Rotorua is unique for many reasons. For one, you will smell the town before you see it. This is because of the geothermal activity and volcanic rock deep beneath the ground. But do not let the smell of sulphur put you off, there are many fun things to do in Rotorua NZ. There is something for every travel and budget type, from cultural experiences, to adventure activities to nature walks.
This article will cover the must do, not to be missed tourist activities along with some lesser known things to do that are extremely fun.
Things to see and do in Rotorua
Rotorua was one of my favourite spots on the North Island. I stayed 10 days and did nearly everything there. Most of the day trips were either by public transport, walking or pick up from the tour company.
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Adventurous things to do in Rotorua NZ
While Queenstown has the reputation of being the most adventurous place in New Zealand, Rotorua is definitely a close second. Rotorua is located in the middle of the north island, making it a perfect hub for all the surrounding activities. Within a 2 hour radius, you can visit Hobbiton, Waitomo caves and do a Taupo Skydive.
But if you fancy something a little closer, then here are my top recommendations for adventurous activities in Rotorua.
Remember to check out discount sites like Bookme to get the best deals!
White Water Rafting
This is my top thing to do in Rotorua NZ! 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 narly compared to other rafting trips. The trip takes 3 hours and includes pick up and drop off from your accommodation (providing it is in central Rotorua).
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 price for this excursion is $109 (£57).
The time of this activity is around 3.5 hours.
And it can be booked here.
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 they have extended their luging track to a total length of 7.3km. It 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!
Fancy speeding at 60KM/H through the air? Then you want to add the Zoom Ziplines to your Itinerary. This activity will see you swinging through the Redwood forest, taking in panoramic views of the national park.
There are 2 Ziplines that run for 400m, making it easy to take in the experience with friends or partners. It also adds a little bit of healthy competition to see who can travel down the fastest.
The Zipline is run by Skyline who operates the luging, so you can combine the tickets and get a discount for doing both activities.
Zooming Zipline and Luge combo ticket is $115 (£60) and includes Gondola, Zipline and 5x luge rides.
If you fancy having fully focused ziplining fun, then there is the original canopy tour eco friendly zipline. This activity is 3 hours long and includes 6 ziplines at a total of 600m, swinging you through ancient New Zealand forest.
The price for an adult ticket is $169 (£87.99).
Free things to do in Rotorua NZ
Spend a morning 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.
Kuirau Park is the only free geothermal park in the whole of New Zealand. You are able to walk along the bridged path ways 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.
Rotorua locals love a market, so much so there are a few each week. Kuirau Park Flee 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.
Rotorua Lakefront Boardwalk
Take a stroll down by Lake Rotorua and see the many black swans that frequent along there.
There is a tiny island in the middle of the lake that holds a Maori love story. According to the legend, there was a young warrior who would play music every night and it could be heard from the mainland Rotorua. When the young warrior visited the mainland, he fell in love with a girl. He didn’t want to leave her, but he had to go back to his island. They agreed that the next night he played his music she would follow the sound and swim across the lake to him. She managed to safely do so and apparently they lived happily ever after. But I am sure when they told the story in Tamaki village there was a tragedy attached to it. But alas, Google will not tell me anything more information.
Relaxing things to do in Rotorua NZ
After travelling and being on the road for a while, its nice to spend some time relaxing. 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 too book.
Hells Gate Mud Bath
Something unique to do in Rotorua is take a mud bath at Hells Gate. Slip into the geothermal mud and sulphur mineral water and feel the healing properties that have been used by local Maori tribes for 800 years.
There are 3 different experiences to be had at Hells Gate.
- The mud baths and sulphur pools are $85 the time slot is for 1 hour and can be booked here.
- A geothermal walk, where you can see the active geothermal reserve, mud volcano, landing coral and more. Part of this experience also includes a mud foot pool and Maori carving $42. The tour takes 1.5 hours and can be booked here.
- Take a relaxing dip in the sulphur spas and cool plunge pools. These pools are renowned for their restorative properties $35.
Or why not go for the full experience and combine all 3 for $105. Ths will take roughly 3 hours and can be booked here.
Unique things to do in Rotorua NZ
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
One of the top recommended things to do in Rotorua NZ is Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. If you want to visit this geothermal site, you will either need a car or to do a day tour with a company. I luckily had a friend with a car because the day tours are very expensive compared to the general ticket admission.
Waiotapu is known for its unique and colourful geothermal pools. From lime green pools that look like gunge, to layers of orange, yellow, green and blue all mulled together in one pit of geothermal activity. Trip Advisor named it “one of the most surreal places on earth”.
There is also the lady fox geyser which you can see erupt. The park is pretty big, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
The general admission ticket is $32.50 and has no time limit.
Whereas a day trip is $128, takes 5 hours and can be booked here.
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 the 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.
Other fun things to do in Rotorua NZ
Twilight paddleboard or Kayak Glow worm caves
Another fun and unique thing to do in Rotorua is visit the glow worm caves by kayak or paddleboard. The experience takes place on Lake Okareka and you get to go through the cave tunnels with 1000s of Glow worms all lighting up the cave walls.
The tours take 3 hours and 30 minutes.
The Kayak tour costs $116.32 and can be booked here.
Whereas the paddle board tour costs $139.58 and can be booked here.
Whakarewarewa Forest (the Redwoods)
Additionally you should check out the Californian Redwoods and the many trails that weave through this mighty 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 treewalk is $37 and also allows you free entry for a night walk as well.
I decided to save the pennies and walk on the ground and still had a great time.
Ciccio Italian Cafe
This little cafe had the BEST milkshakes in the whole of Rotorua. According to Google it is now closed, but I am keeping it in this article incase it reopens.
Float Ella Festival, formerly known as Flochella
Unfortunately for legal reasons, Flochella had to change its name (they were sent a cease and desist letter), which is so silly to me, because it was a play on words for a reason.
However they have now changed their name to Float Ella. a festival where you get given a rubber ring on arrival and can listen to music whilst floating in the river.
This festival takes place on Lake Tikitapu and is heaps of fun. The line up the year I went (2018) included Amy Shark, Kings, Drax Project, Mitch James and Jupiter project. Currently there are no dates for 2023 yet, but the festival is around February.
I got my ticket from Grabone for $45.
Frequently asked questions
Is Rotorua worth visiting?
Absolutely! There is so many fun things to do in Rotorua NZ. There is something for every budget type. Rotorua has the perfect blend of adventure, culture, nature and relaxation.
What is Rotorua best known for?
The smell! I joke, kind of.. Rotorua is best known for its geothermal activity in the area. With the Gysers, the bubbling mud pools, the colourful sulphur areas. It is also known for holding the world’s largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. This place is not your average city.
How many days should I spend in Rotorua?
There are so many fun things to do in Rotorua NZ. I recommend 3 to 5 days, depending on what activities you want to do.
Why do tourists go to Rotorua?
Tourists visit Rotorua for many different reasons, but the white water rafting, the geothermal pools and to learn about the Maori culture are to name a few.
In summary, Rotorua is a place of rich experiences, with world record breaking activities, cultural tours, nature walks, geothermal pools and so much more. I highly recommend adding this destination to your North Island New Zealand Itinerary as it will not disappoint you.
As Always, Happy Exploring!