How to Plan a Trip to Rotorua
The caldera-formed lake that Rotorua sits on the shores of is just the beginning of its geothermally-formed landscape. From a vibrant-red volcano to the steaming lakes, hot springs, colourful sulfur formations and bubbling mud, Rotorua is like stepping onto another planet. But its culture will bring you back to earth with captivating Maori performances and meals prepared in an underground oven known as a “hangi”. Not forgetting that this is, indeed, New Zealand so breathtaking lake and forest landscapes and adventure activities are all part of the Rotorua experience.
So whether you’re seeking a bit of luxury or sticking to a budget, taking the kids or enjoying a getaway just the two of you, let this travel guide to Rotorua be a launching pad for planning a trip according to your unique travel style.
Common Questions About Rotorua
Before we get into this complete travel guide to Rotorua, here are a few common questions travellers have about visiting this geothermal hotspot.
Is Rotorua Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Rotorua is home to some of New Zealand (and the world’s) best examples of geothermal parks and Maori cultural shows. These are the two main reasons to visit Rotorua, while the city is also packed with diverse tourist attractions.
Where is Rotorua Located?
How Do You Get to Rotorua?
Rotorua is well connected to the rest of New Zealand by road, located on State Highway 5, 2h45mins from Auckland and one hour from Tauranga and Taupo. The closest international airport is Auckland Airport with plenty of car rental options available, as well as domestic flights to Rotorua Airport. Rotorua is also on the main national bus route, which you can find more information about in Bus Networks in New Zealand.
What is the Weather Like in Rotorua?
The daily average temperature is 12.8°C/55.0°F, while the yearly average rainfall is 1,522mm/59.9″. Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
Why Does Rotorua Smell?
Many liken the smell in Rotorua to “rotten eggs”, which is actually the naturally occurring smell of hydrogen sulphide caused by geothermal activity.
What to Do in Rotorua
Rotorua might be known for its geothermal parks and Maori experiences but the town also offers its fair share of adventure and relaxation. Have some adrenaline-fuelled fun by rolling down a hill in a Zorb ball or in a Luge kart, ride giant ziplines through the forest, or see amazing native birds at the town’s conservation centres.
The Top Experiences in Rotorua
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Rotorua highlights:
- See geothermal wonders at Wai-O-Tapu (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Relax in one of the hot pools complexes or free hot springs
- Roll down a hill in a Zorb ball (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Race on the Luge tracks of the Skyline Gondola
- Immerse in the Maori culture such as at Tamaki Maori Village (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- See rare birds of prey at Wingspan
- Take a trip to Hobbiton or one of the other The Best Day Trips from Rotorua…
… And the list continues over in our 20 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Rainy Day Activities
Rotorua is not a bad place to be caught in the rain, as you can enjoy highlights like geothermal parks and Maori shows whatever the weather. Nevertheless, here are some all-weather backups, just in case:
- Go white water rafting on the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Play mini golf, bowling, laser tag, escape rooms and more at Motion Entertainment
- Relax in the hot pools of the Polynesian Spa (more info on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more ideas, head to the 8 Things to Do in Rotorua on a Rainy Day.
Things to Do at Night
The daytime is just the beginning! Let the excitement continue well into the evening with these experiences:
- See a cultural show and try a hangi meal at Mitai Maori Village (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Zipline through the forest with Rotorua Canopy Tours (on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or KKday)
- See the Redwoods Treewalk amazing light displays…
… And, of course, we have more where that came from over in the 10 Things to Do in Rotorua at Night.
Where to Stay in Rotorua
Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Rotorua, we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real writers; not some algorithm.
Rotorua for Budget Travellers
You don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy the geothermal and cultural hub of Rotorua. Once you’ve picked your hero activities in Rotorua that you absolutely must do, the rest of your time can be filled with free and cheap experiences. Find the hidden hot pools that are free to bathe in, potter around the geothermal park in the city centre or visit affordable nature centres like Wingspan. Take a deep dive into the budget activities and accommodations in The Guide to Rotorua on a Budget.
Things to Do in Rotorua on a Budget
- Relax in one of the free thermal pools
- Check out one of the surrounding walks, such as the Blue Lake Walk or the Tarawera Trail
- Check out the free geothermal park, Kuirau Park
- Visit the National Bird of Prey Centre, Wingspan
- Enjoy a cheap cruise and buffet meal on the Lakeland Queen (more info on Klook, KKday, Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more ideas, just head to the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
Budget Accommodation in Rotorua
Travellers on a budget are spoiled for choice when it comes to budget accommodation in Rotorua. A seemingly endless list of hostels, holiday parks and motels exist in and around the city, suiting most tastes and budgets. Whittle down some of your options with the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Rotorua.
Rotorua for Luxury Travellers
From tranquil experiences indulging in the mineral-rich waters of Rotorua’s hot pools to exciting adventures like helicopter flights onto the famous Mt Tarawera volcano, Rotorua really offers something for all types of travellers looking for something special. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply prefer to travel in style, Rotorua offers enough variety to curate the ideal luxury getaway for you. Get all the advice you need with The Luxury Guide to Rotorua.
Luxury Activities in Rotorua
- Fly and land on the Mt Tarawera volcano with Volcanic Air (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Enjoy an authentic Maori tour with Kahukiwi Experiences (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Drive the 4WD challenges at Off Road NZ (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- See one of the most stunning and off-the-beaten-track forests with Foris Eco-Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Visit Rotorua’s geothermal and volcanic highlights with Elite Adventures Rotorua Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more details on each experience, as well as other ideas, check out the 10 Best Luxury Experiences in Rotorua.
Luxury Stays in Rotorua
Rotorua really has it all: the international hotels, the luxurious boutique lodges and B&B accommodations. Indulge in resorts with a day spa, hotels with geothermally-heated pools and delectable dining options, as listed in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Rotorua.
Rotorua for Families
Create exceptional family memories in Rotorua, whether it’s through a captivating Maori show or seeing some of New Zealand’s wildlife up-close. Witness the earth in motion at one of the many geothermal parks or enjoy an interactive experience with New Zealand’s farm animals on a farm tour. The opportunities are endless in Rotorua, no matter the age of your little ones, so continue exploring your options in The Guide to Rotorua for Families.
Family Activities in Rotorua
- Experience the famous sheep show and farm tour of Agrodome (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday)
- Meet the kiwi birds, giant trout and more at Rainbow Springs (on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday)
- See Rotorua’s highlights and lakes on Rotorua Duck Tours (on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook)
- Do the family-friendly walks or bike trails of the Whakawerawera Redwood Forest
- Experience that famous NZ adrenaline at Velocity Valley (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).
For more information on each experience, check out the 20 Things to Do in Rotorua with Kids.
Family-Friendly Accommodations in Rotorua
Self-catering motels with thermally-heated swimming pools, holiday parks with children’s playgrounds and bouncy pillows, and hotels with rooms even decorated for the kids, Rotorua certainly offers something exciting for families when it comes to accommodation. Take your pick from the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Rotorua.
Rotorua for Couples
Rotorua is all about treating the senses, which is why it makes such a compulsory stop of any honeymoon itinerary or romantic weekend getaway. The soothing mineral thermal springs, the local tastes at wineries and restaurants, and the sights of beautiful treetop light displays and glowworms in hidden lake caves all add a romantic touch to any couples’ trip to Rotorua. See what other activities, accommodations and eateries we recommend for a special trip with your loved one in The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Rotorua.
Romantic Activities in Rotorua
- Kayak or SUP through a cave of glowworms (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Enjoy the views and the ride of a guided horse trek with Adventure Playground (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Roll down a hill in a giant Zorb ball together (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Enjoy the pretty light show of the Redwoods Treewalk at night
- Fly through the trees together on a ziplining tour with Rotorua Canopy Tours (on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or KKday).
For more information on each activity, check out the 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in Rotorua for Couples.
Romantic Accommodation in Rotorua
A boutique hotel on the lakefront, a lavish hotel stay in the city centre, or how about a quaint B&B stay? Set the tone right by staying in one of the 10 Best Romantic Accommodations in Rotorua.
Rotorua for Foodies
With a street literally called “Eat Streat“, food is kind of a big deal in Rotorua. Maori cuisine can be experienced through evening dinners with cultural performances, as well as through unique bush walks to collect indigenous herbs and spices. Rotorua is also home to a winery, as well as a blueberry winery, while two weekly markets are a great place for more artisanry experiences. Even your accommodation can be a foodie experience, with some of the top fine dining restaurants located in Rotorua’s hotels. So plan a getaway with food being the main focus in The Food Guide to Rotorua.
Food Tours and Experiences in Rotorua
- Try a traditional Maori hangi at Mitai Maori Village (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Tamaki Maori Village (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or Whakawerawera Living Maori Village (on Klook, Viator or Tripadvisor)
- Do the Mamaku Blue Orchard Tour
- Taste wine and craft beers at the local winery and craft beer pub
- Mingle with the locals at the Rotorua Farmers’ Market and Rotorua Night Market
- Forage for native ingredients on a wild food tour with Treetops Lodge & Estate.
For elaboration on each activity, check out the 9 Foodie Experiences in Rotorua.
Where to Eat in Rotorua
- Atticus Finch (1106 Tutanekai Street, Eat Streat)
- Saigon 60s (1205 Fenton Street)
- Ali Baba’s Tunisian Takeaways (1146 Tutanekai Street)
- El Mexicano Zapata (1148 Tutanekai Street)
- Giovanni’s (346 Te Ngae Road)
- Mokoia Restaurant (77 Robinson Avenue)
- The Regent Room (1057 Arawa Street)
Foodie Accommodation in Rotorua
Some of Rotorua’s top fine dining restaurants are established in Rotorua’s hotels, while self-catering accommodation is abundant for those who want to cook with produce perhaps picked up from one of the local markets. Check out your options in the 10 Best Accommodations in Rotorua for Foodies.
More About Rotorua
That’s it for our complete guide to Rotorua, but, unbelievably, not the end of our advice about this amazing hotspot in New Zealand. Check out the following guides to learn more:
- 11 Must-Do Walks in Rotorua
- 21 Awesome Places to Visit in Rotorua
- 10 Free Natural Attractions 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 Best Travel Guide to New Zealand, as well as our North Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary and North Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary.