With the Tarawera Ultramarathon and the NRL All Stars matches on in Rotorua this Saturday, the city will be inundated with athletes, their support crews and those who’ve come to watch.
1. Utilise isite’s free booking servicesFirst things first, sort your accommodation as early as possible. Rotorua has the entire range of options, from backpackers and holiday parks to a five-star hotel and loads of BnBs – and they book up well in advance.
Contact or visit one of the two Rotorua isite Visitor Information Centres and let our travel experts help you find the perfect visitor-only accommodation to match your budget and taste.
Once you know where you’re spending your nights, it’s time to think of any activities you’ll be keen to do and book in as many as possible. Again, this is where our friendly travel specialists can help. They’re happy to provide unbiased advice and can sell the tickets too. They're available at three locations 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day).
2. Head to the lakes and Rotorua Lakefront & Boardwalk
If you love being in, on or near the water, Rotorua has you covered. With 17 out of 18 sparkling lakes available for your fun and exploration, plus three major rivers, you might want to start a Bingo card and set out to see them all.
Enjoy a refreshing freshwater swim in nearly any of the lakes.
Load up your boat, kayak, canoe, packraft, SUP or floaties to check out crystal-clear water and beautiful greenery lining the shores. Pack a couple sammies and something to drink, and enjoy a cruisey afternoon outing. Lakes Rotoiti and Tarawera are very popular for water sports.
Many of our lakes can be enjoyed from the beach or by trail, too.
The boardwalk at Lake Ōkareka takes you through native vegetation and wetland scenery, and features beautiful views and wildlife, including our much-loved New Zealand dabchicks.
The Rotorua lakefront is an awesome place to take in the beautiful scenery along the boardwalk and for the kids to burn off some steam on the epic playgrounds.
3. Hot pools, mud pools and spa treatments
No excuse is needed to take advantage of the abundance of geothermal hot pools and spas here, so pack your favourite swim gear and head to Rotorua for a toasty dose of relaxation and pampering.
Polynesian Spa is a fitting place to start as it’s where the geothermal bathing experience in New Zealand originated. As soon as you dip your toe in the water in one of the 28 hot pools along the edge of Lake Rotorua, you’ll see – and feel – why this place is world famous. Being located along Lake Rotorua, in the city, makes it even more enticing.
Another very special place we love going to is Hell’s Gate (above), New Zealand’s only geothermal mud spa. Give yourself plenty of time here as you’ll want to walk through the incredible geothermal park (with a guide or self-guided) before enjoying a soak in the unique mud bath followed by a hot soak in the mineral-rich waters of the hot pool.
Compared to the historic Polynesian Spa and Hell’s Gate, Secret Spot Hot Tubs is a newby, having opened in late 2019. Book yourself in for a beautiful soak in your own fresh-water cedar hot tub and enjoy tub-side service if you need your beverages topped up.
Another Rotorua lake has hot springs along the water’s edge but it’s a bit tricky to get to. Lucky for you, we know people with boats and floatplanes!
To arrive with a splash, book either Volcanic Air’s floatplane tour or Katoa Lake Rotorua’s jetboat tour, both of which start on Lake Rotorua and deliver you to the secluded Manupirua Springs Hot Pools on Lake Rotoiti. These pools, located right on the edge of the lake and surrounded by native bush, are only accessible by boat or floatplane, making them and the bay a very special place to visit.
4. Free things to doOur beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest is one of Rotorua’s best assets. Six sign-posted tracks ranging from 2 to 34km in more than 5,600 hectares of forest are here for you to explore and take in the natural beauty, admire the different flora and fauna, and just enjoy the fresh air. You can spend an hour or half a day here and it won’t cost you a thing. In fact, we’d recommend frequent and regular visits for forest bathing.
Near the centre of town you can explore Kuirau Park’s natural hot springs, bubbling mud pools, stunning gardens and even a crater lake. Take some time to soak your feet in the recently renovated geothermal foot baths, a lovely way to relax.
More commonly known by locals as the Tree Trust, Centennial Park offers 20 beautiful, grassy, tree-dotted hectares of rolling hills and gullies. In spring, thousands of tui flock here when the trees are in flower, happily singing their little hearts out while they dine on their favourite nectar. Sheep are the eco-friendly grounds keepers here, so be sure to close any gates you go through.
Just beyond the Rotorua Museum and along the south-eastern corner of Lake Rotorua, you’ll find Sulphur Bay Wildlife Refuge. This amazing volcanic playground is not only a unique landscape covered in steam vents and boiling mud pools, but it’s also home to unique plant life and threatened birds who’ve adapted in order to survive in this harsh environment.
5. Book ahead for dining
Nobody likes to be hangry, so avoid last-minute dining disappointment by booking your evening meals. Rotorua offers a diverse food scene.
From fine dining, artisan cafés and restaurants, to tapas, gastropub fare, steambox (meals cooked using natural sources of geothermal steam), hāngī (a traditional Māori underground cooking method), locally brewed craft beer and wine – Rotorua has it all.