Bubbling Mud, Mysterious Forests, Colourful Lakes, Hot Pools… It’s All Here Within Reach of Rotorua!
Let’s say it: Rotorua rocks! The place is a buzzing epicentre for travellers. Whether you’re ticking off activities from the bucket list, like a Maori show or visiting a geothermal park, or a working holidaymaker looking for a great place to work and experience the true Kiwi lifestyle, you’ll probably need some free stuff to do at some point. In fact, some of Rotorua‘s best experiences are for free thanks to the kindness of nature.
1. Rainbow Mountain
Maunga Kakaramea, also known as “mountain of coloured earth” or Rainbow Mountain, is easily accessed by a 3km (1.9-mile) walk. It passes in front of many typical Rotorua features such as steam rising from the ground and crater lakes. The view from the summit is a perfect picture opportunity too if you take the 1-hour one-way track.
Location: 26km (16 miles) southeast of Rotorua, along State Highway 5 (between Rotorua and Taupo).
2. Redwood Forest
The forest is a gigantic network of mountain biking and walking tracks. Known as Whakarewarewa Forest by the locals, it is mainly constituted by Californian Coast Redwood, hence its nickname “Redwood Forest”. Get a bike from your hostel or hire one in town and head to this mountain biker paradise!
Location: 5km (3 miles) southeast of Rotorua city centre along Long Mile Road.
3. Kerosene Creek
When leaving Rotorua heading to Taupo, stop by the toastiest creek in the region. The hot stream creates multiple small natural pools lodged between the rocks where locals and knowledgeable tourists come to sooth their soar hiker’s feet. It’s one of the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
Location: About 30km (19 miles) south of Rotorua, off State Highway 5 (between Rotorua and Taupo), on Old Waiotapu Road. Kerosene Creek is 2.2km (1.4 miles) down the gravel road.
4. Okere Falls
Okere Falls is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Even by itself, it is a stunning fall of pristine natural beauty. If you are lucky, you might see some raft-flipping going on and tourists swimming to get back on board.
Location: 21km (13 miles) from Rotorua on Trout Pool Road off State Highway 33 (the Rotorua to Taurangaroad).
5. Blue and Green Lakes
Which one of Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi is the green one? Take a hike and go decide for yourself. The hike to view both lakes starts near Redwood Forest (see above). At the hike’s highest point, you will be able to see both lakes and witness their clear difference in shade.
Location: 9km (6 miles) southeast of Rotorua, along Te Ngae Road then along Tarawera Road at the roundabout.
6. Kuirau Park
Located almost in Rotorua town centre, Kuirau Park features living proof of the geothermal activity happening under our feet. Expect shallow hot pools, bubbling mud, and lots of steam!
Location: Pukuatua Street & Ranolf Street
7. Wai-O-Tapu Boardwalk
The short track along the “Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland” and near Rainbow Mountain is the ideal short stop between Rotorua and Taupo. In hides a pool of bubbling mud and, yet again, more steam! The platform elevates above the mud pool to offer another perspective.
Location: 27km (17 miles) south of Rotorua off State Highway 5, turn left on Loop Road until you reach Waiotapu Track.
8. Government Gardens
Sitting in front of the Rotorua Museum, the Government Gardens are the pride of the Rotorua community. It is both a historical place telling tales of yore and the perfect place to just simply chill out. Incidentally, the Rotorua Museum is one of our favourite things to do on a rainy day in Rotorua.
Location: Queens Drive
9. Hot Water Beach (Te Rata Bay)
Not to be confused with the famous Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, Te Rata Bay features a small hot stream falling into Lake Tarawera. It is accessible by water taxi and is also part of the 15km (9 miles) Tarawera Trail.
Location: Water Taxi from Tarawera Road, Lake Tarawera. Alternatively, access the Tarawera Trail from Te Waiora car park on Tarawera Road.
10. Hamurana Springs
[Update: This attraction is no longer free. The fee is under NZ$20].
Blue, green, turquoise: the waters of the Hamurana Springs look like the something from a fairy tale. The deepest freshwater spring of the North Island is, in fact, a tranquil stream that begs to be photographed! Swimmers beware: the water is fresh… Very fresh!
Location: Hamurana Springs is located about 15km (9 miles) northeast of Rotorua, along Hamurana Road.