The Must-Dos in Rotorua
Not many people come to New Zealand without visiting Rotorua. Action, relaxation, culture, nature… This geothermal hotspot has it all in the centre of the North Island. With a rich cultural history, it will come as no surprise that experiencing the Maori culture is one of the must-dos in Rotorua, while geothermal parks, native bird parks and adventurous ziplining are also on the menu. Make planning your travel itinerary a little easier by scrolling down this list of the very best things to do in Rotorua.
1. See Some Geothermal Wonders
As cliché as it sounds, Rotorua really is a hotbed for geothermal activity in New Zealand. Colourful pools, silica terraces, steamy lakes, geysers and more can be found in various locations around it city. But what are the best geothermal parks in Rotorua?
For vibrant colourful and steamy lakes, visit Wai-O-Tapu (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), while Te Puia has the largest and most impressive geyser in the area (on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor). Alternatively, Waimangu Volcanic Valley covers a much larger area with spectacular craters, huge steaming lakes, bubbling hot springs and more (on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook).
Otherwise, there are plenty of free geothermal attractions for your dose of steamy lakes and bubbling mud, such as Kuirau Park and the free bubbling mud pool lookout just outside of Wai-O-Tapu. For more ideas, take a look at the 8 Best Geothermal Parks in New Zealand.
Location: Wai-O-Tapu – Waiotapu Loop Road, 53km (33 miles) from Rotorua. Te Puia – Hemo Road, Rotorua. Waimangu Volcanic Valley – 587 Waimangu Road, 25km (15.5 miles) from Rotorua town centre. Kuirau Park – Kuirau Street, Rotorua town centre.
2. Relax in a Natural Hot Pool
On the subject of geothermal activity, Rotorua is the place to be for unwinding in a naturally heated hot pool. Choose from the convenience of the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua city centre overlooking Lake Rotorua (more info on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor) or the super affordable Waikite Valley Thermal Pools nestled in native bush (on Klook, Viator or Tripadvisor). For those of you feeling more adventurous, seek out the free natural hot pools spots like Kerosene Creek. We list those ones for you in 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua, as well as paid hot pools in the 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand.
Location: Polynesian Spa – 1000 Hinemoa Street. Waikite Valley Thermal Pools – 648 Waikite Valley Road, Waikite Valley, approximately 28km (17 miles) from Rotorua city centre. Kerosene Creek – Old Waiotapu Road, approximately 28km (17 miles) south of Rotorua.
3. Roll Down a Hill in an Inflatable Ball
Yep, it’s one of the wacky activities in Rotorua which is weird yet ridiculously fun. Your hollow inflatable hamster ball is filled with a little bit of water on the bottom, as well as you and your rolling buddies if you choose, then your ball is unleashed to roll down a hill! Choose from different tracks for this nonsensical tumbling experience. Be aware, once you ride you’ll want to do it again and again… Learn more about Zorb, check out reviews and book tickets on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook.
Location: 525 Ngongotaha Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
4. Do The Luge at Skyline Rotorua
Luging is another ridiculously fun sport in Rotorua, but this one is definitely for those who want to get competitive with their mates or family. Hop in a downhill go-kart with controls only to turn, brake and let gravity do its thing! There are three awesome tracks at Skyline Rotorua blasting through the redwood forest complete with twists, turns and tunnels. See more like this in the 10 Things to Do in Rotorua with Kids.
Location: 178 Fairy Springs Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
5. Immerse in the Maori Culture
Rotorua is the hub for travellers to experience the culture of the first settlers in New Zealand, the Maori. Watch captivating cultural performances of the haka, indulge in a traditional Maori meal called a hangi and learn about this fascinating Polynesian culture first-hand.
All the Maori experiences have different drawcards. For example, there are evening tours with a welcoming ceremony, Maori village, performances and a hangi at Tamaki Maori Village (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) and Mitai Maori Village (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Te Puia (on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor) has Maori culture performances and welcoming ceremonies throughout the day at their geothermal park, while Whakarewarewa Maori Living Village (on Viator and Tripadvisor) combines Maori traditions and a geothermal environment in their daytime tours.
Location: Tamaki Maori Village transport departs from 1220 Hinemaru Street, Rotorua city centre. Mitai Maori Village offers Rotorua accommodation pick-ups. Te Puia – Hemo Road. Whakarewarewa Maori Living Village – 17 Tryon Street.
6. See Rare Birds at Wingspan
New Zealand has many unique bird species and one of the best places to see some of these rare birds is at Wingspan, the National Bird of Prey Centre. Visit the aviary of these birds in rehabilitation close up, such as the New Zealand falcon and the dwarf owl called a morepork or ruru in Maori. Arrive at Wingspan for around 2pm and you can even watch the New Zealand falcon’s daily flight displays.
Location: Paradise Valley Road, approximately 8.5km (5 miles) from Rotorua town centre.
7. Visit the Rainbow Springs Kiwi House
For more wildlife encounters, visit the kiwi house at Rainbow Springs. A behind-the-scenes tour will give you the chance to see young kiwi birds before they are released into the wild as part of a conservation breeding program. A day pass to Rainbow Springs will also give you the opportunity to see more New Zealand native wildlife as well as lots and lots of rainbow trout. Find out more about day passes for Rainbow Springs on Viator, Tripadvisor or KKday.
Location: 192 Fairy Springs Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
8. Walk on Mt Tarawera
Ever wanted to wander around the crater of a volcano? Do just that on Mt Tarawera! This mountain has a hugely significant history in New Zealand with a huge eruption that occurred in 1886 shaping the whole landscape around it. This mountain is only accessible with a guided tour, but with the vibrant red volcanic landscape, a scree slope run and breathtaking photo opportunities, this walk even rivals the famous Tongariro Crossing. Kaitiaki Adventures run walking tours on the mountain (find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor). Alternatively, land on Mt Tarawera on a helicopter tour with Volcanic Air (available on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Plus, see more like this in the 10 Luxury Experiences in Rotorua.
Location: Kaitiaki Adventures – offers pick-ups in Rotorua. Volcanic Air – Lakefront Lakefront Drive.
9. Raft Down the World’s Highest Commercially Rafted Waterfall
That’s right, if you have that go big or go home mantra then white water rafting the Kaituna River is a must! The biggest feature of the river is a 7m (23ft) waterfall, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand! Rafting trips are available with River Rats Rafting (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), Kaituna Cascades (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) and Kaitiaki Adventures (on Viator and Tripadvisor). See how this rafting river compares to the 7 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in New Zealand.
Location: River Rats Rafting – 837 Te Ngae Road, approximately 9km (5.6 miles) from Rotorua town centre. Kaituna Cascades – 18 Okere Falls Road, approximately 20km (12 miles) from Rotorua town centre. Kaitiaki Adventures – 1135 Te Ngae Road, approximately 12km (7 miles) from Rotura town centre.
10. Walk or Cycle in the Redwoods Forest
The Whakawerawera Redwood Forest is one of the most popular attractions in Rotorua – unlike nowhere else in the world with its giant Californian redwood trees combined with New Zealand native ferns. There are various walks to enjoy for all ages, where a walk to a lookout will give you views of Rotorua. Or opt for hurtling down the hills on one of the many mountain bike trails where you can rent electric mountain bikes from Mohawk Ebike Tours. Check them out on Viator or Tripadvisor.
The forest is also home to the Redwoods Treewalk, which can be done in the day to get a different perspective of the forest high in the canopy or at night to see beautiful light displays. Check out more free activities (in relation to the walks you can do in the forest) in the 13 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
Location: Longmile Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
11. Kayak or SUP Through a Cave of Glowworms
One of the lesser-known activities in Rotorua and lesser-known places to see glowworms in New Zealand, Lake Rotoiti hides a small glowworm cave that you can float into via kayak or paddleboard. Join River Rats Rafts & Kayak for a sunset paddle on Lake Rotoiti where you’ll drift through glowworm caves, soak in natural hot springs and conclude with a picnic barbecue dinner. Find out more about this tour on Viator and Tripadvisor. Alternatively, Paddle Board Rotorua offers a shorter experience to the glowworms on a paddleboard or kayak. Again, more details about the tour are listed on Viator and Tripadvisor. See more activities like this in the 10 Most Romantic Activities in Rotorua for Couples.
Location: Paddle Board Rotorua – 1167 Fenton Street. River Rats Rafts & Kayak – 837 Te Ngae Road, approximately 9km (5.6 miles) from Rotorua town centre (pick-ups are available).
12. Zip Through the Trees with Rotorua Canopy Tours
Adventure-seekers, try out Rotorua Canopy Tours. Their classic small-group tour takes you on a thrilling experience ziplining on six huge ziplines through centuries-old forest. Not only will you soar some 22m (72ft) above the ground, but you’ll also learn about the forest on this educational eco-tour. Alternatively, conquer all of the ziplines, including a tandem zipline on The Ultimate Canopy Tour. Learn more about Rotorua Canopy Tours on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or KKday. Then, see how it compares to other zippy thrills in the country in the 10 Best Places to Zipline in New Zealand.
Location: 147 Fairy Springs Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Rotorua city centre. Accommodation pick-ups are included.
13. Experience the Famous Sheep Show and Farm Tour of Agrodome
Make sure all of your expectations about how New Zealand is full of sheep are lived up to by checking out the sheep show and farm tour at Agrodome! You’ll have the option to watch a show on sheep shearing and wool spinning or see the variety of New Zealand farming on the farm tour. Or you could do both! Farmers will introduce you to sheep, cattle, deer, llamas, alpacas, emus and ostriches to feed them, while you’ll also get a chance to feed yourself with organic fruit orchard and honey tastings. It’s the ideal tour for families and foodies alike. Learn more about Agrodome on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday.
Location: 141 Western Road, 10km (6 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
14. Take a Day Trip to One of the Lakes of Rotorua
Looking for free things to do in Rotorua? A day trip to one of the 18 lakes surrounding Rotorua is a fun way to spend the day. We like Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu), which has good swimming beaches, an easy-going walkway and a children’s playground if you have little ones to entertain. Alternatively, Lake Okareka is a great place for a picnic and has a stroller and wheelchair-accessible boardwalk in the wetlands. See more walks in the 11 Must-Do Walks in Rotorua, as well as day trips in The Best Day Trips from Rotorua.
Location: Blue Lake – Tarawera Road, approximately 10km (6 miles) from Rotorua city centre. Lake Okareka – Acacia Road, approximately 12km (7 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
15. Get a Dose of Adrenaline at Velocity Valley
This adrenaline-fuelled theme park features five exciting rides/experiences, many of which are adrenaline activities that New Zealand is famous for! Jump on the giant swing called “Swoop”, experience the thrills of skydiving at “Freefall Xtreme”, feel the speed and sharp turns of the jet boat “Agrojet”, race each other in the rail capsules of the “Schweeb Racer” and do a pants-wetting lean from the “Rotorua Bungy”. Check out Velocity Valley‘s page on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook to book tickets and read reviews.
Location: 1335 Paradise Valley Road, approximately 9km (6 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
16. Mingle with the Locals and Experience the Street Eats at the Markets
There are a couple of excellent weekly opportunities to buy local artisan goodies, fresh produce and fully-prepared meals from food trucks – ideal if you’re a bit of a foodie! The Rotorua Farmers’ Market is a must on a Sunday morning (9am-1pm) where you can pick up local produce, artisan groups, ready-made meals and other goodies. What’s more, the market has a sustainability policy so stallholders only serve food in containers that can be composted or recycled.
Can’t make it to the Sunday market? Head to the Rotorua Night Market on Thursday nights (4.30pm-8.30pm in winter and 5pm-9pm in summer) to try international cuisine and local kai (the Maori word for food). Check out similar experiences, as well as eating recommendations in The Food Guide to Rotorua: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Location: Rotorua Farmers’ Market – Te Manawa, corner of Hinemoa and Tutanekai Streets, Rotorua city centre. Rotorua Night Market – Tutanekai Street, Rotorua city centre (or the Village Green on the lakefront in high COVID alert levels).
17. Soothe Your Skin (and Get Muddy) at Hell’s Gate
If you can’t get enough of Rotorua’s bubbling mud, then this is your place! At Hell’s Gate, not only can you watch bubbling mud, land coral and other features of their geothermal park, but you can also relax in a mud spa bath to rejuvenate your skin. It’s a hot pool experience with a difference! Book your entry to Hell’s Gate on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook, KKday or whatever you prefer!
Location: 351 State Highway 30, Tikitere, approximately 16km (10 miles) or 2o minutes drive from Rotorua city centre.
18. Wander Around the Free Geothermal Park, Kuirau Park
Kuirau Park is a free geothermal park right in the centre of Rotorua, so there’s no excuse to not make it one of the things to do in Rotorua during your visit. The city centre park features steamy lakes, pools, bubbling mud and lots of pukeko – a native bird. You can even bathe your feet in the hot foot baths. Check out more attractions like this in the 10 Free Natural Attractions in Rotorua.
Location: Kuirau Street, Rotorua city centre.
19. Drive the 4WD Challenges of Off Road NZ
Rain or shine, join Off Road NZ for an exciting 4WD self-drive experience. Conquer the challenging trails through the New Zealand bush on the 4WD Bush Safari or leave the driving to the experts on the Monster 4X4 Thrill Ride inside an all-terrain vehicle complete with a roll-cage. If you’re travelling as a group, don’t miss the Raceline Karting experience – a fast go-karting experience on a 1.2km (0.7-mile) track in Sodi 390cc 4 stroke karts that can reach speeds close to 100km/h (60mph). Check out the exciting experiences from Off Road NZ on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, see more rainy day activities in the 15 Things to Do in Rotorua on a Rainy Day.
Location: 193 Amoore Road, Mamaku, approximately 25km (16 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
20. See One of the North Island’s Most Stunning and Off-the-Beaten-Track Forests with Foris Eco-Tours
A small-group or private tour sets the right tone for exploring one of the most stunning forests in New Zealand. Get off the tourist trail with Foris Eco-Tours on either their Whirinaki Forest Tour or Bird Watching Tour and delve into the 1,000-year-old Whirinaki Forest. Venture along the hiking trails of a dense rainforest with mighty natives like kahikatea, matai, miro, rimu and totara towering above, covered in thousands of moss species and home to a wealth of unique New Zealand birds. The experience includes lunch and the guidance of a professional guide and photographer. Find out more about Foris Eco-Tours on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Pick-ups are available from Rotorua accommodation.
21. Enjoy a Guided Horse Trek
Adventure Playground offers guided horse treks on the hills of Mt Ngongotaha where you’ll wind through native forest to open hills overlooking Rotorua and the lake. The tour is suitable for beginners to experienced riders. Find out more about Adventure Playground’s horse trek on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 451 Ngongotaha Road, approximately 7km (4 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
22. Have a Soak at the Secret Spot
An alternative hot pools experience, Secret Spot Hot Tubs is where you can indulge in your own private hot tub. Nestled in the lush forest of the Waipa Valley are 12 cedar hot tubs with fresh water infused with cedar oil. Situated near many of the mountain biking trails of the Rotorua area, they make a soothing way to end an active day. Tubs fit up to six people each. Book your hot tub session on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook. The hot tubs are also one of the 10 Things to Do in Rotorua at Night.
Location: 13/33 Waipa State Mill Road, Whakarewarewa, approximately 5.5km (3.4 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
23. Get Some Hilarious Photos from the 3D Trick Art Gallery
Indoor attractions are definitely worth keeping in mind if you find yourself in Rotorua on a rainy day. Introducing 3D Trick Art Gallery! But this isn’t just any old art gallery. You’ll become part of more than 50 pieces of art, from 3D wall murals to convincing portraits. Find out more about 3D Trick Art Gallery on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook.
Location: 171 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, approximately 4.5km (2.8 miles) from Rotorua city centre.
24. Enjoy a Lake Cruise with a Buffet on the Lakeland Queen
Sightseeing while eating? It’s the perfect combo! The Lakeland Queen paddleboat offers cruises on Lake Rotorua every morning and afternoon to explore highlights like Sulfur Bay, Kawaha Point and Mokoia Island while you indulge in a buffet breakfast or lunch. Lunch also comes with a complimentary glass of wine, beer or juice. Learn more about the Lakeland Queen cruise on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Lakeland Queen – Lakefront Drive, Rotorua city centre.
25. Go for a Bite to Eat on Eat Streat and Beyond
Finally, dining in Rotorua is kind of a big deal, especially since there is a whole street dedicated to eating called “Eat Streat”. A top name on such a street is Atticus Finch, which specialises in innovative plates designed to be shared. To share Kiwis love Vietnamese food, head to Saigon 60s for their authentic pho noodle soups and egg coffee. For something more “New Zealand”, head to Mokoia Restaurant at the Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort for local fare prepared with indigenous herbs and spices. At The Regent Room in the Regent of Rotorua, try their “Taste Indigenous New Zealand” degustation menu. Check out more recommendations in The Food Guide to Rotorua and The Top Cheap Eats in Rotorua.
Location: Atticus Finch – 1106 Tutanekai Street, Eat Street. Saigon 60s – 1205 Fenton Street. Mokoia Restaurant – 77 Robinson Avenue. The Regent Room – 1057 Arawa Street.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Rotorua
That’s it for the best things to do in Rotorua but by no means is the end of our Rotorua travel tips! Check out the following guides for more travel inspiration:
- The Complete Travel Guide to Rotorua
- 20 Awesome Places to Visit in Rotorua
- 10 Best Bike Trails in Rotorua
Finally, if you found this guide useful then you might find planning the rest of your trip super easy with the North Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary and North Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary.