5 Unmissable Things to Do in Rotorua, New Zealand (If You’re Tight on Time!)

Inferno Crater , Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Rotorua New Zealand

Rotorua has made a name for itself from its highly active geothermal activity happening in this town, resulting in a number of geysers and mud pools forming around Rotorua.

My first impression of Rotorua was how the entire town smells like rotten eggs! The smell is so distinct and pungent you almost can’t escape it.

It is well worth to spend more days in Rotorua because of the myriad of activities you can do, from educational tours about the Earth’s crust under us to the Maori culture that make New Zealand’s history, to relaxing spas and adrenaline-filled activities.

Recommended duration in Rotorua: 3-4 days

rotorua new zealand map
Map of Rotorua, New Zealand

Accommodation in Rotorua, New Zealand

If you’re looking for where to stay in Rotorua, here are my top picks:

Hotels in Rotorua, New Zealand

1. Millenium Hotel Rotorua

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2. Rydges Rotorua

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3. Kiwi As Guest House

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Motels in Rotorua, New Zealand

1. Santa Maria Motel

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2. Arista Capri Motel

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3. Union Victoria Motel

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Hostels in Rotorua, New Zealand

1. Crash Palace Backpackers

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2. Astray Motel & Backpackers Rotorua

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3. Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua

We stayed here the one time we visited Rotorua. The reason why this backpacker was so memorable was because they had their very own rock climbing wall within the hostel! That, and a pool table, and a wide selection of movies to choose from.

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Going to Rotorua, New Zealand

From Auckland to Rotorua, it is a 237km drive, or about 3.5 hours drive.

If you’re going by public bus, Intercity has a direct route from Auckland to Rotorua.

Read: Driving In New Zealand The First Time?

Things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand

1. Whakarewarewa The Living Maori Village

Maori cultural village, New Zealand | Bel Around The World

I’ve been here twice now, thanks to their kind hospitality. Visiting a Maori village cannot be missed if you ever come to Rotorua. The unique history of the Maori culture cannot be felt more realistically than through being in a real Maori village.

Start off with a hongi – the ceremonial touching of noses twice – as you are greeted at the entrance.
Watch their performance and revel in their fierceness (bulging eyes and stuck-out tongues), try a boiled corn cooked from the geothermal heat and if you’re lucky, catch as the geysers erupt into mid air.

Read more about my full trip experience here.

2. Polynesian Spa

One of the more famous Rotorua hot springs, I’ve visited Polynesian Spa two times now, which shows just how iconic this spa is in the town of Rotorua.

For NZD 30, there are more than 7 public pools of varying temperatures and compositions you can choose to soak in, including acidic mineral hot springs and alkaline mineral hot springs. There is also an alkaline stand-up pool to stretch out for light activity and a 40ºC alkaline mineral hot springs overlooking Lake Rotorua. Pool temperatures range from 38ºC – 42ºC.

The hot springs are perfect for soaking in cold weather. The first time I went was in May, the start of New Zealand’s winter season, and stepping outdoors in bare skin was simply unthinkable. The second time I went, it was drizzling, so while it was still bearable, dunking myself in 40-degree waters still beat being exposed to the chill air!

Have some ticklish fun at their reflexology walk, which supposedly stimulates pressure points in your feet that correspond to all major body areas, thus encouraging energy and blood flow throughout your body.

Changing rooms offer both public showers and private shower cubicles.

Coin lockers are available for rent, or you can simply put in the public cubbyholes.

For those who prefer something more private, there are also private pool and family packages available.

Towels, swimsuits and swimming shorts can be hired for NZD 10, with a NZD 5 refund once returned, or purchased at their Spa Essentials Shop.

Read: 23 Things To Do in Queenstown, New Zealand, in Summer

3. Hell’s Gate

Hell's Gate Geothermal Park Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

Stepping into Hell’s Gate, you’ll first notice the swirling clouds of steam, steaming fumaroles, pools of boiling mud and the occasional “land coral” caused by the interaction between the microorganisms and chemicals from the geothermal space.

The benefits of a mud bath are well-known. For a long time, the Maoris have used them for healing and revitalising properties. This includes giving your body a good detox and is good for your bones and skin. The sulphur itself has antibacterial properties. By massaging the mud in your sore areas, it’s said to alleviate the soreness. It also helps to regenerate skin cells due to its strong affinity with moisture in the skin.

mud Hell's Gate Geothermal Park Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

We finally had a taste of a real mud experience at Hell’s Gate through our combo package of Mud Bath and Sulphur Spa (NZD 75).

Both private and public showers and changing facilities are available at the spa. We were given towels and waterproof baskets to deposit our belongings and carry wherever we go. The waterproof baskets are not tended for, so put it where it’s visible when you soak.

After a good shower, we proceeded to walk in the Geothermal Park, and learned about how mud pools and volcanoes were formed, and about the geothermal activity that existed under our feet.

Mud pool, Hell's Gate Geothermal Park Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

It was nice to end the trip at Hell’s Gate enjoying a hot cup of Manuka Honey tea, served by one of the staff member, after our indulgent hot spring in the cold weather!

Price package, Hell's Gate Geothermal Park Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

Read: Mud Attack at Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

4. Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Inferno Crater , Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Rotorua New Zealand
Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Learn all about New Zealand’s unique hydrothermal and volcanic environment here.

The Rotorua-Taupo region, known as Taupo Volcanic Zone, is characterised by spectacular volcanic and geothermal features as a result of its lying on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’. This Ring of Fire marks the boundary between the Pacific and the India/Australia tectonic plates.

As a result of lying along one of Earth’s fractures, this area is thus the site of the largest eruption that has occurred within the span of New Zealand’s written history.

Waimangu Valley was thus formed because of the violent volcanic eruption of Tarawera in 1886. It punctured this locality with a series of craters and allowed geothermal fluid already present underground a direct passage to the surface of the Earth. This enormous eruption also destroyed the once-famous Pink and White Terraces that used to be a tourist attraction.

Moss, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Rotorua New Zealand

While there is a self-directional route you can follow with the map of Waimangu Volcanic Valley (NZD 38.50), we did a private tour with a guide that included pick up and drop off from our home, an a very comprehensive guided walking tour. Our guide explained to us about the history of each lake and crater throughout the route. He was so knowledgeable and he made the information so much more digestible and interactive than if were to walk the distance on our own.

Along the way, you’ll see plenty of craters and how they came about. Hot streams follow you throughout your walk.

There are 3 bus stops that span the entire walking route if you’re lazy or too tired to walk the entire route, with a frequency of 1 hour between each arrival. Frankly, walking would be much more efficient than waiting for the bus!

Boat Cruise, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Rotorua New Zealand

At the end of the route, you will go on board the Lake Rotomahana Boat Cruise (NZD 45), for a leisurely and educational 45-minute boat ride around the lake to view geothermal and volcanic features not visible from the shore.

These include steaming cliffs, eruption sites and craters, geysers and more fumaroles.

Lake Rotomahana was the site of the world-famous Pink and White Terraces prior to the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.

5. Velocity Valley

Freefall Xtreme Velocity Valley Agroventures Rotorua New Zealand

If you’re keen for some mild adventures such as bungee jumping or dropping from 40 metres at 130km/h, or if you think a simulated skydiving experience in a vertical wind tunnel is easy, you’ve got to give Velocity Valley a shot.

Velocity Valley is almost like a theme park, except that instead of the classic theme park rides, the rides they offer challenge your speed and vertical limits.

Each ride is not more than 15 minutes, including preparation and waiting time.


Really, Rotorua’s attractions are more than these 5, but these things to do surely will make up your trip to Rotorua if you’re tight on time! Each of these experiences easily takes up a quarter to half a day (surely you don’t want to rush through soaking in a hot spring, do you?).

It’s definitely worth spending some time getting acquainted with the Maori culture, but you can’t go without soaking in a mud bath, for it’s quite a novel experience!


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29 – 30 November 2017

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