With lakes, rivers and hot springs galore, there are plenty of places to go for a dip in Rotorua. But we’ve picked seven swimming spots that you may not have discovered yet…
1. Lake Tikitapu / The Blue Lake
Lake Tikitapu, aka the Blue Lake, is a great spot for summer swimming. A collapsed volcanic crater, the lake is relatively shallow, with the deepest bits being about 27m. Lake Tikitapu’s volcanic origins also contribute to its stunning colour, as pumice and rhyolite – a pale igneous rock – on the lake bed reflect sunlight and contribute to its vivid blue hues. Framed by native bush, grassy shores and tranquil beaches, Lake Tikitapu is popular for water sports and recreation. The southern side of the lake has the best swimming beaches, accessible from the popular Blue Lake Track and from the lookout carpark between the Blue and neighbouring Green Lake (Lake Rotokākahi).
2. The Bridge aka Hot n’ Cold
This unmarked geothermal spot, known by several different names on the Wai-O-Tapu stream, is a free swimming hole rivalling the more popular Kerosene Creek. Look for the signpost marking the first entrance for Waiotapu Thermal Park approximately 50km south of Rotorua via SH5. Take the second entrance 500 metres down the road and you will come to a small bridge along the winding road. From there, make your way down the bank into the steaming stream. Well known by occasionally nude locals, the aptly named Hot n’ Cold is where the hot water from the Wai-O-Tapu stream meets the cool water of the river, meaning there are a variety of temperatures to choose from. Be aware that this is a rustic bathing experience. Expect to leave with gritty, sulphurous swimwear (if you wear it), and, as with most geothermal water, make sure you don’t put your head under.
3. Lake Rotomā
Rotomā literally means ‘lake of clear water’ in Māori, so it’s not surprising that this little gem has the best water quality of all 18 Rotorua lakes with water clarity of up to 11 metres. Head along SH30 from Rotorua towards Kawerau to find this special spot. In the centre of Lake Rotomā is an intriguing sunken island – Motutara – which is sometimes visible if the water levels are low enough, but the exceptionally clear water means that you can still see the island even when it is submerged.
4. Te Rātā Bay, Lake Tarawera
One of New Zealand’s lesser-known hot water beaches can be found on the southern shores of Lake Tarawera. Te Rātā Bay is accessible by boat, water taxi or kayak, or alternatively, take the overnight tramp on the Tarawera Trail. Here you can swim or soak in a natural thermal rock pools at the lake edge, or explore inland to find another small pool approximately 50 metres into the bush. Take care though – in some places the sand can get as hot as 86º, which is hot enough to cook food.
5. Lake Ōkāreka
Just a 10-minute drive from Rotorua’s CBD, Lake Ōkāreka is great for an easily accessible swim. But as well as a lovely swimming spot, Lake Ōkāreka also has several walking trails and a boardwalk over a vibrant wetland. Boyes Beach is the largest on the lake shore, with barbecue and picnic facilities, or follow the boardwalk to reach another quiet beach for a secluded swim.
6. Waitangi Soda Springs
Close to the picturesque Lake Rotomā you’ll find the Waitangi Soda Springs. A natural bathing sanctuary used by local Māori for hundreds of years, the pools here are high in minerals renowned for their healing properties. There are two individual thermal springs, Ngarongoiri and Reihana, while the Waiwhero Stream adds fresh, cool water. Waitangi Soda Springs are a fantastic spot to visit on a clear night, as you can relax in the soothing waters while gazing at the stars.
7. Lake Ōkataina
The name Ōkataina means ‘the lake of laughter,’ shortened from its original name Te Moana-i-kataina-a-Te Rangitakaroro, which means ‘the ocean where Te Rangitakaroro laughed.’ Legend tells the story of a group of Māori warriors resting on the shores, when one mistook the lake for an ocean. The laughter of chief Te Rangitakaroro echoed around the steep surrounding hills. Surrounded by forest, Lake Ōkataina is entirely self-contained, with no outlets or inlets. With crystalline water, an expansive sandy beach and a large grassy area perfectly suited for picnics, Ōkataina is a great destination for a day out. There are also a number of short walks to choose from in the nearby Lake Ōkataina Scenic Reserve, including the popular Te Auheke Track (Cascade Track).