Famous for Māori culture, bubbling mud and adventure, there’s plenty of other enjoyment to be had in Rotorua, too. Here are five ways to have a ton of fun in the geothermal capital of New Zealand.
1. Jet Boat to Mokoia Island
Anyone who grew up in New Zealand knows the enchanting love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai which played out between Mokoia Island and Ōwhata, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Legend says Tutanekai played his melodic flute to guide his beautiful lover as she swam through dark seas towards him, supported only by six large empty gourds. Katoa Lake Rotorua won’t make you do the hard yards like Hinemoa, instead, they will spin and thrill you across to Mokoia Island in a jet boat. A local iwi guide will then show you around this lush bush setting where you’ll learn about local myths and legends, native plants and their traditional use in Rongoā Māori and see exactly where the Pā and village once stood. The birdsong is delightful (pest eradication has been very successful here) and you’ll even see the hot spring, Waikimihia, where Hinemoa soaked her weary bones after her long swim for love.
2. Kayak across Lake Rotoiti
There’s something alluring about places that can only be accessed in special ways, and you’ll certainly feel very exclusive kayaking across Lake Rotoiti to Manupirua Springs, which you can only reach by water. Pulling up at the gorgeous little ‘beach’ complete with rustic hut, chairs, tables, bar, beanbags, barbecues and hot pools fed by a natural spring – which vary in colour depending on the levels of minerals – is delightful, and it’s easy to while away hours going from the lake to the hot pools and back. That feeling of exclusivity continues after your barbecue dinner on the sunset journey back when your guide will escort you to a secret glowworm cave. Paddle in and these sparkly little wonders will illuminate when they feel the vibration of your voices. Before you know it, a dark water cave has turned into a wonderland of natural fairy lights. Magic.
3. Secret hot pools
Mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Redwoods Mountain bike park is fun, exhilarating, exciting – and also exhausting. Once you’ve tired yourself out on the turns, jumps and downhills, you can soak those fatigued muscles at Secret Spot Hot Tubs at the foot of the park. Pop in for a coffee or a cold one and a free foot soak in a small ‘shinny dip’ tubs, or go the whole hog and relax in one of the 12 large private wooden pools, which fit up to six people. From the fragrant cedar-lined shower cubicles to the gorgeous landscaping and all-natural filtering system that keeps the spring water regularly refreshed, it's a great time from start to finish. Patrons seem to need no encouragement to grab a wine, beer or soft drink and slide into tub surrounded by native trees and ferns; and since it's open till 10pm, starlight soaks are very popular too.
4. Swing through the forest
It’s rare to find a tourist attraction that raises your adrenaline and simultaneously warms your heart, but skimming through the treetops with Rotorua Canopy Tours definitely does both. Head out with your guides to a block of ancient forest in Dansey Road Scenic Reserve which, just six years ago, was overrun with rodents and possums, to see what an intensive predator reduction effort can do. As you don your harness to swing and zipline through light-filled bush, you’ll hear birdlife once thought to have disappeared entirely. The clever folks here have used profits from their zipline adventures to eradicate 70% of vermin, resulting in a massive regeneration of birdlife and forest cover. Whoosh through the trees from platform to platform while soaking up the stunning surrounds of a forest restored to its former glory.
5. Night Markets
If you’re in Rotorua on a Thursday night, don’t miss the Rotorua Night Markets which take over a section of Tutanekai Street. One of the most diverse night markets in the country, you’ll find yourself with a tough choice between authentic South Indian street food, handmade pasta, juicy dumplings, fabulous Filipino flavours, traditional Croatian cuisine, plus sweet treats like fresh donuts, French patisserie and hand-churned gelato. There are artisan foods like honey, preserves, oils, handmade cheeses, boutique beer and chocolates for the cupboards at home alongside great local art and other crafts. With live music, too, it’s a really local experience that will make you feel like you're truly ‘part of the village.’