Rotorua is not short of great things to see and do, whether you’re travelling with family, or escaping for a weekend away. But while you’re there, make sure you check out these nine Must-Do’s and Kiwi Gems.
1. The Redwoods
While we love to celebrate our amazing native trees in Aotearoa we’re OK with imports, too. Especially when they are as amazing as these long-limbed Californians. Over 5,500 hectares glorious trees make for one of the best free experiences in Rotorua. You are instantly transported into a different space, a cooling, reflective atmosphere that catches your breath. Some of the country’s best mountain bike trails also wend their way through the Whakarewarewa Forest, as the area is also known, as well as amazing walking and horse-riding tracks. If you’re in need of elevation, The Redwoods Treewalk is a must. It’s a unique experience where you get to clamber across suspension bridges hung within these stands of colossal trees.
At Wingspan, New Zealand’s National Bird of Prey Centre, you can get up close to our native falcons, or kārearea. Wingspan, on the outskirts of Rotorua was established in 2002 as a conservation initiative to help protect these remarkable native birds. Kārearea are rarer than kiwi, with only around 4,000 remaining in the wild. When they’re temporarily in captivity at Wingspan, kārearea quickly forget how to hunt properly so the falconers keep their skills fresh with daily lure training sessions for when they’re released back into the wild. The new Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre is still under construction, but three days a week visitors are welcome to experience the new development, learn about Wingspan’s extensive conservation programmes and witness the falcons’ in-flight training.
3. Pōhutu Geyser
Depending on who you believe, ‘Pōhutu’ means ‘big splash’, ‘explosion’ or the more gentle ‘constant splashing’. All descriptions are accurate in their own way though none really reflect the unrelenting power of this, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. The massive Pōhutu Geyser is big, and it blows its top about twenty times a day. Each explosion of hissing, sulphurous steam can last anywhere between ten and twenty minutes – which means there’s no hanging around hoping you might catch a glimpse of something exciting. The geyser itself is part of the excellent Te Puia. There are 500-odd hot springs within the reserve and another 60-plus geysers besides the thundering Pōhutu.
4. Canopy Tours
Whether you’re clipped to a zipline, bouncing across a swing bridge or strolling along a 50-metre-high walkway, you’ll get a whole new perspective on native bush in Rotorua. Canopy Tours takes you on a journey deep into – and high above – 500 hectares of pristine New Zealand forest. Soar above the canopy on 1200m of zipline; tackle the 75-metre swing bridge and meander along the suspended cliff walkway between treetop platforms as you gaze at a lush forest of ferns and ancient podocarps. In a unique mix of adrenaline and conservation, you can plunge and fly amongst the trees while appreciating the flourishing native fauna. Tūī, kereru, bellbirds, North Island robins and tomtits are all in abundance here, thanks to the extensive predator control and forest restoration.
5. Hot Pools
One of the key reasons so many folk flock to Rotorua, and have done so since the late 1800s, is the waters. The alkaline mineral pools have given rise to some serious spa centres – the best known and located being the Polynesian Spa on the lake’s edge. Soaking in a pool at twilight while looking out over the lake – does it get any better than that? And if you want a bit more than a soak, there is a menu of treatments and ways of enjoying these natural wonders throughout the region that would take a (very relaxed) lifetime to work through, including geothermal mud treatments, hydrotherapy, decadent therapies that will have you feeling utterly fantastic.
6. The Buried Village
Discover New Zealand’s most famous archaeological site at the Buried Village. When Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886, Te Wairoa village, which had been established on the shores of the lake just 40 years earlier by the Christian missionary was obliterated. Today, you can explore the sites of former houses, whares and the Rotomahana Hotel that have been excavated from the volcanic mud and ash. The 12-acre site includes mostly flat walking trails through native bush and a pretty waterfall. The Buried Village also has a museum with fascinating relics and interactive stories that explore one of New Zealand’s deadliest natural disasters which also destroyed the world-famous Pink and White Terraces.
Take a walk through Rotorua’s Waimangu Volcanic Valley and learn about how the world began. Some of the best walking trails in Rotorua will take you through an active geothermal area simmering with heat and energy. There is a range of self-guided trails to choose from. Whether you’re after a gentle nature walk through the bush or a more advanced tramp up Mount Hazard, you’ll see steaming volcanic craters and lots of sulphuric action. At Waimangu you’ll experience steaming cliffs, the dazzling electric blue Inferno Crater, many rare and unusual plants and the world’s largest active hot spring – Frying Pan Lake. For less active types, you can choose to cruise Lake Rotomahana and take in the scenery from your seat on board.
8. Hamurana Springs
Rotorua’s Hamurana Springs are the deepest natural freshwater springs in the North Island. Hamurana is comprised of two separate, but equally beautiful springs – Te Puna-a-Hangarua and the smaller Dancing Sands Spring. Water travels underground from the Mamaku Plains for about 70 years before emerging in vibrant gem-like hues at Hamurana. Te Puna-a-Hangarua, the larger of the two springs, produces a staggering four million litres of water per hour – enough to fill two Olympic swimming pools. The Dancing Sands Spring is shallow, and the name relates to the way the water bubbles up through the sands on the bottom. At Hamurana Springs you’ll also find an another impressive grove of Redwoods, planted more than 100 years ago.
9. Te Ara Ahi
In Rotorua, you can have the unique experience of cycling through active geothermal fields. Te Ara Ahi cycle trail is one of the 22 Great Rides that make up Ngā Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail. A leisurely 47km, easy to intermediate trail that can be tackled over one or two days, Te Ara Ahi takes in the best of Rotorua. Beginning in the central city and skirting past the Sulphur Flats of Lake Rotorua, the trail passes by many of the region’s most famous geothermal highlights, including Whakarewarewa and Te Puia. Take a detour into the Whakarewarewa Forest or stop in at one of the many natural hot pools or sites with bubbling mud. Other trail highlights include the pretty section along Puarenga Stream, the wetlands at Lake Okaro, or for experienced riders, the technical trails up and back down Rainbow Mountain.