The only way to get to Manupīrua Hot Springs in Rotorua is by water. © Brook Sabin

Rotorua Kiwi Gems


Fantastic family-friendly playgrounds, secret hot pools, free geothermal activity, walkways, waterfalls, adrenaline-fuelled adventures and more – find 11 Kiwi Gems to discover in Rotorua.

Sulphur Point

Sulphur Point Wildlife Sanctuary edges Lake Rotorua. The path passes steaming ditches, hot springs and silica flats. The lake water is warm and has a milky sulphurous patina. Sixty species of birds have been recorded here, thriving in the thermal warmth. Pūkeko hot-foot around steaming ponds, little black shags nest in trees, seagulls nest in thatches of grass on islands and hundreds of scaup populate a man-made floating island lush with grass. Black and white swans cruise, geese mow the lawns and paradise ducks shriek and honk. The birds live here for warmth, refuge and because it’s close to food in other parts of the lake. 

Whakarewarewa Forest Loop

Rotorua’s newest cycle trail is the recently completed Whakarewarea Forest Loop that has been awarded Great Ride status by Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails. A 33km circular mountain biking trail, the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop is a predominantly Grade 2 ride, with just a couple of more challenging Grade 3 sections, so should take confident riders 2.5 to 5 hours to complete. You’ll take in the mighty Californian Redwoods sitting alongside native bush, views over lakes Rotorua and Tikitapu and several geothermal hotspots along the way. There are multiple entry and exit points throughout the Whakarewarewa Forest where other trails intersect the loop, so you can get a taste of the forest even if you have limited time. Pick up a map from Mountain Bike Rotorua to find the best route to suit.

Secret Spot Hot Tubs

Mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Forest 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 Whakarewarewa Mountain Bike Park. Pop in for a coffee or a cold one and a free foot soak in the small ‘shinny dip’ tubs, or go the whole hog and relax in one of the 12 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 a tub surrounded by native trees and ferns; and since it's open till 10pm, starlight soaks are very popular too.

Lake Ōkareka Walkway 

The Lake Ōkareka Walkway traces the edge of its namesake, one of the smallest of Rotorua’s 18 lakes. Every corner reveals different surprises: from farmland and native forest to beaches and wetland reserves complete with huts for birdwatching. After all, this area is home to a myriad of aquatic birds such as swans, geese, pūkeko, coots and scaups. Bring binoculars and a camera and see how many you can spot. The walkway takes about 1.5 hours to complete, beginning from a lakeside reserve on Acacia Road and continuing for 2.5km around the shore to the lake outlet. It’s suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs as far as Silver Beach, around 2km from the start. From here, the walkway undulates to the lake outlet, which is not suitable for bikes or dogs to protect the native plant and wildlife nesting close by.

Manupīrua Hot Springs

There’s something alluring about places that can only be accessed in special ways, and you’ll certainly feel very exclusive boating across Lake Rotoiti to Manupīrua 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.

Tarawera Falls

Tarawera Falls is a mighty sight with water spewing from halfway up a cliff face. The river above the falls disappears into fissures in the rock, filling an underwater cave. When there has been a lot of rain, the cave floods and a second waterfall is formed from the top of the cliff. It’s awesome even without the extra falls, though. To get to the base of the falls, you need a forestry access permit which you can get from Kawerau Info Centre; from there, take a 45-minute drive on rough road, followed by a 20-minute walk. Access to the top of the falls is via a track from Lake Tarawera; this trail, accessed by water taxi from The Landing, is 3.5 hours return and follows the river to the falls through spectacular native forest.

Te Rātā Bay

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. Alternatively, if you’re up for an adventure, follow the 15km, four- to five-hour walk one way on a good but sometimes steep track that's part of the Tarawera Trail. (A popular option is to walk one way and arrange a water taxi for the trip back.) At Te Rātā Bay 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 86ºC, which is hot enough to cook food.  

Kaituna River sledging

If you’ve tried whitewater rafting and kayaking and are looking for a completely unique river adventure, give sledging a go. But be warned – this is not for the faint hearted! A true adrenaline experience, you’ll be tackling frothing rapids, surging river currents and deep water with little more than a floating toboggan – or sledge – and a pair of flippers. To participate, you must be water confident and physically fit, but if you are, you’re in for an adventure! Riding the Kaituna River – including the Grade 3 Okere section – through Rotorua’s Kahikatea Forest, you’ll be completely immersed in both water and beautiful scenery. 

Redwoods Nightlights

The redwoods forest in Whakarewarewa is spectacular, with over 5,000 hectares of enormous Californian coastal redwood trees to run, ride or wander through. But drinking in the views from 12 metres above the forest floor amid twinkling lights is something else. The Redwoods Nightlights are illuminated each day at dusk, when the forest glows with the iconic shapes of Hawke’s Bay artist David Trubridge’s huge sculptural light shades. Suspended high in the trees, the 500-metre-long network of bridges and platforms takes you on a leisurely stroll through the majestic redwoods – the tallest living trees on Earth. In Rotorua, the forest is relatively young, having been planted in 1901, with the largest tree reaching 72 metres. As the last of the daylight ebbs away, the forest comes to life. A kaleidoscope of colours lights up the canopy of native ferns below us; above, the yellow glow of UFO-like sculptures hang from the mighty trees.

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Kuirau Park

Right in the heart of Rotorua town you’ll find Kuirau Park – a public garden filled with steaming water, bubbling mud and geothermal energy that’s available for anyone to enjoy, for free. Kuirau Park is just off Pukuatua and Ranolf streets, with ample free parking. Walkways wind between hot springs, mud pools and sulphurous craters, all of which are powered by the heat of the Earth’s core, so make sure you keep to the tracks. While you’re there you can make use of the public barbecue or soak your toes in one of three free thermal foot baths.

Rotorua Lakefront 

The latest addition to the Rotorua Lakefront is the excellent new family-friendly playground. With wide wooden boardwalks looping alongside and out above the water, the lakefront is an ideal spot for walking, running or exploring on two wheels. The playground itself is designed for adventure. Kids can soar above the play area on one of two flying foxes, clamber across the rope course, shoot hoops at the half basketball court or burn off energy on the swings and slides. There’s also a dedicated toddler play area for littlies with a climbing wall, sand play area and carousel swing. All set against the scenic lakeside backdrop. 

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