Rotorua: Play more every day

A natural wonderland, Rotorua lies in the middle of the North Island and is famous for its bubbling mud, natural hot pools and crystal-clear rivers. Below is a guide to an unforgettable day in Rotorua – enjoy!

Whitewater Rafting, Rotorua

By Chris McLennan

New Zealand
Rotorua Geyser, New Zealand

By GreatSights

Kerosene Creek, Rotorua

By Vaughn Brookfield

Hongi, Rotorua

By Adam Bryce

There are not many other places in the world where you can go kayaking, soak in a natural hot pool, raft down huge waterfalls and learn the haka in a single day. A playground for lovers of natural goodness, Rotorua promises to be a serious highlight in any New Zealand itinerary. The city straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, making the earth here bubble, hiss and roar. Locals are friendly, and warm Maori culture is evident everywhere you go.

An easy three hours south of Auckland, Rotorua is most definitely a New Zealand must do. Watch our Rotorua - Hakas to Hot Pools video, and then take a look at our suggestions below to help you craft the ultimate Rotorua/Central North Island day.

9am - Kayak to see Maori carvings

While not ‘technically’ Rotorua, Taupo is a short one hour’s drive away and is where we suggest you begin your day. Home to Lake Taupo – New Zealand’s largest lake – and views to die for, kayaking is, unsurprisingly, the best way to explore. Under paddle power, venture to Mine Bay - on the Western side of Lake Taupo – where impressive Maori carvings are etched into the rock. What an epic way to start the day!

Make it happen: A number of kayak companies work on Lake Taupo. Make sure to check if your kayaking experience is guided or unguided, and if it’s possible to visit the Mine Bay carvings.

11am - Explore a geothermal wonderland

Home to one of the world’s most active geothermal fields, Rotorua’s geysers, colourful hot lakes and bubbling mud pools will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a different universe. There’s a number of geothermal parks which you can explore, all with different natural attractions. At Te Puia, you can view the Pohutu Geyser erupting to a height of 30m (100ft). At Orakei Korako, colourful silica terraces and a mysterious cave offer awesome photo opportunities, while Wai-O-Tapu is home to an impressive bright orange ‘champagne’ pool. 

Make it happen: Simply choose the geothermal park that appeals the most, and rock up - you don't need to book. 

1pm - Soak in a naturally heated stream surrounded by native bush

Nestled within Rotorua’s lush native bush lies Kerosene Creek – a naturally heated stream and waterfall where you can soak & relax. Here, freshwater and hot spring mix to create pleasantly warm water. Small, smooth rocks have been piled up by swimmers to create little hot pools beside the waterfall. There’s no admission charge.

Make it happen: Drive south from Rotorua, following State Highway 5 towards Taupo. After about 30km, you’ll see Old Waiotapu Road – turn left, and Kerosene Creek is about 2.2km down this road on your right. 

3pm - Raft down a 7metre (22ft) high waterfall

Ever wondered what it’s like to raft down a huge waterfall? On Rotorua’s Kaituna River, you can. Kaituna’s 7m-high waterfall is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, and the river is also home to smaller fun rapids and white water. Get your adrenaline pumping for the day by embarking on a rafting or sledging adventure in Rotorua.  – the Kaituna weaves its way through dense native forest, and the birdsong and sense of adventure here is fantastic. 

Make it happen: Choose a rafting operator that rafts the Kaituna, book your spot & you're good to go!

6pm - Come face to face with rich Maori culture

Finish your day by experiencing the spirit of Manaakitanga (hospitality) with a cultural experience like no other. Dramatic performances, traditional Maori villages and delicious Maori food await, and, if you’re game, you can try your hand at learning the haka – the famous Maori war dance. 

Make it happen: Places like Te Puia, Tamaki Maori Village and Mitai Maori Village offer this cultural experience most evenings. It is recommended that you book in advance.

Wondering what else to pack in to your New Zealand adventure? Check out our Backpacking itineraries for more inspiration.

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