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Rotorua is a small town that lies in New Zealand’s north island, and is famously renowned for it’s incredible geothermal features and strong Maori culture. Rotorua sits on an active fault line, which results in a lot of volcanic activity in the form of geysers, sulphur pools, bubbling mud, and steam vents. The landscapes are quite beautiful, which makes Rotorua a must do for anyone visiting New Zealand in my opinion.
Now you might not know but sulphur creates a very rotten eggy smell – so the town is a little bit whiffy. I personally do not mind the smell and you get used to it after a while!
There are heaps of different experiences you can have in Rotorua to witness the geothermal activity. Here is a guide to some cool things to do.
On the edge of Rotorua town lies Polynesian Spa – a tranquil lakefront geothermal spa surrounded by native New Zealand flora (It was voted one of the top ten spas in the world by Conde Nast Traveller magazine). The complex consists of a deluxe lake spa, adult pools, some private pools and a family spa which are all fed from two natural springs with temperatures that range between 36 to 42 degrees. This is the perfect way to unwind for a few hours after a day of sightseeing and the pools are open everyday until 11pm.
Tip – the pools can get very busy around 4-5pm as the spa experience is included in some large coach sightseeing day trip packages – so drop in the morning for a quieter experience. Spa treatments are available here as well which include massages and facials but these need to be booked in advance.
Address: Polynesian Spa, Hinemoa Street, Rotorua Central, Rotorua, 3010
Opening hours: 8am – 11pm, 7 days a week.
Admission fee: See website for detailed pricelist
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Located a 20 minute drive south of Rotorua town, Wai-O-Tapu is a brilliant, colourful and diverse geothermal park nestled within wonderful natural bush. The hot and cold pools dazzle with their turquoise blue, sulphuric yellows and neon green hues. The highlight of the park is the very photogenic champagne pool – with a vibrant orange ring caused by mineral and silicate interference. There are also a series of different walks you can do available ranging from 30 to 75 minutes duration. The famous Lady Knox Geyser erupts every day at 10.15am to heights of up to 20 metres in a separate park located nearby.
TTip for avoiding the crowds – Skip the Lady Knox geyser morning eruption and enter the main park as soon as it opens. You’ll have the place almost to yourself which is perfect for photography.
The best way to get here is by car, or you can use a shuttle bus service (discounted prices for these can sometimes be found at Bookme)
Address: 201 Waiotapu Loop Rd, Rotorua 3073
Opening hours: daily 8.30 am – 5.00 pm (last admission 3.45pm)
Admission fee: Adult: $32.50; Child: $11.00 (5 -15 years); Family: $80.00 (2 Adults and up to 3 Children). Under 5 years are free of charge
Waimangu Thermal Reserve
Located a 20 minute drive south of Rotorua town, this thermal area was created after the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption, and is the youngest geothermal eco-system in the world. Wandering through the epic grounds, you will be able to admire a variety of geothermal features such as boiling lakes, hot streams, steaming cliffs and more.
The walks through the valley range from 45 minutes to 4 hours and there is also an option to take a ride of a boat cruise across the lake (for an additional price). Again, you’ll need a car to get here, or you can use their shuttle bus service – discounted ones can sometimes be found at Bookme.
Address: 587 Waimangu Road off SH5 (main Rotorua – Taupo highway) Rotorua
Opening hours: Daily from 8:30am to 5pm (last admission 3:30pm)
Admission fee: Prices start from$35 adults, $13 children ages 6 to 16, $85 for family
This thermal reserve is located south of Rotorua town centre in the Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. There are more than 500 geothermal features to be seen here including the famous Pohutu geyser, which erupts up to 30 metres high into the air, around 20 times a day. Other attractions in the park include Māori cultural performances, hangi feasts, boiling mud pools, a nocturnal kiwi house, native bush and the National Schools of Wood Carving and Weaving. Tours around the park are available as well.
I’d say this is a visit for more of a Maori cultural experience day out than to admire a lot of geothermal activity (i’d recommend Wai O Tapu for colourful geothermal sights), but viewing the geyser here is pretty impressive, and Te Puia is quite easy to get to from many of the hotels in town.
Tip: Vouchers for 25% off admission are available in magazines found in airports and i-sites.
Address: Te Puia, Hemo Road, Tihiotonga, Rotorua Central, Rotorua, 3040
Opening hours: Summer (October – March) 8:00am – 6:00pm daily.
Winter (April – September) 8:00am – 5:00pm daily.
Te Pō: indigenous evening experience 6:00pm – 9:00pm \ Te Pō: Combo (tour of Te Puia and Te Pō: indigenous evening experience) 4:30pm – 9:00pm
Admission fee: Day pass prices start from $51.00 (adult) $25.50 (child) $138.00 (family)
Sulphur Point, Rotorua Lake
Along the shores of Rotorua Lake, lies a picturesque boardwalk that starts behind the Tudor House in Government Gardens, and takes you to the unique landscape of Sulphur Point. Take a walk along it and you will pass several bubbling mud holes, steaming vents and the geothermal lake. If you are staying nearby, get up early to take some photos the steam rising against the sunrise looks incredible. This is one of many free attractions in Rotorua.
Address: Queens Drive, Rotorua 3010
Opening hours: all hours
Admission fee: Free
This is a public park located in Rotorua town centre. Here you can view bubbling mud pits and steam vents all within safe enclosures, and all for free! There are also some nice hot foot baths to soak your feet in.
Address: Pukuatua Street & Ranolf Street, Rotorua 3010
Opening hours: Daylight only
Admission fee: Free
Other things to do in Rotorua…
There are heaps of awesome walks in Rotorua and the surrounding areas – head to the i-site for more information and maps. Rotorua is famous for zorbing, and also check out the Skyline Rotorua as well for luge riding (don’t forget your travel insurance!).
The Government Gardens are also worth a visit – they are located within the city centre, close to Polynesian spa. Take a wander through their pretty historic gardens that surround the spanish style Blue Baths (a heated pool) and the Tudor-style Rotorua Museum, where you can discover the region’s rich Māori culture. There is also a nice cafe in the museum where you can sip tea outside and admire the surroundings.
Note: opening times and prices are correct as of August 2016.
Other blog posts about New Zealand
- Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Things to do in Waiheke Island, Auckland – the ultimate guide
- A day trip to Milford Sound, New Zealand
- How to spend a day in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
- 20 New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
- A guide to visiting Hamilton, New Zealand
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