Sometimes, the best spots are just a little bit off the beaten path.
Whether you’re new to visiting Rotorua or you haven’t been here in a while, don’t just stick to the main streets or familiar routes when you’re out and about. Veer down a side street or travel just a bit further down the highway and discover these hidden gems.
Have fun at aMAZEme
Autumn is a great time to gather up the kids, the grandies, even the neighbours’ kids, and head to aMAZEme, a really cool spot that’s part living maze (pictured at top), part animal encounter (pictured above) and part backyard. This is one of the best places in Rotorua to get outside, burn off some excess energy and enjoy some quality family time.
More than a decade ago, 1,400 escallonia shrubs were planted and pruned into a 1.4km maze of seemingly endless spirals with openings that may or may not take you the right way, and surprise dead ends. Try to avoid the permanent blocks forcing you to retrace your steps!
Once you’ve conquered the maze – or it has conquered you – head to the outdoor play area where the kids will find loads to do and giant board games to play such as Connect 4, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo and more!
Everyone loves McGregor's Garden, too, with raised garden beds full of seasonal fruit, berries and vegetables, and the small-animal enclosure where they delight in the petting the animals.
aMAZEme is wheelchair accessible, and you’re welcome to bring along a picnic to enjoy onsite.
Where: 1335 Paradise Valley Road
When: 10am-5pm daily during school holidays; 10am-4pm, Thursday to Monday during school terms
Learn about Rotorua’s early days at Buried Village of Te Wairoa
The Buried Village of Te Wairoa provides an amazing way to learn about the significant role the Pink and White Terraces played in creating a tourism economy in New Zealand (ca. 1850s), and how guiding became a formalised profession, largely led by the local bilingual Māori women of Ngāti Tūhourangi.
Learn about the local Māori people who lived in the area, and how their and the European cultures were integrated during an important phase in our country’s social development.
However, perhaps the main event is featured in the museum’s records and exhibition of artefacts depicting the devastating eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886, as well as New Zealand’s most-visited archaeological site where you’ll see the remains of excavated evidence and recreated scenes from the historic devastation.
After your self-guided tour, enjoy a hot tea or coffee and delicious eats at Smith & Co café onsite (operating the same days and but closes at 3pm).
Where: 1180 Tarawera Road
When: 10am-4pm (last entry at 3.45pm), Wednesday to Sunday
Plan a Who Dunnit evening at Level 13 Theme Rooms and Costume Hire
Level 13 Theme Rooms and Costume Hire is in the city centre but the low-key entrance is easily missed. The underground location perfectly suits this fringe business that is, hands-down, the most unique and inspired venue in Rotorua (and probably New Zealand) that’s available for private event hire such as a special birthday, anniversary or other event to commemorate. Or maybe you’re keen to enjoy a Murder Mystery Nights with a group of friends. Read on, my friend!
That owners Deb and Jeff have backgrounds in film and TV in New Zealand and the UK becomes immediately evident the moment you step over the threshold. Here, their specialist skills in set design and costumery are mesmerising – the details decorating and theming the bar area features hand-stencilled walls, air-brushed embellishments, and latex props. Seeing just the bar area is not enough.
Level 13’s five themed rooms include the post-apocalyptic spacescape of the Rocket Room, the glitzy 1920s Ritz, the medieval Viking’s lair called The Keep, and others. Choose your theme and reserve the room or rooms you’ll need, then everyone picks their costumes from the selection of thousands of professional theatre-worthy pieces. Food and beverage packages can be tailored to your needs, and the fully licensed bar is stocked with all your favourites.
Level 13 also hosts regular events such as the ever popular Chaos Unscripted comedy nights, live music, and super-fun quiz nights.
Where: 1141 Eruera Street
When: Varies, please check their website
Shop or make at Amokura Glass
If you love to support artists and artisans, or need a special gift for someone (heads up: Mother’s Day is just around the corner!) head to Amokura Glass.
Glass blower extraordinaire and hot glass studio owner and instructor Heather Kremen has been shaping molten glass for more than a decade. Her high-quality items like drinking glasses, vases and bowls and more are not only incredible to display and look at, but they’re functional and award-winning pieces of art as well.
If you’re keen to try glass blowing yourself, Heather offers a range of introductory workshops for you to make a colourful paperweight, pumpkin or tumbler. Group and locals’ discounts are available.
Where: 153 Fairy Springs Road
When: 9am-5pm, Friday to Monday
Lunch at Ciabatta Café & Bakery
There must be something in the water here that attracts Swiss bakers to Rotorua but we’re certainly not complaining.
Tucked away on White Street, in an industrial area, Alex and wife Sue opened Ciabatta Café & Bakery several years ago and became an instant hit with the locals around them. It wasn’t long before word got out to the rest of Rotorua that this is the place to go for lunch featuring freshly constructed warm ciabatta sandwiches (Smokie, Chookie, Hammie, Lammie, Veggie or Brekkie), the Long Dog (possibly the world’s longest hot dog), or a filled pretzel. If the cooler temperatures outside have you hankering for something homey, their goulash is an absolute must.
Of course, amazing Swiss pastries like fruit-filled turnovers, Danishes and streusel, flaky almond croissants, pain au chocolat, their famous cronuts (pictured above) and more.
Everything is made onsite, the coffee is great, and of course their fresh-baked breads are worth taking home to make your own sandwiches for your lunchbox.
Where: 38 White Street
When: 8am-3pm, Tuesday to Friday; 8am-2pm, Saturday
Dine at Poco Tapas and Wine
At Poco Tapas and Wine, it’s the little things. Friendly greetings as you arrive; a light, bright second-floor venue that’s not too big; and a menu offering a dozen or so small, seasonal, shareable dishes like seared scallops, pork tenderloin, and their famous chicken tenders. A must-try is the charred iceberg salad – sounds a bit strange perhaps, but it’s truly delish!
Poco opens at 4pm, just in time to enjoy gathering with friends and colleagues straight after work for happy hour (4-6pm), or arrive a bit later, order a few dishes and call it dinner. The cocktails and wine list are great, too, and the service friendly and attentive. Visit a second time and you’ll be greeted like a lifelong friend.
Since opening in February this year, Poco has become a happening little place, so we suggest booking a table, especially for groups.
Where: 1183 Arawa street, upstairs in the O’Sullivan Clemens building
When: 4-10pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Satisfy sweet your tooth at Marshmallow
Marshmallow is heaven for anyone who loves a sweet bite. You’ll find this quiet little shop decked out in pink in the city centre down Hinemoa Street near Fenton Street.
Heavenly slices and cupcakes are baked onsite daily, with the flavour combos changing weekly. Slices like triple chocolate brownie, caramilk brownie, cookie caramel, raspberry blondie, Malteasers, cookies and cream, and others, do the rounds. Making a daily appearance is their soon-to-be-famous Pinky Slice in all of its gooey, caramelly, marshmallowy glory.
Cupcakes come in raspberry, lemon passionfruit meringue, white chocolate and more, and freshly baked cookies are kept at the perfect temperature in the cookie warmer.
Where: 1137 Hinemoa Street
When: 9am-4pm, Tuesday to Friday; and 10am-3pm Saturday