If you and your BFFs or mates love to gather for a long weekend of fun activities, chilling with a few wines or at a beer garden, splurging here and there on some excellent food, then Rotorua is for you.
There’s so much to do here and so many places to wine and dine that we suggest making a good plan, and if you need help with that, read on, my friends.
One must start their day with a good breakfast and coffee or two. The deliciously hearty dishes at Scope, plus their award-winning service and bursting-at-the-seams sweets cabinet have set a fail-proof trap for hungry folks. The welcoming atmosphere has created a loyal following and you’ll often see owner Dana out on the floor greeting her regulars by name. We love the theme, from the hunting-chic interior design to the hearty meals with names like Healthy Buck, Fearless Huntress, and Bush Tucker.
Now that you’re happily fed and caffeinated, let’s kick your weekend into high gear with a bucket list-worthy thrill. The guys at New Zealand Whitewater Academy (pictured above and at top) have you covered here – but this is not the whitewater rafting you frequently read about when Rotorua is mentioned. No, this is a newer adventure option!
With the mission to revive the lost art of tandem kayaking on the Kaituna River, mates Rob and Sam teamed up to form NZWA after nearly 30 years of guiding down this river and others around the world. Incidentally and perhaps surprisingly, they’re also the only company in the North Island to offer kayaking instruction through courses, workshops and camps.
With you in the front seat, your guide in the back, and a GoPro secured to the bow, off you’ll surge through 14 exciting rapids and a few waterfalls, prepping you well for the big kahuna – the world’s tallest commercially kayaked waterfall, seven-metre tall Tutea Falls.
Through the quieter sections of the river, you’ll be able to catch your breath and admire the beautiful surroundings while hearing about the river gorge you’re kayaking through, local history, and the cultural and ecological significance of this world-famous little river in the Okere Falls community.
Up to four friends can paddle the river together and, not only will you have the time of your life, but you’ll be able to share your adventure with the raw GoPro footage that’s included in the tour cost.
Before you head off on your next activity, call in at Okere Falls Store for a delish bite to eat out in the beer garden while you relive your kayaking thrills.
Now would be a great time to unwind in the Manupirua Springs Hot Pools on Lake Rotoiti. Getting to this secluded spot is possible only by boat or air.
Choose to make a splash landing when you arrive via floatplane tour with Volcanic Air (pictured above), or on a jetboat with Katoa Lake Rotorua.
Or, take a longer, cruisier option aboard Pure Cruise’s 53-foot luxury yacht Tiua, the perfect way to really disconnect from the world as you sail across the clear blue lake. Along the way, enjoy fishing for trout, relaxing in beanbags on the bow, drinks in the galley or on deck from the licensed bar, and the crew’s renowned attentive and professional service. There’s a lot of scope to tailor a cruise to your linking, as well, so give them a call to discuss.
Once you’ve worked up your appetite again, we suggest heading to The Fainting Goat and tuck into one of their famous sharing platters (pictured above). The menu also features gourmet pizza by the foot, brisket sliders, the best crispy wings anywhere, slow-cooked New Zealand prime cuts, vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options.
The Goat is just a block from Eat Streat, so if you feel like a short walk followed by a cold drink, head toward the lake to find CBK’s new beer garden or Rotorua-brewed beers at Brew, or Ambrosia – excellent places to unwind and catch up on all that’s been going on in your worlds.
Ready for more adventure? Book in for the Ultimate Tour at Rotorua Canopy Tours. Ziplining through an ancient forest with this multi award-winning company is an experience that’s both incredible and unforgettable. Not only will you fly across six ziplines for a total of 1,200 metres, but you’ll traverse a 50-metre-high cliff walkway, three suspended swing bridges, an 18-metre-high controlled descent, and more. Incredible!
If you time it right and your thirst buds are pinging for something refreshing after your tour, head across the road from the HQ of Rotorua Canopy Tours to Volcanic Hills Winery atop Mt Ngongotahā. To get there, take the Skyline Rotorua Gondola up the mountain to the Tasting Room to enjoy the tipples of Rotorua's only winery. Or skip the tasting, request your preferred variety, add in a platter of nibbles if you’d like, and check out the stunning views of Lake Rotorua and the cityscape. Open daily from 12-6pm.
Just about the time Volcanic Hills closes up is a great time to try the Night Luge at Skyline, which is currently open daily until 10pm through to the end of January. From February 1st, keep an eye on this page for updates to these hours.
A must-try restaurant is Poco Tapas & Wine on Arawa Street. This gorgeous little spot knocks it out of the park with delicious seasonal dishes to share (but no judgement if you prefer not to!) as well attentive and exceptional service you just don’t find very often. The team on the floor – Megan, Joy and Natika – help you navigate the menu, suggest wine and cocktail pairing, keep your water glasses full, clear your empty plates and keep the dishes coming steadily, not all at once, so everything is fresh and hot from the kitchen. They do this all with a smile that says, “welcome, we’re glad to see you.”
This is place is very popular, so it pays to reserve a table in advance.
Today’s a great day to go mountain biking. This is an activity you can do at your own pace and for as long as you like (or your backside can tolerate). Being one of the best mountain biking destinations in New Zealand, Rotorua’s trail network is incredible. There are trails for every level of experience and skill, from naught to expert, and the network is constantly evolving.
One of the newest trails to open –and gain Great Ride status – is Whakarewarewa Forest Loop, a 33km circular route that offers variety, culture and views. If you’re a confident rider, this is a great trail for a group ride. There are plenty of spots to stop and take in the gorgeous views, including the one above, and you’ll find the variety of uphill, downhill and flat sections interesting, fun and fairly easy to navigate.
E-bikes are welcome and if you don’t have one of those or any kind of mountain bike of your own, just get in touch with Mountain Bike Rotorua, Planet Bike or Electric Bike Rotorua and they’ll sort you out with the right gear. They also offer guided tours if you wish to have a local expert join your group.
Pro tip: Mountain biking is very popular here so book your rental bikes well in advance, if you can.
You’ll surely work up a mean appetite and there’s no better place to fill that void in your tummies than Sabroso. Since 2007, Sabroso has been serving up the most amazing traditional dishes from the Caribbean, Central and South America, all infused with Latino warmth and hospitality. It’s the perfect place to wrap up your special weekend with your friends.
Our favourite dishes are the Totopos con Todo (three house-made dips with bottomless corn chips) to start, followed by a chicken or vegetarian Chimichanga, and accompanied with the best margaritas in the country (available by the glass or the carafe)! Open from 5pm Wednesday through Sunday, booking is highly recommended for this small restaurant.