Rotorua is found in an area of extreme geothermal activity on the shores of Lake Rotorua in New Zealand’s North Island, and because of this unusual level of volcanic activity, the city has become the spa capital of the country.
In Rotorua, you can find thermal hot springs, spa centers, and mud baths. Geysers explode high into the sky, while volcanoes fringe the lakeside.
It’s a spectacular place to visit, and there are some incredible things to do in Rotorua. The city is also a hotbed for Maori culture, and you’ll have the chance to visit traditional Maori villages, to feast with the locals and to learn more about the unique history and heritage of the region.
To help inspire your trip to the North Island, here are our favorite things to do in Rotorua.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide)
15 Best Things to Do in Rotorua, New Zealand
1. Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland
To get a real taste for the high level of geothermal activity in the area, then one of the best things to do in Rotorua is to visit the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland.
It truly is a wonderland of a geothermal nature and you’ll find exploding geysers, hot thermal pools, and incredibly colorful landscapes.
It’s a sight that will take your breath away, with the most compelling attraction being the Lady Knox Geyser, which regularly erupts up to 20 meters in the air several times a day.
It’s worth the wait to see this natural explosion rocketing into the sky.
Our top recommended tours of Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland:
- Rotorua Eco Thermal Small-Group Morning Tour
- Rotorua Eco Thermal Small-Group Full-Day Tour
- Rotorua Geothermal Wonders and Waikato River Jet Boat Ride
2. Te Puia
Visiting Te Puia is one of the best things to do in Rotorua, and you’ll find yourself immersed in both the local Maori culture and the beautiful local nature. Te Puia is an area of extreme geothermal activity and you’ll find spectacular volcanic landscapes, hot springs and mud baths inside this historical park.
The real attraction here is the Pohutu Geyser, an enormous geyser that can reach mammoth heights of 30 meters or more.
Inside the park, you can also find a Maori cultural village, where you can learn more about the local customs and even indulge in a traditional Maori Hangi, a feast of supreme proportions.
Our top recommended tours of Te Puia:
- Te Puia Maori Cultural Tour and Steambox Lunch
- Te Puia Maori Arts and Crafts Institute with Optional Cultural Performance
3. Tamaki Maori Village
Just a few kilometers outside of Rotorua you can find another immersive cultural experience, at the Tamaki Maori Village. Read: Is the Tamaki Maori Village Worth It? Complete Review!
Be prepared to be part of the performance and to have an action-packed evening, as you’ll come face to face with a traditional Maori Haka and learn how to dance.
The recreation of a Maori village allows you to see how the locals lived in the pre-colonial days, and the evening is rounded off with an enormous Hangi feast that will leave you reeling.
All of the staff are Maori descendants, and the Tamaki Maori Village is consistently rated as one of the best cultural performances in the entire country, so if you can only see one traditional show while you are visiting Rotorua, make it this one.
Our top recommended tour of Tamaki Maori Village: Rotorua Maori Hangi Dinner and Performance
4. Lake Rotorua
No visit to Rotorua would be complete without exploring even just a little bit of the lake. This is one of the largest lakes in the area, and it’s formed in the caldera of a flooded volcanic crater.
The city itself is built right up to the shore, and you can easily walk to the Lakefront area for spectacular views.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then you can take to the water too, hire a kayak or canoe, or take the boat ride out across the lake to beautiful Mokoia Island which is found right in the center of Lake Rotorua.
If one lake isn’t quite enough for you, then don’t fear, because within easy reach of Rotorua there are 16 other lakes to explore too.
Our top recommended tours of Lake Rotorua:
5. Rotorua Museum
While most travelers might be visiting to enjoy the outdoor scenery and geothermal activity, one of the best things to do in Rotorua is to visit the local Rotorua Museum, where you can learn more about the intriguing local history, both natural and human.
The Rotorua Museum is found within a colonial building that was constructed in lavish fashion during the early 20th century, and it’s located within the equally pleasant Government Gardens, which makes for the perfect strolling ground.
Please Note: The Rotorua Museum is currently closed for earthquake assessment. The reopening is scheduled for 2021.
6. Buried Village of Te Wairoa
For a glimpse into the shocking power of the volcanic activity that can befall the Rotorua region, then a trip to the Buried Village of Te Wairoa is a must. Founded in the mid 19th century, the village was built on the shores of Lake Tarawera, but in the shadow of a volcano.
In 1886, the volcano erupted, burying the village completely. Today, it’s been turned into a museum, and much of the settlement has been excavated, allowing visitors to see the deadly power of nature firsthand.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide)
7. Okere Falls
One of the best things to do in Rotorua is to take a trip to Okere Falls. Just outside of the city, this is one of the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand.
Part of the Kaituna River, this is a favorite spot for kayaking and rafting, but you can also hike through the forest to reach viewing spots.
If you’re falling adventurous, then a favorite spot to white water raft here is found in the same area, and known as Tutea Falls, which at 7 meters in height is the highest waterfall you can raft in the country.
If you are interested in rafting these falls, read: White Water Rotorua Rafting: Kaituna River 7 Meter Waterfall!
8. Hells Gate Mud Bath
The Hells Gate Mud Bath might sound like some sort of nightmarish natural feature, but actually, it’s one of the best things to do in Rotorua.
This spa complex is home to a multitude of bubbling mud baths and hot springs, where you can lounge the day away in a beautiful setting.
Our top recommended tours of Hells Gate Mud Bath:
- Hells Gate Geothermal Reserve Park Entry
- Hells Gate: 1-Hour Mud Bath and Sulfur Spa at Rotorua for Small Group
9. Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest
Hiking through the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest is one of the best things to do in Rotorua, and you’ll be enthralled by the enormous size of these tall trees.
The Redwoods were brought over from California in the early 20th century and planted here to see if they were suitable for the conditions. They were, and ever since, they have flourished.
There are some excellent walking, or mountain biking tracks that you can take through the extensive forest, to experience this beautiful part of Rotorua at its best.
Our top recommended tours of Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest:
- Hangi Pie Experience
- Whakarewarewa, The Living Maori Village Guided Tour with Optional Hangi Meal
- Half-Day Self-Guided Mountain Bike Journey through Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest
10. Mount Ngongotaha
Mount Ngongotaha is one of the highest peaks around Lake Rotorua, and from the top, you have unparalleled views over the city and the surrounding area. At just over 700 meters in height, the walking track to the summit isn’t so strenuous and makes for a pleasant day hike.
You can though, also ride the scenic cable car route to the top, if you don’t fancy hiking. The Skyline Skyrides, as it’s called, offers beautiful views as you are slowly taken to the top of Mount Ngongotaha.
Located in a beautiful position on the banks of Lake Rotorua, and just a short walk from the city itself is the Maori village of Ohinemutu. The village is on the site of the original Maori settlement, which then grew into Rotorua in later centuries.
This a real ‘living’ village, and home to descendants of the original Maori tribes that called the lake home, long before the arrival of the British colonists.
Although it’s not as extravagant as the many cultural villages around Rotorua that were designed explicitly for tourism, this is perhaps more authentic, and the best part is, it’s completely free to wander around to see the traditional Maori houses.
Our top recommended tour including Ohinemutu: 1.5-Hour Rotorua Highlights Tour
12. Kuirau Park
Kuirau Park is one of the best free things to do in Rotorua, as this geothermal park has no entrance costs, unlike many of the other areas. Here you can find bubbling hot springs, mud baths, and even a few paddling pools.
It’s a great place to visit if you are on a budget but still want a little taste of that geothermal action.
13. Whakarewarewa The Living Maori Village
In Whakarewarewa, you can find The Living Maori Village, set in a geothermal landscape. AS well as enjoying spas and hot springs here, you can be immersed in the Maori culture, with cultural shows and traditional Hangi feasts to enjoy.
The village is run by local Maori’s, and it’s one of the best places to visit to learn more about the traditions of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people who have lived in the Rotorua region for centuries.
Our top recommended tours of Whakarewarewa The Living Maori Village:
- Guided Tauranga Shore Excursion to Rotorua Whakarewarewa and Wai-O-Tapu
- Geothermal Rotorua with Maori Cultural Performance at Whakarewarewa
- Waimangu Volcanic Valley with Option to add Wai-O-Tapu, Hobbiton or Whakarewarea
For a unique look at a different side of New Zealand culture, then take a trip to the Agrodome to learn more about farming and sheep shearing.
There are few things that could get as ‘New Zealand’ as this, and at the Agrodome, just a short drive outside of Rotorua in the countryside you can find a working farm that puts on several sheep shearing shows, every day.
You can tour the farm itself before being entertained by the lively sheep shearers as they demonstrate their skills to the crowds.
Our top recommended tours of Agrodome:
- Agrodome Sheep Show and Farm Tour
- Wai-O-Tapu, Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Lake and Agrodome Farm Show Day Tour Around Rotorua
Just an hour outside of Rotorua, you can find the fabulous world of Hobbiton. For Lord of the Rings fans, or for anyone just looking for a quirky day out, then this is an unmissable attraction.
Found in the countryside, Hobbiton is the preserved movie set that acted as the Hobbit’s shire. You can explore the village, taste the local ale at the Hobbit’s tavern and even go inside Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit house.
Our top recommended tours of Hobbiton:
- Hobbiton Movie Set Tour from Rotorua
- Hobbiton Movie Set and Waitomo Glowworm Caves: Rotorua Day Tour
- Small-Group Hobbiton Evening Banquet Tour from Rotorua
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