Rotorua is best known for its sulphur smell, its geothermal activity and its Maori culture. It is one of the best places to visit on the North Island because of its variety of activities. Even though the city is small in comparison to other places on the North Island. This Rotorua 3 day itinerary is jam packed with the best things to do in the area.
Rotorua is full of adventure, relaxation and history. There is something for everyone!
How to spend 3 days in Rotorua
This fun filled guide will help you discover all that Rotorua has to offer.
From rafting the tallest commercially rafted waterfall to relaxing in an alkaline geothermal pool.
This Rotorua 3 day itinerary will tick every box. We will go into detail on how to get there, where to stay, what to do and so much more.
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Rotorua 3 day Itinerary overview:
First Day –
- White water rafting
- Rotorua lakefront and markets
- Government Gardens
- Eat Street
- Polynesian spa
Second Day –
- Kuirau Park
- Maori Village
Third Day –
Why you should visit Rotorua, New Zealand
Rotorua is very much worth a visit because of its interesting history, its Māori culture, its adventurous activities and its geothermal pools.
Because of its wide variety of fun things to do, there is something for every budget.
The Discovery of Rotorua
Legend has it Rotorua was discovered accidentally by a warrior and his dog.
Whilst out hunting, his dog ran after a kiwi bird and returned a few hours later with a wet coat and a half eaten fish. The warrior called Ihenga realised he must be near water and searched the forest until he found Rotorua lake.
How much to budget for a Rotorua 3 day itinerary?
As this is an example of a 3 day itinerary, it can be chopped and changed to suit your budget.
There are many free activities to do in Rotorua along with many paid excursions. I have created an itinerary that has tried to balance both.
If you follow this itinerary, you would need an activity budget of just under $500 (£250). However, if you didn’t do the Maori village but did everything else, you would only need a budget of just under $230 (£115).
This ultimate guide will show you options that suit the budget but boujee travel lifestyle.
How to get to Rotorua
There are several methods of transport you can take to get to this geothermal town.
Before we get into the guide, it’s best to know the methods of transport on how to get there.
The 4 most common routes you will take to Rotorua for your 3 day itinerary are either from Auckland, Tauranga, Taupo or Hamilton.
There are 2 main types of buses that will take you around the whole of New Zealand. The long haul buses and the hop on hop off tour buses.
This is New Zealand’s largest bus network, running in both the North and South Island. You can buy single use tickets or purchase flexible/travel passes.
The flexible pass is measured by how long you want to travel for:
- 15 hours – $169 (£84.50)
- 30 hours – $269 (134.50)
- 60 hours – $518 (£259)
If you calculate how long your journeys will be and want to be a little more spontaneous with your trips, this pass might work out better for your itinerary.
The distance from Auckland to Wellington is 8 hours by car and 11 hours by bus. The distance between Picton to Invercargill is 11 hours by car and 15 hours by bus.
The travel pass is measured by destination and the route you want to go. A few examples are:
- Auckland – Rotorua – Taupo – Wellington – $145 (72.50)
- Nelson – Picton – Kaikoura – Christchurch – Dunedin – Queenstown – Milford Sound – $359 (£179.50)
- Both islands passes combined – $529 (£264.50)
The Kiwi bus is a hop on hop off style bus that is best known for its party and young atmosphere. The kiwi bus combines a guided tour with the flexibility of independent travel.
How it works is very simple. Pick the itinerary you want to do, pick the length of time to do it in and book.
For example: The buzzy bee tour is 16+ days for $1199.
Auckland – Coromandel – Waitomo – Rotorua – Taupo – Wellington – Abel Tasman – Westport – Franz Josef – Queenstown.
This itinerary can be done in a minimum of 16 days and you have 12 months to do the route.
The great thing about this type of travel is you can change the dates as many times as you like and do not have to stick to a schedule.
They also recommend their favourite hostels and help you book them if you need accommodation. They also suggest and organise activities for you within the area.
The Stray bus is a hop on hop off style bus that is tailored to give you flexibility and freedom but also keep you connected to like minded travellers.
Their slogan is ‘’Off the beaten track’’ and they offer exactly that. The bus will take you to quaint places other bus companies would overlook.
Unfortunately, they are not running this pass for the moment, but they are still operating small group trips with a set itinerary.
If you want to explore New Zealand in your own time, then a campervan is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
The main companies to choose from are:
Rent a Car
Having a car gives you the freedom to road trip in your own time and explore places that can’t be achieved by bus. Unlike a campervan, renting a car still gives you the opportunity to have the social aspect of staying in hostels.
Where to stay in Rotorua
As a backpacker I would always choose a hostel.
Whilst I was there, I stayed at Rotorua Downtown Backpackers, YHA, Rock Solid Backpackers and Planet Backpackers.
Unfortunately, due to covid the owner of Planet sold the business. And I have been told it has gone downhill since then.
YHA ROTORUA – 6 bed $35 pn
- 5GB free wifi per day
- Located next to Kuirau park
- Sign up for YHA membership for 10% off each time
Rotorua Downtown Backpackers – 6 bed $42pn/8 bed $38pn
- Rock Climbing wall and pool table
- Free wifi
- Clean and plenty of plug sockets
- Good location, very central
Rotorua Central Backpackers – 6 bed $46 pn
- No bunk beds, all beds are hotel standard..
- Free Wi-Fi
- Central location
Day 1 Rotorua Itinerary
- White Water Rafting
- Rotorua Markets and city walk (Day dependent)
- Botanical Gardens
Is 3 days enough time to see all that Rotorua has to offer? Of course not! But in saying that 3 days is the perfect amount of time to do the best activities and soak in the history and culture that Rotorua has to offer.
White water rafting
We begin this itinerary with one of the most famous and fun things to do in Rotorua.
White water rafting in Rotorua will give you serious bragging rights as it is the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
On the Kaitiaki adventures tour you will experience 14 rapids and 3 waterfalls, including Tutea falls, which is the biggest, cascading down 7m.
These rapids are graded at a level 5, which makes them pretty gnarly compared to other rafting trips.
The trip takes 3 hours with 50 minutes on the water and includes pick up and drop off from your accommodation (providing it is in central Rotorua).
1 in 3 rafts flip, so be sure you can swim! or speak to one of the team before booking the experience explaining that you can’t. White water rafting is an extreme sport after all.
But do not let that put you off. Flipping is all part of the fun and the instructors are trained professionals that will help you get back onto the raft safely.
This is a MUST DO activity!
I had so much fun on this trip. Our guide made it an unforgettable experience. We got time to have a little swim, stand up and “surf” down part of the river and get down all the rapids and waterfalls without capsizing. We even had a passenger join us after Tutea Falls, who was a fellow guide and her dog.
The rafting experience costs $109 (£57) and is absolutely worth the money!
Check out the activity here.
Rotorua Markets and City Walk
After an action packed morning, it is time to relax and wander around the lovely city of Rotorua.
Visiting Rotorua lakefront is a must. Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the hustle and bussle of the city centre and you are greeted by the picturesque Rotorua lake.
Here you can walk along the boardwalk, take a picnic or even hire paddle boards and kayaks.
There are dozens of black swans and bird life that hang along the water’s edge.
Rotorua locals love a market, so much that there are a few each week. Kuirau Park Flea Market runs every Saturday.
They have lots of fresh yummy food to try, including some traditional Maori dishes. The market has a bit of everything and runs from 7am to 10am.
If you are looking for things to do in Rotorua at night, then stop by the Thursday night markets on Tutanekai Street. You’ll find locally made products here, like cheese, wine, pasta, coffee and all other delicious things. The market runs between 5pm – 9.30pm.
Then there is the Sulphur City Arts and Crafts Market that takes place every 1st Sunday of the month. All the talented artists from around the area come with lots of handmade products. This market runs between 10am and 2pm.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the Government gardens. This park is one of Rotorua’s historical landmarks.
Many battles took place on these grounds and the local Maori tribe gifted 50 acres of this land to the crown “for the benefit of the people of the world”. Now the Tudor style bath house has a museum inside explaining further about the site.
Around the gardens you will see a lawn for bowls and croquet, Maori inspired art sculptures, geothermal pools, a memorial site, a tea room and my favourite part, the Klamath falls rose garden.
The grounds are free to visit and just a short walk from Rotorua Lake.
After a fun filled day, food will be high on your priority list. Eat Street in Rotorua is a hub for the hungry. Located on Tutanekai Street, it houses 14 restaurants and bars to choose from.
You will be spoilt for choice!
From high quality steaks to 40 different flavours of icecream. You are guaranteed to find somewhere you will enjoy.
Every evening the street comes alive with bright neon lighting and a flurry of people.
To finish off the evening after a good feed, why not head to the Polynresian Spa.
The Polynesian spa is such a wonderful experience. These pools are all geothermal and range in temperature.
There are 2 main pool types: acidic and alkaline. The acidic pool relieves tired muscle aches and pains, while the alkaline pools nourish your skin. These 2 water sources feed into 28 different hot pools.
I went for the Pavillion Pools package, which included 3 acidic pools and 5 alkaline. The temperatures ranged from 38 – 41 degrees. There was also an ice pool when I was there when you wanted to cool off.
Tickets are really reasonable at $33.95 Monday to Thursday and $36.95 Friday to Sunday.
Click here to book.
Day 2 Rotorua Itinerary
- Kuirau Park
- Maori Village
One of Rotorua’s free activities to do is visit Kuirau Park.
Kuirau Park is the only free geothermal park in the whole of New Zealand. You are able to walk along the bridged pathways over mud pools, steaming and bubbling lakes and hot springs.
The site has a certain aroma to some of the pools, so don’t blame your friends if you can smell an egg-like odor. The park also has a free thermal foot bath to dip your feet into.
There are also BBQs and pretty gardens, so it’s the perfect spot for lunch.
TAMAKI MAORI VILLAGE
I won this activity in a bar crawl game, of Simon says (unfortunately, the bar crawl doesn’t exist as Peterpans has closed down, otherwise it would have been on this list!)
And I am so glad I did. This is a fully immersive experience of Maori culture and cuisine.
With return transport from your accommodation, you are taken to Tamaki Maori village and greeted with a traditional haka cultural welcome. You then get to explore the village and learn about the Maori history and way of life.
You will be treated to a Hangi dinner, which is a traditional New Zealand style of cooking.
The process is simple. They dig a hole in the ground, use boiling hot stones and a massive fire and then cover the food with cloth and dirt and leave to slow cook for several hours before retrieving the food and laying it out for you. The food is amazing! I had 3 Hangi dinners over the duration of my time in NZ.
Then, after the feast, there will be cultural performances of song, dance and storytelling.
For this experience it will be $250. The trip will be around 4 hours and can be booked here.
Day 3 Rotorua Itinerary
WHAKAREWAREWA FOREST (THE REDWOODS)
Check out the Californian Redwoods and the many trails that weave through this mighty Whakarewarrewa forest. Hikes range from 1.7km to 34km, so there is a track for all nature lovers. There are also mountain bike tracks with more than 180km of trails.
Each walking track has a different colour associated with it, making it easy to follow the path.
If you would rather see the Redwoods from a different perspective, then do the Redwoods Treewalk. Eco bridges are suspended high above the ground, allowing you to walk amongst the 75m tall Californian Redwood trees. The walk is 70m long and takes around 40 minutes. The bridges are open until late and lit up, making the place feel magical.
The tree walk is $37 and also allows you free entry for a night walk as well.
I had never heard of luging before I went to New Zealand but it is so much fun. For those of you that don’t know what luging is, you are in and controlling a plastic cart like a toboggan, with low handrails. You move the handrails backwards and forwards depending on the speed you wish to go.
There are 2 Skyline Luging spots in New Zealand, one in Rotorua and one in Queenstown. I have experienced both and would recommend the Rotorua one more as they now have 5 tracks to choose from.
Since then, they have extended their luging track to a total length of 7.3km. Which makes it the longest in the world.
The tracks twist and turn through Redwood forest, LED light filled tunnels and even past dinosaurs.
You’ll be racing down Mt Ngongotaha giving you views of the city and Lake Rotorua.
Once you reach the bottom, run around to the Gondola that will take you back up to the top to do another track. If you are lucky, you will see deer below grazing in the national forest.
I recommend doing the Gondola plus 5x luge rides for $77 (£40) to try the range of tracks. As their slogan says, 1 ride is never enough!
Are you planning to stay longer? Or do you want some more ideas for your 3 day Rotorua itinerary?
Frequently asked questions
Is it worth staying in Rotorua?
Absolutely! Rotorua is a central hub in the North Island. Making it the perfect location to explore the city and the surrounding areas.
How many days do I need in Rotorua?
Ideally, you need 3 to 5 days to explore this amazing location. Rotorua has so much to offer from Adventure to Culture so having a few days will allow you to see a bit of everything.
What are some unusual things to do in Rotorua?
Rotorua has an array of unusual things to do. Like luging where you race down a hill in the redwoods forest or soaking in a geothermal alkaline pool.
In summary, Rotorua is a central hub of adventure and culture. This city is unlike any place I have experienced. Whether it is a Rotorua 3 day itinerary or 1 day itinerary, it is a must see destination to be added to your New Zealand itinerary.
As always, Happy Exploring!