A Guide to Backpacking in Rotorua
Also known as Rotovegas by the locals, Rotorua is a mix of action, relaxation and natural wonders. Rotorua is located in the lower part of the Bay of Plenty and is New Zealand’s geothermal capital. Here, you literally stand on active earth surrounded by boiling mud and geysers.
Volcanos aside, Rotorua has more adrenaline to offer than any other town on the North Island of New Zealand. From Zorbing to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, you will be thrilled, to say the least. For those looking to dive right into New Zealand’s history and learn more about the Maori tribes that populated the country over 800 years ago, Rotorua is the place to be.
So plan your backpacking trip to Rotorua with the cheapest places to stay, free experiences and must-do activities with the help of our Rotorua backpacker guide.
Before we dive in, be sure to bookmark The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget too.
Things You Can’t Miss in Rotorua
- Visit the Buried Village of Te Wairoa (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Relax in a free natural hot pool
- Check out the Waimangu Volcanic Valley
- Spend some time in a Maori village, such as Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village (on Klook, Viator or Tripadvisor)
- Raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world the 7m Tutea Falls with River Rats Rafting (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Take a hike or bike in the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest.
For more experiences worth trying, check out the 20 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Affordable Geothermal Parks in Rotorua
At first, the smell of rotten eggs wrapping up the city can be a bit off-putting but this small detail is just the first sign of the powerful activity that is happening underground. Hot mud pools, geysers, craters Rotorua is a reminder that the earth is a living and breathing mechanism. Here are a few options to enjoy Earth’s power when backpacking in Rotorua.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
The Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a 17km (10.5-mile) rift in a mountain split in half by an eruption. The seven craters around display colourful lakes, small geysers and silica terraces. See them all by taking various walks through the valley down to Lake Rotomahana, where you can hop on a cruise to see more amazing geysers and steaming cliffs.
Have a look at the 10 Free Natural Attractions in Rotorua for similar experiences.
Wai-O-Tapu is a geothermal park, home to the Lady Knox Geyser, huge mud pools and what are considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful geothermal attractions. It is one of our favourite spots in Rotorua. Be aware though, the Lady Knox Geyser only erupts once daily, at 10:15am, so time your visit accordingly. Read reviews and book tickets for Wai-O-Tapu on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Plus, for more natural wonders visit our guide, Natural Wonders of New Zealand.
The most famous thermal area in Rotorua is Te Puia, combining Maori cultural experience and geothermal attraction like the Pohutu Geyser that erupts 30m (100ft) high and over 20 times per day. Check it out on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor.
Compare all of Rotorua’s geothermal parks and more in the 8 Best Geothermal Parks in New Zealand.
Free Hot Pools
Nothing feels better than relaxing in soothing natural hot water after a long day in a bus, car or hiking. Rotorua has many spas around filled with the famous geothermally heated mineral waters. On a backpacker budget, however, we recommend visiting the free hot springs, like Kerosene Creek, the Wai-O-Tapu Secret Spot and more. Check out more details and locations of the hot springs in the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
Adventure Activities in Rotorua
If your budget allows it, Rotorua has plenty of adventure activities to offer within a short walk, drive, shuttle ride from the city centre.
White Water Rafting
On the Kaituna River, you can raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand, a 7m (23ft) drop into water that is populated by sacred eels and breathtaking scenery. 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 the rafting in Rotorua compares with the 7 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in New Zealand.
We also love Rotorua Canopy Tours, a 3-hour journey deep into virgin native New Zealand forest. Stand up to 22m high in the forest, zip-lining from tree to tree. 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.
Weird Extreme Activities
Other activities include Zorb: going down a hill in a huge hamster ball, Shweeb: a suspended aerodynamic capsule on track, or luging. Luge is essentially downhill go-karting simple, but heaps of fun. Grab a bunch of mates and race to the finish!
For more epic activities that are affordable, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
The Maori Culture of Rotorua
Rotorua is a perfect example of living history; the term often used to describe the city applies perfectly to this mix of technology, ancient beliefs and ancient geothermal wonders.
Maori Villages and Shows
The many Maori village attractions in Rotorua await you to share their stories, legends, songs and myths. Immerse yourself in the rich Maori culture in one of the five main villages:
- Tamaki Maori Village (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village (on Klook, Viator or Tripadvisor)
- Te Puia (on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Mitai Maori Village (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Buried Village of Te Wairoa (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
You will be treated with traditional food like a hangi, a roast cooked with your help in an oven underground, while an elder tells you the story of his ancestors. The young warriors will train for combat in front of you and teach you their famous Haka dance. Be prepared with the Maori etiquette by checking out our guide on what to do when entering a Marae (a Maori meeting place).
[Update: the Rotorua Museum is closed until further notice].
The Rotorua Museum is also a great way to learn about the history of the city and the tribes of the area. Around the town, you can also look for a carved bone and greenstone in the most traditional way. Or for the bravest, get a Maori tattoo.
Get more information in 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
Hikes Around Rotorua
On the hiking side of backpacking in Rotorua, there are many tracks and trails around worth visiting. Get the full list and track descriptions from the 11 Must-Do Walks in Rotorua. Otherwise, see below for a quick overview of the highlights.
Redwood Memorial Grove Track (30 Minutes)
The Redwood Memorial Grove Track will take you on a journey deep into the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest, it is also a great place to mountain bike.
Okere Falls Track (30 Minutes)
This waterfall is the site of white water rafting, kayaking and sledging. Take a walk to the falls to watch people get their adrenaline rush. Get there by taking State Highway 33, about 21km (13 miles) from Rotorua. Drive down Trout Pool Road to find the track to Okere Falls.
Blue Lake Track (1 Hour)
Starting from the northwest corner of the Blue Lake Reserve, the Blue Lake Track is only 1hour but passes through an exotic forest, isolated beach and a worthwhile view of the Green and Blue Lake.
Rotorua City Walkway (4-5 Hours)
The Rotorua City Walkway runs for 26km and will lead you to all important historic sites of the area. Start at Kuirau Park.
Rainbow Mountain Crater Lake Walk (15 Minutes)
About 15-minute drive south of Rotorua, Rainbow Mountain’s Crater Lake Walk will amaze any volcano fans, with a great view of the crater lake. Also, hike the Rainbow Mountain Summit Track (1h30mins) one way for elevated views of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area and other lakes.
Hinehopu/Hongi’s Track (1h30mins)
About 30km (18 miles) north of Rotorua, between Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoehu, the Hinehopu or Hongi’s Track follows the steps of chief warrior Hongi Hika.
More About Backpacking Rotorua
That’s it for our guide to backpacking Rotorua, but not the end of our Rotorua advice! Check out these other guides that might not necessarily fall under the “backpacker” category, but are still pretty useful:
- 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua
- The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget
- The Top Cheap Eats in Rotorua
Finally, plan the rest of your travels around the North Island in the North Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: Two Weeks and North Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: One Week.