In the heart of New Zealand’s Volcanic Plateau in the North Island, Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity and is renowned for its Maori culture. It’s New Zealand’s first officially bilingual city. With bubbling mud pools, steam rising from beneath the streets, geysers and therapeutic thermal waters, there is a lot to discover in Rotorua. Here is a guide to the top 10 things to do in Rotorua.

1. Te Puia

Te Puia

Explore the ancient geothermal hot pools, bubbling mud pools, native New Zealand flora and fauna, and Maori culture including a Marae and Maori arts and crafts such as wood carving and flax weaving.

The spectacular Pohutu Geyser is the star of the show, famed as the most reliable geyser of earth she erupts one to two times per hour and her waters can reach 30 metres high. Get the chance to spot New Zealand’s icon the kiwi bird in the darkness of the kiwi house.

There is the option of a guided tour with a local guide included in the entry price, this is the best way as you will learn about the local culture, history and lore of Te Puia and the Te Whakarewarewa Valley.

  • Prices: Te Rā: Adults – $56.00; Children – $28.00; Family – $151.00.
    Te Pō: Adults – $128.00; Children – $64.00; Family – $345.50.
  • Duration: 1 hour to 1.5 hours
  • Times: TE RĀ EXPERIENCE: 8a.m. – 5 p.m. Winter (April – September); 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Summer (September – April). TE PŌ EXPERIENCE 6p.m. – 9 p.m., daily.
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: 5 years

2. Ohinemutu Village

Ohinemutu Village

What makes Ohinemutu Village special is that it’s not really about tourism. It is the home of the Ngāti Whakaue tribe and was the centre of Rotorua in the 1870’s. Daily life here is not centred around tourism but rather the usual functions of the Maree (meeting house) its role as the centre of its community.

The people extend their manakitanga (hospitality) to visitors whenever they can, and there are guided walks that offer the chance to learn the stories behind the site and connect with the culture and the land. Nestled on the edge of Lake Rotorua the village has its share of volcanic activity with a steaming thermal lake and puffs of steam rising from the drains and various holes around the place.

  • Prices: $35 per person (minimum 10 people on tour)
  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours
  • Times: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

3. Whakarewarewa – The Living Māori Village

Whakarewarewa – The Living Māori Village

Known as “the living Maori village”, Whakarewarewa is the home of the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe who have been welcoming visitors for 200 years and sharing their way life and the geothermal treasures of their land.

Take part in a traditional cultural performance including the famous Haka! Taste a geo-thermally cooked traditional Hangi meal and see the boiling hot pools and bubbling mud.

Learn all about how the residents utilise and respect the ever-changing natural forces beneath their land.

  • Prices: $45-$70
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Times: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Open every day except Christmas day.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

4. Government Gardens

Government Gardens

Government Gardens is a historic park that was built by the government as a tourist attraction on land given to the British Crown by local Maori in the late 1800’s. It’s timber-framed Rotorua museum building is an icon of the city and used to be a bathhouse.

The gardens are extensive and include a croquet lawn, a bowling green and historic hot pools known as “Blue Baths”. Government Gardens is a great place to relax and enjoy a piece of the town’s heritage.

  • Prices: $49
  • Duration: Around 1 hour
  • Times: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

5. Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest

Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest

Visiting Whakarewarewa Forest is an enchanting experience, the towering Californian Redwoods and native giant ferns are incredible, and the forest is wonderfully quiet and peaceful.

The Whakarewarewa Forest was the filming location for the 2016 film Pete’s Dragon. Follow the pathways on the forest floor for free or pay a fee to explore the forest from the walkway of suspended bridges high in the forest canopy.

  • Prices: Free
  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours
  • Times: Summer – 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Winter – 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., open everyday except for Christmas.
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

6. Polynesian Spa

Polynesian Spa

“Relax and unwind on the tranquil shores of Lake Rotorua at Polynesian Spa – a world-leading, natural mineral bathing and luxury spa retreat. Channelling geothermal marvels in its backyard, the 28 mineral pools at Polynesian Spa are fed from two natural springs for a combination that both nourishes the skin and relieves tired muscles, aches and pains.

Specialising in a range of health and wellness treatments, Polynesian Spa has a decadent spa therapy menu. Also a retreat for athletes, wellness rituals ensure maximum sports relaxation featuring hydrotherapy and a reflexology walk. Combining ancient healing practices with modern techniques, Polynesian Spa is frequently recognised as one of the top 10 spas in the world.”

  • Prices:
    • Deluxe Lake Spa: $55.00
    • Adult & Priest Pools: $30.00
    • Deluxe Private Pool: $30.00
    • Standard Private Pool: $20.00
    • Family Pool: $10.00
    • Romantic Double Dipper: $94.00
    • Deluxe Double Dipper: $74.00
    • Family Double Dipper: $244.00
  • Duration: During business hours
  • Times: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (every day, including public holidays)
  • Best time: 8:00 a.m.
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

7. Hells Gate

One of the most popular thermal parks, a highlight of Hells Gate is the mud pool that you can bathe in. The mineral-rich mud is collected from natural thermal mud pools and brought to the man-made pool.

The park offers guided tours of the Hells Gate Valley thermal park, a native bush walk with it’s steaming thermal activity. There is the chance to try traditional Maori carving and wonderful mineral hot pools to wallow in, among other delights.

  • Prices:
    • Adults – $90.00
    • Children – $45
    • Family – $215 (Two adults and two children, per service in NZD)
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Times: Open daily except on Christmas day. Summer opening hours (1 October – 31 March); Geothermal Park opens from 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (last entrance 5:30 p.m.); Mud Bath Spa open from 8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.(last entrance 8 p.m.); Winter Opening Hour (1 April – 30 September); Geothermal Park open from 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (last entrance 4 p.m.); Mud Bath Spa open from 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. (last entrance 7 p.m.).
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: 2.5 years

8. Skyline Rotorua Gondola & Luge

Skyline Rotorua Gondola & Luge

Famous for a reason, Skyline Rotorua is your ticket to an unforgettable holiday. Begin your day with a tranquil Gondola ride up Mt Ngongotaha overlooking Lake Rotorua then wind your way down via the Luge or if you prefer to descend by mountain bike, weave your way through one of the newly created Gravity Park trails.

Get the adrenalin pumping even more on the Zoom Zipline and the Sky Swing. Or for a more relaxed approach take a stroll through the stunning nature trails with informative and interactive panels along the way. Left feeling a little peckish? Head to the Food Market Kitchen or the Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar to fuel up again. While you’re there, why not also pop into the Volcanic Hills Wine Tasting Room and Winery while the kids explore the Jelly Belly Gallery and Store.

Finish the day with an out-of-this world experience during Skyline’s Stargazing tour. It’ll have you exploring constellations and discovering planets invisible to the naked eye, at one of the top eight stargazing locations in New Zealand. The Skyline Rotorua complex is just 5 minutes’ drive from central Rotorua, sitting atop Mt Ngongotaha providing unsurpassed views of New Zealand’s coolest hot spot. This is an all-weather must do attraction suitable for all ages. Open 365 days a year from 9am to late.

  • Prices: Gondola Only
    • Adults: $32
    • Children: $16
    • Gondola + 1 Luge Ride
    • Adults: $47
    • Children: $31
    • Gondola + 3 Luge Rides
    • Adults: $53
    • Children: $43
    • Gondola + 5 Luge Rides
    • Adults: $63
    • Children: $52
    • Gondola + 7 Luge Rides
    • Adults: $66
    • Children: $55
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Times: 9 am – 5pm
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: 6 years
  • Additional info: Family Gondola & Luge Packages:
    • Gondola only $78
    • Family Gondola + 2 Luge rides each
    • Family of 4 (2+2); $118
    • Family of 5 (2+3): $149
    • Family Gondola + 3 Luge rides each
    • Family of 4 (2+2); $143
    • Family of 5 (2+3): $178
    • Family Gondola + 5 Luge rides each
    • Family of 4 (2+2); $190
    • Family of 5 (2+3): $237
    • Gondola + Stargazing Tour
    • Family of 4 (2+2); $230
    • For more offers check out their prices page.

9. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Arguably the most stunning of all the area’s thermal parks, a visit to Wai-O-Tapu is a surreal experience. The park spans 18 square kilometres and features spectacular and diverse thermal activity, including the largest mud pool in New Zealand, curiously colourful crater lakes and the Lady Knox Geyser. Approximately 30 minutes drive from central Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu is a must-see.

  • Prices:
    • Adults: $32.50
    • Children: $11.00
    • Under 4: Free
    • Family Pass: $85.00
  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Times: 1 April to 31 October: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 3:45 p.m.); 1 November to 31 March: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 4:45 p.m.); Christmas.
  • Day – 25 December: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 3:45 p.m.); open daily – 365 days of the year including all Public Holidays.
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good, 10:15am if you would like to watch the additional presentation of the Lady Knox geyser.
    Minimum age:No age restrictions.

10. White Water Rafting down Kaituna River with River Rats

Rotorua is also a hot spot for adrenaline junkies, and the area is considered one of the best rafting regions, with warmer waters than in the South. A whitewater rafting trip on the Kaituna river is an exhilarating ride through 14 rushing rapids, down three waterfalls as well as paddling through calm waters.

The area is steeped in Maori history, and your guide will share some of the stories behind the area on this 2-2.5 hour day tour through the lush native bush. River Rats offers more gentle rafting tours however the rapids on this trip are classed as grade 5 which means it’s suitable for active people 13 years and over who are up for a challenge and the adventure begins with 15-20 minutes of training before hitting the waters.

  • Prices: Adults – $105.00; Children – $105.00
  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Times: Trips run at 9am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm through Summer (Labour Weekend Holiday to Easter Weekend Holiday) and 10.00am and 2.00pm through Winter
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: 16 years (children below 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult).