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Rotorua might be the highlight of any trip along New Zealand’s Thermal Explorer Highway, but it is surrounded by a range of unique destinations that you won’t believe exist in such close proximity. These wildly different landscapes boast unbelievable scenery, and are among the most visited attractions in New Zealand.
Rotorua itself is home to its fair share of attractions, as the home of the famous geyser at Te Puia, the Tamaki Maori Village or the magnificent Redwoods walk. If you’ve got time to spare, here are three day trips from the city that you won’t forget in a hurry.
The unique geothermal activity is one of the main features that draws visitors to Rotorua, and there is no better place to see this activity than at Wai-O-Tapu. Visit the Lady Knox Geyser, and while you are at this end of the park you can also take a walk to explore the mud pools. The Geothermal Park is the main attraction of the region. It is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, and forms part of the perimeter of a collapsed caldera. There are plenty of walks where you can get up close to the water, see the unique colours and smell the sulphur.
Useful Tip: Want to see the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser? You will need to be in the park at 10:15am when the demonstration takes place. You can buy tickets online, or at the visitor centre. Allow plenty of time to get to the viewing area.
Getting there? You will find the park about a thirty minute drive south of Rotorua. Follow State Highway 5 and exit onto Waiotapu Loop Road.
A beautiful farm in Matamata sprung to international fame when it was chosen as the filming location for the Lord of the Rings series. The village of Hobbiton was constructed once again during filming of The Hobbit trilogy, and now visitors have the opportunity to walk around the set. Even if you have not seen the films, the area’s natural beauty should be enough to draw you in. You can visit by bus tour only, so as you walk around you can hear interesting stories from the guides. You will have plenty of opportunities to take photos at the unique Hobbit houses, and even enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Inn.
Useful Tip: You don’t have to wait for the bus tour to start enjoying the scenery! Just across the road from the visitor centre is an amazing landscape, and you can get some great photos from the fence. You will even see images of this area inside the centre.
Getting there? The Hobbiton movie set is just outside the town of Matamata, about an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Follow State Highway 5 north from the city, and exit onto Harwood’s Road. Turn left onto State Highway 29 and follow signs for Hobbiton.
TAUPO & HUKA FALLS
You can’t visit the North Island without seeing the mighty Lake Taupo. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the Southern Hemisphere, and forms the caldera of a super-volcano. The lake was formed after an eruption more than 20,000 years ago. An unmissable sight in the region is the fast-flowing Huka Falls. It is one of the most-visited spots on the North Island. The water falls at a volume of more than 200,000 litres per second. The powerful rapids are caused by the river narrowing to under 15 metres. Follow the walking trails to get some unique views of the falls. There are plenty of local cafes and restaurants on the lakeshore where you can sit and enjoy great views over the mighty expanse of water. The area is particularly beautiful on a sunny day, when you will notice how clear the water is.
Useful Tip: If you can avoid visiting on a weekend, you are more likely to get a great parking spot. The Taupo foreshore is often busy, and you will struggle to find parking close to the water during peak periods.
Getting there? State Highway 5 will take you south to Taupo. Avoid taking the Taupo bypass, and at the round-a-bout continue to follow the Thermal Explorer Highway toward the centre of Taupo. To the left you will see the exit to Huka Falls.