The Guide to Rotorua on a Budget© Unsplash
The Guide to Rotorua on a Budget

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to Rotorua šŸ’ø [2024]

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Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
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How to Plan a Cheap Trip to Rotorua

Rotorua might be home to some of the most popular attractions in New Zealand, from Māori cultural shows and dinners to white water rafting over waterfalls. But they aren’t exactly known for being cheap. No worries, because Rotorua is packed with free and cheap attractions too! Many of Rotorua’s geothermal features are free to enjoy, while budget motels, hostels and holiday parks make your stay in Rotorua extra affordable. Want us to prove it? Just check out the details in this budget and backpacking guide to Rotorua.

6 Tips for Visiting Rotorua on a Budget

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here are some quick tips to help you save money in Rotorua:

  1. Visit in the low season (May to September) to find discounts on accommodation and activities
  2. Stay in budget accommodation so you can save more for activities
  3. Fill up some of your itinerary with free and cheap activities
  4. Book into self-catering accommodation to save money on food
  5. Be choosy about the paid activities you do. Check out some of the Rotorua must-dos and plan what you’re going to do before your visit to reduce the chances of regretful impulse buys
  6. You don’t need a car to enjoy the attractions of Rotorua, with many in the city centre and public buses taking you to attractions like the Skyline Gondola, National Kiwi Hatchery, Whakawerawera Redwood Forest, Te Puia and more.

For more advice, check out the 20 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.

The Guide to Rotorua on a Budget© Pxhere

The Best Free Activities in Rotorua

With geothermal attractions, amazing forest reserves, lakes and a whole bunch of walks to experience them all, there are plenty of free ways to enjoy Rotorua.

Free Hot Pools

Get in on some of the geothermal action by dipping in one of Rotorua’s free natural hot pools. One of the highlights is Kerosene Creek (Old Waiotapu Road) with a picturesque waterfall dropping off into a steaming hot pool. The Bridge (Waiotapu Loop Road) or “Secret Spot” near the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park is also a good option for a free dip after you’ve wandered around one of Rotorua’s most affordable geothermal attractions.

Warning: don’t put your head underwater at any geothermal pool, as there is a risk of contracting amoebic meningitis.

Find more free hot pools and their locations in the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.

Free Geothermal Park

The cheapest geothermal attraction, however, can be found right in the city centre of Rotorua at Kuirau Park (Kuirau Street). It’s so cheap, it’s free! Wander around the park and see pools of bubbling mud, a steaming lake and some geothermal foot baths. See more attractions like this in the 10 Free Natural Attractions in Rotorua.

Free Walks in Rotorua

Also on the itinerary for a budget trip to Rotorua should be one of the many amazing walks. The Whakawerawera Redwood Forest (Longmile Road) is a popular option with a wealth of walk and bike trails among the Californian redwoods and New Zealand ferns. We also like Maunga Kākaramea (Rainbow Mountain) (1 hr 30 mins one way) for its views of a steaming cliff face and summit views of the surrounding countryside.

If you’re feeling fit, why not try the Tarawera Trail (5 hours one way) along Lake Tarawera and all the way to a campsite with yet another free geothermal hot spring flowing into the lake. Boat transport with Totally Tarawera is available to return you back to where you started. For more ideas, check out the 20 Best Walks in Rotorua.

Plus, for more free activities, head to the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.

The Guide to Rotorua on a Budget© NZPocketGuide.com

The Best Cheap Activities in Rotorua

If you have some room in your budget, then these paid activities won’t set you back too far while still providing tons of fun.

Wingspan, The National Bird of Prey Centre

Check out Wingspan, which is the National Bird of Prey Centre (1334 Paradise Valley Road). For only around NZ$30 per adult entry, visitors can see rare New Zealand birds of prey close-up in the rehabilitation centre, such as the New Zealand falcon, morepork (dwarf owl) and harrier hawks. Admission also includes access to a mini-museum, as well as birds of prey flying displays to see these impressive birds in action.

Hamurana Springs

For an off-the-beaten-track nature experience and some of the clearest pools of water you’re ever likely to see, head to Hamurana Springs (773 Hamurana Road). Enjoy a self-guided walk of various lengths for under NZ$20 to see lush native forest and crystal clear freshwater springs and learn about the culturally significant sites of the area. On-site is also a 9-hole golf course which requires an additional but another affordable fee.

Hell’s Gate

The only mud spa in Rotorua, Hell’s Gate (351 State Highway 30) is a geothermal activity in Rotorua with a difference. Experience the mud, which you lather on yourself to open your skin, and wash it off in the sulphur mineral water that has been used by the local Māori for more than 800 years. The experience starts at around NZ$40 but optional transport from your Rotorua accommodation is available. Book your entry to Hell’s Gate on Viator, Klook or whatever you prefer!

For more cheap experiences, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.

The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget šŸ’ø [2024]© NZPocketGuide.com

Cheap Food in Rotorua

Although we always recommend that cooking your own meals is the best way to stick to a budget – just check out 10 Easy Meals to Cook in a Hostel in 10 Minutes, there are plenty of affordable dining experiences in Rotorua if you’re looking to treat yourself.

For classic Kiwi favourites, head to the Patrick’s Pies Gold Star Bakery (89 Old Taupo Road) for their hearty savoury pies. Also try out Lady Janeā€™s Ice Cream Parlour (1092 Tutanekai Street, Eat Streat) where there are more than 50 ice cream flavours, Danish waffle cones, sundaes, smoothies and more.

For an affordable lunch, check out Rotorua’s very own French cafe, Le Cafe De Paris (1206 Hinemoa Street) for affordable crĆŖpes and breakfasts. And for dinner, get irresistibly cheap eats at Sobar (1104 Tutanekai Street, Eat Streat) with nightly meal deals on things like nachos, pizzas, chicken wings and more.

For more recommendations, check out The Cheap Eats in Rotorua.

The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget šŸ’ø [2024]© NZPocketGuide.com

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 and 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 (587 Waimangu Road) is a 17 km (10.5 mi) 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

Wai-O-Tapu (201 Waiotapu Loop Road) 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 that the Lady Knox Geyser only erupts (with a little help) once daily, at 10:15 am, so time your visit accordingly.

Plus, for more natural wonders visit our guide, Natural Wonders of New Zealand.

Te Puia

The most famous thermal area in Rotorua is Te Puia (20 Hemo Road), combining Māori cultural experience and geothermal attractions like the Pohutu Geyser that erupts 30 m (100 ft) high and over 20 times per day.

Compare all of Rotorua’s geothermal parks and more in the 10 Best Geothermal Parks in Rotorua & 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.

The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget šŸ’ø [2024]© Destination Rotorua

Adventure Activities in Rotorua

If your budget allows it, Rotorua has plenty of adventure activities to offer within a short walk, drive or 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 and Klook)Kaituna Cascades (on Viator and Klook) and Kaitiaki Adventures. See how the rafting in Rotorua compares with the 10 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in New Zealand.

Ziplining Tours

We also love Rotorua Canopy Tours (147 Fairy Springs Road), a 3-hour journey deep into virgin native New Zealand forest. Stand up to 22 m high in the forest, zip-lining from tree to tree. Learn more about Rotorua Canopy Tours on Viator, Klook or KKday.

Alternatively, Rotorua Ziplines (761 State Highway 33) is Rotorua’s new kid in the trees, a series of exciting ziplines through native forest and over the tumultuous rapids of the Kaituna River and Okere Falls. The eco-tour also provides an educational experience in learning about the local flora, fauna and culture, as well as gives guests the opportunity to plant a tree to add to the natural beauty. Learn more about Rotorua Ziplines on Viator and Klook.

Then, see how these compare 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 Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget šŸ’ø [2024]© NZPocketGuide.com

The Māori 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.

Māori Villages and Shows

The many Māori village attractions in Rotorua await you to share their stories, legends, songs and myths. Immerse yourself in the rich Māori culture in one of the five main villages:

You will be treated to traditional food like a hāngī, 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 Māori etiquette by checking out our guide, Māori Etiquette: What to Do When Visiting a Marae.

Plus, get more information in the 50 Places to Experience Māori Culture in New Zealand.

The Travel Guide to Rotorua on a Budget šŸ’ø [2024]© NZPocketGuide.com

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 20 Best Walks in Rotorua. Otherwise, see below for a quick overview of the highlights.

Redwood Memorial Grove Track (30 Mins)

The Redwood Memorial Grove Track (Longmile Road) 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 Mins)

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 21 km (13 mi) from Rotorua. Drive down Trout Pool Road to find the track to Okere Falls.

Blue Lake Track (1 Hr)

Starting from the northwest corner of the Blue Lake Reserve, the Blue Lake Track (Tarawera Road) is only 1 hour but passes through an exotic forest, isolated beaches and a worthwhile view of the Green and Blue Lake.

Rotorua Walkway (5-7 Hrs)

The Rotorua Walkway runs for 26 km and will lead you to all the important historic sites of the area. Start at Kuirau Park. See the Rotorua Walkway Map for more details.

Maunga Kākaramea (Rainbow Mountain) Crater Lake Walk (15 Mins)

About 15-minute drive south of Rotorua, Maunga Kākaramea’s Crater Lake Walk (State Highway 5) will amaze any volcano fans, with a great view of the crater lake. Also, hike the Maunga Kākaramea Summit Track (1 hr 30 mins) one way for elevated views of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area and other lakes.

Hinehopu/Hongi’s Track (1 Hr 30 Mins)

About 30 km (18 mi) 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 Rotorua

That’s it for our backpacking guide to Rotorua on a budget, 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:

Finally, check out even more money-saving tips in The Budget & Backpacking to New Zealand, as well as how to plan the rest of your travels around the North Island in the North Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 2 Weeks and North Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 1 Week.

Sources:

The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Robin C.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Robin, who is the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. With more than 15 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, Robin has co-founded three influential tourism businesses and five additional travel guides for South Pacific nations. He is an expert in New Zealand travel and has tested over 600 activities and 300+ accommodations across the country.

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