Free things to do in Rotorua

Sometimes the best things in life ARE free – especially when we’re talking about the lakes, forests, parks and mountains that are right here in our own backyard.

The next time you’re scratching your head on what to do but your budget’s a bit tight (we get it!), Rotorua has heaps to do that won’t cost you a cent to enjoy.


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 the sunblock, a couple sammies and something to drink, and enjoy a cruisey afternoon outing. Lakes Tarawera (pictured above) and Rotoiti are popular for water sports.
Many of our lakes can be enjoyed from the beach or by trail, too.
The boardwalk at Lake Ōkāreka takes you through native vegetation and wetland scenery, and features beautiful views and wildlife, including our much-loved New Zealand dabchicks.

Lake Tikitapu (pictured above) has the Blue Lake Track which circles the lake in a 5.5km loop. Most of the track takes you through undulating bush, and if you stay left when the track splits, you’ll be taken right back down to the shoreline. Feel free to have a swim! Dogs on leads are welcome to join you (please be a good human and clean up their waste responsibly).

While most of our lakes are dotted around the region, one provides an incredible centrepiece and lends its name to our city: Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe.
If you drive north along Fenton Street, you’ll reach Lake Rotorua at the end. It’s also perfectly walkable, in the same direction, from Eat Streat on Tūtānekai Street. Along the lake’s edge the Lakefront boardwalk (pictured above) is a beautiful public space with epic playgrounds for the kids. Following a recent $40 million redevelopment, a beautiful new boardwalk was created that features multiple wide pathways following the shoreline, projecting out over the lake, and criss-crossing in some areas. The grounds have been beautifully landscaped with native plants, sculptures, and plenty of spots to sit and admire the views over to Mokoia Island.
Sulphur Bay Wildlife Refuge is nearby, just beyond the Rotorua Museum to the east, and along the southern end of the lake. In this 145-hectare sanctuary, you’ll find magnificent steam vents, boiling mud pools, naturally hot water and the Puarenga Stream. The refuge is home to unique plant life and threatened birds who’ve adapted in order to survive in this harsh environment

In the opposite direction from the lakefront boardwalk is Ōhinemutu Village which was settled by the Ngāti Whakaue iwi (tribe), a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) that journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand around 1350AD.
The explorers chose this location for their home due to its setting along the geothermal shores of Lake Rotorua which was useful for cooking, bathing and heating.
Ngāti Whakaue gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built, and today the historic village, just 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre, is still home to a few hundred descendants. Visitors are welcome to walk around this living village at no charge, and enjoy the steaming vents, boiling hot pools, and natural beauty that leads many to comment on the tranquillity and spiritually uplifting environment.

Whakarewarewa Forest

Our beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest (pictured at top) is one of Rotorua’s world-renowned assets. Several walking tracks of varying lengths allow you to 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.
Enjoy the simple things in life while exploring the beautiful environment that surrounds our city.

Picture-perfect parks

The Government Gardens is another great place to get some fresh air while stretching your legs.
Rotorua Museum, the Blue Baths, the Klamath Falls Rose Gardens, Te Runanga Tearooms and Band Rotunda are all located here.
Klamath Falls Rose Gardens on Queens Drive are named after Klamath Falls in Oregon, USA – a sister city to Rotorua. Beautiful roses are in bloom from mid-November to June.
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 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.


Majestic mountains

Mount Kakaramea
, or Rainbow Mountain as it’s more commonly known, can be tackled by mountain bike or on foot. It takes the average person on foot an hour and a half to reach the summit but the time will fly by as you check out this amazing geothermal mountain with crater lakes and magically coloured earth. At the summit, 360-degree views reveal Mount Tarawera, three lakes, forests, ranges and even the volcanic peaks of Mount Tongariro to the south.
The first part of the Mount Ngongotahā Nature Loop Track to Jubilee Track follows an easy grade through native bush that features one of the largest rata trees (40 metres tall and counting!) in the Bay of Plenty, plus a viewing platform. It then continues on to where the trail becomes moderately steep until near the summit. Once you reach Mountain Road, keep going as it’s just a short walk further to the summit.

Where there are mountains, there are often waterfalls, and we have a few around here, Tarawera Falls and Tutea Falls being our most famous and free to visit. You can read more about them and a few others in this story.

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