10 awesome Rotorua experiences without the crowds

If you’re an empty nester with some time on your hands, now is the perfect time to visit Rotorua.

 
With schools back in session and the long holiday weekends a distant memory, it’ll feel like you have the whole place to yourself to enjoy these ultimate experiences, organised from relaxing hot pools to adrenalin-pumping adventure.
 

1. Relax and rejuvenate at Polynesian Spa


Historic, therapeutic and world-famous. If you’re looking for one of the best places in Rotorua to relax and get pampered, immerse yourself in New Zealand’s original geothermal bathing experience at Polynesian Spa.
 
Celebrating 50 years this year, Polynesian Spa offers several hot pools, both private and public. We highly recommend the luxurious Deluxe Lake Spa area which has five mineral hot pools, geothermally heated poolside recliners, and premium changing facilities.
 
Four of the pools are fed by the Rachel Spring, providing alkaline-rich water your skin will love. The fifth hot pool contains acidic mineral water from the famous Priest Spring, which is wonderful for tired muscles, and aches and pains. All pools offer tranquil views over Lake Rotorua.
 
The Deluxe Lake Spa also features a cold plunge pool for hot-cold hydrotherapy to detoxify –alternate between hot and cold pools three times for best results.
 
If you’re looking for ways to indulge even more, book yourself in for any of the amazing spa therapies such as facials, body wraps, massages and their specialty, Aix hydrotherapy treatments.
 

2. Skyline Gondola to Volcanic Hills Winery


Another relaxing must-do in Rotorua is to take a scenic gondola up Mt Ngongotahā at Skyline Rotorua. The panoramic views over Lake Rotorua and its namesake city are beautiful by day or night.
 
To add a bit of excitement, grab a helmet and zoom down one of Skyline’s Luge tracks. The Luge is a world first, invented right here in Rotorua. With various track options and more than 5kms of track to ride, once is certainly never enough! You have full control of your three-wheel, gravity-based luge cart to ride as fast or slow as you prefer.
 
While you’re up on the mountain, head over to Volcanic Hills Winery to enjoy the wines made right here in Rotorua, and that same marvellous view. The tasting room is set up so you can pop in and order by the glass or enjoy a wine-tasting experience, with or without a platter of nibbles, as well as purchase a few bottles of your favourite to take with you.
 
If dinner is on the cards, one of the best buffets you’ll ever find is also on the mountain at Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar. The selection is incredible and the food delicious, and again, allows you to make more of that million-dollar view before you take a gondola back down the mountain.
 

3. Volcanic Air floatplane tour to secluded hot pools


Not much needs to be said about a Volcanic Air floatplane tour to the secluded Lake Rotoiti Hot Pools other than “book it.” You’ll love the scenic flight over Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island, then making a splash landing onto Lake Rotoiti for a relaxing hot soak in seven spring-fed hot pools along the lake’s edge.
 
Being accessible only by boat or by air is what keeps this haven so unspoiled and pristine. Enjoy the beauty of the surrounding native flora and fauna.
 

4. Suspended Redwoods Treewalk & Nightlights experience


An estimated one million visitors per year experience this incredible attraction (pictured above and at top). Whether you visit by day or night (or take advantage of both by arriving at dusk), you’ll be transported through this peaceful haven along a series of eco-suspended walkways that gradually reach 20 metres above the forest floor.
 
The Treewalk features the new Horoeka Lantern, a nine metre-tall installation created by world-renowned designer David Trubridge – think treehouse that lights up at night! As with the entire Treewalk system, the Horoeka Lantern is eco-suspended, using no bolts or anchors into the trees. There’s no additional charge to enjoy it.
 

5. Geothermal valley and Māori culture at Te Puia  


Māori cultural performances are back! Te Puia is a long-time favourite of visitors to Rotorua, and witnessing the traditional haka performance is always a special moment for all.
 
The 90-minute Te Rā Guided Experience takes you through the carving and weaving schools at New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, the Kiwi Conservation Centre, and Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley, which of course includes the Southern Hemisphere’s largest active geyser, Pōhutu.

At night, when Te Puia guides sneak you in through a secret passage, you’ll feel like you’ve been given special back-stage access to this famous geothermal valley at night after the park has ‘closed’. In fact, the amazing thing is that if you’ve visited during the day, the valley will look and feel completely different during the Geyser by Night tour.
 
Along the 3km trail, your hosts – some who are fifth generation guides – will share the history and stories of the valley, geothermal features, and the Māori iwi who made this area their home 170 years ago. While we don’t want to give everything away, stops in the tour provide tasty treats, including one made using traditional methods.
 
Speaking of taste sensations, Pātaka Kai restaurant onsite offers an incredible buffet that features hāngī meats and vegetables pulled straight from the ground before serving. Not only that, but it’s the only restaurant sitting adjacent to the world-famous Pōhutu Geyser, providing you with the most incredible views while you dine.
 

6. Tū Te Ihi cultural experience at Tamaki Māori Village


Tamaki Māori Village, New Zealand’s most-awarded cultural attraction, has created a new experience you don’t want to miss. Tū Te Ihi shares ancient concepts, performance and rituals linked to the Matariki cluster of stars high and bright in our winter skies, and mark the start of the new year for Māori. In this immersive four-hour experience, hosts and guests come together to share ideas, reflect on the year passed and contemplate the year to come.

In Māori culture, food is a key component of any special gathering, especially around the time of Matariki, so you’ll enjoy seasonal kai horotai (canapés) under the canopy of the enormous tawa forest before being led on a lantern-lit walk to a lavish three-course family-share hākari (feast) (pictured at top) and the mystical Ahi Taitai (fire ceremony).
 

7. Geothermal and lake tours at Waimangu Volcanic Valley


Another geothermal treasure is the incredible volcanic valley created when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886 and formed the world’s youngest geothermal system. You’ll be amazed at the hot springs, mini geysers and fumaroles, the electric-blue Inferno Crater and steamy Frying Pan Lake, and more. The self-guided tour is fantastic, and if you arrive by certain times, you’ll be able to add on a relaxing boat cruise across Lake Rotomahana to see and learn about the literal hot spots along the lake’s edge that are still steaming, hissing and spouting water.
 

8. e-bike tour at Whakarewarewa Village


At Whakarewarewa - The Living Māori Village, the self-guided Whaka Geothermal Trails walking tour introduced in 2020 was such a hit that the team at Whakarewarewa Village have taken that exploration experience to the next level. They’ve teamed up with Electric Bike Rotorua to offer the Whaka E-Bike Trail experience that provides exclusive access into previously non-accessible areas of the Whakarewarewa Valley Reserve.
 
This is a great leisurely activity for nearly all levels of fitness. Reserve a two, four, or six-hour bike hire, whichever suits you. Once you’ve finished in the valley, you can take the bikes through the famous Whakarewarewa Forest, just a five-minute ride away. In fact, if you’re going for the long haul, pre-order a picnic hamper to take with you.
 

9. Rotorua Canopy Tours ziplining adventure


Rotorua Canopy Tours was recently awarded the World’s Best Nature Experience by TripAdvisor! This incredible three-hour eco-adventure involves six ziplines, two swing bridges, and two amazing guides who take groups up to 10 through a protected ancient forest.
 
Canopy Tours is not only an incredible experience, but an inspirational story of tourism restoring nature. While building the ziplines just over 10 years ago, founders James and Andrew were stunned by the silence in the forest. This was a native forest and should be ringing with bird song! So they set about tracking and trapping pest species, and since then have removed tens of thousands of pests and restored 280 hectares. During your tour, you’ll see – and hear – the amazing results of their success.
 

10. Kaitiaki Adventures or Volcanic Air to the top of Mount Tarawera

Standing sentinel above Rotorua is Mount Tarawera, a sacred site where significant historic events are etched into its landscape.
 
The maunga is revered by all who experience it, displaying an unimaginable volcanic landscape as well as 360-degree views showcasing the east and west coastlines, Whakaari/White Island to the east, Mt Putauaki/Edgecumbe, Mt Ruapehu, and several of the lakes within this volcanic valley.
 
Your excursion to the crater’s edge can include a helicopter or floatplane tour with Volcanic Air, a 4WD tour with Kaitiaki Adventures, or a combination of air and land options, depending on how much time you want to spend at the summit.
 
This culturally steeped hiking expedition with Kaitiaki encompasses the unique environment and history of the area, including the historic events that created the landscape of the Waimangu Valley.
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