Mountain Bike Rotorua at Waipa (which is where lots of the rides start from).
Have a go and learn first-hand why RotoTown is mountain bike crazy!
My family loves the Blue Baths, located at Government Gardens. Cheap as chips to go for a swim. Heated (but not hot). It’s a simple complex with a historic setting that is rarely packed (unlike other local options).
If you want a more rustic, geothermal option, with a number of different pools at different temperatures, it’s totally worth the 30 minute drive south from Rotorua to visit Waikite Valley and soak in nature’s ambience at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools – which is a spring and spa. Top Notch Family Fun, or if there you’d prefer something more private: Get a private spa.
Take a Duck Tour
Why not experience Rotorua’s stunning natural landscapes by Duck? The Boy and I did did a Rotorua Duck Tour at Christmas time and had a blast. I think it was the most I laughed in 2017. We had Sean as our driver/guide, he was HILARIOUS.
The Duck is a WW2 amphibious vehicle and frankly, I’m struggling to think of a better way to soak in all Rotorua has to offer. There’s a few different tours on option – we did the Rotorua City and Lakes 90 Minute tour which sees you head around the heart of Rotorua to take in historic buildings, hot springs, geothermal wonders. Then we headed out to (or rather ‘in’) Lake Tikitapu, then out to scenic lake Okareka. A fantastic fun sightseeing experience which I can’t rave about enough. The Boy and I were on such a high afterwards we went and ate our body weight in dumplings at the Chinese restaurant across the road.
Righty. That’s it! I’m sure this list will grow over time. What are your personal Rotorua ‘Top Things to Do’? Leave a comment 🙂