If there’s one place that allows travellers to experience Maori culture at large, it’s Rotorua. In fact, the city is on its way to getting official recognition for its bilingual nature because of its strong connection to its indigenous roots. You’ll see this identity seeping from the local architecture, natural sights, as well as a trove of educational cultural exchanges that make the local tourism sector thrive.
You can’t talk about Rotorua without mentioning its thermal springs. A bubbling cauldron of volcanic activity is never too far away, and some are even free to access. The ‘Big Eight’ that should be on everyone’s radars are the Whakarewarewa Village, Te Puia, Waimangu, Ohinemutu, Sulphur Point, Kuriau Park, and the champagne coloured Wai-O-Tapu.
Every year the eco-friendly charitable trust Keep New Zealand Beautiful gives out an award for the country’s ‘Most Beautiful City’. Rotorua has rightfully earned the honour six times in the competition’s 11-year history. Streets lined with cobble-stoned paths, a pleasant collection of colonial buildings, the amazing Government Gardens and even a local tulip festival are some of the attractions that embellish the city.
In the warm summer months, the majestic Lake Rotorua becomes a hub of activity. Jet skiing, recreational boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, picnics by the lakeside…the opportunities are endless. But it’s not just this major lake that entices visitors to relish New Zealand’s aquatic wonders. Around Rotorua, you’ll also find Lake Tarawera, Lake Tikitapu, and the Frying Pan Lake, the latter of which is one of the world’s largest hot pools.
Adventure travellers have a year-round selection of adrenaline-inducing experiences to add to their bucket lists. Rotorua is most famous for being the home of the Zorb – aka that giant plastic ball that rolls down a challenging obstacle course. If you like your forested areas, try zip lining along the treetop canopies. White water rafting, four-wheel-drive adventures and skydiving are a few other must-tries in your vicinity.
Fun fact: in 2006, Rotorua hosted the highly-acclaimed UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships. That should give you a good indication about its strong reputation in the cycling realm. The Whakarewarewa Forest, just a few minutes outside the city, boasts a 130-kilometre (80.8-mile) trail network that caters to riders of all abilities. Locals and tourists alike are drawn to the lush forestry and diverse biking terrains that surround it. The areas has bike hire places, maps, instructors and guided tours available depending on your experience level and immediate needs.
Whakarewarewa Forest is also popular among hikers and runners because of its clear paths and wonderful native greenery. But that’s not the only place to get hiking around Rotorua. There’s a trail that contours Lake Rotorua which is ideal for a stroll on a clear winter morning. Whakarewarewa’s Redwood Forest is another hiking must-visit, as are the tracks scattered around Sulphur Point. If you like your volcanoes, the Tarawera Trail will get you up close and personal to one of the area’s most significant natural attractions: Mount Tarawera, the volcano responsible for one of New Zealand’s largest eruptions.
Eat Streat is one of the coolest spots in the city. Head to the lake end of Tutanekai Street to find the colourful covered walkway that beckons visitors to explore this delectable foodie destination. Because the area is fitted with a retractable roof and a thermally-heated footpath, this is a year-round ‘al fresco’ dining venue. Cafés, bars, restaurants and Rotorua’s famous Lady Jane’s Ice Cream Parlour are Eat Streat’s standout attractions.
Conde Nast Traveller thinks quite highly of the city’s Polynesian Spa – in fact, the magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards has placed it on its top 10 rankings in 2004-2007, 2009, and 2011. That’s more than enough reason to spoil yourself with a bit of pampering, right? Travellers on a tight budget needn’t feel like they missing out, though: if you can’t make it to the Polynesian Spa, at least take the time to douse all your worries away in one of the free-to-access thermal hot pools in the area.
Rotorua is filled with awesome, kid-friendly attractions. Rainbow Springs in particular is a must-visit for wildlife lovers – not only will you get to learn about New Zealand’s native critters, you’ll also get to see the famous kiwi bird from up close! The nature park’s Big Splash is also worth checking out: it’s a nine-minute boat ride that offers plenty of insight into New Zealand’s ecological history. For something with an exhilarating kick, head to Skyline Rotorua for a bit of luging (for those unfamiliar with the sport, think of go-karting with bicycle handlebar steering).
In the summer, a 40-minute drive will take you to the Bay of Plenty’s sun-kissed beaches. During the winter, a two-and-half hour drive will get you to the skiing paradise that is Mt Ruapehu. Tongariro, Waitomo, and Taupo are also close by, and you can even go a 3-hour drive up to Auckland if you want to venture further afield. Needless to say, Rotorua is surrounded by interesting sights. So, once you’ve finished exploring this incredibly diverse destination, look around: a new adventure is bound to be waiting.