Rotorua is one of the most naturally diverse regions in New Zealand, a country known for its spectacular scenery and wilderness. So that’s saying something. Whether you’re hiking up the volcanic Mt Tarawera or rafting through the rapids of the Kaituna River, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in this lakeside city on the North Island. With Contiki, you can explore this unique landscape on the New Zealand Off-Grid, Big Tiki, Kiwiana Panorama and Sun & Steam trips. Before you head off on your next tour, here’s our guide to the most fun and interesting things to do in Rotorua.
1. Visit the Waimangu Geothermal Valley
Just a 25-minute drive from the centre of Rotorua, the Waimangu Geothermal Valley is a jaw-droppingly cool natural sight to see. It’s the world’s youngest geothermal valley, formed by the 1886 Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption. It’s got 200 hot springs, Lake Rotomahana, Frying Pan Lake and more to discover. If you don’t have your own car or bike to make your own way to Waimangu, there’s a shuttle bus that travels between the city and the valley.
2. Take on the rapids of the Kaituna River
Big drops and big thrills: this is the Kaituna River. Take on the cascading river with a white-water rafting tour by Kaituna Cascades. No experience is required to raft the Grade 5 rapids, as you’ll be led by an expert and given all the right gear before departing. You’ll marvel at the scenic views, splash your way through some seriously impressive rapids and drop down the world-famous Tutea Falls (at 7m, it’s the highest commercially rafted waterfall).
3. Stay in a traditional Māori Marae
Rotorua is home to many significant cultural places – but one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is to stay in a Marae, an ornately carved traditional Māori home. On Contiki’s New Zealand Off-Grid trip, you’ll have the chance to stay with the Ngāti Whakaue Māori tribe in Rotorua. They’ll teach you the Tikanga and Kawa, their customs and protocols, and tell stories about spirituality and healing. They’ll also teach you the haka and show you how to prepare a delicious steam Hangi (dinner). It doesn’t get much more authentic than this!
4. Hike the unique volcanic landscape of Mt Tarawera
Following its devastating eruption in 1886, Mt Tarawera was drastically transformed as the summit split open. Now, the region is one of the most popular places to visit on the North Island, with colourful craters and pine forests along the mountain, a beautiful surrounding lake and thermal hot springs to check out.
5. Zipline through the rainforest
Experience the world from great heights on an exhilarating zipline canopy tour of the ancient native rainforest in Rotorua. You’ll walk amongst the treetops on a 50m high platform above the forest, zipline through the lush green trees and even have the chance to stand 22 metres up a 1000-year-old rimu tree. It’s one of the best things to do in Rotorua!
6. Take a class led by a Māori master pounamu (jade) carver
Uncover local traditions with a visit to a Māori master pounamu (jade) carver, where you’ll learn the tricks of the trade from an expert craftsman. The stone is precious to the Māori people, with delicately carved pendants being worn to symbolise special, unique meaning to the wearer. According to the locals, pounamu can represent ancestors, connection with the natural world, or attributes such as strength, prosperity, love, and harmony.
7. Meet some locals at the Kiwi Hatchery
Say hello to New Zealand’s most iconic animal, the precious Kiwi Bird, with a visit to the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. Not only can you take a turn on the Big Splash ride and see incredible local wildlife, but you can actually make a difference in the fight against extinction with a visit to the Kiwi Hatchery. The wild Kiwi population is in decline so, here in Rotorua, the National Kiwi Hatchery work to nurture chicks before releasing them back into the wild when they’re ready. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the conservation project and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some chicks hatching on your tour.
8. Take a reinvigorating dip in a geothermal pool
Rotorua is famous for its hot springs and mud pools, nature’s own spa treatment. Head to one of the relaxing geothermal bathing experiences, like the original Polynesian Spa in the centre of town. Looking out across Ōwhatiura Bay (Bay of Plenty), you can indulge yourself with a dip in one of 28 pools with waters sourced from acidic and alkaline natural mineral springs. The healing properties of the springs have been known to relieve tired muscles or aches and nourish the skin.
9. Take a tour of geothermal Te Puia
Step into an other-worldly landscape of erupting geysers and mud pools with a tour of the Te Puia geothermal valley. Check out Pōhutu, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, and uncover the fascinating science behind these natural wonders.
10. Take a spin in a ZORB
If you don’t know, a ZORB is an inflatable orb that you hop inside before rolling down a hill, much to the amusement of all your mates watching on from the sidelines. ZORB Rotorua has four different tracks to choose from and you can choose to go solo or with your travel buddies, making the most of the experience however you want to.